This is my space to rant and rave, vent and vex about education, my passion. I am calling it "Mining for Hidden Gems" because of the above quote and because as a teacher, my job is to look for those gems. The real valuable ones are not usually on the surface. You have to dig deep to find them.


I am also borrowing from Katherine Bomer's wonderful book Hidden Gems: Naming and Teaching From the Brilliance in Every Student's Writing. It has changed the way I look at not just student work but students themselves and all people around me.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Butterfly Facts For The Teacher


1.  All  caterpillars turn into butterflies.
2.  No one knows the exact moment when a butterfly will emerge from its cocoon.
3.  If you try to "help" a butterfly out of its cocoon, it will die.
4.  Not all butterflies are Monarchs.
5.  Moths have the same life cycle as butterflies. They are just introverted.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Say No To Drive-through Education

At first it sounds really good, doing college work in high school, entering university with one or two semesters of course work already under your belt.  Why not, if the student is motivated and able to do the work? Wouldn't it be more challenging and engaging anyway?  But then, I hear phrases like "that way you won't have to take English, History or Algebra ever again" or "you can get your basics out of the way for free".  That's when I get scared.  I imagine a generation of college graduates entering the work force as teachers, lawyers and journalists, who last examined the world's history when they were fifteen years old and more worried about where that pimple came from than who built the pyramids and how?!  I think of those entering politics and civic life who read a work like Animal Farm back when they were more pre-occuppied with getting a date to the homecoming dance than with what happens when those who lead think that the end justifies the means.  Do I really want our future teachers to get a "drive through" education with no depth and complex thinking about the subjects they will someday teach?

Education is not something painful and pointless that we should try to be done with as quickly as possible.  Education is the ultimate remedy for all that is wrong with our world.  Bigotry and prejudice are cured when we learn about each other through history, the arts and literature.  Droughts, famines and natural disasters are better managed when we know more about the consequences of our actions and the interdependent nature of our life on this planet.  The causes of wars and conflicts are eradicated when we eliminate ignorance, fanaticism and extremes of wealth and poverty through education.  All this learning cannot be over and done with in the twelve or even sixteen years of traditional, watered down education.  There is no statute of limitation on learning. As a Persian proverb says: From cradle to the grave, seek knowledge.

The irony of it all is that most adolescents long for relevance and meaning in their lives.  They want to belong to a community and serve it.  Faced with our current offerings in public education, they find that relevant meaningful community in violent gangs or superficial and materialistic pursuits.  Imagine if they could spend those precious years getting to know themselves even better, discovering their strengths and talents so that they could embrace a college education as the door to the path of realizing their dreams and their calling.  What a waste it is otherwise!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"Good" Schools

What constitutes a “good” school?  As a parent, and now as an educator, I have been asking that question for at least 21 years (That’s how old my oldest child is!).  My own parents’ life quest was to provide me with “good” schools, no matter the expense and trouble of finding one, including moving to another continent.  One of my friends has home schooled her nine children (adopted and biological) because their thirst for knowledge has never been satisfied by the public schools where she has lived.  My other friends have looked for magnet and charter schools within their home districts in hope of a more challenging, rigorous education that will prepare their kids for college.  But is preparing kids for a college education in and of itself what makes a school “good”?  What should be the ultimate goal of education?  I believe that we are here to know and to love.  Consider the notion of knowing about and loving all that is in and around us as the purpose to our lives on this earth.  So is it too much to ask that a “good” school help all children to know and to love the world?

I think a  “good” education, a “good” school is one that helps answer the questions:  Who am I and where do I fit in this world?  What are my strengths and weaknesses and how can I use them to be the best that I can be?  What are my passions, my callings and what skills do I need in order to be able to pursue them?  Nowadays, information and facts about any subject are in the kids’ pockets and purses in the form of their phones and other electronic devices. (As I am writing this, my 15 year old is learning how to play the Ukulele from a Hawaiian teacher on-line).  “Good” teachers are what make a school “good” and “good” teachers are not those who fill their students with facts, information and discrete skills.  “Good” teachers are guides and mentors that ask questions, tough questions, probing questions, questions that will lead them to the important answers in their lives.


http://www.edutopia.org/stw-kipp-critical-thinking

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Woman Who Took Away the Locks

In 1976, I was an eighth grader living in Tehran, Iran.  The previous year, the Shah, the King of Iran, had put in place a universal mid-morning snack program, where milk, juice and cake or cookies were given out to children at 10:00 a.m. every morning in every school in the country.  I guess it was his way of sharing the oil wealth with the masses.  My affluent classmates, however, having had a full breakfast, sometimes found other uses for the snack items.  Once when a policeman was hit by a milk carton thrown from a second story window, our new assistant principal, Mrs. Momeni came in to give our class a lecture.  She was new to our school and we had not quite figured her out yet.  She didn't shout or insult.  She just told us about the school where she had come from.  It was one in the south part of the city, the poor side, where if a child was absent, his mother would come to collect his snack because that was his only meal for the day.  She suggested that if we did not need the milk or the cake, she would gladly collect them and take them to those children.  I don't know how her message affected the other kids, but for me it was my first encounter with social consciousness.

I guess the school's administration found those remarks too inflammatory.  Next year, Mrs. Momeni got a demotion; she became the librarian.  You have to know about our library to understand why being the librarian was a step down.  The library was on the top floor of the school, where only the upperclassmen had occasion to pass by it.  It was no larger than a medium size classroom with bookcases all around and tables and chairs in the middle.The bookcases held old textbooks, some classical books of poetry and used English books, discarded at the end of each year by students who never really learned to read them.  The most notable part of the library was the locks on the glass doors of each bookcase.  The library was where you went if the teacher was absent.  It was where you were sent if you misbehaved.  Sort of a detention hall.  So you see, being the librarian was more like being a monitor, a baby sitter.  I think the administrators were fooled by Mrs. Momeni's small stature and quiet demeanor.  As soon as she got the job, she took off the locks, boxed away the old textbooks and put up a sign for a membership drive:  Bring a book and join the library.  Join the library? My only other attempt to join a library had been in fifth grade when a small one opened in a park near my house and I had to bring permissions from my parents and the school principal to join.  My parents readily agreed, thinking this way they would have some help satisfying my appetite for books.  The elementary school principal, however, thought that such extra-curricular activities would interfere with my academic studies and would not sign the permission slip.  So you can imagine my excitement at the news of being able to join a library by only donating a book.

That year was one of the most memorable years of my life.  My friends and I would hang out at the library every chance we got.  We devoured the new books, got to know new authors, Iranian, European, American.  The best book I read that year was a collection of short stories called When the Fish have Died by an Iranian woman, Zhilah Sazegahr.  The title story was about a fish that was deprived of water so gradually that it got used to living without it.  When it was thrown back into its bowl, it drowned.  But the best part of reading was talking about books with my friends and Mrs. Momeni.  We each had our favorites, and in each book a favorite character.  We talked about them so much, they would become real people in our lives.  At the end of that year, Mrs. Momeni decided to give a prize to those who had read the most books.  I was one of them.  For the prizes, she chose books by Sadegh Hedayat.  Hedayat was an Iranian writer who had committed suicide in Paris in the thirties.  Rumor had it that his books were so dark that those who read them would be driven to suicide.  You can imagine the school's response to the choice of these books as reading awards!  Next year the library was moved to an annex building next to the nurse's office and the janitor's supply room.

That was 1978.  The political situation in the country was getting worse every day.  There were demonstrations in the University across the street from our school.  Banks and cinemas were being burned every week as symbols of the decadent West.  The Shah's secret police was losing its grip on the opposition.  My family left the country in November of that year.  We came to Houston, Texas where I had a cousin.  I started school right away.  One day, the teacher assigned a research paper in history class.  Over the weekend, I went to the public library to do the research.  First thing I noticed was that there were not glass doors or locks on the shelves.  Timidly, I asked the lady at the reference desk if I could use the books since I was not a member.  She said: "Of course, you just can't check any out unless you have a library card."  I feasted on rows and rows of Encyclopedias and reference books.  When I was done with my school assignment, I sneaked into the fiction section.  I kept looking over my shoulder, expecting someone to come and ask for my card and not finding one throw me out or worse, report me to the authorities.  But no one came.

Before leaving, I took a chance and asked the librarian what it took to get a library card.  She gave me an application to fill out and it only had space for one signature.  Mine.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Year Poetry Freed Us


I was thirteen when I started collecting poetry.  Most of the time I did not even understand what the poems were saying, but I liked their sound; I liked the way they played with words and used them to stab or caress my heart.  Of course, writing poetry was out of the question.  Poets were born, not bred.  They had extraordinary talents and could talk in a mysterious, veiled form about lofty topics.  At fifteen I moved to the United States and started studying in English.  I could read and understand almost anything in English, except poetry.  I knew the words individually but somehow the way they were put together to make poems made them sound foreign to me.  So I put poetry aside.

Thirty years later, as I studied to be a teacher, I learned to use poetry to build reading fluency.  By then English had moved from being my second language to become the language of my thinking.  I had come to find poets like Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Walter Dean Meyers who spoke to my soul. I started teaching third grade and I made poetry a daily routine in my classroom. We learned to read a new poem each week.  Contrary to my fears, the eight and nine year olds never got tired of echo and choral reading poetry with me.  My students all came from Spanish-speaking homes and I came to believe that poetry touched their Latin souls in a special way.  They craved the sounds and they craved hearing the sound of themselves reading fluently.  Still, I never ventured into asking them to write poetry.  I did have a couple of students that brought me the poems they had written on their own and for their own pleasure and I could see how they were borrowing from the ones we were studying.  In my fourth year of teaching, the District placed the poetry unit at the beginning of the year.  Traditionally, most teachers “did” poetry in the spring, making little poetry books and inviting students to write poems using various forms of poetry. My fellow teachers and I were baffled by the decision.  How can we get these struggling writers to produce a personal narrative piece, worthy of passing the state mandated writing test in March, by teaching poetry!  I was told that poetry was an easier genre to start with.  It is shorter and less intimidating they said. There are fewer rules to follow.  I thought:  You are underestimating poetry, if you think it is easier and less intimidating.  In my mind, you had to study poetry for years before you could begin to write a poem.  I continued to teach poetry all year, exposing my students to the genre as much as possible.  I went as far as giving them poetry frames from mentor texts to fill in with their own nouns and adjectives.  But never did it occur to me to let them just write.

Then I came across Katherine Bomer's book, Hidden Gems.  Reading it changed the way I looked at student writing and at students, period. I started to look at what was there instead of what wasn't there, yet. I saw Katherine in a poetry workshop in November and was so transformed by her approach that 1) I decided I and anyone else who wanted to, could write poems and 2) I have to find some kids to try this on!  As an instructional coach, I do not have my own classroom so I asked one of the teachers I work with if she would let me try it in hers and she was gracious enough to allow me.  I followed Katherine's recipe step by step.  I took them poems to look at and to read.  I offered them the poems as gifts.  I read them a couple of my favorite poems and showed them my notebook where I kept my collection of poems.  

After they had had some time to explore the poems, I wrote the question "What is a poem?" on their interactive white board.  The first response was: "It has to rhyme."  I was ready for that.  I had purposely included only one rhyming poem in the poetry collection I had prepared.  So I asked them to give me examples. They searched and searched and came to the obvious conclusion that no, not all poems rhyme.  They also noticed that poems could be as short as two lines or ten words; there didn't seem to be a whole lot of punctuation either!  As they discovered these features on their own, I could see a weight lifting off of their shoulders.  “Did this mean I could write a poem too?” they seemed to be wondering.  As I was leaving that first day, one girl asked her teacher if she could take her notebook to recess to write poetry.  I took that as a good sign!  

I returned the next week and found the kids had memorized some of the poems and brought some new ones from home.  I showed them a clip of poetry contests in Mexico and they came back telling me how their parents had participated in such contests as children.  At our second session, I played them a piece of music.  Katherine had recommended Vivaldi's Four Seasons and I played a movement from that.  Every single one of them wrote something.  No one said: “I don't know what to write about”.  I had given them permission to let their imaginations soar and be inspired by the music and to write what they saw in their minds.  When I asked if anyone wanted to share, one little girl, who I knew struggled with reading, offered hers.  I received it as a poem and read it as if it were a one.  She stopped me to say that that was not what she had written.  I showed her that indeed I was reading from her writing.  For the second round of invitations to write, I chose a piece of Latin Jazz, thinking it might appeal more to their senses.  And I was right! They wrote more, saw more images and described more, of fiestas and quinceañeras and dancing salsa.  More were willing to share.  I read every single one of them with the same respect and dignity I had given the published pieces.  And I reacted genuinely to the gems I saw in each and every one of them.  The two teachers that were in the classroom with me witnessed the same miracle.  

These kids, who under other circumstances, would have hesitated to write and when they did, wrote simple sentences about uninteresting topics, were now taking risks.  They were taking risks with words, with ideas, with language.  I returned for several weeks, using different art forms to inspire their thoughts and their senses.  There was never any shortage of kids willing to share their poems.  All the girls and one boy always had their hands up.  That one boy was David.  School has never been easy for David.  He had to repeat second grade because despite his obvious ability to comprehend, he could not read fluently.  Because he speaks two languages, the Dyslexia testing was inconclusive but he had qualified for special education services.  The day David found out that you neither had to spell correctly or write very much, or write at all (I had told them about oral poets who never learned to read or write) he was freed.  He offered to share his poems and tried to encourage the other boys to do so.  Even though the other boys were not as brave as David, they wrote beautiful, thoughtful pieces in their journals that I would steal when they were not looking.  Here are a few examples:

Los días

Los días vienen y van
Los meses vuelan
Los años corren y corren
Horas en el aire


(Translation)
Days


The days come and go
The months fly 
The years run and run
Hours in the air



Niño, ¿Qué pasó aquí?
Niño ¿Por qué estas así?
Niño, ¿Estas ahí?


(Translation)
Little boy, what happened here?
Little boy, why are you here?
Little boy, are you there?


Las rocas
se mueven
Tierra
se queda
Pasto
vuela


(Translation)
The rocks move
The Earth
stays
The grass
flies




I continued to return every week to third grade, more for my own benefit than theirs.  I was hooked on being surprised, amazed and moved by the way they would produce magical language:  The girl, sitting on the lonely and sad floor,

Then someone challenged me that this could not be done in Kindergarten.  In February, I invited all the kindergarten, first and second grade bilingual teachers on my campus to go see Katherine Bomer's poetry workshop for K-2.  They were transformed as I was.  The kindergarten teacher went back and started by just reading lots of poems to his students, every day for a couple of weeks.  One day I walked in and asked the kids what they were doing.  They responded chorally that they were “doing” poetry.  I asked: "Have you tried doing a poem yourselves?"  One little guy said: Yes, and went on to recite his.  I copied it on the board because he happened to be one of the few who still did not know his letters and sounds well enough to be able to write it himself.  The poetry bug was contagious.  In thirty minutes, none of the kindergartners wanted to be outdone by the others and each had produced a poem. 



La lagartija

La lagartija es bonita
Se sube a un árbol
Y es bien bonita y
me quiere mucho

(Translation)
The lizard

The lizard is beautiful
It climbs a tree
It is really beautiful
and it loves me





Mi Caballo

Cuando yo fuí con mi abuelito
Ya no quería un caballo blanco
Pore so me lo dio a mí

(Translation)
My horse

When I went to my grampa
He didn’t want a white horse anymore
That’s why he gave it to me.



The last place I have tried poetry this year has been with fifth graders.  I was a bit hesitant and self-conscious.  I had never collaborated with their teacher before on a lesson and she did not know me as a teacher.  The kids, especially the boys, are bigger than any fifth grader I have ever seen.  But they too fell for the magic.  When I asked them to write to music, they all wrote.  When it came time to share their poems they all wanted me to read theirs out loud.  There was no eye-rolling or slumping in chairs.  Once I invited them to chose one of the poems from the packet I had prepared for them to read out loud to the class; one that had a special meaning for them.  One of the boys eagerly raised his hand and read:


Arrullo

Duérmete mi niña,
Duérmete mi sol,
Duérmete pedazo
De mi corazón.


(Translation)



Lullaby

Sleep my little girl
Sleep my sun
Sleep the piece
of my heart.

Now, when they see me in the hallways, they let me know that they have written a new poem and ask when we are doing more poetry.  Their teachers have shared the liberating power of poetry along with me and have great plans for next year, to do more poetry, earlier in the year and all year.  

So as this school year comes to a close, I look at what I did accomplish and try not to focus at all the things I did not.  I rescued poetry from the shackles of form and jargon and offered it to five, six, eight and ten year olds like a lump of silly putty that they can mold and shape into whatever their hearts desire.  I saw all kinds of kids rise eagerly take that lump, fluent and talkative ones as well as shy and struggling ones; those who know how to do school and those for whom school has always been where their weaknesses were on display and their hidden gems buried.  I hope they remember this year as I do; the year poetry freed us.



Monday, March 14, 2011

Are You A Guide or A Gate Keeper?

A middle school math teacher's grading policy says that students can make corrections to tests and quizzes only if they fail and then, only to bring up their grade to a 70.  My graduate studies professor, on the other hand, taught for mastery, giving everyone the opportunity to go back and learn what was missed on any test or assignment.

I think there are two ways of looking at our job as teachers:  We can act as gate keepers, letting through those who either know the material already or learn it quickly and in the way we are most comfortable teaching, and keeping out those who for one reason or another don't "get" it right away.  Or we can be guides, meeting each student where he or she may be, getting to know his or her strengths and believing that there is a time and a way for everyone to reach the same learning destination.

We are gate keepers when we focus on what is missing and miss what is there.  We may feel uncomfortable accommodating different learning needs and styles.  We see injustice in giving the same final grade to the student who mastered the objective in the first week of instruction as to the one who had to try and try but managed to reach the same level of proficiency by the end of the grading period.  (The real injustice is to subject those who already knew the material to the same learning path as those who may not have come to us with the same set of skills.)

As  guides we see the hidden gems, we find a way to use the student's strength to leverage against the weaknesses, and see kids as the future adults that they will become and not as the struggling child that they are now.  We see the end in the beginning.  If we have a clear idea of where the destination is and are skilled in taking our travelers to that destination, we can choose any of the many roads available to us.

Children come to school to learn, not to perform. This is not to say that we should not have benchmarks for tracking their learning and propelling it forward.  But we cannot be so focused on the final product that we miss the value of the process that gets them there.  Children come with curiosity and lots of questions that begin with why and how.  Our task is to help them find their real selves, their real passions. Our challenge, as Howard Gardner puts it, is to not worry so much about how smart they are but to find out how they are smart.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

If Teachers Were Doctors

Let me first give my reasons as to why teachers are like doctors:
  • Uneducated individuals are a burden to the rest of the society, as much as or more than unhealthy ones.
  • The effects of good and bad teaching are life-long and consequential, much like the results of good and bad medicine.
  • A good teacher must "diagnose" every student in order to be able to teach him or her in the most effective way possible.  This is not an easy task because many times the student cannot articulate his or her difficulty, or the teacher does not have all the resources to perform an accurate assessment of the learning problem.  In addition, one teacher usually has to manage twenty or more "patients" simultaneously and single handedly.
Now, if we agree that the job of the teacher is just as valuable as a medical doctor's, then we must:
  • Treat teachers with the same professionalism as doctors and consider them "specialists" in their fields
  • Have educators set the standards for educators and not politicians
  • Free them from administrative and non-teaching tasks so they can focus on instruction. (Would you interrupt a doctor during a visit or operation? Why do we feel then that it is O.K. to interrupt teachers during their instruction?)
  • And yes, we would pay teachers as well as we do doctors.
Of course, if we want to be treated as a professional and an expert in our field, we as teachers must:
  • Raise the standards for entering teacher preparation programs.
  • Increase the rigor of studies in education.
  • Expect teachers to keep their practice up to date and use only the most effective and research based strategies.
  • Accept to be reviewed by our peers (just as doctors do)
  • Hold ourselves responsible for our practice.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Sliver Of Something Different

Years ago I read a book by Leon Dash called Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America.  It is the biography of a drug addicted, AIDS infected grandmother on welfare as well as  the story of her children.  Well written and gripping, Dash writes about how six of Rosa's eight children lived a similar life of poverty, illiteracy and crime, whereas two of them were able to escape that cycle.  One of them  started along the same path, but was arrested for robbery at a very early age.  The experience was enough to scare him straight.  But the part of this story that I keep retelling is the reason why the eighth child broke away and was able to make a middle class life for himself. It turns out that because he was a good natured, quiet child he would get invited to classmates' homes to play and he would notice that not everyone lived as he did.  He had caught a glimpse into another world and it was enough to convince him that there was a different way to live than what he was accustomed to.

Most of our job as teachers is really about showing that sliver of something different to our students.  Who knows, maybe that novel, that field trip, that special guest, that personal interest we took in them, will be the one factor that tips the balance in their lives towards a positive future.  We have no control over what goes on in their homes. But we cannot afford to waste one moment of the time they are in our classrooms with benign busy work.

A few weeks ago, I saw a student who knew me briefly as a substitute teacher in her class when she was in fourth grade.  She was working in a restaurant where I was picking up some food for my family.  Even though she is now a young woman old enough to work, I recognized her and smiled.  She came over to me and said: "I remember you!  You were our substitute teacher and you read us that book, Esperanza Rising."  Children do remember!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Would you rather educate or rehabilitate?

I am reading Stones into Schools by Greg Mortenson of the Three Cups of Tea fame, and came across these statistics:  "In the impoverished hinterlands of the western Himalayas, $20 is enough to educate a first grader for an entire year, $340 can send a girl to four years of high school on a full-ride scholarship, $50,000 is sufficient to build and outfit an eight-room schoolhouse and endow the teachers' salaries for the first five years."  I know these numbers do not compare to the cost of education in the U.S., but I do know one thing:  It costs a whole lot less to educate a child than to rehabilitate an adult, no matter where we are in this world.  The same source also cites World Bank studies that show how one year of primary school can result in an income bump of 10 to 20 percent for women later in life.  Where girls are educated infant mortality rates drop significantly after one generation, as does population growth. So whenever there is a choice we must invest in education.

For the past two years, my family and I have been hosting a dinner to raise money for a very small school in one of the poor neighborhoods of El Salvador, where our daughter worked as a volunteer for 11 months.  The $500 or so that we have managed to raise each year, has paid for the education of two to three students. It may not be much, but it is our contribution to the constructive forces at work in the world.  This year's event is on February 25th.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Before I forget: The good, the bad and the ugly at the 2011 TCEA

So I went to my first Texas Computer Education Association's annual conference last week and like most of these things it was hit and miss. But I am glad to say that most of my time was spent in hit sessions. I wanted to jot down here those things that I thought I would definitely want to explore further, as a reminder to actually do them!!!

The Good

1. This blog right here is the first thing I learned from Tammy Worcester (http://www.tammyworcester.com). She knows that if things aren't easy, we won't do them for very long. She showed how you can set up a blog in 2 minutes (if you don't get too picky about fonts and layouts) and keep it updated from your phone or e-mail account. She also showed how to make your own maps on http://maps.google.com, write your lesson plans on https://docs.google.com and link them to your blog, keep one calendar of events, activities and to dos on Google Calendar and even do a live podcast on http://www.justin.tv.

2. I also learned how to actually publish my own book! There are several sites that allow you to do this. I used http://www.bookemon.comto publish this little book that I made back in 2003 to teach Spanish to English speaking first and second graders. It was so satisfying!

3. I met some dedicated people from Weslaco ISD down in the Rio Grande Valley who work with the parents of their students to close the gap in their child's achievement in the pre-school years. They use iPads and iPods to engage both the parents and their young ones in learning literacy and English language skills. They send home activities and materials so parents and children can spend quality time together. (Isn't that what middle class kids get from their parents?) They talked about "eduplates" (see http://www.mychildsfavoritewebsite.com) which are a set of six dinner plates with letters and numbers and accompanying activities and songs, as well as sending home Texas Kids Learn materials from http://www.teachercreatedmaterials.com/reading/kidsLearn/ so parents can work with their child at home and during school breaks. I really appreciated their emphasis on giving disadvantaged parents the tools and the knowledge to empower themselves and their children because that is what will really make the difference.

4. I also enjoyed the idea of connecting classrooms around the world and making learning real and relevant through on-line projects. Kids can join projects to talk about books and events. Here are some examples: http://www.monsterexchange.org, http://www.flatstanley.com, http://www.rockourworld.org, http://www.toothtally.com/, http://globalschoolnet.org/, http://booksgoglobal.wikispaces.com/

The Bad

The bad sessions weren't really that bad; they were just rehashing of the same set of Web 2.0 tools presented in a different context. I guess when you are from Leander ISD, it is hard to find these trainings completely new and interesting because so often we have seen them already in a much more relevant and interesting setting. For example, I heard about the Web 2.0 and its tools for 21st Century learners, last year at our Instructional Services retreat.

And . . .

Now for the ugly. When people, especially teachers, insult the precious act of reading with rewards (read bribes) I have to say something. A large number of people turned out to hear a session on using the Wii to teach reading. Well, that's what they thought it was going to be about. Instead it was all about how to bribe kids with time to play on one teacher's Wii if they earned enough points on their Accelerated Reader program (another insult to the act of reading.) My colleagues were surprised at my display of self-control in that particular session as I did not challenge the presenter or the rest of the very engaged audience on their belief that reading is its own reward.

I also saw a comment scrawled on one of the public posting places that said something like: Examine technology, explore teaching. Because really, it is all about teaching and there are teachers in this world that do it with a stick and a patch of dirt.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A New Start

Two years ago I started a blog and I got as far as naming it!  I got so bogged down with all the mechanical details of it that I forgot the reason I wanted to have a blog in the first place.  This week I spent two days at the Texas Computer Education Association's annual conference in Austin and one of the first sessions I attended was on blogging.  It got me excited all over again and it gave me some real cool tools to make it a manageable task.  So here I go again!

This will be my space to rant and rave, vent and vex about education, my passion.  I am calling it "Mining for Hidden Gems" because of the following quote:

"Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value.  Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures."  -Bahá'u'lláh

As a teacher, my job is to look for those gems.  The real valuable ones are not usually on the surface.  You have to dig deep to find them.

I am also borrowing from Katherine Bomer's wonderful book Hidden Gems: Naming and Teaching From the Brilliance in Every Student's Writing.  It has changed the way I look at not just student work but students themselves and all people around me.