Muddling through the blogosphere

September 15, 2012
by blogwalker

Professional Artists in the Classroom

Despite cutbacks and more cutbacks and very shaky state funding for public education, teachers in my district continue to offer exceptional learning opportunities for their students.

As California voters head to the polls in November, if they have any doubts about the importance of Governor Brown’s proposed Temporary Taxes to Fund Education-Guaranteed Public Safety Funding (a constitutional amendment that would raise personal income tax on yearly earnings over $250,000 for five years, with most of the revenue dedicated to K-12 schools), maybe the video below will help persuade them.

Shawn Sullivan is a phenomenal teacher. I want voters to realize they could be paying big bucks to send their kids to private schools in the region, but I doubt they’ll be able to find an Animations class that matches the level of instruction, expectations, and opportunities afforded to Shawn’s students.

I want to further boast that the list of innovative, dedicated teachers in my district is a long one.  A year ago, I posted the link to the Teach 21 wiki, with samples of teachers from across grade levels and disciplines, sharing best practices. Currently, videographer Doug Niva, who filmed Shawn’s piece, is helping me document the cross-curricular ways teachers are weaving digital citizenship into the core curriculum.  I hope to post those samples soon.

Good things are happening in my district and across California public schools.

June 10, 2012
by blogwalker

An Amazing Student – who pays tribute to an amazing teacher

For California public schools and their 2012-13 budgets, so much depends on  November, when voters will have the opportunity to step up and support our schools by approving the governor’s proposed budget. Given the tsunami of teacher bashing still sweeping the country, I hope every district in the state – and nation – will make the effort to broadcast the efforts and accomplishments of talented teachers … teachers who change students’ lives for the better, thus benefiting society as a whole.

I personally have run out of fingers and toes to count the number of times parents and community members have shared with me about teachers in my district who have opened up new worlds of possibilities for a student.  Teachers like Sheldon High School’s Shawn Sullivan. But I’ll let David Garibaldi share a first-hand account:

Thank you Edutopia for sharing this inspiring story.  My goal for the upcoming school year it to highlight at least once a week an outstanding public school teacher – and I can already tell you that the school year will run out before I’ve barely tapped into my list:-)


December 11, 2011
by blogwalker
1 Comment

“No Child Left Off Line” – Whoohoo, California is catching up!

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of joining my fellow California K12 High Speed Network Advisory Committee members down at the Capitol for a meeting with our State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson. Our purpose was to talk about ways to promote new learning environments in California.

Ironically, California, the home of Silicon Valley, is hardly a leader in implementing eLearning opportunities in its public schools (yikes, we’re ranked 47th in the nation on technology integration in our classrooms) – until now. The framework, the initiatives, and momentum needed to transform the “No Child Left Off Line” mantra from a vision to a reality are now available:

  • The California Student Bill of Rights Act– The Riverside Unified School District is leading the charge in California’s “no child left off line” movement, with a commitment to eliminating zip code as a determining factor in the quality of education all California students have access to. The proposed law stems from the vision of two Riverside Unified School District administrators: Superintendent Rick Miller (who also serves on the K12 HSN Advisory Committee) and David Haglund, principal of Riverside Virtual School, the largest district-run online school in the state.

I applaud Riverside USD in their efforts to address what Superintentent Torlakson refers to as “the ground swell of public impatience with the lack of online learning opportunities.” I also very much appreciate having access to their district technology plan: Vision 20/20 Plan, a document (and road map) many districts will find insightful as they update their own tech plans.

  • What If the Story Changed? – David Jakes’ recent presentation for the 2011 K12 Online Conference is a wonderful piece “to challenge your thinking about traditional perspectives on education, and offer insights on how we might rethink these.” 32 very worthwhile minutes, I promise!

Online Students vs. Traditional Students
Via: Online PhD Programs Blog

One of my personal goals for the New Year is to join a cohort of Sacramento colleagues for CTAP3’s Online Learning Teacher Certification Course via Leading Edge. Probably can’t commit to the program till this summer, but I’m already looking forward to being a part of California’s 4 A’s (Any time, Any place, Any path, Any pace) movement .

April 17, 2011
by blogwalker

Some Tips for Getting Students through State Testing

April can be a tension-filled month at many schools sites, especially those sites that are in PI (Program Improvement). Thank goodness for Rudy Alfonso and his 5th grade filmmakers, who  have some suggestions for helping students get through the mandated week(s) of high stakes testing. If you’ve already seen Rudy’s 2010 The Secret to the CST, than you’ll be happy to know that he and his students have just released the CST 2011 Movie:

I love Rudy’s make-students-part-of-the-solution approach to standardized testing.

If you have testing tips for teachers to share with students, please jump in and add a comment….because apparently, budget crisis or not, standardized testing is still alive and well.

April 17, 2010
by blogwalker

A Tale of Two Title 1 Schools – What a difference a freeway exit makes!

I’m trying to imagine the climate at Oakridge Elementary School last week, based on my friend Alice’s description:

I arrived at my school Monday to a site abuzz. Coworkers had heard from teachers at other school sites in the district sharing that on Friday, they had received an email that was going out to “a select group of teachers” in our district, offering them the chance to work in high needs schools. Recipients were directed to a site for the Talent Transfer Initiative, a project from the Department of Education ARRA (stimulus) funding. More information about the background of the program can be found on the site for Mathematica, who will be evaluating this project. Although “priority schools” are not mentioned in the email, it’s pretty clear that in the district, my school in particular (being identified by the state as bottom performing) and the other five priority schools are the “target” school or schools for the program.”

It was only last month that the greater Sacramento area was treated to the SacBee’s front page feature story on the possible closing of Oakridge (which I blogged about here.)  I work in the next district heading south down Hwy 99.  Oakridge is situated in south Sacramento. The northern part of my district is also in south Sac. Not surprisingly, there is a good bit of flow through traffic in our transient Title 1 populations, with students starting the year in Sac City USD and then transferring into Elk Grove USD and visa versa. Therefore, ‘those students’ can potentially become our students.

If you continue down Hwy 99, past the off ramp for Oakridge, and take the Florin exit, as I did last Tuesday, and head over to David Reese Elementary School, you will find a more promising environment for teaching and learning – despite that fact that Reese is also in Program Improvement.  The school has had a series of administrative changes, but I’ve heard more than a few teachers refer to their current principal as “a gift.” And how many school websites feature their administrators and office staff dancing in chicken suits?!

My first stop at Reese was Mr. Alfonso’s 5th grade classroom.  I joined SECC cameraman Doug Niva as he interviewed a number of Mr. Alfonso’s filmmakers about their SEVA film entries. Hearing students share what they were learning from movie making (e.g., storyboarding, script writing, camera shots and angles, teamwork) made me wish all Title 1 students had access to project-based learning as part the school day  – even during  the month of April, which is often referred to as “the cruelest month of all” in terms of drill ‘n kill at Title 1 schools.

Mr. Alfonso was not in the classroom during the interviews. An off-track 5th grade teacher was covering his classroom (working with students on a vocabulary building exercise)  while Mr. Alfonso and a film team were somewhere else on campus working on a film production – with a Friday deadline. When the crew returned to the room, I was treated to a preview of The Secret to the CST, a production that would be shown during a Friday assembly to remind students about testing strategies. Hmmm…students consuming AND producing tips on test taking…

Thursday I was back at Reese, this time to join Teresa Cheung’s 4th grade students for an  interview with earthquake relief worker Leisa Faulkner who had just returned from  her latest visit to Haiti. Thanks to two of Mr. Alfonso’s filmmakers, the interview was recorded.

Next week, I’ll be back at Reese to help Ms. Cheung’s students decide which medium (podcasting, movie making, blogging) would be the best tool for taking Miss Leisa’s interview beyond the walls of the classroom and for honoring her request “to not forget Haiti.”

Will the Reese students achieve higher CST scores than the Oakridge students? I don’t know. No matter how demoralized the Oakridge staff is, I know Alice and many of her colleagues will continue to work well past contract hours in their race to level the playing field of  grinding poverty from the surrounding community – as will the Reese staff.  Come September, CST scores will be published. But if I were to place a bet…

Two Title 1 schools, both in PI, only a few off-ramps apart, but while one site is being taken apart from without, the other is rebuilding from within….

Sorry, Alice, but based on the apparent total lack of support coming your way from the “higher ups,” I’m betting on Reese.

March 9, 2010
by blogwalker

3 Area Schools Told: Reform or close

Are you kidding me… close Oak Ridge Elementary School?! In what is already less than a RPOAKRIDGESTUDENTS.embedded.prod_affiliate.4banner year for education in general, it was painful to start my morning with a local story, the Sac Bee‘s front page story: 3  area schools told: Reform or close.

Oak Ridge Elementary School is part of the Sacramento City Unified School District.  It also where my friend Alice Mercer teaches. Many readers of my blog also know Alice. And if you know Alice, you know that students who enter her computer lab have opportunities to  connect, create, collaborate, and share – and to experience what 21st century teaching, learning, and citizenship is all about. You also know, through conversations with Alice,  how hard the Oak Ridge team works to level the playing field for their students and to provide them with tools and programs that will take them beyond “basic.”

I’m not sure how to interpret Sac City Superintendent Jonathan Raymond’s response: “It’s not a list you want to have a school recognized on. We’re obviously disappointed about that. But looking at the numbers and the data, it’s not a surprise.

For the sake of the  students, parents, teachers, and administrators of Oak Ridge Elementary School, I hope having their school on “the list of the state’s lowest-performing schools” will not lead the site backwards into “the genteel unteaching of America’s poor.”

Hang in there, Oak Ridge Elementary!

January 9, 2010
by blogwalker

In Response to Alfie Kohn’s Tweet

What ed philo & tchg styles are likely in a schl whose walls feature motivational posters w/can-do slogans about effort & success?” Alfie Kohn

Alfie Kohn’s Friday morning tweet was on my mind as I headed down the hill yesterday to my school district – and 24 hours later, I’m still thinking about how I would answer his question.

I visit a lot of school sites, both in my day-time job and through a number of organizations I belong to. Most front offices and libraries have professionally done motivational posters. Some have student-done posters. I think the latter may be more reflective of a site’s educational philosophy than the former. I think the purchased posters reflect where sites would like to be; student-done posters reflect more the realities of the school day.

attendance5Take these three student samples, for instance, which were entered in a district-sponsored campaign to motivate students to get to school on time (click for an enlarged view).attendance6 Could it be the lack of motivation for students to get to school on time stems from being greeted with messages such as “Take out your textbooks”or “Detention – Be Quiet” or a major part of the school day being spent sitting (daydreaming, sleeping) in rows?

attendance8I recognize that change is hard and that all of us who are teaching in 2010 were born in the past century. But I am optimistic that change is happening, due in large part to how easy it now is to access mentor texts and teachers 24/7.

Cheryl Oaks, in a recent post to her Tech & Learning blog, What’s it like to be a students in today’s classrooms?, asks, “Would I be a different type of learner than I was 50 years ago?” She answers the question by providing some great online resources.

What if students started the day, for instance, with a message on the board something like “log on to the Newseum and …” or “team up and head into David Warlick’s sources for Raw Data and …“? Would the No Excuses posters featured above  reflect a different learning environment? I’m betting yes.

I’ll end this post with a great video by Kevin Honeycutt, one I plan to share with colleagues as we continue conversations on what 21st classrooms should/could look like – maybe even eliminating the need for motivational posters;-).

March 15, 2008
by blogwalker

A Difficult Week for California Educators – “Beware the Ides of March”

I have not heard the final tally yet on the number of California teaches who were “pink slipped” this week, but in my district alone the number is over 200! Unless there is a surprise in my mailbox today (5:00 today – the “ides” of March – is the cutoff for notification), I still have my job. Given that most of the cutoffs will go to those with the least seniority, California schools will be losing many of their newest teachers, along with the energy, enthusiasm, and innovations they bring fresh from their credential programs.

The Voice Thread below is in recognition that all of us as educators will be impacted either directly or indirectly by the 2008-09 budget cuts. I left a message earlier on Murcha’s Day in a Sentence Voice Thread, but wanted to also dedicate today’s post to this painful topic. Comments are welcomed!

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Note: Pink slip images copied from
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