Onward to D. C.

Somewhere close to lunch on the last teacher workday (LAST TEACHER WORK DAY!!!!), I left to take the dogs to Koko’s Palace, pick up Ysabela and our “personal bags” and head to the airport.  When I refer to “personal bags,” what I really want to say is that we each carried a large tote that held our clothes for the weekend.  My bag even had room for my purse.  That saved me money since there’s a charge for a carry-on or checked bag.  Only a personal bag flies with me free—if it fits under the seat.  We all know clothes can be mushed, and mush we did.  🙂  We made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare.  I was a bit nervous since I had received an email advising me to arrive three hours early for domestic travel due to long security lines.

Bela and I took the red-eye and arrived in Washington, D. C., right before five in the morning.  I will admit to sleeping—and most likely snoring—all the way.  I am not ashamed.  In my defense, I did warn my flight neighbor.  He didn’t have a problem with it.  Bela later informed me that he and I were doing some duet snore harmony.

I had downloaded the Uber app prior to leaving home, so I thought transport would be easily arranged.  HA!  Airport Internet could be a bit better.  After almost half an hour of “loading” on my cell phone, I was done.  My last resort was to call my hostess, Martha.  She was already awake (thankfully) and came to pick us up within the hour.

We were welcomed at the apartment building by Martha’s neighbor, Mr. Ali.  He’s a delightful person who made me a cup of coffee when I was there last year.  Coffee friends are forever friends.  Ysabela and I managed to get settled in enough to take a nap.  Martha set the clock to make sure we’d be ready to get to the venue by the appointed time.

Didn’t I tell you what we were doing there?  Oh, dear!  Sorry about the oversight!  We were there to present student films for the American History Film Project!  I attended last year with one of my students; sadly, none were able to come this year except for my daughter (who also did a film).

This year’s venue was lovely.  The curator at Blenheim was so gracious and generous.  Ysabela and I even got to take a tour of the place before our presentations began!  We were made to feel so welcome that I hated to leave at the end.

It has been so encouraging to see Martha’s dream grow.  There were more films presented (and more states represented) this year than last.  Our in-person audience also doubled!  Local school board members were in attendance, and they took an active part by asking insightful questions after each film.  Ysabela did a fine job, as did the other students.  Several young film makers joined us via Skype to answer questions.  Technology is great!



For more information (and to see the films) head on over to the Facebook page (link below), give it a “like” and do some browsing!  Please share it with your friends as well.  I’ll blog more about it all in a day or two!  Stay tuned!




Classroom Gaming!

How many times have we teachers had to “police” our students and take cell phones or iPods?  Why not harness that technology to engage learners instead?  Let that sink in for a moment.

I’m the weird teacher who assigns online homework using a variety of sites.  We use SenorWooly, Socrative, Zooburst, ClassDojo and Prezi.  I recently discovered ClassCraft, and it has been a fun week.  ClassCraft is designed to be used quickly in class.  The teacher can assign points for correct answers or deduct points for misbehavior.  There’s a section for adding questions, and students claim points for answering.  The graphics are awesome, by the way.

This is my daughter's warrior character.

This is my daughter’s warrior character.

The first step, of course, is to sign up.  I saw an option to change the game to Spanish instead of English, but there are other language options.  I noticed there is an app for iPhones and iPads, so students can even play on the go.  I divided students into teams and gave them an identity: mage, healer or warrior.  Players start with a predetermined number of points based on the role they play.  They can change the clothes of the avatar, and some can even get a pet.  When students earn 1000 points, they can level up and unlock rewards.  Rewards are preset, but the teacher can also customize things to fit the class.  A few preset rewards include the power of “invisibility” (two minutes out of class, maybe a bathroom break or a trip to the locker), using notes on a test (!) or a “free” question concerning the correctness of an answer on a test.

When my (homeschooled teen) daughter saw what I was doing, she demanded to have an avatar to play, too.  I made her account like I did the other ones.  Instead of having students sign up individually, I created user names and passwords that we could all remember easily.  Trust me—it simplifies life!

Once I introduced the activity to my Spanish 2 students, they were eager to play.  I gave them a day of two to learn how it would work.  I directed them to the assignment section, and they were on task!  I was generous with points for good behavior.  A few students completed all the assignments quickly, we discussed errors (so they won’t be repeated in future work), and we all had a good time.  Several students even asked me to post more assignments!  Has that ever happened in your class?  My reaction was to add work before they changed their minds!

Since students are grouped into teams, if one student misbehaves and loses points, a healer can decide to help lessen the damage.  If the team members think the teammate deserves the penalty, the offending student takes the damage.  One student told another, “The teacher did warn you to stop it, so take the damage!”

There is an option to challenge individuals or teams.  The teacher can spin the wheel of fortune and a random person or team shows up.  I picked fairly easy questions to encourage participation.  I also used my large screen projector to show students exactly what was happening.

I was invited to join a team as a healer, so I created my own avatar.  It was fun to change the clothes and learn my powers!  Don’t tell the kids, but learning really is fun!

My avatar was fun to customize.

My avatar was fun to customize.



Write It Down!

In my second job, I spend a lot of time at the local nursing home.  Yesterday I took time to ask a resident about her teaching career.  We ended up talking about kids then and now, and she told me a couple of stories about her students and her own children.  I enjoyed talking to her, but I still had some work to do.  I will go back soon; hopefully I can get some of her stories written down so they won’t be lost with the passing of time.  The stories of our elders are full of wisdom and humor.

I wish I had taken the time to write down stories from my grandparents before they were gone forever.  Nanny and Pawpie sure did a lot of living.  Grandma could have told some interesting stories as well.  Hindsight is 20/20, so please take my advice so you won’t make my mistake.  With the technology available today, you can have videos of your loved ones telling stories themselves.  Just imagine if I had been able to take videos of my grandparents.  My grandchildren and great-grandkids would have been able to not only see the people I loved and lost, but they would have been able to hear their voices!  What a gift!

For those of you with young children, I also say: Write things down!  (Laura and Keith, I am thinking of you when I give this advice!)  One day your memory will dim, and you will be confused as to which kid said what!  Trust me because I have already had it happen to me!  (I’m only 47, for crying out loud!)  In this day and age, there’s no reason not to document family gatherings, stories and memories of the people we love.

Lena could have told some great stories.

Lena could have told some great stories.

Missing Mexico

Wow. Today was pretty darn good! Just being Friday (which means early release) put today a step above the rest. One class had an all-time best for vocabulary, so they got to play basketball for almost 20 glorious minutes. How does it get better than that? My small Spanish class of seventh graders had an even better time. We were lucky enough to Skype with one of my former bosses in Mexico. (Mrs. Cochran made it possible with the camera and microphone.)

The kids loved chatting with Joe, and so did I. After the call ended, though, I felt an unexpected moment of sadness. Just seeing the familiar buildings and faces made me realize how much I miss being there. I remembered everything…..the banana tree in the back patio, the classrooms, the street in front of the school. Simply describing things to my students is just not enough. They need to SEE it all. The entire class is willing to visit Joe and check out life in Mexico.

The kids learned that Joe has been in Merida for the last 20 years. He owns and operates the American English Center. According to Joe, more students study at his school than before. It’s good to know his business is growing. Joe’s a top-notch boss as well as a great friend. His home state (Texas) should be proud of him. At least I’m sure he’ll go down in history with my young students.

Weekend Bloggy Reading

Affordable Computers!

After looking all over, I finally found a great place to get recertified laptops at an economical price. A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon notebooksforstudents.org and it has been a blessing. I bought myself a laptop for my college classes, but even elementary students and homeschooled children are eligible to buy a computer through this nonprofit organization. The computers are thoroughly tested to make sure they are in great shape, and a warranty is included. My first one was delivered with a USB (jump drive) and a case.

I liked my first Lenovo computer so well, I bought my second one about a week ago. It was delivered today! This time a webcam was also in the box, and the case is nicer than the last one. Customer service is really good. If you or your child needs a computer, check the website out first so you won’t pay more than you have to for a dependable laptop.