Reitz High School

Reitz High School
Evansville, IN

Friday, May 31, 2013

Reflections of Memorial Day


Last Monday was Memorial Day.  For many students across the United States it signals the beginning of summer vacation and for most people it is a day off of work and a time to grill out with friends and family.  Many networks show some classic military movies and cemeteries are spruced up with flowers and decorations on headstones.  All of these things are great, but what is Memorial Day?

Memorial day is a day to remember those that paid the ultimate price for our country.  It is a day to remember those that have lost their lives in battle, so that we can enjoy the freedoms of this country.  Since many men and women have died for our freedoms, it goes to prove that our freedom isn’t free.  Freedom comes with a huge price.  Our freedom was paid for by those that have laid their lives down for something they loved and believed in.

When I see our country’s flag, I know what it represents.  To me it is much more than just a flag.  It is an emblem that those veterans fought for.  It is a symbol that represents the United States and the freedom that we all get to enjoy.  It absolutely makes my blood boil when I see anyone burn, mishandle, stomp on, or tear up our flag.  There are even proper ways to raise, lower, and display our flag.  Here is a site to use if you are ever in doubt: http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/more/displayonly.htm  

When the Pledge of Allegiance is being said, I believe you should stop what you are doing, put your right hand on your heart, and look in the direction of the flag.  I believe when the Star Spangled Banner is playing, you should again stop what you are doing, remove your hat, look toward the flag, and pay attention.  There should be no looking around, talking, laughing, or horsing around during these presentations.  That flag commands some respect.  Many veterans have given their lives so we can be free.  That is what we need to remember. 

I am tired of Americans worrying about who we might offend.  If someone chooses not to say they Pledge or Sing the Star Spangled Banner, then that is part of the freedom that our veterans fought and died for.  They should at least stand up and show some respect.  Our United State motto is “In God We Trust.”  I cannot believe that there is actually talk of taking it off of our currency and removing it from public buildings.  Really?  I don’t know of another country that alters any routines that involve singing a National Anthem or the Religion that their country was founded on because they are afraid of offending someone from another country.

It is time that we stand together and remember what many have died for.  Not just on Memorial Day, but every day. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The End of Another School Year

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It is hard to believe that another year has come and gone.  I have always heard people say that every year goes faster.  I am starting to believe that.  This year was definitely the quickest.  It happens to be my 20th year as an educator.  That really seems unbelievable to me.   That 1993 school year doesn’t seem that long ago.  I remember like it was yesterday walking into my classroom with about 28 sixth graders staring at me. 

We had blocked scheduling at my school and I was shaking like a leaf wondering how I was going to fill sixty-five minutes with a math lesson.  As the years went on, that type of thinking turned completely around.  I then began to wonder how I was going to fit everything I needed to teach, in the time that was given to me.  I have had many wonderful students go through my classroom.  Yes, I will be real here.  There were also some that were not wonderful at all.  They are the ones that take most of your time and energy.  They take your time away from the student that you want to pay attention to.  These are the ones that never seem to be absent.  You know what I mean.  They can also end up being the most rewarding.

I can think of one in particular.  I would say that in my 18 years of being a classroom teacher, this child was absolutely the most difficult.  I honestly have never seen anything like this student before or after.  I was teaching science at the time.  I re-tuned and refined my lessons all year long to make them more engaging for my students.  In my presentations, I would utilize technology; include photos, video clips, and interactive and hands on experiments.  It was a very challenging group of students, but this boy was a standout difficulty.  We created a behavior contract, let him use a squeeze ball to help him release frustration, gave him incentives to keep him motivated, I made parent calls, and had parent conferences.  It seem liked I was ramming my head against the wall.  At the end of the year, I thought for sure that I had failed as a teacher.  The standardized test scores came back from the state about a week or two after school let out.  I couldn’t wait to see how everyone did.  There were some great students that didn’t do as well as I thought they should have.  But, the biggest and most awesome surprise of all was that my most difficult student passed his science test above the state average.  Somehow, he was listening and learning and all I had done to help, even though I didn’t see it at the moment, had paid off.

So as you reflect back on your school year, I hope you will see more positives than negatives.  If the negatives seem to stack up, just remember this.  You may have made an impression on those students more than you will ever know.  In fact, I am pretty sure you did.  It may just be that your students were listening.  They may not have shown it at the time, but it just could be that they learned something.  And most of all, when you get those test scores back; you may get the biggest surprise of your life like I did.  I can look back on it now and feel good even though I didn’t at the time.   

Take some time to enjoy the summer.  Take some time to make plans for next school year.  Take some time to learn some new strategies that will help motivate and engage your students.  Take time to get re-energized and excited about beginning a new year.  I wish you the best!  I will keep blogging throughout the summer each week about various topics.  I hope you will take the time to check it out.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Want to Play a Photostory .wmv on a Mac?


If you have ever created a .wmv file by using Photostory for Windows and tried to play it on a Mac, then you probably know that it won’t work.  A .wmv is a Windows Movie File that will not run with Mac’s QuickTime player unless you have installed a plugin called Flip4mac.  This is a free download and will enable most .wmv files to be played using QuickTime.  Now, I said “most” because it still will not play the .wmv files created with the Photostory program.  Even if you take the .wmv file and convert it to a .mov or an .mp4 file on a site such as Zamzar.com, it still will not play on the Mac.

For you diehard Mac users, there is a way to get them to work properly.  The answer is a free conversion program called handbrake.  You can download handbrake at the following link: http://sourceforge.net/projects/handbrake/   Download and install the program.  Once you run the program it will ask you for your source file.  Direct it to the location of the .wmv created by Photostory.  You will also need to tell it where you would like the output file to go and what type of file you want it to be.  The output file should go some place that you can find easily, like the desktop.  The best type of file for Mac is an H.264 MP4.  After that, you will need to click the start button on the screen.  Once start is clicked the file conversion will begin.  The conversion is very quick, but time may vary depending on the size of your file.

Handbrake is definitely the best and easiest solution for the Photostory and Mac gap.  It converts perfectly without the use of flip4mac, Adobe Premier, or Windows Media Encoder.  Your finished project will not have any annoying watermarks and it only takes a few clicks.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Marketing For Your Classroom


            I would like to start off by asking you to think about the items that you have purchased over the last few months. Perhaps you have bought some makeup, chosen one brand of canned tomatoes over another, switched insurance companies, or even dined out at a particular restaurant.  What caused you to make those decisions?  Was it a billboard, a television commercial, the label looked pretty, a coupon, an email advertisement, a testimonial that you read, or were samples being given out while you shopped?  Any way you slice it; there was some type of marketing involved.  Talking geckos, singing M&Ms, babies talking about the stock market, or children talking about the meaning of fast and slow all grab our attention and sometimes make us laugh.  In fact, I would say that most of the commercials I have described might even be considered creative and fun.  These are all features that grab my attention.  What do you believe grabs a student’s attention?


            How do you grab your students’ attention for each of your lessons?  Do you expect them all to come in, sit down, and be quiet?  My 6th grade social studies teacher said these exact words on a daily basis back in 1982.  I can probably count on one hand how many times it actually happened.  She was a very nice lady, but was a very poor classroom teacher.  Today’s students have many more distractions than I did back in 1982.  Like it or not, we as teachers need be able to grab the attention of our learners.  Just like the funny ads that get our attention, we need to lure them into our lessons.  In my opinion, humor really is the best medicine.  You could write a humorous skit about the day’s topic.  This could be about any subject.  Many math teachers feel left out, but a script could be written between two characters talking about fractions.  The key is to be creative and have fun with it.    You could us a web tool such as http://goanimate.com/ . After you have modeled such great creativity, students could even create their own skits on the topic of the day as part of your lesson.


            I have heard teachers say, “Teaching is like tap dancing or putting on a big show.”  Well, I am afraid that is probably what it takes these days.  My mechanic told me once, “That is just the nature of the beast.”  Today’s learner is surrounded and bombarded with entertainment from the time they leave school until they return the next morning.  We have to put some effort, creativity, and fun into the lessons.  Remember, if you do what you always have done, then you will always get what you have always gotten.  Teachers, as well as students, will become more engaged in a lesson or project if we are all using our imagination and creativity.  Create a Voki from http://www.voki.com/ or a sound clip at https://soundcloud.com/ to give instructions or deliver a message to your students.  Sell your classroom and get your students to buy in and they will be more excited and willing to learn something new!


            Check out more tools to stimulate creativity at the following link: http://creativitytools.weebly.com/index.html

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Blunders with Standardized Testing and Technology


             

           I am a huge advocate for utilizing technology in the classroom.  I am not so much a fan of standardized testing, but for now it is pretty much what drives our curriculum whether we agree with it or not.  As I encourage teachers to be creative and not be afraid of technology, one of my reasons is that our high stakes ISTEP test is now given online for grades 3-8.  We need to prepare our students by integrating technology, which should include the creation of regular chapter and unit tests online.  The standardized test should not be the first time that our students experience online testing. 

            Well the time is finally here.  This is the week that students all around our state take the high stakes ISTEP test.  This test is supposed to measure what our students have learned this year and tell us how much growth they have made since last year.  This standardized test will eventually affect teacher evaluations and their salaries in the next few years.  It is safe to say that teachers feel the pressure to be sure all standards are taught and the students are mentally and physically ready for testing this week.

            Not only did we experience issues and frustrations just getting the test icon to function properly, but for the past two days, students have seen animated globes pop up on their test screens indicating connectivity issues that kick them out of the test.  It caused a complete stand still for the testing for the entire state.  It became so frustrating for students and teachers that the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction suspended testing by mid morning each of the first two days.  This morning, CTB/McGraw-Hill the vendor hired by the state to administer the ISTEP-Plus, posted on its website that "systems are ready to go."  The message also requested that schools decrease their daily test load by 50 percent to allow flexibility in the online system's load/memory capacity. It recommends, for example, rather than testing two grade levels at the same time, a school should make arrangements to only test one.  This totally disrupts every school’s testing schedule.  With schedule changes and multiple interruptions in the middle of thousands of tests, how can this be a valid test?  How many test questions were discussed between students, with parents, or even Googled at home? What about the added stress to students and teachers because of this major problem?  Once students have tried to take a test for two days and had to stop, do you think they now care more or less about the test?

            I have heard administrators and teachers talking about technology in a negative way due to these issues.  I have witnessed multiple comments referring to paper and pencil and how they always work!  To me, this is very frustrating.  I feel like the old door to door vacuum cleaner salesman that is raving about my product and when I go to do my demonstration it just won’t pick up any dirt at all.  It makes me look like a fool.  I hear, “See, I told you this technology doesn’t work.”  It is very disheartening.

            Why, if the system/network was not ready to carry the load of the entire state, was the online test rolled out?  The real kicker is CTB/McGraw-Hill is under a four-year, $95 million contract with the state of Indiana through June 2014. The Evansville Courier and Press reported that the contract requires McGraw-Hill to provide "uninterrupted" computer availability for two weeks prior to each testing window, as well as for the entire testing window.  That didn’t happen.  Perhaps this is the time for parents and educators to step up and capitalize on this failure and push for the elimination of standardized testing once and for all!