General


That is the how I interpret Senator Dan Patrick’s letter to me in response to my request to kill new legislation that would remove class size restrictions in Texas. In this open letter, I will try to share my constructive opinion about this politically-motivated legislative mistake.

Dear Senator Patrick,
For reference sake, I’ll include large segments of your letter to me:
“… As the Vice-Chair of the Senate Education Committee, your thoughts are important to me. I authored Senate Bill 300 to eliminate certain mandates on schools. One provision in this bill allows districts to create classes based on a 22-to-1 campus average. This will enable more students to remain in their established classes throughout the school year. The current class-size requirement applies to kindergarten through fourth grade classes. Class sizes at higher grade levels, fifth grade through twelfth grade, are not limited because local districts should decide the most effective class sizes for their community. State restrictions on class size are ineffective, costly, and disruptive to students’ lives and education. This piece of legislation came from numerous meetings with superintendents and teachers. A campus-wide average will allow districts to create the best educational setting for a child rather than the state.”

I would communicate my feelings to your extensive, professional classroom-based experience, but lacking that, I’ll just use small numbers for you.

Class Size Example

Class Size Example

This chart shows some 22 to 1 school averages that I assume your bill would allow. Size1 shows what typically happens today. We have lower numbers in kindergarten and very high numbers in 5th grade. Please spend 2 weeks in a kindergarten classroom with more than 18 students and then show me your successes there. Putting the rest of the classes to at least 22 gives the school the allowance for 30 5th graders for each teacher. You would probably be safer painting yourself blue in a Steelers locker room than spending a year with 30 10-11yr olds and meeting the No Child Left Untested demands.

As a fifth grade teacher for 12 years, I was always astounded by the Texas law that made clear that 10 year old students are not as important, yet fundamentally much more mature than 9 year olds. I never had a class with fewer than 26 students and for several years has 30-31 students. Again, I’d love to see the Vice-Chairman on Education in the Texas senate teach 28 10 yr olds with Gifted, academically-challenged, autistic, poor home life, attention deficit, and other student labels while being told to test more in order to increase their 92% scores that allow the school to get a higher rating. (I know, I could have added more. I was trying to keep it simple.)

State restrictions seemed to work fairly well in the K-4 classrooms, some even having a waiver to go to 24. How in good conscience can you suggest that restricting class size is ineffective and disruptive? Ineffective is having to know each of your 28 students’ academic needs and making individual plans for all of their various levels in all subject areas, including an increased presence of liberal arts and technology curriculum standards and over-testing each one…. all while selling the idea that they should value coming to school because it is important. Disruptive is having a larger audience for the one attention-seeking clown in the classroom to play to and distract.

Why did my school have 30 5th graders in 3 classrooms? Because the district couldn’t afford to pay for another teacher. I have yet to work in a school where the admin has been able to keep all 5th grade classes down to 24 students because there was some extra money that they could play with on salaries.

We already have to beg and fight for adequate staffing in some cases. Letting district legally raise the class size limits will only hurt elementary schools. We already have waivers built into the system. Why not help students by making K-5 have 22 to 1 ratios for EACH classroom and allow the larger classroom size waiver for those forward-thinking schools that really do want to have an over-crowded and ineffective class size setting for their community.

We can’t just change class size restrictions as easily as some people change their name because they don’t like the way it sounds. There is a REAL impact on teachers and school performance when our young children are forced to meet the educational demands of the government in crowded classrooms.

Show me one respectable teacher that thinks that students would be better off in a larger classroom and I’ll gladly shut up. Otherwise, please reconsider removing class size mandates in the tragic mistake called Senate Bill 300.

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This is getting tougher, being ‘technology minded’. I spent 4 days at the National Educational Computing Conference in Atlanta and another week at a Discovery Educators Network conference. I feel like small child on Halloween evening being given free reign over Willy Wonka’s factory! I am trying to survive my own diabetic technology coma! Today’s blog isn’t just about blogging in the classroom, but these online tools may well influence your classroom technology experience and, in return, provide your blogging experience with some seeds for growth.

Edublogs.org They just had a major update and changed much of their home page. It shouldn’t effect any of the blog use, but has enhanced some of their posting tools. For instance, posting videos is now much easier using their updated tools. It is still based on the WordPress engine, but they have added some nice tools for educators.

PBWiki.com I am a huge fan of these guys. If you haven’t delved into wikis yet, it’s okay. Think of blogs as your two-way communication tool and wikis as your collaborative communication and document creation tool. PBWiki is a very nice wiki because it is visually easy on the eyes, pretty simple to start using, and FREE. Contact your local tech guru for more on wikis, or, visit wikipedia.com for a huge active wiki.

Twitter.com This summer’s new guilty pleasure. I’ve known about Twitter for some time but have effectively avoided it. It is basically a website that asks, “What are you doing?” You follow other people’s Tweets and they follow yours. Previously, I saw it as a time-wasting site for me to tell everyone that I was washing the dog… because you cared. 😉 Now, I follow people who write, “After washing the dog, I found this great educational technology site…” Lots of sharing.

IM Clients Yeah, instant messaging is old. But it is also in almost every communication device. Cell phones, Skype, Yahoo, Google, and various other websites and applications all allow you to text message or instant message people. It wasn’t unusual to meet people this summer who have three or more IM accounts. So finding a good IM client, or computer application that follows all of your IM account from one place, is becoming a more important tool. Clinging to my Mac world, Adium has been good for keeping track of multiple accounts and many people.

Flickr.com Really, any online photo-sharing tool at this point, but Flickr is very popular because of it’s sharing tools. Why share photos when there are so many already out on the internet? Consider the private photo collection a teacher has about the 1970’s energy crisis. Elementary could use photos the teacher put in there in their own media presentations. Older students could use images in an assessment and place them on a GoogleEarth map to show subject recall. High school students could go take photos that showed understanding and upload them to the class Flickr for group projects. Cross-country comparative photo projects would be amazingly easy. And the great thing is that most of these sharing services are still free.

So, talking with family has become more entertaining. “Yeah, I know she has a collection of blogs on her wiki because she twittered it.” They look at me and just shake their heads. However, my payback comes from my 7yr old who announced this morning, “I went through a hole to go buy a doodle with my jellybeans.” I’m now exploring ToonTown.com to make sure I stay in his loop of influence, but I’m still considering getting him an 8-track player for Christmas.

My biggest concern with student educational activities online has to do with Student Security. There are tons of security analysts and private consultants who will go to your school and scare the bajeezes out of you, your students and/or their parents. The point I hope to eventually make is that we don’t need to wait for something bad to happen or for the fear environment to hit before steps are taken to protect our students.

One gentleman I heard speak was Dr. Russell Sabella, a professor of counseling out of Florida. He spent a day presenting the present environment of internet safety to teachers and parents. It was nice, but the best part for me was that he puts his whole PowerPoint out there for everyone to use. Most of his workshop of Guarding Kids Against High Tech Trouble can be found online to be used on your campus with kids and/or parents.

Two other website that I want to mention are also leading sources for education. iKeepSafe.org and NetSmartz.org provide schools and parents with many tools for child education. There are a number of lessons, printable posters, and some engaging media that provide a platform for getting the attention of any age-level environment.

In the classroom environment, we spend much of our time teaching students to be responsible and there is no better place to emphasize that than when working with blogging. The possibly anonymous nature of blogging presents so many avenues for problems that some organizations keep blog sites blocked. I am a huge advocate of providing the climate of responsibility and being self-accountable so that young learners understand the possible dangers and learn to avoid them. So what can teachers do in the classroom to promote student security on the internet?

  • Accountable Communication: Do not allow totally anonymous comments. Have students use their initials or another identification schema when writing their ideas. Students can still be held accountable without divulging personal information. “I disagree with R.L.’s comment because on page 33, the author…”
  • Naming Strategies: I really liked what a South Carolina school did one year. Each 4th grader in the class adopted the name of an author. Dr Suess would respond to Gary Paulsen about the Science question. They were anonymous online and had a new opportunity to research and create a biography on famous authors.
  • Information Protection: Students should be aware that anything posted online can be used by someone else. The negative side of that is how predators can learn to identify people by following their text chats or blog posts. A short video (older elem thru high school) that demonstrates this is Tracking Teresa found on the Netsmartz.org site.
  • Classroom Bill of Rights: Have the students create a Bill of Rights for the classroom. Having ownership over their guidelines encourages self-policing and self-responsibility. I once deleted a comment where one student told another, “Hey stupid, you aren’t supposed to use real names!” Uh, half of the battle was won.
  • Parental Permission/Awareness: Sending all passwords and login information home to parents encourages their involvement. Knowing parents can read it helps raise the importance of their writing content. I’ve also had a parent respond to a writing prompt which had a really nice effect on that day’s blog comments.
  • Having an internet contract in addition to the regular classroom student behavior contracts would indicate the increase importance of responsible behavior online. One good example of a student contract is the Kid’s Pledge found at safekids.com.

All too often, the greater powers block sites and close lanes of communication because there MAY be something negative out there. My 7 yr old is already learning to chat with children on Disney sites and is learning now how to be responsible for himself and how to be more safe. He still needs to be protected, but with guidance, he will continue to learn how to be safe. As teachers, we need to provide that safety education as we increase our internet presence with our students.

Blogging is one of the easier Web2.0 implementations for that websites are offering to users. I’ve seen online banking sites start offering up blogs for their users! For educators, blogs are usually free resources that can be used to support the classroom curriculum. So what are some alternatives? Let’s list just a few.

WordPress.com This blog is being hosted by WordPress. WP gives you the option of using their server or using their software on your own server somewhere else. Keeping it on their server means they maintain your server health and you have ‘wordpress’ in your website address. They have many templates and support resources for beginning bloggers. I especially like the moderating features that effectively keep out people that I don’t want to write on out blog. A great plus is that there is no external advertising that you are forced to keep on the page. For more on WordPress, check out the reference links at the top right of this blog.

Blogger.com For a while, the big leader in free blogs. Blogger is arguably one of the easiest to setup. Creating the blog is easy and and advanced user can have an incredible amount of control over what the page looks like and what it contains. Like WordPress, you don’t have to have any external advertisements on the page and can control who is able to post comments. One glaring negative is the lack of control one has over pictures posted on the page. Once published, there is no way of permanently deleting photos.

Edublogs.com Built on the WordPress blogging engine, Edublogs had the added value of support for education. Teacher content is highlighted and education-focused widgets are created for Edublogs’ teachers to use.

Gaggle.net A student-oriented email site, Gaggle also provides blogs for registered users. Student blogs are monitored for inappropriate words and content. A teacher contact is notified whenthere are problems with a site. A negative that quickly comes to view is the placement of ads on the student pages. Despite the title, ‘save email for students’, the inclusion of off-site ads is very disturbing.

Teacherlingo.com Now in it’s infancy, TeacherLingo seems to be similar to most other blog providers. Their focus is to link many teacher-centered blogs together to make a larger education blogging community. It is free, but one will have to deal with Google ads placed all around the posts.

There are many other free blog servers that offer their resources for teachers. If you are new, sticking with WordPress or Blogger would provide peace of mind in a service that has been well tested and used and also provide detailed technical support.

There are so many ways to keep the lines of communication open to parents. Since a blog is nothing more than an easy-to-maintain website, it becomes a great resource for keeping parents informed.

Dated Material A by-product of posting is the dated nature of information. Yes it does get dated quickly, but it maintains a record of the date the information was posted. The parent knows exactly when the information was made available.  As the information is naturally archived, parents and students can go back through the months and find information that is naturally stored in chronological order.

Searchable  Most blogs have a search feature where you can search for key ideas within just that blog. Search for ‘Test’ and you will probably get every instance of any discussion on tests for that class.

Categories/Tags  Blogs often make available the concept of assigning a category, or tag, to a posting. These categories are automatically maintained by the blog service. Effective use of the categories help the end user to find general information quickly in a large blog.  Clicking on the ‘Spelling’ category would bring up all posts tagged that way, and thus probably give a good listing of all spelling unit words that have been posted on the blog.

Pages  Services such as WordPress give the additional feature of static pages. ‘Static’ because those pages don’t roll down the page as new posts are created. These pages are accessible through user-created links on the main page and stay there until deleted or moved by the creator.  For the parent, this would be a great place to maintain monthly newsletters, classroom guidelines, daily schedules, etc.  The parent would then have access to all of that information at any time.

Commenting  Not actually the best way to communicate back to the teacher, the comment structure of a blog can be useful for parents who wish to collaborate as well.  Classroom party planning, asking other families about projects, or other peer support issues.

These are just a few ideas for blogging with parents in mind. How do you/would you use your blog to facilitate parent communication?

Welcome to ClassroomBlogging.  The gates are wide open and all of the idea-cows are going to run amok. Hopefully, as they run past you, some new idea or concept will appear close enough for you to grab it and make it your own. This is a sharing site meant to make blogging a useful resource for the classroom teacher.

The ‘posts’ on the blog will cover troubleshooting tips as well as instructional ideas.
Please feel free to leave a comment and suggest a topic or pose a blogging question. All educational ideas are welcome. Being that it is an electronic tool, the ‘search this site’ feature on the right should help find information that has been archived or moved off the main page.

The pages listed to the right will stay on the page as permanent resources. More pages will be added as the site grows and better ideas present themselves.

May your classroom adventure be blessed with a rich infusion of technology and may this site help with at least one aspect of it.