. Regurgitated Alpha Bits: April 2011

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Quiet Grace

In our class of 100+ fourth graders, it seems there are a 1,000,000+ personalities.

Allow me to introduce you to Stephanie, just one of our little personalities.

Stephanie... a sweet little girl with a huge heart. She is quick with a smile and even quicker with a hug. Absolutely filterless, she tells you every emotion she has just as she's having it. A little gem and a daily joy to her teachers.

On a day when I was feeling particularly down because one of my cats had been sick and we didn't have much time left with him, Steph showed up to school with a homemade necklace for me with three little cats dangling from it. She had no idea what was going on with me at home, but her little necklace is a treasure of mine now and forever. I have since lost my cat, but that necklace brings a smile to my face!

In addition to being loving and cheerful, this darling little girl is also an easy target for bullies.

She struggles both academically and socially. Her glasses sit crookedly on her face and both her gross motor and fine motor skills are not as developed as her peers. Almost everything we do in class is too challenging for her to complete independently. In a nutshell, she is different and pays dearly for it at school. She does have a best friend though.

Her dog Ruby.

Each day, Stephanie's mother and Ruby pick her up from school. We get to watch a little girl and her dog reunite as if they had been separated for months instead of hours. Stephanie runs to them, scoops the wiggly white puffball into her arms and just gets drenched in sloppy wet kisses.

One day, Steph's mom came with Ruby bouncing along to pick up their favorite little girl, and we noticed that Ruby was being walked on a rope tied around her neck instead of her usual pink harness and leash. Steph explained that her harness and leash were gone, but couldn't explain what had happened. Like most of the families at our school, their family doesn't have much  money so there would be no new harness or leash in their future.

The next day, Steph came up to me with an even bigger smile than usual on her face. In her hand she was clutching a pretty little light blue collar with rhinestones on it, brand new and cute as can be.

You see, Abby, the little girl who had been the target of a large group of bullies that I wrote about here, also noticed the rope around Ruby's neck so she spent her allowance on a new collar for her.

That was one happy little girl who stood before me!

Abby thought nothing about the gift. She saw someone in need and could fix her problem, so she did. "No need to thank me," she said. "It was the right thing to do."

The lessons these two little girls could teach others will most assuredly be lost on their peers, but their teachers will remember them forever.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ego Blow

Student: When are you going to be our teacher again, Mrs. Lee?

Me: As soon as our student teacher is all done with her time with us. We sure are going to miss her when she leaves.

Student: We miss you too, but you don't need to come back right away.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Technically Cursed

I [heart] technology.

But technology does not [heart] me back.

Every time, no wait...

EVERY time I use it, ANY of it, in my classroom, it craps in my hand and runs away.

And these are the words coming out of the mouth (keyboard) of someone who is pretty durn adept at using technology.

Take a stroll with me down Technology Torture Lane:

Our district pays good moola for us to have access to Discovery Education, and I have made it my mission in life to put that moola, combined with our class set of notebook computers, to good use this year. Many weekends have been spent developing lessons that integrate the vidoes and other pieces available on the site, only to find that our bandwidth is inadequate for all the students to stream said videos at the same time or even for ME to stream them on my computer alone for the kids.

If, by some blessing from the bandwidth fairies, students can stream videos on their notebook computers, then no fewer than eight of those computers will require a reboot in the middle of the activity for no particular reason, causing panic and disappointment on a monumental level for those nine-year-olds because it takes at least 10 minutes for their computers to complete a reboot.

Challenge 1: Give yourself and your family big bowls of your favorite ice cream, but you sit there for 10 minutes doing nothing while they eat theirs, complete with lots of slurpy sounds and yummy moans. Sucks, huh?

Or, since some of the computers have Internet Explorer as the default browser and others have Mozilla and one or the other is incompatible with Discovery's streaming (depending on how the wind blows), some kids can stream and others can't and a third group can stream but without any sound.

What was intended to be a highly engaging activity melts down into an hour of me running around helping distraught miniature scientists who just want to watch a damn video clip on electromagnets, build a digital frickin' version of one, and take a gosh darn quiz on what they just did.

Instead, they get a tiny hourglass on their computers and a frustrated teacher trying desperately not to lose her s&!t in front of them.

So then I decide to give myself and my kiddos a break from Death by Discovery Education, and we bust out Qwizdom. Qwizdom has standards-based lessons and quizzes and much more, and each student gets a remote...

WE GET REMOTES! yesssssssss [insert fist pump]...

that they can use to send their answers to my computer. We get immediate feedback on how well they did on each question (complete with a pie graph). The power students feel just by being handed a remote is palpable. Qwizdom is a useful, fairly straightforward, tool and SUUUUPER motivating to the students...

...when it works...

I am about to clap out then number of times it has worked this year. Ready? Here I go:

Did you hear that? THAT was what zero claps sound like. (I told you I was technologically literate.)

Of course, it always works for SOME of the students, but never for all of them which leaves those without a remote feeling dejected, disappointed, and decidedly UNmotivated. (See Challenge 1)

So I give up on all the fancy-dancy stuff and just get out their notebook computers again for them to use ST Math, an online math instruction site which we use because of a grant our district received.

...except we can't use it...

...at least not all of us because three computers crashed, two students can't remember their eighteen character passwords, the Internet dropped off and we all lose access, and then when it comes back twelve computers now have the site displayed only the right halves of their screens and there is no sound.

It's enough to drive a girl to drink...

...in class...

...WITH the kids.

But I won't.

Because drinking requires some sort of device to cool the beverages, like a refrigerator, which might be considered technology by some standards...

... and I'm afraid it might rise up and kill me.

Saturday, April 16, 2011





This week has been a busy one. Lemme just tell you an itsy bitsy bitty bit of it.

On Thursday, two boys came to tell me they saw a couple kids bullying a girl in our class.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again...

and AGAIN. Bullying




Nothing makes me more upset, especially when our most defenseless students are the targets. (But isn't that always how it goes?)

The target of the bullying is just that: a sweet, special young lady who is totally unable to defend herself against a bully. She's an easy target.

So we started interviewing students, and each interview revealed more students involved in bullying her,

and more students,

and more students,

and MORE students...

Bottom line, this sweet, shy little girl has been terrorized on the playground and IN OUR CLASSROOMS by over 30 of our students...




with the most horrible, painful words and actions I've ever encountered of in all my years teaching.

And we, her three teachers, knew nothing about it. (I am a HORRIBLE teacher.)

The degree to which individual students were involved ranged from gathering around her to point and laugh while others bullied her to such egregious threats against her that I can't even bring myself to type them here.

And she never told us, or any adults, because she didn't want to be a tattle tale.

(Insert dagger into already broken heart.)

Well, needless to say, consequences are being rained down on these students. RAINED DOWN!! In addition to that, all the time they will NOT be allowed to feel the blacktop under their feet or the sun on their skin will be filled with anti-bullying and empathy training.

And we teachers are developing ways to make sure this NEVER happens again.

But there IS a silver lining in all this.

(I know! I'm shocked too!)

When my teaching partner addressed the students who were not involved in the bullying, he asked that they let the teachers know if they ever witness bullying again so we can intervene because we all need to protect each other.

A few moments later, the most popular boy in our class came up to him with big tears in his eyes. He knew about the bullying and said nothing and felt HORRIBLE that he had not protected her.


Then he said that when students were lining up each day after recess and bullies were telling everyone not to line up behind the little girl because she "smells," HE would purposely get in line right behind her even though the kids would tease him.


After two days of finding out just how despicable people can be to someone, our heavy hearts were lightened just a bit by the simple kindness of one little boy.

Maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

...but if you do, I'll presume you're guilty.

We teachers must be the police officers of our own little worlds. How many times has a "crime" been committed in the classroom or on the playground that we must investigate?

For me, like a billion times a day.

Ok. That might be a slightly inflated number.

I like to do the Good Cop/Bad Cop routine, however due to a lack of grown-ups in my room, (there's only one and it's me and I realize referring to me as a grown-up is sometimes stretching the truth) I must play both parts.

Here's generally how it works.

Child A comes to me sobbing HY-STER-I-CALLY and says something like:

Child A: Iwasontheplaygoundandsallygotallherfriendstomakefunofmyshoes.(snifflesniffle)

So I say: Whaaat?

So Child A says: Iwasontheplayfoundand SALLY gotallherfriendstomakefunofmyshoes!(snifflesniffle)

Me: Sally did what?

Child A: Made(sniffle)fun(sniffle)of(sniffle)myshoes.

Me: Sally made fun of your shoes?

Child A: NoooOOoo!(sniffle)

Me: Well, that's what I got outta what you said.

And that's when another child, eavesdropping from her seat and fluent in Sobbingese, translates: She SAID, Sally got ALL HER FRIENDS to make fun of her shoes.

Me: Oh.

And so the clock starts ticking on the 48 free seconds I have to solve this mystery.

We all know, if I call Sally over and ask if this incident occurred, she's going to lie to save her bacon. That is why I never do that.

I give her time to stew before I ask her to lie.

First, I interview witnesses. I take copious notes on what is said by all the witnesses, keep facts that are the same and throw out what is different, and am usually left with some semblence of the truth...

...if you're comfortable with a truth that is about as clear as mud.

In all honesty, I usually have NO idea what really happened.

Knowing the truth is not what matters. Having Sally THINK I know the truth is what matters.

When the interviews are done, I then take Sally aside and say: Sally. I've just been talking to some other students about an incident on the playground. After talking to the others, I now understand what happened (Yeh, right). You have been named as one of the participants (Which is the only fact I AM sure of). I'm just gathering facts here and would like your side of the story. I am counting on your honesty (therefore I am prepared to hear a lie).

And then Sally tells me a whole long explanation that is completely fabricated and is designed to make her look innocent. (Because to a kid, "Tell your side" means "Lie, Lie, LIE!" and she's had all this time to think it up.)

And I say: Sally, I already KNOW the truth (Ha!). Your story does not match the facts given to me by the others. I want you to be very sure that you've told me everything as it happened. Maybe you just got confused a bit?

So Sally jumps at that opportunity and says she MAY have been a little confused. She then tells me a story that implicates her juuuuuust a teensy bit but not fully.

And I say: Sally. I'm sure you're not fully being honest with me (I think). I want to help you with this (I want this over with), but I can't until you start telling the whole truth. Your facts just don't add up with what I KNOW is the truth (I think). Now, if you continue to be dishonest with me, I'll be forced to increase your consequences (even though I haven't the faintest idea what consequences to give for an incident I don't fully understand).

It is here that Sally realizes that she is indeed going to be getting some consequences, but the severity of which she might have some control over and she'd like to take advantage of that.

Sally: Ok! I DID IT! Igotallmyfriendstomakefunofhershoes(snifflesnifflesob).

I don't really know what she said, but it sounded a lot like what the other kid said so I take it as the truth.

I hand out some rough justice and move on with my day, satisfied that another wrong has been righted in my room...

...I think.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Party's Started

Over on 5 Minutes for Mom, the Ultimate Blog Party had gotten under way! Hop on over there and check out all the amazing information, links, and take the opportunity to hook up with some other blogtastic bloggy people!

Btw...I may need a designated driver. Can you give me a lift?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Oh, Florida...

I don't know about you, but I am glued to the goings-on is Florida.

You see, Florida Governor Rich Scott, just signed his first bill and it eliminates tenure for new teachers and changes teacher evaluations to be based, in part (50%), on their students' test scores.

I have some feelings about this. I'll bet my left earlobe that you do too!

And so do the teachers in Florida!

As I've said before, I dig reading people's comments and that includes all of them in the online papers I read. I actually get a little too caught  up in their comments and wind up spending a lot of my time commenting on their comments.

I gotta learn to shut up...

Anyhoo, I've been poking around in the Florida papers just to eavesdrop on the comments teachers and others have been writing online. (and put my two cents in on a few...)

One side thinks that merit pay and the elimination of tenure will be just the motivator teachers needed to really get those test scores raised.

The other side thinks that merit pay and the elimination of tenure will not motivate teachers but will instead hurt teaching and students because teachers will to teach to the test rather than foster a love of learning and creativity.

A third side thinks that teachers' pay might be unfairly hindered by the populations they service.

And THAT'S where the comments got really interesting!

(Btw, there are MANY more sides to this debate.)

There is a storm a-brewin' about how parent involvement and student motivation will impact a teacher's ability to earn a merit raise, since test scores will now account for 1/2 of the teacher's evaluation. (Only teachers rated "effective" or "highly effective" can be eligible for a merit raise.)

Now, we all have had those students who never do their homework, are always late, are frequently absent, and have parents that are impossible to raise on the phone or get into your room for a conference.

In Florida, could they keep you from getting a raise?

Some teachers say yes, and have, in the comments sections, suggested suing parents who do not live up to those "home/school contracts" many of us all sign at the beginning of the year.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, many districts have teachers and parents sign a contract that "commits" parents to certain promises like providing a quiet place for homework, making sure kids get to school every day and on time unless ill, etc. Teachers also promise as well to providing assistance if academic help is needed, treating children with respect, etc.

In my district, they get signed by everyone, filed in a drawer, and shredded at the end of the year. No one really takes them seriously.

Looks like some Florida teachers want to now!

Some teachers feel that if the actions, or perceived lack of actions, by parents or students inhibit a teacher's ability to earn a living, they suggest holding parents legally accountable to the contracts they signed at the start of the year.

Wow! What do you think about that one?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I'm Curious

...and by that, I don't mean strange.

I always love to hear what others are thinking. The best ideas I ever had I stole from other people!

No, seriously. In my opinion, the greatest thing about blogging is hearing what all of you have to say in the comments section. I find all of you fascinating!

So let me pick your brains.

I posted a really quick, and relatively useless (except to satisfy my own curiosity) poll over on my Facebook page. Drop by and check it out when you have a second.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

QR Codes???

I told you that I would tell you more about what I learned at The Cue Conference I attended, and I'm no liar.

(Despite the fact that I'm using a false name, false location, and changed the names, ages, and genders of just about everyone I've ever written about.) I'm NO liar!

QR Codes were EVERYWHERE at The Cue and I am really excited about them.

QR stands for Quick Response. That excites me because Quick Responses are not something I usually get at school.

Me: Timmy, what is 4 times 5?
Timmy: uhhh, ummmmmuhh, eeerrrrr, aaaaaa, weellllllll, hold on, I'll get it. Could you repeat the question?

QR codes, in case you're new to these, are little 2D doodads that have data encoded in them that can be decoded by a cell phone's QR reader. Once decoded, the data is revealed on your phone.

Most cell phones with Internet access have the QR reader software either already on them or it's available for free online.

I have an iPhone, also know as "my other right hand," and I use the Red Laser app.

(Which, by the way, is a FANTASTIC app for comparison shopping as well!! For example, scan the barcode of the TV you're contemplating buying at your local store and Red Laser will tell you how much it's going for at other local stores and online.




So, back to QR codes. I made one...

well, I made like 12, but I won't subject you to all of them.

I made ONE for you to try out. Get out your phone and let your QR scanner take a picture of image below.

Did it work??

If it did, you'd see my contact information all ready to be saved in your contacts in your phone.

(Don't actually save it unless you're dying to have fake info about me.)

Wouldn't THAT be handy at Back to School Night? Make one. Display that sucker at the front of the room. BLAM! Info shared!

They are simple to make and simple to use and give the users immediate access to information. You can make them online for free. I made the one above at Zxing.

What kind of data can be stored in a QR code, you ask? Well...

- Your contact information (obviously)
- Calendar events (for important school events)
- an URL to a website (when scanned, it will take them right to the site)

There are lots more application ideas for these doohickeys.

I LOVE the idea of using them to link to a website. My big dream as a math and science teacher (my mother still can't get over THAT fact)...

My Mother: You know, she couldn't even DO math as a kid. I had to pay for a tutor for...
Me: MaaAAAaa! Do you HAVE to tell everyone about this?!?! Really?!?!

 ...is to have students make videos of their science experiments to post online. Then, at Open House, we post QR codes that link parents to the website and they can watch their kids conducting the experiments right on their phone!

Students can post How-To videos for math lessons, post QR codes in the room, and parents can watch the kids doing the teaching!

The possibilities are endless!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Self Promote Much?

Ahhhh, Spring Break.

A time to sit outside and enjoy the warming weather.

Have a glass of lemonade and read a good book.

Listen to the birds chirping and the bees buzzing.

Obsess over a Facebook Fan Page.

Darn you, Mr. Teacher, for suggesting I start a Facebook page.

Do you KNOW how much time I have devoted to that damn thing!?!

It's bad enough that my Twitter account has all but taken over my life. Now I'm beady-eyed and frantic over my new Facebook page too!?!?!

First, a week was spent perfecting a hand-made (read Microsoft Word-made) logo for it. (Thank you Trina for all your helpful suggestions!)

What do you think? Not too shabby for being made completely out of shapes in Word, huh?

Next, I made 12,125,654,127 attempts to add one of Facebook's "Like" buttons to my blog to no avail due to issues with my customized blog background. No problem. I just made my own link using my handmade logo.

Then, the tossing and turning at night began as my mind was gripped with questions like:

How do I link my blog to Facebook?
(Figured that one out....I think.)

How do I link my Twitter account to it?
(No go yet. Can't find my Twitter rss feed for anything but my "favorites" in Twitter.)

What the hell else do I have to say on another social media platform that I'm not already saying?
(Evidently only as much as I have to say on my blog, for now!)

How will my ego survive only having 3 fans on my page?

Well, there it is. My fan page is up and running and I hope to turn it into something useful for all of us.

Oh, and I'm not actually mad at Mr. Teacher for his suggestion. He's one of my favorite bloggers and a darn good author.

Hope I see you on Facebook!