Reitz High School

Reitz High School
Evansville, IN

Monday, October 27, 2014

Skype Provides an Unforgettable Experience for Students and an eLearning Coach

Today was an incredible day.  I am 43 years old and have always been fascinated with World War II. I have had the pleasure of meeting several WWII veterans and listening to their stories, as well as, collecting uniforms and artifacts from the time period.  I have seen many movies, documentaries, and even read books about the war.  I have been to museums and seen the tanks, planes, weapons, and pictures of the men and women that helped win the war.  I feel the WWII generation is the greatest generation.  In my opinion that group is full of heroes that served, fought, and even died which has allowed me to experience the life of freedom that I have today.  I am grateful and will not take for granted the sacrifices they made.



I have read many stories and novels about the Holocaust and the greatest evil I think this world has ever experienced.  Most of the novels that I read were with my middle school students when I was teaching ELA and Social Studies in my classroom.  At that time, finding a Holocaust survivor and having them speak to my students was just a dream.  Several years later, in my current position as an eLearning coach I had the honor of assisting a teacher and her class to make that dream a reality.

Sonya Farmer, a 7th grade teacher at Perry Heights Middle School in Evansville, Indiana, asked if I could help them Skype with an author of a book they were reading titled, Surviving The Angel of Death.  It was written by Eva Mozes Kor.  It is her account of her and her twin sister and how they survived Auschwitz death camp.  When I found out that she not only was an author, but a Holocaust survivor, I couldn't pass up this awesome opportunity.



The students gathered around my laptop, which we had connected to our Promethean Board.  Before we connected, we made sure most of the group was in the frame of the picture via the built in web camera.  We had the sound running through the classroom speakers and were ready to go.  I opened Skype and made the video call.  As soon as we connected we were greeted with a friendly, "Hello, can you see and hear me?"  We responded that we could and for the next 60 minutes about 30 seventh graders were riveted as they watched and listened to an amazing story of survival of twin sisters in a Nazi concentration camp.  I cannot imagine the horrible things that she and her sister overcame.

She finished up with three life lessons: 1. Never give up on your dreams.  If you don't do anything, nothing will happen, but by the same token, if you press on and take steps toward your dreams you will reach them.  2. Overcome being prejudice.  It leads to a life of hate and negativity.  3.  Learn to forgive others, even your enemies.  She felt like she was finally free when she forgave the Nazis for what they did to her and her family.  She said, "Anger is a seed for war. Forgiveness is a seed for peace!"



Eva is on the far right.
In conclusion, she answered some of the students' questions and told us about her museum  and website.  The site is http://www.candlesholocaustmuseum.org/ and the museum is located in Terre Haute, Indiana.   On the website, there will soon be a countdown to the 70th anniversary of when she and her sister was liberated from Auschwitz.  She not only Skypes and has a website, she also asked us to follow her on Twitter.  I am impressed!  Her Twitter handle is @EvaMozesKor

This will be an experience that I will never forget.  I want to thank Eva Mozes Kor for sharing her story and Mrs. Farmer for asking for my assistance.  I am a life long learner and learned as much as the students did today.  If you would, follow Eva on Twitter and help her reach her goal of followers before the 70th anniversary.  Check out the website and I encourage you to read her book.  The students really enjoyed it.  I borrowed a copy from them today and will start it tonight.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Prezi, It Is Now Easier Than Ever


My colleague, Tim Wilhelmus and I presented at the Indiana Connected Educator conference last week.  One of our sessions was on creativity tools from our Teacher Fun Park website.  While at the conference, I found out that one of our presenting tools,  Mural.ly is no longer free.  I did some exploring and found that Prezi, which is very similar, is much easier than it used to be.  In fact, I feel that it is very teacher and student friendly and encourage you to give it a try!  A public Prezi account is still free.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Response to Teacher Wanting to Give Up Teaching

Recently, several of my teacher friends have posted an article on social media expressing their frustrations with teaching.  Pieces of this article really disturb me.  This article, which has gone viral,  discusses several education reforms such as state standards, standardized testing, the new teacher evaluation program, and of course, using technology in the classroom.

The author of the article I believe is a good teacher.  She has been an English teacher for 15 years.  She indicates that she went into teaching to shape young minds, create good and productive citizens and spend time with young people that lack adult support at home.  This is admirable and the reason that most of us began our teaching careers.  We all want to make a difference.  I want to help produce students that would be good neighbors.  Right?


She describes how the government is attempting to improve education.   In the process they are stripping the joy out of teaching and doing nothing to help children.  As I was reading, I couldn't agree more.  In my 22 years in education, I have seen some of the best teachers that I have ever seen make comments like, "It just isn't fun anymore" and " Remember when we could come to work and just teach?"  She mentions how we are all teaching to the test.  She feels that she is missing out on opportunities to teach real life lessons and morals due to the time spent on teaching the so called essential skills defined by the standards.  At this point, I felt as though she was preaching to the choir.  I once had an administrator that said, "If it isn't on the test, it shouldn't be happening or discussed in your classroom."  Really?


She mentions that teacher evaluations are connected to test scores now.  She explains it great by saying, "My value as a teacher is now reduced to how successful I am in getting a student who has not eaten breakfast, and is a pawn in her parents' divorce, to score well enough to meet teacher evaluation goals."  She says that students are not machines that we can control.  That they are humans where scoring a D on a test doesn't bother them, but they will have a break down when a family pet passes away.  They struggle with writing skills, but are talented artists.  They may have low reading levels, but are courteous and respectful to others.  You cannot measure the immeasurable.  

The article then takes a very disturbing turn.  It seems to me that she associates teaching technology with taking computer multiple choice tests.  Is that the only reason she sees for providing students with technology and teaching tech skills in the classroom?  Did we not give paper and pencil multiple choice tests before they were put online?  I am pretty sure we did.  The computer is just the way the state is delivering it now.  Don't blame technology for that.


She mentions that she is forced to march lockstep in arming students with "21st-century skills."  She sees no value in teaching a student how to create a digital presentation or how to conduct themselves while using social media.  I hate to say this, but we are living in the 21st Century.  I question if she really knows her students and has noticed that they are plugged-in, in many aspects of their lives?  Has she not noticed her students' illuminated faces looking at smart phones, laptops, and tablets outside of school?  Our students today no longer have to wait a week to get prints of their vacation photos.  They can take images anytime, anywhere and send them to 20 friends in a matter of seconds.  What is and isn't appropriate behavior while doing this?  If we do not teach them, then who will?

Our students today no longer have to go to the library and look up information in an encyclopedia and write it down for a research paper or project.  They have all the information they could ever want at their fingertips.  In a matter of a few clicks, they can find out just about anything they want to know.  If we do not teach them how to find credible Internet sources and what is good and poor information, then who will?

The purpose of my article today is not to slam the author.  She has really great intentions and is for the most part, right on!  I do not share her opinion of technology use in the school and just wanted to point out why it is VERY important.  If you have not read the article, I recommend that you do.  Click here to read it.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Do Educators Need a Web Presence?

What is a web presenceWeb presence is basically your appearance or occurrence on the World Wide Web, aka, the Internet.  Some ways that you may have a web presence are by creating a teacher website, keeping a blog, or participating in social media such as Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.  A web presence is a great way to stay connected to colleagues, parents, students, and the community. Calendars, assignments, tests, class projects, and any other great things that are going on in your classroom and school can be shared out.
My favorite way to have a web presence is the creation of a teacher website.  I don’t think there is any easier way to create a teacher website than with Weebly.com.  With weebly you do not have to have any prior experience.  If you can use a mouse and drag and drop, then you can create a weebly.  Let me show you how.









The first step is to go to www.weebly.com and create an account.  Like most sites, you will need a valid email address and create a password.

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Once you have signed up and signed in, then you will need to make some decisions.  The first of these is to choose a theme or layout of your website.  You can choose a theme with pictures, that you can replace with your own.  You can choose a theme where the pages of your site display down the side or across the top.  To see the themes, click on the design tab at the top and choose Change Theme at the left.





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Once you have chosen a theme, you are ready to start building your site.  To do that, click on the build tab at the top.  You will also see several buttons at the left.  Each of these that do not have a star are part of your free website.  To use one, simply click and drag it with your mouse over to your webpage.  Titles, text, images, maps, buttons to create links and more are available.  You can easily drag the components and rearrange them once you have them on your page.  To delete a component, simply hover over it with our cursor and click the blue x in the top right corner of the object.

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So far, we have only created a home page.  To add more pages to your website, click on the pages tab at the top of the page.  Click on the orange add page box and give your new page a name.  You have four choices of how you would like this new page to look.  The tall header is the same as your home page.  The short header gives it a smaller picture.  The no header leaves the picture out and the landing page gives you a variety of a picture with text around it.  From there you can click save and edit to begin work on the new page.

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When you are ready for the world to see your webpage, you will have two more decisions to make.  What do you want to name your website (Site Title) and what do you want your parents, students, and community members to type in to get to your website (Site Address)?  The Site title can be anything you want.  The site address can only be used if no one else in the world is using it.  For example, www.google.com or www.ebay.com is already taken.  If you choose 6gradepumascience.weebly.com, it may not be taken.  For the free version of weebly, you must have it end with weebly.com.  We are all about free right now.  To get to this part, go ahead and click publish in the top right corner.  These questions should automatically pop up.

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When you have successfully published your site, you will see the following announcement.  This is to show you that your site was published and also that the name you chose is available without the weebly.com on the end of it.  That is great if you want to pay.  This little announcement will pop up every time you publish any changes on your website.  If you are happy with the free version, like me, then simply click on the blue and white “x” in the top right corner.  You can now go to your website by typing in the site address that you chose.  You will now have a web presence that you can begin promoting.

More Great Ways to Have a Web Presence

  1. Start blogging.  You can check out this article.  http://evscicats.com/blog/connecting-online-plnscommunities/ and http://evscicats.com/blog/blogging-in-the-classroom/  I like www.blogger.com
  2. Join Twitter or Facebook.  Check out these articles for more information.  http://evscicats.com/blog/facebook-and-the-connected-educator/ and  http://evscicats.com/blog/day-13-30dc13-social-media/

The Challenge

If you don’t have a teacher website, I encourage you to give it a try in the near future.  It is a great way to communicate and share what is happening in your classroom with parents and the community.  Today’s challenge is imagine  how you would use a teacher website and how it would benefit you as an educator.