Monday, November 18, 2013

How to make different better for our students!

As a resource room teacher in a small high school in Wells, Maine, I have the benefit of knowing many students in the building. I am in two freshmen classes, World Studies and Physical Science, where I work with the content area teachers to help make the content accessible to our students with IEPs. This is my third year back in a classroom working with students. My colleagues and I  have tried many ways of differentiating instruction and assessments in order to offer our students ways to succeed.

During the summer the social studies team of grade 9 and 10  teachers and I worked on differentiating instruction and assessments. We were committed to making the content accessible to all students at different levels we referred to as Tiers. In the end we designed Tier 1 the regular content and assessments with the standard that students would complete annotations and sentences at the highest level. Next our Tier 2 students accessed the same classroom content, however, when they were writing, they would use 3 annotations, 2-3 full sentences describing their work and research. During the assessments they would have 2 multiple choice answers to read instead of 4 or 5 choices. Since our students read and process at a slower rate, this modification has been very successful. Finally, for very small number of students we offer a Tier 3. The same classroom content is offered. The annotations and sentences are 3 per page, with 2 sentences describing their research answers. This group of students takes the Picture ID part of the tests and quizzes using their notes. Instead of the multiple choice tests these students take a test using the Quizlet vocabulary words they have used since the beginning of the chapter.

Our results. The students in Tier 1, 2 and 3, barely notice the accommodations that the other groups use. They are all too busy doing their own work.  The teachers have been able to see the different Tiers working. The teachers are using the different Tiers with students who may not have an IEP. Why not? If the accommodation is working, if the accommodation allows the student to experience success, why not offer it to more students. The Tiers are flexible, students can move up and down the Tiers depending on their previous success or challenges.This work around the Tiers has been ongoing and constantly changing with the social studies content.

In the Physical Science class the teacher and I have a different approach for our students. All students have the same instruction except where math problems are concerned. The content and note taking are the same for all students. The number of annotations are flexible depending on student processing speed and understanding. The most accommodations occur during quizzes and tests. It is not unusual to have 4 or 5 different levels of quizzes and tests in this class. It works, the students with IEPs have access to their notes and may have different math questions most often with the formulas written into the test,  word banks are built into the tests, and for some IEP students the CLOZE system is used with a hint when they are answering questions.

We are making different better for our students!

Oh Ruby, what now?

After having my car for 8 months I was prepared that I needed to do the regular things like an oil change, windshield wiper change, but  a SYNC update. SYNC is the hands free phone, the navigation system, climate control and the inter-operability of them all.   Now I'm a tech girl.  I wasn't scared. Well, maybe a little nervous, but not scared! I could handle a SYNC update!

I logged into, then the fun begun. I chose my vehicle read the directions, downloaded a file to my USB.  Then I needed to load a smart card, the kind you use in some digital cameras.I am still feeling pretty good. I reread the directions on the website.
In order for this SYNC to be successful you need to start the process and then, without interruption,  keep the car running for 1 hour. (Now I only have a 10 min drive to work, so this will not work without further planning.)  I am way too frugal to sit in the driveway and run the car without traveling! So this SYNC will need to revolve around a trip.

Before I begin my trip,  I set up my car with the USB and smart card. As  I am on my trip I watch the navigation screen flash from installing data, transferring information, to a reboot.  I begin to wonder if I should be traveling down the road while this onboard computer system is being updated. Then I get an error message!!!! NOOOOO!
I am nearly at my destination . The only thing to do is begin again! So I begin the SYNC process all over.  This time 60 min. Later I see the success message, your car has successfully updated! 

4 weeks later..... Another update!!

Here I go again!  You might ask , why update?  Well things had begun to be glitchy!  The navigation system rebooting while I am driving. When I ask Ruby to call my son, "Jotham", the car, thinks I said,   "Jonathan", my husband. It is not okay to call your husband and say "Whoops, wrong number!" It doesn't sound right to say   "Ruby, dialed your number, I told her to call Jotham." So, here I go getting ready to SYNC to get rid of glitches.
The first time I tried this update Ruby just sat and did not respond.  I put things away, re-read the directions on the website, and planned to restart the process again.  After I pressed Master restart the process begins to load  1 out of 8 items,  1-2-3-4-  error bad port.  So  I try the other USB PORT. I have 4 to choose from.  The next time I get through to the 7th item and I get the error message bad or invalid file.  I try to download the file again, I even reformat the USB for a fresh start. Finally, my car needs service and I give up and turn it over to the dealer.

Yes, I gave up! But the dealer was able to update the SYNC and I am back in business.

  • With this many steps and the car needing to be running in order to update,  how many others are not bothering with updates?
  • Shouldn't FORD have a foolproof way to update?
  • Does this process of updating actually work with any reliability and consistency?

So FORD and SYNC, please get your programs working and talking to each other.
It shouldn't be this hard to keep my Ruby performing at optimum levels.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Beginning the year differently! 2013-14

It used to be that at the beginning of the school year I would spend time with my class getting to know them, and getting them to know me. Now that I am in the high school the time I spend with my students is precious and definate.
This year is the first year I am spending less time 'teaching them google mail, docs, calendar' and more time showing them extensions and apps from the google store. Our school is a GAFE, Google Apps For Education. Now that we have our school domain in full swing, I am able to give my technology guru a list of my favorite apps and extensions and he puts them into our own category in the web store. Because our students log into our domain, the domain category shows up in the web store. Once in the web store our students go through the list and select the apps and extensions we have pre-selected for them to use.
All of this is to say that we work at getting our students the tools to access their work. We spend much less time teaching them about the tools. Instead we get right to their homework and using the tools to solve problems, search google images, research in a google doc.
Here are a few of our favorite tools, using Chrome Browser, found in the Google Chrome Web Store
Webpage Screenshot Capture
Chrome Speak
Pic Monkey Extension
Read&Write for Google
Select and Speak

More apps at a later date, but this list will get your students started.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Reflection about technology and my new car Ruby

coakes Ruby

I was reading Langwitches blog about how to successfully implement iPads into the classroom. Here I digress-- Her post Get Over It! really resonated with me and here is why! (First a thank you to Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano for her thoughtful and informative posts!)

Silvia tells us how her thinking has changed over the past 5 years about teaching and learning. Originally, she soft pedaled, as we all have, about good teachers make good learning, NOT the technology. Now Silvia says, " educators MUST experience the world of technology and modern learning (aka 21st century learning) for themselves in order to understand the transformative learning." 

Here is why! My new, 9 month new car, Ruby! I purchased the car hoping for a sun roof, hands free phone, possibly a GPS unit and space to travel with a crowd. What I got was keyless entry, keyless start, a talking SyncUnit including GPS, hands free phone, weather, traffic alerts, CD player, Sirius Radio, many USB ports, get the picture. I had the customary get to know your vehicle at the dealer and a huge thick book. Books, I know books! I began to read about my Ruby.

However, books are going through a revolution, as far as informational text. The car company does not present the information I need in a fluid manner. I had to use the index and found many references to the items of interest. Once I secured the page, the information was NOT even close to answering my question. My son, Dr. Nathan-dentist, ( you see it has been a long time that some of you readers have been following me) said, "Mom, go to YouTube to get that answer!"  (I knew that! see my post about how I fixed my dishwasher.)

I learned how to customize my screen. I downloaded software, inserted in one USB port and updated my car system, and then read my email from Ford that I need to download and update my system further to "fix the bugs".  MY point, SILVIA's point-we must experience the world of technology!! We must learn for ourselves in order to understand the transformative-(my words here-ANYTIME-ANYWHERE LEARNING-AS LONG AS I HAVE YOUTUBE) learning"

How is your classroom changing as you go back to school? Mine is changing with iPads. That post is for another day.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

School Year 2013-2014

It has been nearly a year since I have regularly posted. I took last year off from my picture post a day, my blogging, tweeting and commenting. It was the first time since 2005! I took time to focus on my students, my family and myself. Not a bad thing! Now I am ready to begin again. I am baaaaccccckkkk! I will be blogging with purpose about my students and how technology continues to level the playing field for challenged learner. I may have shorter blogs about my school days, shorter blogs about new tools and new ways students are making progress. I look forward to the virtual conversations, ideas and dialogues. See you on the flip side! Join in these conversations.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Summer Vacation from School Schedule Only

cross posted at

Some of us are FREE from school schedules during June, July and August, in the northern hemisphere. But this same idea will work year round, whenever you are not tied to your school or work schedule.

All of us can participate in reviewing and commenting on the Common Core Science Standards, including Science and Engineering. Then if you are so inclined, you can be on the ground floor of developing classroom connections, classroom lessons,  connections to English and Math standards,  and finally, connections to the Social Studies standards as well.
Why is this important? Many of us have education happen to us or happen around us. However, at this time, we can be instrumental in the R&D, the research and development of how the  Common Core Science Standards, including Science and Engineering, will impact our schools, our students and our lives.

I love the opening paragraph in the Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas, Reports Brief.
Science, engineering, and technology permeate every aspect of modern life. Some knowledge of science and engineering is required to understand and participate in many major public policy issues of today, as well as to make informed everyday decisions, such as selecting among alternate medical treatments or determining whether to buy an energy-efficient furnace.

Just that paragraph alone should have everyone running to download the FREE pdf on their tablet, or laptop, or desktop. This should be required reading for all communities of learners because without knowledge we are powerless to make effective decisions in this changing society and information age.

The framework is the first step in a process to inform state level decisions for improving science teaching and learning across the country. As of July 2012, 45 states and 3 territories have formally adopted the Common Core State Standards. If you are interested in specifics about the Common Core check out their Frequently Asked Questions. This is a comprehensive list of the most important talking points which will be informing the next generation of informed citizens as well as talented scientists.

There are 3 dimensions involved in the Framework. Dimension 1: Scientific and Engineering Practices, Dimension 2: Crosscutting Concepts that have Common Application Across Fields and Dimension 3: Core Ideas in Four Disciplinary Areas. All of this can be accomplished by introducing our earliest readers to non-fiction and providing the building blocks of this Framework throughout their K-12 school experiences.

What pleases me the most is that “throughout grades K-12 students should have the opportunity to carry out scientific investigations and engineering design projects related to the disciplinary core ideas”. This means that our students will practice scientific problem solving throughout their school years and NOT just read about great scientific ideas and solutions. Every day I am a scientist. Every day I must solve a problem. Every day I must be creative and look for patterns in order to find a solution. No longer should our students be asked questions with one answer. Rather our students should be smart about problem solving, trial and error, data management and collaborating to find their solutions.

Check out the Framework, we should all be thinking like a scientist, everyday.

Common Core
Open College
A Framework for K-12 Science Education

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

To list or not to list? It’s Summer in the Northern Hemisphere!

To list or not to list? It’s Summer in the Northern Hemisphere!    by Cheryl Oakes

Each summer as we near our solstice and the end of our school year, as we call it a wrap, we also begin asking each other, our students, our families, just what we will all be doing during the precious weeks away from a schedule and school.

I always ask myself, do I make a list or go with the unlist? A very famous movie titled, the Bucket List which was diligently carried around the world, had  the actors check off their most amazing activities from their Bucket List (the things they wanted to accomplish before they ‘kicked the bucket’. I even found a website Bucket List, a social network, for just that “way to kickstart your life goals.” ( who knew?)  I confess, I am not that lofty and that I plan to begin with my summer activities.

In this day and age of unconferences, I am going to go with the unlist and share with you my top 5 activities I am looking to accomplish this summer. Why 5? I can keep track of them on one hand.

  • Cooking School- with my nephew
  • Use Catchup (  math as a student would, so I can be knowledgeable about the online program I am asking my students to use.
  • Create a way for my niece to “take a photography class”, 30 Days of Digital Do’s  with photography tasks for the young photographer. Join me for this activity.
  • Read a real book, read a book on my ipad,  read a book on my iphone and have a virtual book talk with friends.
  • Play outside every day with my puppy Seraphina and work in our  yard.

Why is this important to make an unlist? Even at an unconference there is a point in time where the participants list their interests or questions and begin sharing with others. My purpose is to challenge you (and myself)  and encourage you (and myself)  to reflect, and create your own vision,  then share your satisfactions later this summer as comments.

Happy Summer, Happy Unlist!

Thanks to Wes Fryer for this chance to guest blog. Although it was not on my unlist, it made my summer better!
cross posted at:
Speed of Creativity
Cheryl Oakes
Tech Learning

If you are really into photos try this Photo a Day
Catchup Math