Fort Herriman Middle School


Twitter Backfires!
April 30, 2008, 9:13 am
Filed under: learning, reflection, twitter

It all started two months ago when I caught three girls cheating on a test. I made a poor decision and ripped up their papers in front of the class. Those three girls have been inciting the rest of the class for a couple months to near rioting. This class has been very difficult to deal with despite many long talks with many students. It is very frustrating. These students know exactly how I feel. Well, they should know. On Friday we had another talk about how they should behave and what is expected of them. Yesterday, I posted this on Twitter:

Whenever my students need an assignment, I direct them to my website and tell them to print things off my calendar. I have found out that a lot of them get to my Web site via search engines. What do you suppose is one of the results when you search for Jethro Jones? It is not my Twitter page. Nor does it rise to the top when you search for my name and Twitter. But somehow, the above Twitter post was one of the top results because one of my students asked me today, “Mr. Jones, why do you think we are your worst class?” I asked why she thought that, and she quoted the above Twitter post nearly perfectly and told me that her mom found it when trying to find my website. My class was surprisingly good for the fire drill, even though I didn’t expect them to be that good. So, one other girl asked why I hate them, and after being corrected, asked why I dislike them. I made sure that those were their words. I explained that they are my worst-behaved class. It doesn’t mean that I hate them or dislike them, but it does mean that they drive me crazy and that they can be very annoying. I told them this. I have not kept it a secret from them before now, and I have not tried to hide it from them. As I said, we have had many long chats about this. This girl’s mom was not upset or so the student said. She thought it was pretty funny, actually. The students were good today after another long chat. They also were much better at keeping the others on task.

Now that you have the background, here are my thoughts. First, Why were they so upset about this despite the nearly hundreds of times I have talked to them about it? They all knew about the Twitter post before they came into my class, because this girl probably told them all about it in first period. I think they were upset because it was public on the internet, and people could find it. They knew they had the fire drill yesterday, and so they finally understood that I thought they were my worst class (despite the fact that I have been trying to tell them that for weeks). Second, it is hard for these seventh graders to disassociate negative things. Just because they are my worst class does not mean that I hate or dislike them. They don’t understand that (hopefully) adults can separate the two feelings. I told them that they annoy and frustrate me, but that as soon as they are doing what they should, those feelings go away. Third, how in the world did she find that. My website was above all the possible Twitter statuses even when I searched for “jethrojones twitter”. I guess she could have found her way to my blog but I don’t know. Crazy. Fourth, this has definitely reminded me that what I write is available and can be found. I need to remember that. I don’t usually post anything controversial, but even things like this, that can be found by the mom of a student in that class, are fair game.

So, the real question is should I protect my updates so that I can’t be found on Twitter or searches?

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TechnoThursdays and PD
April 24, 2008, 9:49 pm
Filed under: internship, professional development, technothursdays

Darren Draper, my hero, posted a great thought about Professional Development. He runs a great program called OpenPD. He just finished his third session, and reflected about it. I suggest you read it to fully understand my comments here. Darren asks these questions:

  1. How do we transform OpenPD so as to attract the kinds of teachers that aren’t the most technologically savvy?
  2. How do we garner the participation of additional groups of teachers? Sure, individual participation from wherever you may be is fantastic, but a class of multiple classes would be ideal.
  3. What can be done to provide OpenPD participants with local district credit – enabling additional rewards other than the intrinsic?
  4. Considering question 3, are such extrinsic rewards really needed or would they only taint the enthusiasm for such an endeavor?

@Clay, How can you say RSS is dead? You just said the other day that this is too new! Perhaps RSS is dead to you, but that doesn’t mean it is dead to others.

Darren and Sarah: Teachers and any other professionals hate PD because it is PD. As my professor this last semester said about a hundred times as she lectured us with the same style of PowerPoint without letting us interact, “The days of a one-stop-dog-and-pony-show Professional Development are over!” When we tried to participate in that discussion, she ignored us and lectured more about the need for collaboration in adult education. (Pardon me, I got distracted by hypocrisy.)

If we call it PD, people are going to hate it without knowing anything about it.

Also, I have mentioned numerous times that if you want OpenPD to attract normal (non techy) teachers, we need satellite groups of teachers to start inviting other teachers at their school to participate in technology sessions or experiences. My TechnoThursdays has only been successful because they are developing professionally and they don’t even know it. It is not even that successful, there are only 4 or 5 people that show up each time. But if you think about all the middle schools in our district doing that, that is nearly a hundred people participating in professional development while enjoying it and not knowing that they are being duped! But it is not about duping them, it is about creating a safe environment for teachers to explore technology and learn new tricks. If they can learn about it at a safe place, they can feel more comfortable trying it out on their own.

In addition, we might have some better success if we are not focusing on the bleeding edge of technology. This goes back to Clay’s idea that RSS is dead. Maybe since it is dead, some teachers will start using it. Maybe we should look at teaching them how to properly use Excel or their grading programs or some other type of software. My biggest takeaway from TechnoThursdays is that I need to teach relevant topics, and go s-l-o-w. This should be part of any PD.

TechnoThursdays went so well today because we talked about a way to specifically integrate technology into their different subject areas in a way that made their lives easier and more productive. That is what gets them coming back.

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Student Work: By K.
April 23, 2008, 3:31 pm
Filed under: poetry, student work

Update: My student just came to me with her addition, a couple lines at the bottom, in red.

My student wrote this poem for an assignment with very little instruction: You need to write a poem that is at least 20 lines long and then tell me what the main idea of the poem is and tell me what emotions you are using or feeling in the poem.

I present it here with no editing, and it will annoy me to death, but that is how she explicitly wanted it. I tell my students (especially in poetry) that it is okay to break the rules as long as 1) you know what rule you are breaking and 2) you know why you are breaking it. She knew the what and why, so here it is:

Many people say I hate my life,
Why can’t someone else be in my
place? Why not live life while you’re
alive! Think, do you want to be some
helpless cat dead on the sidewalk. As you
see, lightning is most peoples’ killer anger. It roars
to life & it stays for a while. If
you die, many people feel sorry for you, but
isn’t death what you wanted? So death is
what you got! Once you die or kill your-
self there are no second chances, you feel
angry & stupid for wanting to die all
you do now is sit down & cry! You wish
u hadn’t but you did, now u wish you
still had lived. There are so many things
in life to live for so step back and try to
ignore. People want to bring you down
just look at them and frown, frown, frown.
You will be a clown if you want to die
So don’t do it just sit & cry, cry, cry.
Your life is over, it was your choice you
shouldn’t have killed yourself, instead spoke
your voice.

I think it is a pretty good poem, and I like that it has an anti-suicide message. This girl has always bewildered me, and I like that she is showing herself in this poem.

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Student Work: by A.
April 17, 2008, 11:18 am
Filed under: examples, student work, writing

Before I taught persuasive writing, I had the students write a persuasive essay about iPods at school (they are forbidden here). Here is A.’s essay (I corrected some grammar and spelling, but not much):

I think that iPods should be allowed in school.

I believe that if we had iPods in school, then we would work when we should and we would be more successful.

I also think that if we had heavy metal rock on it then we would not be able to concentrate therefore we would have to be limited to certain songs and/or artists.

I think that it would be a problem though if the teacher needed to say something or the bell rings because we wouldn’t be able to hear so as a solution think that we should only be allowed to have one earphone in.

I know that there are some rough spots that would have to be worked out, but I still think that it would be better.

This essay is pretty indicative of the essays that I got back from my students. There are a lot of problems with this, and I left some of the mistakes in. Each paragraph is only one sentence long and then it is time to move on to something new.

The students wrote their essays about iPods last week. Then, I taught them how to write a persuasive essay. They wrote one as a group, and then they wrote these yesterday on their own.
I gave the students this topic for a persuasive essay: “Should 7th Graders Wear Deodorant?” Look at how much better A. did on her first essay after learning this strategy (I corrected some grammar and spelling, but not much):

Have you ever sat by someone and they were the stinkiest person that you have ever smelled? Some people believe that seventh graders don’t need to wear deodorant…but we know better. Seventh graders must be some of the stinkiest people in the world! (Boys in particular.)

One reason seventh graders must start to wear deodorant is because they have just started to hit puberty, and I don’t think that they realize that as you get older you start to smell worse. For example, have you noticed that your grandmother or grandfather smell all musty? That is because they’re old. It is possible that you are saying, “Well, what about babies? They stink, though.” But that is only because they are not potty trained, but imagine that if they were they wouldn’t be so smelly.

Another reason seventh graders should wear deodorant is because if they ride the bus they they are permanently out of friends. For example, the bus doesn’t have any air conditioning and then they start to give off deadly fumes and the worst part is that you can’t just get off the bus because then you would just end up walking home when it wasn’t even your fault.

In addition to hitting puberty and being smelly on the bus, seventh graders must wear deodorant because when they sweat, the salt in the perspiration will dry and make your skin flaky, and the rubbing of your arms as you walk will chafe the skin in your pits, therefore, you have to buy medicated lip balm to soothe the pain and ease the chafing. This is a much more expensive alternative rather than buying a cheap stick of deodorant.

As you can see, puberty, being smelly on the bus, and sweating show that it is a matter of life and death for both the seventh grader and those who are older to slather a destinkifying white stick, commonly known as deodorant.

This essay is not perfect, but she did a pretty good job of staying on topic and following the outline I posted previously. For seventh graders, organization is a very difficult thing to do. This second essay is way better than her first essay. This is great! You see, seeing students achieve something that is so much better than what they did before makes teaching worthwhile.

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Yeah, I’m Pretty Good at that!
April 16, 2008, 11:35 am
Filed under: lesson plan, teaching

One of the more important things that I teach my 7th graders is persuasive writing, and I think that I do a pretty good job, considering my lack of experience and skill. The way I teach it really seems to make sense to my students, and I know that it makes sense to me.

First of all, I go to this website called PocketMod, which is basically a place where you can create and print out your own mini-book that needs no staples or tape to work. You can even convert PDFs to this small form factor and have your reading fit in your pocket (I must admit this came in handy when I had to read so many PDFs for a few of my grad classes). I make a book like the one below and print it out.


This method requires half a period (our periods are 45 minutes) to teach introduction, one whole period to teach supporting paragraphs, and half a period to teach conclusion.

I have the paper above on an opaque projector (or as a transparency on an overhead) and write on it just like they do. That way, they can see exactly where things need to go. I tell them they only have to write what I write on the paper like theirs, so all our other discussion and comments don’t go there. They get a very specific formula to follow.

I give a blank one to each of my students and pitifully try to explain to them what to number the pages. I do this so that they can have a point of reference for the next steps, which need some reference points.

When this book is folded, each page represents a new paragraph in a persuasive essay (also known as a five paragraph essay). These are 7th graders, so they like it simple and wrapped in a nice package. The anticipation of being able to eventually cut the paper and fold it kills them. I do everything I can to delay that gratification. It is good for them, right?

So, on each “page” I take them through what is required for each paragraph in the essay. I let them do most of the teaching–that is, they call things out and I write it on the board off to the side while we discuss what should go where. Some of them have some background knowledge so this is a good way for me to get an idea of where they are at. Typically, though, we move through this pretty quickly. They give suggestions of what should be in each paragraph, and then I eventually tell them what should go there, and they suggest what should be written. It is all pretty straightforward, and they can easily make sense out of the words that I give them. They usually give an answer very close to the “correct” answer (correct in this instance means, worded the way I like it to be worded).

The other thing that makes this work well, is I give them a guide for what they can use when they are writing papers for me. I give them keywords and key phrases that trigger what is supposed to come next.

Key for the image below:
Black text: The important parts that will be in every persuasive essay they write until the day they die!
Blue Text: The explanation of the black text, just in case you ever forget.
Red Text: Keywords they can use to start that section/sentence/paragraph/whatever.

Why do I teach persuasive organization like this?

  1. Simple plug-and-play types of writing that are different enough (as this one is) will help them score well enough on their big important writing tests.
  2. Middle school kids are all over the place when it comes to organization (and I am sure that has something to do with their out-of-control bodies).
  3. It is much easier to grade them for their organization skills when they all follow this same pattern and use the same words.
  4. It is much easier for them to focus on the other five traits if organization, the trait that can hold them up, is very easy to do.
  5. I enjoy seeing them feel like they are writing a good paper (even if it is not) because it is well organized.
  6. This works. My students’ writing scores were much better last year than the year before, and I had a lot of ELL (or ESL or LAL or whatever other names there are for kids who don’t speak English at home).
  7. When they know what goes where, the rest of the good writing practices will come
  8. It doesn’t take that long to teach, and the rest is just practice (it takes 2 full 45-minute periods, but I do the intro paragraph on the first day, and then have them write two or three to practice their hooks–then the middle paragraphs on day 2, and about 15 minutes on the conclusion).

I do really enjoy teaching them to write a persuasive essay in this manner. This method gives them enough help that even the really poor writers can write a decent paper at the end.

If you have anything that I should add to the lesson, please let me know so I can include it for next year.

Have a Good Life.
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TechnoThursdays Session 5
April 11, 2008, 6:31 pm
Filed under: internship, technothursdays

TechnoThursdays went great. We didn’t have as many people there, but I think that I got the video to work better this time. We talked about blogs and everyone was able to keep up well. One of the other teachers couldn’t make it, so she watched the session today. Last week I talked about going slow and providing something useful. I didn’t plan as much today, and I think that made it a lot better. I took my time and didn’t feel rushed.

I enjoy seeing everyone posting to their blogs. Right now they are just posting assignments for students, but someday I hope to get them more involved in the blogosphere. We will see.

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YES!!!!!
April 10, 2008, 9:47 am
Filed under: funny

I love the semi-colon! This rocks! Though, I don’t know if this really makes much sense.


You Are a Semi-Colon


You are elegant, understated, and subtle in your communication.

You’re very smart (and you know it), but you don’t often showcase your brilliance.

Instead, you carefully construct your arguments, ideas, and theories – until they are bulletproof.

You see your words as an expression of yourself, and you are careful not to waste them.

You friends see you as enlightened, logical, and shrewd.

(But what you’re saying often goes right over their heads.)

You excel in: The Arts

You get along best with: The Colon

What Punctuation Mark Are You?

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