Saturday, August 31, 2013

Thoughts from a mom - every child matters

I still remember the first time I heard it. 

"We think your daughter may have arthrogryposis."

I was 20 weeks pregnant.  Scared. 

The world isn't always nice to people with disabilities.

At that point I knew this child would have a different walk in life.  I devoured stories on arthrogryposis, interviewed doctors, created a plan of attack for when she was born to give her the best possible physical outcome in life.  At three days old, she was already doing physical therapy and occupational therapy.  We spent hours stretching her limbs, drove weekly to Iowa City to get her legs casted, engaged in play that would encourage movement.

At a year we added water therapy to the mix, this is where she learned the motion of walking.  Next was horse therapy (hippotherapy) which helped to strengthen her muscles. 

Adults usually fell in love with her.  They appreciated her determination, strength, funny stories, and songs.

Unfortunately, the kids at school were not as kind.

This broke my heart.  Shattered it.

Honestly, this is a hard post to write.  It's hard to hear that kids make fun of your child - how she moves, how she eats, how she can/can't do certain things that come easily to them.  It's hard to see her sitting isolated at lunch where people talk over her. It's hard to know that people have parties and invite the entire class, but not her. It's worse when they do invite her and uninvite her when other kids make fun of them for asking her.

Especially when she is an incredible kid. 

However, this pain has made me a better teacher.  Every single child who sits in a classroom matters.  It is my job to show them HOW they matter.  They are valuable, bring gifts, and have a unique perspective that no other person in the world has. 

Take a moment and think about those words -- no other person has your perspective. No one has your gifts. No one will filter information exactly the way you do. THAT makes you valuable.  You will leave your fingerprints on the world because you are unique.

See that.  As a mother, I beg all teachers to see that.  I mean, REALLY see that. Find ways to encourage your students to see this in each other.   Allow your students to shine.  Find connections that engage them and connect them.  Always let them know that they are important.  They matter!  When it's difficult, walk with them.  That's the way to let them learn to walk on their own.   Sometimes this is messy, but the mess is worth it.  The clean-up process is valuable.

Fortunately for my daughter, she has learned from her experiences as well.  We are now in a new school, and she is loving it.  Her talent for leading is bubbling up.  Her confidence is growing.  Repairs are being made, and she is emerging as a compassionate friend along the way.

But she's not the only one. There are kids in the world who feel alone, unvalued, unloved. 

Choose to be the one who changes that for them.

I have many goals this year - they include growth in reading, writing, grammar, speaking, listening, and compassion.  Why?  Because every child matters, and when they move on, I want them to know that I care.  That they are important.  Their thoughts matter.  Greatness is attainable.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Augmented Reality -- the lessons it taught me

I have had the most amazing start to a school year - wild, crazy student engagement as they realize they CAN do something they've never created before. It all started with an intriguing post on Twitter, a conversation between colleagues, and a willingness to step out of our comfort zone.

We embraced augmented reality.

To prepare, I created my own personal account on  I linked crazy quick videos of my kids to random objects around my house.  I shared with anyone who was willing to try it on Facebook (a safe place with friends).  I had my kids use it to create birthday cards, welcome to school cards, etc.  I walked them through the process of following a channel and creating magic.  (I'm sure my friends were wondering about my sanity spouting off about augmented reality and Twitter - for my PLN, you'll get it.)

My colleagues were doing the same thing; we were walking through the process together. (Thanks to @melindaleake's patience as she was ahead of me.)  Our first experience was a conversation with Drew Minock and Brad Wade through Skype.  They've used this technology with 3rd graders, so we knew 8th graders would be successful.  Then we created triggers to use for "Mustang Night" before school started; we wanted parents to be on board.  We added triggers around the room.  We linked books to book trailers, challenged kids to be creative by linking to speeches and videos on (thank you for allowing us to download those videos).  We discovered that mp4 was a good file format.  I found "Super Auras" on (The $20 bill has been a real hit, but they also enjoyed the Rolling Stones album, One Direction with Nabisco, etc.). 

And we had our students write.

They wrote an "I Am" poem. It was simple, gave us insight into their desires and dreams, and provides a good hook.  Then they had to REWRITE the "I Am" poem having the same context in each line without using the same words. :)  It's a good struggle.  They use the thesaurus, dictionary, and figurative language to accomplish this.  It engages thinking on a very high level.

For example, "I am a creative teacher" became "I am an ingenious educator"  (I allowed articles and "to be" verbs to remain the same.).  It's magic to watch them come up with examples like, "I am an awesome soccer player" that grows to "I am a power forward who engages in scoring goals around the other team."  Sometimes we have to stretch, but it's a good kind of stretch.  It's allowing them to see that there IS more than one way to say something.  They learn that you should evaluate EACH word so that it makes you feel exactly how you want the reader to feel.  Sometimes the first line is better; sometimes the second is.  It's all a part of the writing process.

This second poem became their video.  I admit that I envisioned kids wearing costumes, filming on location, "knowing" their I Am.  Some did.  Most didn't.  It's okay this time.  I'd change it next time.  We also struggled with the size of the videos.  (Any advice here is great.)  My phone would take a 2 minute video at around 5 MG.  My student's phone would shoot the same video at 190 MG.  There is a setting I'm missing.  Aurasma supports videos up to 100 MG, so the second wouldn't work.  We tried file conversion at; however, some of them simply were not small enough.  I learned which way to hold my phone, or my students were sideways or upside down.  They assured me they could flip it; however, they soon discovered that it's harder than you think.  Believe me, I tried.  Fortunately if you double tap the screen, it righted itself on our phone.  By our deadline on Friday, I had 87 of the 97 videos on - a few will be added over the weekend or on Monday.

I created a account simply for this assignment.  I shared the password with the kids, and we all used it to create.  The kids uploaded images that I took the first day of school.  We discovered there was a "masking image issue".  I tried to learn what that meant, and how to fix it, but I ended up retaking a lot of photos.  I'm hoping for Twitter advice on this area.  Some of them used pictures from home which was fine given the issues we were having at school.  A lot of them were excited to get involved.  I had a few tell me that they created their own account at home and were creating there. 

While some were working with, others were typing the original "I Am" poem and uploading their trigger picture.  It's vital that they DO NOT stretch or widen the trigger picture from the original image.  I showed them how to alter the size from the corners of the picture only.  This keeps the integrity of the trigger.  Some didn't believe me.  They had to redo that portion.  It was a good lesson to learn.

As students were finishing projects and helping others, I put out a set of articles on augmented reality.  The kids read about how augmented reality will change the landscape of business, be used to entice people to buy items (such as the Oreo - One Direction link), and develop relationships with consumers (Haagen Dazs added a timer to their ice cream so you eat it at the optimum time after removing it from the freezer.).  They found evidence in the articles to support different theories and brainstormed on how it could be used in the future.  I had conversations with several of them on how video games also embrace this technology.  We will discuss this on Monday.

At the end of the week I was exhausted - in a good way.  My students learned a lot, but so did I.  I created community by assigning "experts" to help others.  I discovered different learning styles and how my students face a challenging/new task.  I was able to work one-on-one creating relationships with kids.  I reinforced my knowledge that technology with a group WILL involve brainstorming, troubleshooting, and some messy learning along the way.  I will be spending my afternoon at school posting our poems in the hallway, and problem solving the ones that aren't working quite right.   I embraced my colleagues - they are AMAZING.  I am so lucky to be teaching with such an innovative team (@melindaleake @lisaannTN @mbruchman - we're all learning together.)

Most importantly, I learned that it was worth it to see the look in a child's eye when it worked.  The soft whisper of, "That's cool, Mrs. Smith."  The feeling of accomplishment he felt as he walked away.  I smiled knowing the invitation was accepted - tomorrow he would come ready to learn.