Young Blogger in Kenya

Guess what, world??  Anastacia Njoki has just started blogging!  She is a seventeen-year-old student at the Made in the Streets school outside Nairobi, Kenya.

My friend Darren is there for the next few weeks working with two other individuals from my school district to help the MITS team of educators with their computer network, curriculum, and instructional technology.  You can read about their journey here.  Trust me, it’s REALLY good stuff, and it goes WAY beyond all the techno-babble you hear me spouting off in the hallways at school.  It’s trips like this (even if I’m only reading about them) that remind me why I do what I do: it’s really all about the kids, isn’t it?

Darren passed along the link to Anastacia’s blog this morning.  She would love to hear from individuals outside of Africa, so if you have a spare moment, stop by and leave a comment encouraging this lovely young lady to continue pursuing her goals.  Make sure to check back often!!


July 14, 2008 at 10:40 am 1 comment

AP Summer Institute 2008

Today is the third of five days I will be spending at the AP Summer Institute in Plano, Texas.  It’s been an interesting few days.

First of all, I would like to say that the longer I am in this profession – more specifically, the longer I teach at my school – the more I realize how great I’ve got it.  Most of the teachers here have little (if any) access to technology in their classrooms.  Case in point: two days ago, post-lunch discussion revolved around how great ELMOs are.  Really?  ELMOs?  I only know of one on my entire campus.

At this very moment, I am sitting in a computer lab where I’ve been since 12:45 and will remain until 4:00 – THREE HOURS AND FIFTEEN MINUTES IN THE COMPUTER LAB!  We are supposed to use this time to look up websites to use in our classes.  There are several things I would like to say about this.

  1. Coming from a district with 1-to-1 laptop implementation at the high school level, believe you me, I have more sites to use in my classes than I’ll ever actually be able to use.  It’s not that I don’t want to look for more, or that I think I already have all the answers.  It’s that when I’m at school and not doing something directly involving students, I’m searching the internet for sites I can use in class.  This is what I do, people.  I am expected to use technology in my classroom.  It’s part of my job description.  I do not need a random three-hour block of time to do this.
  2. I actually feel like this is a little bit of a cop-out on the part of my instructor.  It’s like he didn’t have anything planned for this afternoon, so he just decided to send us to the computer lab.  To be honest, an hour – maybe 90 minutes – would have been plenty of time.  Three hours and fifteen minutes is ridiculous, and I’ll tell you how I know this:
  3. I’m blogging right now instead of doing my assignment.  The girl in front of me is looking at maternity clothes on  The woman next to her – and the woman next to her – were on Facebook a few minutes ago.  I’ve already checked two email accounts, both my Facebook and Myspace profiles, and Google Reader for new feeds about a million times.

I am a little disappointed by what was supposed to be “some of the best training [I’ll] ever attend.”  I thought we were going to have lots of time to share best practices and that I would be given – literally handed – tons of lesson ideas for my AP Government class.  Instead, I have viewed umpteen PowerPoints, all with blue backgrounds, and all of which have literally been read to me.  This must be the “do as I say, not as I do” method of teaching.

I knew I was in trouble on Sunday evening when I received an email informing me we would have a guest lecturer on Monday morning from 9:30 to 11:30.  Okay, here’s the thing: I don’t care who you are; there is no such thing as a “good” two-hour lecture.  You might be good, but you’re not two hours good.

I don’t understand why, despite all the studies showing it’s basically the worst possible way to learn, educators continue to force us to sit through hour after hour of lectures.  If you’re going to attempt to jazz it up a little with a PowerPoint, please – I beg you – do not make a PowerPoint that consists solely of one ginormous block of text on a slide.  Please try to break up your text into several succinct bullet points.  When you have one bullet point and so much text that it’s auto-formatted itself to 6pt. text size, I get overwhelmed and tune you out immediately.  sigh.  I’m just saying.

And also, please understand that I do have a college degree and can, in fact, read it for myself.

One more gripe.  We’ve paid (or our districts have paid) $450 per person to attend this weeklong funfest.  The food at these things is legendary; we’ve heard of participants being fed breakfast and lunch as well as a morning snack and an afternoon snack.  And at lunch, we’re talking four-course meals, burrito bars, and all sorts of deliciousness that boggles the imagination.

For our lunch Monday, we got to assemble our own sandwiches with bread, deli meat, and cheese.  Today’s snack?  Animal crackers.  I’m telling you: they’ve spared no expense.  🙂

All complaining aside, there are some positives here.

The first is that I’ve met a couple of really nice people who seem to be really, really good at what they do.  Since I am the only person on my campus who’s taught this course, it is very reassuring to know that there are other people locally that I can turn to for help and/or lesson plan ideas when I need it/them.  They are chock-full of fabulous activities and I am excited to try a few things this year.

I have also been able to share with them some digital resources that they can use in their classrooms.  One girl likes to have her students volunteer a few hours for both sides of a given political campaign and create “scrapbooks” of their experiences.  Today, I referred her to Scrapblog, an online scrapbooking site that students can use to put their pictures, videos, and text together in a digital format and share with anyone in the world.  It’s kind of fun to introduce others to the concept of digital storytelling, and for them to see that it doesn’t have to be difficult.

When one teacher lamented yesterday that she’d love to have her students make video “documentaries” of presidential candidates, but that she couldn’t because she didn’t know how to use MovieMaker, I suggested she just have a student show her.  She looked at me like she’d never considered that idea before.  I followed up with, “They’d love to show you how to do it.”  And she said, “You’re right!  I bet they would!”  Of course they would!

My mom tells me, “The learning is in the conversation.”  I am starting to see just how true that is, and in so many ways!

June 25, 2008 at 2:20 pm 3 comments

“That book will scare the hell out of you.”

Last night, my husband and I had our friend Joseph over to our house for dinner. I don’t remember how it came up, but I was talking to Joe about Google Docs.

He’d never heard of it, so I pulled up my Google account and showed him some of the collaborative documents we’ve worked on in my AP Government class.

Then, I had a flash of genius. I can’t believe I haven’t showed Joe (or my husband!) before. I did a quick search and found what I was looking for: the A Vision of Students Today video by Professor Michael Wesch and his Digital Ethnography class at Kansas State University.

If I could only ever take one more college class, this class would be it.

Anyway, both the boys were impressed.

Over the weekend, my husband went out and bought himself a copy of Thomas L. Friedman’s book, The World Is Flat. A man in line before him at the bookstore said,

“That book will scare the hell out of you.”

My husband laughed – and bought the book. I’m so proud!

March 25, 2008 at 12:23 pm Leave a comment

It’s “I Don’t Care Friday!”

Hooray for Hoops and Yoyo and their fabulous days of the week!

Today’s lesson finds us beginning our unit on political parties.

Their first assignment is to make a vocabulary PowerPoint. It’s a little bit of a snoozefest, but I managed to cut down their “essential” word list from 25 to a much more manageable 10.

(I also let them know this, which means they were thanking me instead of groaning about it – it’s all in the presentation, people!)

The other part of the assignment has actually turned out really well. I’ve asked them to complete a little worksheet called “Finding Your Political Roots.” It was an activity in the textbook, but I typed it up in Word and then hyped it up a bit: “I’d like you guys to do this little political survey. It will help you figure out why you think about politics the way that you do.” Anyway, I’ve been really impressed with their responses. They have made a lot of thoughtful comments and far surpassed my expectations.

I’ve had several students tell me over the last couple of days that they are registered to vote (actually I believe the exact phrase was “signed up”) and will be exercising their right to do so next week. I am practically giddy!

All in all, it’s been a pretty good week. But then again, it is Friday. I can handle just about anything on Fridays. 🙂

Next week brings some interesting items that I’m not sure I’m at liberty to discuss just yet. Stay tuned!

February 22, 2008 at 12:35 pm Leave a comment

Tuesday is Treat Day

It’s been a busy week, social studies-wise.

Of course, the presidential campaigns are in full swing.  It seems the Texas primary is shaping up to be a pretty pivotal one this this year, so yesterday I thought I’d sit down and take a look at the candidates.  Early voting starts today; I wanted to get a jump on the crowds and make my choice before the March 4th primary.  After looking at various issues, I’d finally reached a conclusion: I still have no idea who to vote for.  I had my grandmother asking me for insight over the weekend (talk about role-reversal) and the only advice I had to offer was this:

  1. Pick three or four issues that are MOST important to you.
  2. Go with the candidate that most closely matches your views on those issues.

I am finding that the older I get, the more moderate I become.  With our nation’s two-party system perpetually pushing out third-party (and thus, more moderate) candidates, I’m forced to choose sides.  I hate choosing sides.  I envy my students right now: this will be their first election, and they’ve already made up their minds.  Life is so easy at 18.

Second, Kosovo declared independence over the weekend!  Hooray for the Kosovars!  It certainly won’t be an easy road ahead, but I’m excited for them.

Third, Fidel Castro resigned.  (Excuse me, Devil?  Could you turn up the flames?  It’s a little chilly in here.)

My new crop of students is fantastic.  I have a couple of repeat offenders, but I don’t doubt that this will be our last go-round.  Everyone’s staying on track – and it helps that I already have a bunch of lessons planned from last semester.  We’re trying some new things here and there, keeping tabs on the election news, and just getting through it as best we can.

How are things going in your classrooms these days?

February 19, 2008 at 3:08 pm Leave a comment

A Visit From Administrators

On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, we had administrators on our campus from other schools in the district.  They were here during the last period of each day to see how we use technology in our classrooms.  And obviously, we were all aware of the potential that they would want to take ideas back to their own campuses.

I did not have a last period class on Tuesday, so I did not get a visit.  On Wednesday, however, I was thrilled to welcome three ladies into my classroom.  They didn’t stay long, but I think we had a nice visit.

There is a small twist to this story: when I saw them entering my room, I did a double-take.  The first person looked familiar…it was my mom!!

Yes!  My mother came to my classroom!  I was relieved, in a way, because I knew she wasn’t going to say anything mean. 🙂  At the same time, however, I value her opinion more than anyone else’s.  She’s an administrator now, but she spent 20+ years in the classroom (she still teaches from time to time) and she’s a phenomenally good educator.  If she thinks my lesson is no good, she won’t hesitate to let me know – nicely, of course.

For yesterday’s lesson, I had recorded a lecture in Camtasia and put it up on Blackboard.  This way, the students could see my PowerPoint and hear my voice explaining the material.  I figured this would serve two purposes:

  1. I didn’t have to do the lecture four times (for each of my four government classes).
  2. The students would watch it on their own laptops, so they could go at their own pace – rewinding, pausing, and replaying as necessary.

Everyone wins!  The second part of the lesson consisted of a short video on democracy and some questions to answer.  Again, the video was posted on Blackboard and the students were able to download it and watch at their own pace.

I didn’t think yesterday’s lesson was that exciting, but I have since had a change of perspective.  I think there are times we overwhelm people with all the really cool things we’re doing with technology.  Sometimes it’s good for others to be able to see that integrating technology into lessons doesn’t have to be difficult.  A lesson doesn’t have to include major, knock-your-socks-off technology; it can be as simple as using PowerPoint to do vocabulary instead of paper.

Anyway, I think that our guests probably got to see a wonderful mix of technology levels while they were here, and that makes me – once again – so happy to be teaching at such a fabulous school.

Well done, colleagues!

January 31, 2008 at 2:14 pm Leave a comment

Exam time!

Can you believe it?  It’s semester exam time already!  I can hardly grasp how quickly this school year is going by.

I am in the middle of grading a bunch of exams (on paper – more on that debacle in a moment), but I thought I would give myself a little “study break” to post a new blog.

On Tuesday, I had to attend a meeting about a program that some of the teachers on my campus are going to use next semester.  The Epic Learning system is a computer-based curriculum that, according to their website,

…provides schools with rigorous, relevant content delivered by the most advanced curriculum delivery system in the world!

Whoa!  Sounds great, right?  (And also a little vague, if you ask me – which you didn’t, so never mind. :))

It might turn out to be great.  Right now, I am a little bitter about the whole thing.  This program was supposed to be available to my students at the beginning of the school year.  However, it came with its own laptop.  Again, sounds great, until you realize that all of my students already have their own laptop and if we used Epic they would have to carry a second computer around.  This is actually what we had last year’s seniors do, and boy, was it a beating!  They hated it.  I don’t blame them.

Anyway, this year we were able to get the program on our own school-issued laptops, so that takes care of the second laptop issue.  But the problem is that the software wasn’t ready until recently.  That means an entire semester has gone by without any of the students (or me!) using the program.  Sure, government is only a one-semester course, so it seems like it would be easy enough to just begin implementing Epic lessons now, at the beginning of the second semester.  But I just spent a whole lot of time and effort creating my own government lessons, mostly from scratch.  Having another “resource” tossed on me is just rubbing me the wrong way for whatever reason.  I feel like I haven’t had enough time with it myself to buy into the whole concept, so I don’t know how I’m going to get my students to buy into it – especially when all they know about it comes from the complaints of the class of 2007.

The main reason I tell you all of that is, of course, to just rant about it unproductively.  But I do have another purpose.  The Epic program requires a ton of hard drive space.  So yesterday afternoon I had to take my laptop into the Campus Technicians’ office to have a new hard drive installed, and you know what that means: backing up all of my files first, and then starting over with a new hard drive – deleting all the programs I won’t use, adding the extra programs that I do use, importing bookmarks and personal email folders, resubscribing to podcasts in iTunes, upgrading software (example: our laptop image has the old version of Internet Explorer), “fixing” the settings on just about everything so that things function to my liking….  It just takes forever.  And in the middle of all of that, I forgot to do anything about my semester exam.  I thought it was on Blackboard, but it wasn’t.  And this is why I have a large pile of paper exams to get through this afternoon/evening.

Phew!  I suspect there is going to be a lot more paper flying around over the next few days!

Okay, study break’s over…back to work!

January 17, 2008 at 4:01 pm 1 comment

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