The first week of school was an exciting one! Not only did my cohorts and I have a great time decorating our learning space, but we also had a lot of fun meeting our students for the first time, introducing them to the S.T.E.A.M. class concept and planning our first lessons for them!

While we were lesson-planning as a team, we wanted to look up a lot of ideas on the Internet. Teachers at my school are not given their own laptops, so we had to bring in our own computers and iPads. No problem. Fortunately for us, we can sign in to the guest Wi-Fi network at our school. But when we started looking up ideas for our lessons, we realized that half of the sites we needed were blocked by our district. Uh, oh.

We quickly realized that many of the resources that we use so freely and frequently may not be an option for us and our students this year. Wikipedia is even blocked. (I’m not a huge fan of that site for obvious reasons, but why is it blocked?) YouTube, Twitter, Prezi, etc…all blocked. Should this be a problem? Have we, as a society, become too dependent on certain Internet sites and web applications, or is our district too restricting?

Now, let me back up a little bit and clarify one thing. The teachers’ Internet network (only accessible on teachers’ computers in our building) has fewer restrictions on the Internet and we can access many more websites. So that leaves my cohorts and me with two options: log students in under our names to research lesson topics, or severely limit their researching options on the students’ computers in the building. Hmm….

I realize why some sites are blocked. I get it. I’ve seen the inappropriate videos on YouTube, and I’m aware that any “Joe Shmo” off the street can post his own version of how the Titanic sank on Wikipedia. But have you seen all of the amazing, educational videos on YouTube? Have you learned some great facts on Wikipedia (that you later cross-checked on another website)? I have. It isn’t fair that our students don’t have – and won’t have – access to these great learning tools.

This was the only frustrating road block that my cohorts and I faced this past week; which, if you think about it, is not a huge deal in the big picture. That being said, we want our lessons to be engaging, and we want our students to learn how to maximize their use of technological tools. It’s hard to maximize anything when it is so minimal to begin with.

Have we become too tech-dependent as a society, or do we need to find ways – as a society – to give students access to learning across the World-Wide-Web? Maybe YouTube should limit the amount of trash that is posted on its site, for example. Although I wish I had the simple solution to this problem, I don’t have the answers. (Just don’t tell my students that!)

Does your school district have a similar issue? If so, how do you work with it to maximize learning in your classroom?


Setting Goals for a New School Year

Another school year is rapidly approaching and it’s time to start thinking about goals. Goals are so vital to success in life. They keep us focused, motivated, and determined. Without them, we can quickly lose sight of our purpose or mission. Not only have I created a set of goals for this school year, I have created a personal mission statement for this school year. All of my goals are related to this mission: become the best teacher I can be.

I set my goals and mission statement shortly after reading Dave Burgess’s book on student engagement, Teach Like a Pirate. While reading this book, I realized that my students do not deserve a mediocre teacher, and I will not accept being labeled “mediocre.” I want to begreat…awesome…the best.Well, that sounds spectacular and all, but how am I going to achieve this? By setting goals!

GOAL #1: Respect. I am going into this school year with two simple rules for my students. The first and most important is, as you’ve guessed it, respect. Respect is a powerful word. I find it amazing that we are all born the natural ability to respect people, animals, objects, nature, truth, and ourselves as human beings! The choice to act respectfully can take a person so far in life – in so many ways – and it is important that we, teachers, share this with our students. Therefore, I am setting this goal for myself, to be the ultimate model of respect to everyone I encounter, so that my students can witness the significance of this moral choice.

GOAL #2: Seek student feedback and use it. Many stores, websites, and restaurants I shop at these days are asking for feedback. I usually see a 1-800-number or website at the bottom of my receipt seeking my approval and suggestions to improve their customer service. While teaching does not fall under the service industry category, we should act like it does! After all, I’m trying to sell a product, too: knowledge! I plan to constantly seek my students’ feedback in regards to their learning, their level of buy-in, and their feelings of success in my classroom. In Teach Like a Pirate, Burgess encourages us to seek feedback from our students. He poses this self-reflection question in his book: “If your students didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching in an empty room?” The feedback I receive from my students should help me answer this question and hopefully that answer will be, “No, my students are engaged and love to learn in my class!” And if my answer is anything other than that one, I know I need to readjust something.

Goal #3: Stay connected. I joined Twitter 14 months ago. It was one of the best moves I ever made regarding my career. Now that I am going back into the classroom, I have a fear that I “won’t have time” to keep up with my PLN on Twitter or their blogs. Well, I have set this goal so that doesn’t happen. In addition to that, I also plan to blog more. Ideally, I’d like to blog at least once a month. That being said, I hope to write more than that and share all of my experiences with my audience.

Goal #4: READ!!! I have a passion for books: YA literature, children’s books, chick lit, historical fiction, math books….the list keeps going. Like many teachers, however, I have less and less time to read during the school year. I want to set a goal to keep reading, to keep learning, and share the books I read with my students (when appropriate).

Goal #5: Be grateful. Never, ever do I want to forget the fact that I am extremely fortunate for all the blessings in my life. From my family and health to my amazing career, I feel like I have hit the jackpot everyday when I wake up. May I always remain humble and show gratitude for everything I have, including the opportunity to teach students to do the same.

So, now that I have shared my goals, I want to know what are some of your goals or mission statements for this year!? Please comment below with some of your ideas for this upcoming year!

Creating Project-Based Learning Units

I have spent the past year daydreaming about engaging, fun math projects. A few short weeks ago, I accepted a STEM math teaching position and I feel like I can finally start living my dream! Here is an example of a math project I made for 7th grade. It is called A Dream Day at Carowinds (the local amusement park here in Charlotte, N.C.). If you like it, please feel free to download/use it and tweak it to meet your students’ needs, and make it FUN and ENGAGING for them!