Wednesday, April 11, 2012

More Holiday Gadgets: Valentine's Day!

Today is Valentine's Day. Traditionally, this day of romance is celebrated with chocolate or flowers, lavish dinners out, or even more lavish dinners in. But what if you're still looking for that special someone, or you're miles away from the one you love? Google Desktop to the rescue: Here are a few desktop gadgets you can use to find or celebrate love.
gadget snapshot Crush
By Lahiru Lakmal Priyadarshana

Let a special Google Talk friend know that you have a crush on him or her.
gadget snapshot Cupid's Gadget
By Teodor Filimon
Are you too shy to ask someone out? Do you want to see if he or she likes you, too? Try "like-marking" with Cupid's Gadget!
gadget snapshotFind My Heart
By Lahiru Lakmal Priyadarshana

Give your heart to a Google Talk friend. Your friend wins if it takes five tries or less to find where you hid the heart.
gadget snapshot Kiss Me!
By Kathy Walrath

Decorate your desktop with a kissable, framed picture of your sweetheart — or anyone elre you'd like to kiss. Send your prospective valentine a picture of yourself and a pointer to this gadget, and you're sure to get a kiss! (Virtually, at least.)
gadget snapshot Love is in the Air
By James Yum

Heart-shaped fireworks simulate the graffiti inspired by first love. What could be more romantic?
gadget snapshot Flower Pot
By Google Inc.

If you're too late to order flowers for your honey, try giving virtual flowers instead. You might even try to convince your valentine that electronic flowers are ecologically superior to chemically treated flowers that have been transported hundreds of miles. Good luck with that.

You can find Valentine's Day gadgets and more at our holiday gadgets page. If you feel inspired to create your own holiday gadgets — pi Day, anyone? — visit our Developer Site and be sure to grab the Google Desktop SDK.

Happy Valentine's Day from the Google Desktop Team!

The New Sidebar and Gadgets

With the dramatically increasing amount of content out there, you need better ways to find relevant information, whether searching your computer or reading the latest headlines in sidebar. How could we improve the way you stay up-to-date with sidebar and gadgets? How could we make it even easier to search files and find that lost book report, web page, or recipe? After many months, we are pleased to release the Google Desktop 5 Beta application, featuring a new sidebar and redesigned Gadgets.

The sidebar has a completely new look and feel. It samples the color of your wallpaper and fades in the sampled color so that it fits seamlessly onto your desktop. Some of our gadgets have been redesigned so that they are easy to tell apart, easy to read, and easy on the eyes. More differentiated gadgets allow for faster scanning of information through the sidebar. And we've created a new dialog for adding gadgets so it's easier and faster than ever to find the right gadgets for you.

In addition, we have improved two other key features of Google Desktop:
  • Desktop Search - Ever searched your computer and seen a row of results that looked almost identical - so you had to open file after file until you found the right one? Now there is a better way: preview search results from within Google Desktop. Don't wait for an entire application to load, just click "Preview" and find the information you want right away. Finding the right file has never been easier!
  • Security - We take your security extremely seriously and have added new features to help make your search experience safer. Whether you’re clicking on links from documents, IMs and email or browsing the web, if we have information that the site you're visiting might be trying to steal your personal information or install malicious software on your computer, we'll give you a warning first so you can decide if you want to use the site.
You can never save enough time looking for information. Find out more about Google Desktop.

Desktop goes cross platform

Google Desktop is hitting a milestone today: we're going cross platform! Google Desktop for the Mac (beta) is now available. We know that whether you use a PC or a Mac, a significant amount of personal content lives on the web and also on your computer. We're committed to helping you search all of that information.

Like the Windows version, Google Desktop for the Mac makes searching your desktop and the web faster, easier, and more comprehensive, enhances the desktop search experience with the Quick Search Box, and leverages Google technology to deliver speed and usability. It works with both PowerPC and Intel machines with Mac OS X 10.4+ and is compatible with Safari, Firefox, and Camino browsers. For this version, we focused on searching the desktop with speed, ease of use, relevance, and comprehensiveness. It does not have sidebar and gadgets, though we do plan to make Google Gadgets available on the Mac in the future. To find out more, read this post on our Mac Blog.

We look forward to adding more features and further improving performance and usability in the near future.

finally hung photos up

Three years in our house, and still hadn't put pictures up until today.

happy Halloween!


Gender Bias in Assessment - Even Students Do It, Do You?

"...But Mrs. Ripp, it is sloppy so they cannot get a 4..."
"... We can hardly read their explanation so we gave it a lower grade... "

All comments that made me think in today's math class as students were assessing work samples to get them ready to assess their own work.  Their open response work involved multiple steps, illustrations and explaining their work. They were therefore provided what we as teachers are provided; student sample work to figure out what the work was worth based on a 4-0 rubric.  After partner discussions, students shared their rankings of the problems and the most common discussion point was the sloppiness of the writing, not the math presented, not the explantion, not whether they followed directions; instead a laser-like focus on handwriting neatness and presentation.

I kept my mouth shut and handed them all a post-it note, asked them to copy a sentence off the board and write their name lightly on the back of the post-it.  I didn't ask them to take special care with their note, just write it down.  They handed them in and one-by-one I asked them to decide whether a note was sloppy or not as shown under the document camera.  I didn't know the names of the note writers but sure enough all the notes that were deemed neat and not sloppy were those written by girls.  Not a single boy post-it note was in the pile.  My students sat quietly as I gave them some think time.  Then I said; "If you were a boy and I assessed your work based on your handwriting presentation you would not be able to get a full score.  You would never be able to acheive what a girl can achieve in this class."  Silence and crazy stares. 

When teachers base part of their grade on handwriting and neatness, particularly at the elementary level, we forget one important thing; handwriting is often determined more by our fine motor skill development and not the effort placed in the work.  Neat handwriting does not mean a fuller understanding or a better writer, it does not mean more care was taken with the work, or that more effort was put in.  Neat handwriting means just that; neat handwriting.  So unless that is what we are specifically assessing it should not be part of our assessment, even if our inner voice screams at us to include it.

Try the same experiment with your students, see if you get similar results and then watch them discuss it.  Watch them realize how their knowledge is judged based on their handwriting.  Watch them gain a deeper understanding of all of the inner voices they carry telling them what makes work quality or not.  It is quite a realization for teachers and students alike.

Oh No, Not Another Change - Why Stay Skeptical When Curiosity is More Fun?

Image from icanread

A new curriculum is announced for next school year... again.  Every year since I have started something new has been introduced and so I find myself in the back of the group, murmuring about how once again something new is coming, more money being spent, more time needed to learn, to understand, to adapt.  Once again I have to rewrite everything.  Once again; change.  I go home and discuss it with Brandon who stops me in my tracks with a simple question; why not get excited about it?  And I think, yes, why not, indeed?

Why not replace my skepticism with curiosity?  Why not embrace the new like I do within my own classroom; try it out and then judge it.  Why am I, already, after only 4 years of changing turning into that teacher, you know, the one that is quick to judge.  The one that jumps to conclusions, the one that wants things to stay the same because they are not broken and do not need to be fixed, thank you very much.  I change things every year, I hardly ever use the same lessons, I change so it fits my kids, my mood and my goals.  I change because if I became static I would be bored out of my mind and few things are worse than a bored teacher  So why am I already so stuck in my teaching ways that I have to be the one adding negative thoughts to a new initiative?  I don't know how that happened so soon.

So I renew my vow of positivity.  I want to embrace the new, which does not mean going into it blind, but rather than I will stay open to it.  I will explore it, adapt it and make it work for me.  I will give things a change, suspend my judge.  Stay curious and not assume it will be awful.  I am much too young to be so stuck in my ways and that is a healthy lesson for me to learn.  Let's hope I don't forget it.

week 11 {March 11-17, 2012}

March 11

March 12

March 13

I thought we had time for a walk this evening, but he fell asleep as we pulled into the driveway.

March 14

He's definitely the cool kid around here.

March 15

28 weeks. And such a funny boy!

March 16

My boys. :)

March 17

St. Patrick's Day daiquiris!

I Hope You Have a Home

On Saturday, my mother got the call we had all been dreading.  Come home, it is time, she is ready.  My 98 year old grandmother had taken a turn for the worse and now had told the world that she was ready.  A plane ride later, and a vigil kept and mormor is slowly slipping away.  We get reports through emails and phone calls; no news, it just gets worse, she is ready to go home.

My family is not one seeped in religion, in fact, hardly anyone believes in an afterlife.  So when my grandmother speaks of home, she does not speak of the heavenly version, or the eternal one, but the one where my grandfather is.  As some of you know he passed December 14th, 2011 after 62 years of marriage to my grandmother.  In those 62 years they spent one night apart, one night, and they hated it so much they never did it again.  So home to my grandmother is wherever he is, wherever they can be together.  And we wish nothing more for her than that she gets her wish even if it means leaving all of us who have looked to her for comfort, wisdom, and eternal optimism.  Home is no longer with us.  It is and always has been wherever morfar is.

So although it may be selfish, or it may even be cruel to others, I look at my own relationship with Brandon and I realize that he is my home.  That wherever he is is where I need to be.  And I am comforted that someday I will be in that same position, I understand what it means to be done with life so that you can be with the one you are supposed to be with.  I understand when my mormor wishes for peace, saying she has lived enough, that she is ready and that we will be ok.  

So in the end I wish nothing more for anyone, that they too have someone to come home to after a long life, after a lot of life.  I hope you have a home.

Monday, April 9, 2012

My Kid Is Drowning in Homework - Why Parents Should Be Speaking Up and How

Mathematics homework
Mathematics homework (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Thea is only 3 and is nowhere near the homework assigning level, thank goodness. And yet, already it is an issue I come back to frequently in my mind, particularly as I get my fabulous 5th graders ready for middle school.  Speaking to some middle school teachers and hearing to expect at least 1 1/2 hours of homework every night and that no regard is taking for homework assigned by other teachers.  Yikes.  From a teacher perspective I have made my stance clear on how I feel about homework and how over-assigned it is, but what about for parents?  What can you truly do as a parent when sending your child to school to help them handle the insanity of homework as well as to maybe, just maybe, start a dialogue with their teachers?  Here a few things to start you out.

  • Get clarification on general statements.  If a teacher throws out an arbitrary number for homework minutes, like I used to do on orientation day, ask them what it looks like.  When they say 50 minutes of homework, which child are they referring to?  Are they referring to a well-adjusted, high-level learner, or to a more sluggish paced child?  Which child will spend 50 minutes, is that the maximum any child will spend?  At the very least it may make the teacher think about the 10 minutes X grade level rule so many of us have used as our standard.
  • Ask whether there will be punishment involved.  What happens to the child that does not do their homework?  Different teachers have different policies.  Some take away recess, something I shy away from because I don't think I have the right to, others give them a chance to make up for it.  Some, like me, simply ask them to bring it the following day or try to not assign much.  This is going to directly affect your child and their view of homework, so do ask what will happen if they don't hand something in.
  • Figure out your parental level of involvement.  Are you supposed to help or is this homework only for the child?  How are you allowed to help?  Would the teacher rather know if the child cannot complete a task by themselves (one would hope so!).  These are all important questions to ask as well and leads directly to the next point.
  • Ask what the purpose of homework is.  Is it used for grading?  Is it used for assessment?  Why does their homework look like it does and what is the end result of that homework?  This discussion goes way beyond just a general statement but it is vital.  Too often we assume that whatever a teacher assigns must have value otherwise it wouldn't be assigned.  Having been that teacher I can tell you that is not the case!  So find out what the purpose is.
  • Search your soul.  Many of us think homework should be something certain because of what we experienced but even for this youngish teacher, school has changed drastically since I graduated.  Make sure that your homework expectations are not based on what you feel helped you as a learner, figure out instead what will help your child, after all you do know them better than the teacher but they are not you, no matter how much we see the resemblance.
  • Ask questions.  I am never bothered when parents ask me questions, in fact, I cherish their feedback and often wisdom about their child.  I differentiate assignments, I give class time and I try to not involve parents much simply because it is not them that need to learn a concept.  Yet I still fail sometimes, I still earn from my mistakes and I don't always have the answer to something, so start a dialogue and start it early, it can be something as simple as a line or two in an email and does not need to be often.  It will benefit all parties involved all year.
  • And finally, stand your ground.  As a parent I will expect Thea to apply herself in school and to give school her best in the hours she is there.  Once she is home, homework should not take up the majority of her afternoon and evening.  As she gets older, sure, there will be projects, papers, reading etc.  But she should not be having to give up most of her free time for worksheets or other repetitive tasks, and I will discuss this with her future teachers.  You can do this nicely and it may lead to a very interesting conversation.  It is ok for parents to question a teacher's homework philosophy.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

week 14 {April 1-7, 2012}

April 1


Technically, not my photo, but it's of that counts, right? From the Knoxville Half Marathon.

April 2


Someone thinks the swing is hers now.
April 3


Attitude Adjustment (the name of the drink!)
April 4


And a bonus picture!


April 5


Ready for baseball season!

April 6


Local eggs from our new tailgate market.
April 7 

I LOVE his overalls and the fact that he was napping.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

She Has Gone Home

The phone call came this afternoon.  As I stepped out of a meeting the message light beckoned and on there was my mother's voice giving me the inevitable news; mormor had passed.  As we mourn as a family we cry not for her but for ourselves, for we are the children left behind.  She gets what she wanted; peace and to be be with her husband.  We also get what we wanted; her to be in peace, with no pain, together with the man whom she loved more than anything.  And yet, the sorrow has just begun to settle in.

I now go through the world without any grandparents but that doesn't mean I don't have a past.  I will show my children the videos of these two people who showed me what dedication and love means.  What perseverance and staying together looks like in our much too frantic society.  We have proof that love matters most; it is our veins, it is in our heritage.  It is up to us to pass it on.

Tomorrow would be the day, 66 years ago, that my grandparents met each other and fell in love.  I cannot think of anything more beautiful than that my grandmother got to go be with my grandfather once again.  That perhaps tomorrow she gets to meet him again, wherever they are, and now they don't ever have to leave the other one behind.  So I smile through my tears and vow to never forget and to carry them with us wherever we go.  Mormor heard about the twins, how they are a boy and a girl, and I cannot help but wonder if Ida and Oskar wont get just a little bit of my grandparents soul in them.  I hope so.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Do You Dare Ask for Student Feedback?

Yesterday, in a quiet moment of inspiration, as my students were presenting their super hero projects and getting a little droopy eyed, I stopped them and asked for feedback.  And not just great postive statements, but things I should change, things I should keep, things thats hould be removed altogether.  We started with the positives; they loved how I didn't make them write a comic book but rather focused it on character and setting.  They loved the creative aspect, the shared writing, and all of the exmples.  And then I asked what they would change.  After one brave student raised their hand and gave me a suggestion of more partner share, then many joined in and added their suggestions.  These suggestions were better than my original ideas!  I sat there 10 minutes of listening and writing, dumbfounded that I hadn't done this for every single project.

When we decide to ask students how they really feel we run the risk of being told that we suck, to use a favorite 5th grade word.  We run the risk of being told we are boring, that the project was uninspired, and that they would never do it to another student.  (You know a project is bad when it is "done" to you).  But we also run the risk of getting better ideas, constructive criticism, and valid points that propel our projects further into student-directed learning, further into deeper knowledge acquisition.  My students took ownership of the project as well as their criticism.  They didn't feel the need to apologize for what they were about to say but  phrased it specifically and unemotionally.  They knew that I knew it wasn't an attack on me.

So do we dare to ask the students for feedback on all their learning?  Do we dare take 10 minutes of our day to ask for suggestions, even if just one in a while?  Do we dare to actually do something with those suggestions because any fool can listen but it takes courage and dedication to do.  My students showed me yesterday that they trust me enough to share their opinions, they know I will take their words to heart and I will actually change what I did.  They know this because I have proved to them what my intentions are.  What a huge success in a 5th grade classroom.  So ask yourself; have I involved my students?  Have I asked for their feedback and opinion? Those that the learning affect the most?  Or am I too scared to do it? 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

week 13 {March 25-31, 2012}

March 25


March 26


March 27


March 28


March 29


March 30


March 31    


7 months! 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dear New Principal

There you are with all of your hopes and dreams, your expectations, your trepidation, and a staff waiting eagerly to see how you are going to run things.  Will you be someone who comes in like a mouse or will you slug us all with your hammer of power?  What the future holds we can only guess but I know there are some  things we would love to say.

First, be kind.  We are new to you and we may need an adjustment period.  We know you have many changes and visions for our school but take some time to get to know us first.  Figure out the dynamics of our school and see what really works before you start to change and dismantle.  There are many powerful things happening that would be sad to see destroyed.

Second, know your way.  We want to be led by someone with a vision, someone who has convictions.  And yet, make sure your vision doesn't cloud your judgment.  Does it fit with our culture?  Does it fit with the community we get to call home?  Does it fit with us and you and all of the kids?  If yes, then go ahead, if not, then perhaps discuss, reflect and reevaluate.  For whom are these changes being made?

Third, make it about the children.  We have always been focused on the students and want to stay that way.  So get to know them as you get to know us, make yourself visible and always keep their interest in mind.  Trust me, the children would rather not be tested more or discussed as mere numbers on the wall.  They do not care what standard they are being taught right now but instead whether the curriculum is engaging, relevant and allows them a choice and voice.  They are complicated, delicate, curious beings that we are privileged to work with.  Relationship first, then we can get to the academics.

Don't exclude us but think of us as your team.  We want you to be successful as much as you want us to stay that way.  Believe in us and our crazy ideas.  Push us to do new things but know when to hold back and perhaps even hold our hand a little.  Trust us as professionals who do really want what is best for the kids but sometimes need some guidance.  Bring in new ideas but one at a time, let us figure out one before we rush into something new.  Don't micromanage but believe in our judgment and also in our dreams.  Make friends but don't create cliques, we are a family here and yes we may disagree but we take pride in who we are and what we create.  Trust us as professionals and defend our decisions if you agree with them.  Don't lose yourself in trying to please everyone.  Be fair but listen to all the sides, don't take sides whenever you can.

Don't punish when it doesn't fit the crime, whether student or staff.  Push us to excel and give us someone to look up to.  There are many leaders in this school but look for new ones as well, there are people here who who have such incredible ideas but never can find the words to share them.  Tell us when we do well, tell us when you notice something and do the same for the kids.

Welcome, new principal, I don't envy your position but we are excited to have you.  We hope you are everything we have hoped for.

Friday, March 30, 2012

What Happened to Our Dreams and Expectations?

Image from here

I am reading the local paper about the growing achievement gap between minorities and as my heart grows heavy, my mind starts to spin.  What happened to our expectations for all of our students?  What happened to having the same dream that ALL students can achieve, even those that face special disabilities, crippling poverty or lack of parental support?  We, as teachers, are supposed to be the last bastion, those that choose to believe in all of our students, no matter their race, their background, their belief in themselves.

I look inward and wonder when was the last time I asked for a file for a non-minority student that transferred in?  When did my own assumptions cloud my belief that all students can achieve and that I just have to set the bar high enough and then support, encourage and challenge?  That every year the slate should be wiped clean when they enter into my room, and yes, I may stare at those pages of past behaviors and troubles but that they should not be come my roadmap for the future?

I pledge again to believe in all of them.  To set the expectations high and to support them where they need it.  To look past color but not become colorblind.  To see the whole child and not the papers that follow them or the path they chose before.  To defend my students from academic prejudice and grow along with them.  One young man in the paper said that if perhaps he had just had someone believe in him, told him he could have done it, his path wouldn't have lead to jail.  Perhaps he is right, the path cannot be changed, but at least I am willing to do just that; believe in all those children.  Will you believe with me?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

week 12 {March 18-24, 2012}

March 18
Tulips in my front yard.

March 19


I'm obsessed with tulips.

March 20
Bath time.

March 21
Smug at 29 weeks of age.

March 22


These arrangements are just outside the Grove Arcade. Love.

March 23
Chloe's trying to stay out of the action.

March 24
baby belly.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

When Students Tell You They Are Bored Can We Blame the Students As Well?

I am in a conference trying to figure out why a child seems less engaged, less into it, and just not all that excited about school.  So far the conversation has been rather one-sided, meaning me speaking and being met with lsilence.  Finally I ask, "Are you bored?"  And the student looks up and says, "Yeah."

I think that has happened to most teachers, a bored student, but what may not have happened to many is for that student to have the guts to tell you.  I know I was incredibly bored throughout many classes in my school days but I never did tell a teacher since I figured nothing good would come of it.  And I may have been right because my gut reaction the moment I was told was to get frustrated.  How can you be bored in my room? We do so many exciting things!  And yet, I bite my tongue, nod, and go home with a head full of questions.

I have a classroom full of noise, ideas, and engagement. It is something I work incredibly hard for and I am very very proud of and yet, it can also be boring.  There are times when the base needs to be built for our further exploration and I have to talk.  I try to make it engaging, I try to make is student-centered, and yet sometimes I can't.  It gets better every year but still; but yes I can be boring.  So these thoughts follow me home and I ask my husband what I should he do since he acutely suffered from school boredom.

His thoughts stopped me; "Maybe it isn't you?  Maybe you do everything you can and that child needs to step up too.  Maybe boredom is a two way street and you can only make it so exciting but if the student is not ready or wanting to be engaged then it doesn't matter what you do."  I immediately started to defend the child and lament that it must be me until I realized he may be on to something; perhaps we as educators can only do so much.  Perhaps we can only engage and excite until a certain point and then the student has to invest as well.  Perhaps we cannot change every student's perception of school no matter how many things we pull out to do.  Perhaps, we are not the only ones with control in our classroom?

So I turn to you; what do we do when students are bored?  After we have changed the curriculum, the approach and the task?   What do we do when a student-centered learning environment is not enough?  Do we dare tell the student that they too have to invest?  That they have to make an effort to be interested or else school will be infinitely boring no matter what we do?  Do we dare put some of the responsibility for school engagement back on their shoulders?  Or is that taking the easy way out?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Stop Telling Me Technology Engages

Image from here

Not too long ago when I brought up my dislike for the cost of Smartboards working in a budget crunched district, I was told that there was no way I could dismiss the improvement of student engagement that it has created in my classroom.  I met that statement with raised eyebrows and then shook my head.  The Smartboard or whatever technology tool I may be using is not what increases engagement in my students; the content is.  The tool does not engage; the learning does.  Because if the tool is the only thing that engages then I would say we are in serious trouble.  If the tool is the only thing we use to keep those kids tuned in and invested then we need to do some serious re-thinking of our curriculum and delivery.  

So while districts can flaunt all of the technology tools they so happily purchase with or without teacher input, we cannot tout that our engagement level goes up just because of that purchase.  We cannot say we are now 21st century districts, since in all sincerity this is the 21st century no matter what tools we have.  Sure kids may be looking at the board or screen more when we have more technology, but how much of that is training or simple politeness; a feigned interest or hope that something engaging will show up on that screen?  How much of that is because all of them are facing the board rather than in pods?  How many of them long for getting out of their seats and do something rather than watch one person direct the learning?

So don't tell me that putting a Smartboard in my room increases student engagement, in fact, please run any technology purchase by me so that I can investigate and dissect it.  Don't tell me that my students are eagerly anticipating their turn to click the magic board, that wears off after the first couple of days.  Tell me instead that the curriculum we teach is worthwhile, that the learning that we DO is engaging, that my students are engaged because they choose to be and I put enough thought into what I am teaching to realize that.  Tell me that and I will agree; the tool does not create the engagement, we do.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

week 10 {March 4-10, 2012}

March 4

March 5

Sign on the left says "no left turn". Sign on the right has an arrow pointing to the left stating "Event parking." The Southern Conference basketball tournament was taking place a few hundred feet from those signs.

March 6

Inside the Grove Arcade (across the street from where I work.)

March 7

Not focused.

March 8

From my mom's yard.

March 9

First concert since the baby was born!

March 10

Random, but this is some of the milk we have frozen for the baby. Doesn't include our upstairs freezer.