Things I Know 314 of 365: You can find your thank you package here

Why you're great...
It’s important to let people know you see them. It’s best to do this when you see them at their best.

One of the things I loved doing in the classroom was sending positive notes home to parents and students. It didn’t matter. At the end of the day, or on my planning period, I’d sit down and write out a couple of cards explaining all the goodness I saw in a student, and then I’d drop them in the mail.

It was a practice I learned from Hal Urban, and it was a wonderful way to end the day.

Any time I get to talk to a group of teachers, I encourage them to adopt the practice as their own. A few sentences each day to remind your students and yourself why you love the people in your classroom.

I realize getting the supplies together might seem like the biggest obstacle to sending these notes, so I’ve decided to do the leg work.

The PDF of the document I used to make the cards is here.

You can find Staples’s selection of card stock here.

My go-to invitation envelopes are here.

And, if you wanna go crazy, custom design postage from zazzle with your school logo, favorite quote or whatever here.

Having stamps on the envelopes and the cards printed and ready in my desk made all the difference.

Even last semester, as a student, I dropped a few cards in the mail to former students and to people in classes with me when I could tell the going was tough.

We find a million ways to tell people we see the things they’re doing just the wrong side of right. Maybe we could focus on the other side a bit more.

Things I Know 274 of 365: Letters make great teacher gifts

The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.

– William James

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be making some suggestions of possible sources of gifts for the teachers in your life. Some will be products for purchase. Some will be ideas of things to make. All of them will be meant to help remember teachers as worthy of thanks.

It sits on the shelf in my bedroom – a manilla folder that should be a box, but whose contents I haven’t taken the time transfer. The tab of the folder bears the faded name of a former student, but the work inside isn’t his.

If I were to give it a name, I’d go with something like, “The Good Stuff.” This is the folder that holds the notes and letters received from students over the last eight years. I don’t have them all, but I have enough.

When I was teaching, this file lived in a drawer in my classroom. On days when I felt like the last thing I should be doing with my life or to the lives of my students was teaching, I’d flip through it and convince myself there must be some good there.

The folder inspired my annual end-of-year assignment that asked students to write a letter to a teacher who had inspired them giving an update on their lives and letting them know the impact their teaching made.

The folder is also what inspires my recommendation for a holiday gift for a teacher. Write a letter – a real letter – letting them know the effect they’ve had in your life or your child’s life. The only thing it will cost you is time, but it will be more valuable to the receiving teacher than you can know.

Take it a step further, write a letter of appreciation about the teacher and send it to the principal.

One of my favorite parts of having my students write their inspiring teachers was the chance to write letters to my own. Even if you are not a student or the parent of a student, consider giving the gift of a letter of appreciation this year to a teacher who’s made a positive impact in your life.

I know from experience how much those letters can mean and how their contents can sustain us in moments of doubt.

Things I Know 236 of 365: They haven’t built an app that can hold my math notes!

If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is.

– John Louis von Neumann

The proper iPad app for taking notes in math doesn’t yet exist. I’ve been researching the available options for the last few months. I’ve tried Evernote and PaperDesk. I’ve used Notes and checked out NotesPlus. Still nothing does what I want it to.

For notes in every other class, for study group messages, annotating readings and finding ancillary sources, I’ve a great workflow. Evernote, GoodReader, Google Docs and Safari all get the job done quite nicely.

For math, though, I’m still stuck.

It occurred to me yesterday that the problem might lie in the fact that every app I’ve investigated thus far is imitating rather than innovating. Every one of them wants to be paper — plus a little something extra.

They all start from the paradigm of an actual pad of paper and ask, “What have people always wanted their notebooks and legal pads to do?” From there, each app works to add on. Maybe the additions create a watered down legal pad or maybe the iPad only looks like a notebook. Either way nothing yet strikes me as approaching the problem from a new way.

I saw this video yesterday and thought, “My iPad can’t do that.” I know I can install iMovie and import images, but the kind of free-form playing Vi Hart showcases in her video isn’t possible on my iPad. It should be, though, right?

I, along with any other math student working on an iPad, should have an infinite white board at our disposal with the ability to call up the most complex calculator possible and then copy and paste the order of computations onto the white board so we can annotate what we’ve done. Think an infinite Prezi with the ability to bookmark according to dates and key terms. I want to teraform a white board into a world of mathematics, map it out and then use my iPad as the window through which I visit and manipulate the world. Think of it as Sims meets Presi meets the best parts of Super Mario Bros. 2.

For now, I have a spiral-bound notebook for my math notes. Every other class and meeting is synced to the cloud and the notes and annotated readings from each can be emailed or linked out to friends, classmates and study group members. My math notes will live and die with my notebook — until someone builds something better. No, not better. Different.

Classy: When is a table more than a table?

SLA had an influx of IKEA tables a few weeks ago. Our architect neighbors are moving away and donated furniture rather than moving it.

Yesterday, I had an idea.

I sat Will at one of the tables in the hall and we started to plan his essay.

At the end of the day, he’d done this:

Today, my seniors were planning their benchmark projects.

Here’s what they came up with:

By the end of the day, I’m hoping to transition completely the dry-erase tables.

Think of the possibilities.

Classy: Communal notes in gDocs

As I’ve written, Google Apps for Education is truly changing my practice this year.

We’re studying Jung’s idea of archetypes as they pertain to literature in my Sexuality & Society in Literature class. For an introduction, today, we read a simple introduction.

While the students were reading, I took my notes on key information and put them in a new gDoc.

On the side, I included comments on the ideas found in the notes. (We’ve been working on summarizing before offering up commentary.)

When the class was done reading, I had them close their computers and share their initial thinking on the ideas from the write-up. It was slow going. One of those moments where I can see the bigger picture and am thereby inherently more excited about the ideas we’re investigating.

When it felt like the conversation had reached critical mass, I moved to the screen and pulled up my gDoc of notes.

I pointed out that I’d included the title of the article (linked to the original text), author information, my name and notes on the key ideas, and notes containing my thinking and questions.

From there, I set them free to find more information with the directive of “build notes about archetypes in literature that work to answer our questions.”

The link to the editable gDoc was posted on the class moodle page. They logged in and started building notes.

As they built, I asked questions via the commenting tool to prod their individual investigation.

In the doc’s chat sidebar, I asked questions of the entire class to make sure our notes took on greater breadth.

Soon, the class will be writing essays with the help of their notes. Because of what they’re building, they’ll have the benefit of many minds as points of reference.

Next semester, when I’m teaching Storytelling, I’ll be able to produce the gDoc to introduce archetypes in conjunction with The Hero’s Journey.

Here’s what I didn’t do:

  • I didn’t build a wiki. I’m not interested in worrying about architecture, and a wiki would have required more click-throughs than seemed logical.
  • I didn’t have them blog. Though I’m making the work public here, the notes were meant for in-class use. Additionally, I wanted everything to live in the same place. While a common tag would have allowed the gathering of the posts, it wouldn’t serve the purpose of notes.
  • I didn’t use a discussion forum. The goal was putting the information in one place and allowing for the common culling of ideas. A discussion forum would have, again, required clicks. As the ideas within the students’ courses found connections at different points, threading discussion would have limited the intertextual connectivity of the reading.
  • I didn’t use guided notes. With the goal of exploration and investigation of dynamic concepts, guided notes would have put the onus on me and prevented one student’s uncovering of the periodic table of archetypes.

Though not perfected, this approach will be one I take again.