Passed the PPR

Just a quick note that I’ve passed the PPR exam earning a 280 out of 300 (240 was the passing score). That completes my two content exams; the previous one I also earned a 280 out of 300. Now I just have a few administrative tasks to complete before I get my full certification. It’s been a long road, May is just around the corner, and I’m starting to look forward to Summer and the fresh start a new teaching year will bring in August.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer a few tips for new teachers going through what I’ve been through:

  • Know the school policies on anything student related. Nothing kills your confidence when establishing rules like not knowing the school’s policy on the issue. I had no idea whether the school allowed MP3 players for the first few weeks of school and it really stank when I had to rescind my earlier permission of their use. This also applies to dress code, tardies, grade book policy, profanity (although discipline actions are loosely defined) and more.
  • Don’t develop new ideas until your first six weeks are over. This is something that I didn’t really think about until now. When you start teaching, you have all these ideas for how you want to handle situations, but you really have no idea how it will be until you are there in class and everything is blowing up around you. So for grading policies, classroom rules and other related items, use something from an experienced teacher. There’s just no way for a new teacher to make decisions about rules without the experience.
  • Be overly strict at first, then settle in. Being uncertain about my and my school’s rules caused me a lack of confidence when it came to enforcing rules. I wish I were more certain about my expectations and ways to enforce them before the kids learned what they could get away with. That’s one thing I look forward to next year is that I’ll have a fresh set of minds who don’t know exactly what they can and can’t do yet.  Yes, being too strict can have a backlash, but students respect consistency and no one can fault the consistency of a strict teacher.

I have some more ideas that I might post soon. TAKS test is this week so I have a semi-break from planning while my students get to endure four rounds or multiple choice/short answer hell. After that I’m headed to Dallas for national BPA competition, so again, more of a planning break for me (although sub plans can be a tricky thing).

All in all, when it comes to next year, It’ll be interesting doing it all over again.

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Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML

Just a quick note that I’ve recently been using the book Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML and my oh my do I love it. It’s like it’s been written by a teacher, the way they provide graphic organizers and ask critical thinking questions. It matches perfectly with what I’m being taught in my CTE classes.

If you’d like an in-depth preview of what the book contains, Google Books can hook you up. Or you can see a screenshot provided below of what the typical page looks like through amazon.

Screenshot of Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML book

If you’re interested in buying it, I highly recommend NerdBooks.com for the job. I got mine for $15 off the listed price.

I’ll be pushing for this book to be used in my classes next year as a textbook. If the school doesn’t pay for it, you’ll probably see me begging local web companies to sponsor the class.

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Beyond the Walls – A New Blog

Several times a week I’ll find an interesting article or resource that I’d love to share with my Web Mastering kids but can’t find a good time to add it into the class. Most of the time the article deals with ideas a little too advanced for most of my students.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to create a sister blog to this one called “Beyond the Walls”. It’ll live at http://kevinlamping.com/beyond and will feature links that I think my students would find interesting. I’ll actually be promoting this website in my Web Mastering classes since the whole point is for students to use it.

If you’re interested in Web development or design, I recommend taking a look as this could also be for you. Or you could take a look just for fun anyways

P.S. I suspect a few students of mine will find their way to this page, so ‘Welcome Students!’

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Games and Education

There’s been a lot of talk in my life recently about using games to teach the future of our world. Hearing the story I just linked to on NPR is one. Having my students tell me song and dance wasn’t good enough, I need to make it a game, is another. And listening to a speaker last Saturday explain how students see teachers as a game, wondering how they can get to the next level, well, it’s decided. I need to make games a part of my curriculum.

Growing up in the digital age has given me a certain appreciation for games. I can’t recall how many times when I was in High School that I’d be in class daydreaming about going home and playing games all afternoon.

From the previously linked article comes this quotation:

She’s come up with four elements she believes we all need to be happy: satisfying work, the experience of being good at something, time spent with people we like, and the chance to be a part of something bigger. Games, she says, do all of these things.

I completely agree. Games are amazing because you learn through trial-and-error, so there’s no real punishment for being bad at the game. You just reload and try again. Yet as you gain experience you can really feel it. You also get to be something bigger than your body. I’ve built a countless number of rollercoaster’s playing RollerCoaster Tycoon and learned how to run a city in Sim City/a>. It’s a natural extension of my creative nature.

I’m interested in how games can improve learning. I’m more interested in actually developing a game that teaches the fundamentals of web design. It would be a lot of hard work, but if it gets the students to happily learn the basics, then they suddenly have the skills to feel confident in building more complicated websites.

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Carpe diem

Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand and melting like a snowflake. Let us use it before it is too late.

- Marie Beyon Ray

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Soundtrack for a New Teacher

I love music. My tastes vary from Rock to Country to Bluegrass to Rock in Bluegrass form. During my long commute I have plenty of time to listen to some great music, which is nice because it calms me down after stressful days. As I listen to my two hours of music everyday, I hear a lot of songs that ring true for my current situation. So without further wait, my life in soundtrack form.

Working on a Dream

Bruce Springsteen

The whole reason I became a teacher was to fulfill a dream I had about teaching web design. This song matches me perfectly because I know things aren’t perfect now, but dreams take work to accomplish. Right now I’m definitely working through the hard stuff to live out my dream. (Also related is Tom Petty’s “Running down a dream” and “Learning to Fly”

Feels so good, feeling good again

Robert Earl Keen

Nevermind the shaky video, this song is about the feeling driving home Friday night after another week teaching. I’ve found teaching to be a big rollercoaster ride, rising with every student accomplishment and plunging straight down with every misbehavior or poor grade. But nothing beats the feeling when you make it through the rough patch and feel good once again.

Can’t go back now

The Weepies

I’m not too sure about the muppets quite fit the mood of the song, but I will say that I love the line “But in the end, the only steps that matter are the ones you take all by yourself“. I truly believe I’ve worked harder at being a teacher than anything else in my life, including college. There was never any doubt with college or high school, I just knew I was going to graduate. But with teaching it’s something I have to push myself through (in a good way) and I know it’s going to feel good in June looking back and knowing I didn’t give up.

Duck and Run

3 Doors Down

I like the theme of this song because sometimes it feels like your pushing and pushing and not getting anywhere. I think with teaching you have to just keep going even if it seems like your going nowhere. My buddy mentioned that it’s always the tough ones that surprise you later when they’re so excited to see your again.

I’m in a Hurry

Alabama

Whether it’s grading, creating lesson plans, driving back and forth between Austin and Bastrop or that whole teaching thing, I often find myself in a hurry just to get things done. I’m definitely looking forward to the summer and the stress free days.

It’s only five songs, but the songs match my life very well right now. Leave any song suggestions you might have in the comments!

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A Teachers New Year’s Resolutions

Despite teaching year long classes, the new semester brings with it a new beginning. A blank grade book, a new calendar year and a fresh outlook on teaching. Right now is a great time to make adjustments and try out ideas conceived during the fall semester. I’ve come up with a list of items I’d like to focus on as I begin my new semester.

Teach slower, teach longer.

As I reflect back on the fall semester I am amazed at how much I was expecting my students to learn at such a fast pace. I realized this as I was creating the fall semester exams and saw that every term or important concept I wanted them to know we hadn’t spent more than a class period on. One of my biggest goals for the new semester is to spend more time reviewing information and really learning it by heart.

This should also help students who missed classes not get too far behind because they’ll have several chances to learn the material.

Include more small group work.

Something I’ve been very bad about has been asking all my questions to the entire class and getting responses from only 4 kids at most. It’s a great learning experience for those special few who answer, but most of the class gets left out.

Instead, I plan on using a technique called ‘think-pair-share’, where students think of their response, pair off with a partner to talk about it, and then the partners share their ideas with the class. This gives the every student a chance to share a thought with someone else but doesn’t take require the entire class to hear everyone’s response. It also adds some accountability to someone besides me.

Use tickets more effectively.

Blue Lottery Ticket

At the beginning of December I introduced tickets to my students as a way to reward them for good behavior and class attendance. Since the introduction I’ve been a little stingy with the tickets.
It’s not so much that I haven’t found behavior to reward, it’s just that I’ve had trouble keeping organized with all the tickets. I’m hoping a little more planning and a few sheets of paper can help keep track if who’s done what.

Watch a soccer game

I played soccer in high school and hope to someday coach a team therefore you can guess that I also enjoy watching soccer. I have several students in my classes who play and it would be great to support the kids.

Use CHAMPS as a behavior management tool.

I’ve heard the praises of CHAMPS but haven’t found it too applicable to high school students. The ways I’ve seen it implemented have all been targeted towards elementary level kids and I’m thinking high schoolers would be very annoyed with some of the implementations. I’m hoping some quick googling will reveal methods for using champs with high schoolers.

Fish tank

Goldfish

When I took over in the middle of the fall semester, my new room was actually the past teacher’s old room. Everyday I found something new (old) and it was almost like a big toy box. Sure, I have little use for half the stuff, but I certainly can use some of it.

One item I found is was an empty fish tank. Immediately I wanted to fill it up and add some fishies, but my mentor advised me to hold back on it, at least until after my two-week Christmas break. Good advice, seeing as a two-week absence can make a fish or two go belly-up. But now that the break is over, I hope I can fill the tank back up. Fishes are cool and it’ll break up the white wall effect of the classroom.

Others items

  • Display more student work
  • Return grades quicker
  • Be stricter about absences counting as zeroes if missed work not made up

Of course I probably won’t accomplish all I want, but I do expect to change some things. It’s exciting to think about the possibilities and it’s nice to see I have lots of room for improvement.

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Questions regarding 21st century teaching

Over the Christmas break I’ve had the opportunity to read a few blogs with teaching tips and information regarding teaching 21st century students. In general, I love the idea of teaching students how to learn rather than lecturing them on what to remember. That whole “teach a man to fish idea”.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as just saying “Kids, I want you to learn to learn”. There are several questions I have about how to accomplish 21st century teaching:

  • Does my role become a glorified babysitter?
    Kind of a silly question, but it does concern me that my role may move to just keeping students on task while they learn everything from a website. I’m teaching because I have knowledge that I want to pass on, not because I just need a paycheck.

  • How do I effectively measure a student’s progress?
    I find it very difficult grading work on an “effort” or “creativity” basis. It’s too subjective and I’d hate to give a student a low grade on something they worked very hard on. I know I should be monitoring their progress throughout the projects, but I find it difficult remembering the effort level for 100 students. What’s the best way to manage this?

  • How do I successfully convince the higher ups to let me use blogs and social media sites when I’m not even certain myself it will work?

  • How do I appropriately filter content teenagers try to get away with adding?

  • How do I write lesson plans that are actually geared towards 21st century and not just Thinly veiled 20th century techniques?

  • How can I teach 21st century style for a subject I’m not very familiar with? How do I know the students are learning the right information?

  • How do I provide a structured environment for the students who need it? Some students need and desire the structured step-by-step environment when it comes to learning and would get disoriented/distracted if I threw them to the mercy of the internet. How do I provide the structure for these types of students so that they can also succeed?

I’m definitely hoping to adapt my teaching style as I go and I’m thinking about ways I can really engage the students so hopefully some of these questions can be answered.

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A Valuable Lesson…

I learned a valuable lesson the other day. One of my students completely shut down. The student was managing along, but all of the sudden the motivation disappeared and behavior problems started to rise. After a few classes of this I finally got in touch with someone who knew the child. Turns out the kid was lost and just wouldn’t (or couldn’t) ask for help. We decided to pair up the student with someone who’s doing very well (and I know just who) and have them work together.

I haven’t remedied the solution yet, but the lesson I’ve learned is that sometimes when a student refuses to do work they’re really just asking for help.

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Two months

It’s been two months since I’ve started teaching. I can’t believe I’ve been a High School teacher for two months.

I also can’t believe I’ve survived these past two months. This has got to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The lesson plans, the long drives, learning all the new rules, not to mention working with the students and discovering the best ways to teach. Looking back though, here’s my best advice for new teachers:

  1. Ask questions. It’s surprising the amount of important information you’ll learn just by asking questions. The people in charge are just as busy as you are, so they won’t be able to tell you everything you need to know. If you have a question, ask someone.
  2. Teach slowly. My first month or so I expected the kids to be like sponges and just soak up all the information I threw at them. When I started grading their tests and quizzes I was pretty shocked to see they hadn’t learned anything I taught them. Well, it turns out very few people can learn by reading off of an overhead. Not only that, but no one can learn it only after one time. As I’m going I’m learning how important it is to reteach the key details again and again and again and then once more. I have to keep reminding myself this.
  3. Take it in steps. The first week I taught, my goal was to survive and take attendance. The second week I took a stab at creating a graded assignment. Each week I’d add a small new goal and when I met it, i moved on. Right now my goal is to create all the lesson plans for the week before the week starts. Harder said than done. But that’s the only way you’ll make it, taking it one step at a time.
  4. Make mistakes, reflect and improve. IMHO, there’s nothing wrong with messing up your first year. As long as you get attendance taken and don’t fail your entire class, you’ve done pretty well. No one is perfect their first time around, just make sure you’re learning from your mistakes and improving your level of teaching.

Compared to the first several weeks I’m feeling much more comfortable with what I’m doing. I’m still exhausted as anything from staying up late to finish lesson plans. To me though, I don’t want to do anything less then my best. It’s just not as fun.

I’m tired, I’m worn out and I need a good vacation, but I’m happy to be a teacher.

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