Archive for May, 2009

In an article in today’s Hartford Courant (Rell Would Sever Internet Links for Schools, Libraries), Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell is proposing cuts to the budget that would eliminate funding for internet access for education and  libraries, even for replacement textbooks in schools.  The list of proposed cuts is shocking when one considers the ramifications for education.

Let’s consider how I, one teacher in a public high school (in Massachusetts), use technology in my classroom. I keep my grades on an electronic gradebook. I communicate with my colleagues, parents, and students by e-mail. I post all  of my assignments on Edline and maintain a list of useful links and references there for my students. I regular upload all of my students grades to Edline to keep students and their families better informed about their progress throughout the year. I assign on-line work, including projects using Google Earth, Google Docs, and VoiceThread. I post podcasts to help my students learn and review Latin grammar. I keep an on-line dictionary open in my classroom for students to reference throughout the class. We use YouTube and TeacherTube to view video clips that are relevant to our lessons. I create SMART files that help me present material more clearly and interactively – and can be posted on-line for my students to reference from home. I use wikis to present and share my student work.

For my own professional growth I maintain this blog to reflect on and share what I do with my students and in my classes. I Twitter. I build connections with other educators from around the world. At conferences, I use CoverItLive to discuss with others in real time the speakers’ ideas. I teach my colleagues how to use tools to save time, to work more effectively, to better help their students. I troubleshoot everything from printer problems, to language lab concerns, to software and hardware troubles.

And let me be clear, I am a Latin teacher. I don’t have a computer lab or a 1:1 classroom (yet). I use the tools that are everywhere to better prepare my students for the world they currently live in. Seriously, Governor Rell? You really think that cutting funding for the internet is the best way to educate your state’s children?


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Recently I wrote about Eddie Charest, a student of mine who passed away suddenly after school.  His spirit and enthusiasm has clearly inspired many.  Derrick Z. Jackson reports on one effort to honor Eddie an article in yesterday’s Boston Globe, The highest honor for a fellow Scout.  Kevin and all of the Boy Scouts who contributed to Eddie’s Eagle Scout project should be proud of their hard work and dedication.

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iPodNanoMy daughter turned 5 this weekend. Five years old! I can’t figure out how the time has passed so quickly. Although she is the (prettier) spitting image of her father, she is Mama’s little girl.  When the tears flow, when things aren’t happening the way she expects, it’s usually Mama that she looks for. And as often as not, when there are tears, I usually know what it’s about without asking. I get her. Which is not the case for my younger daughter. But she turns three in two weeks and there will be time to blog about that some other day.

We decided that B should have an iPod for her birthday. I found a purple iPod Nano (8 gig) and matching purple headphones. There were several family members who were shocked by this choice. “I don’t have an iPod,” my sister-in-law noted. [That’s her loss, in my opinion.] There will be those who think B is too young or too irresponsible.  There will be some who believe this was a far too extravagant gift for a 5 year old. Perhaps. But I wanted her present to be special, something that she would value, and something she will learn from.

But this tool is not all about her sitting in the backseat with her headphones on ignoring us, her parents. There are so many opportunities for her to learn with this technology. She can “read” her books as she listens to them. There are  many podcasts created with young children in mind. I’ve downloaded some stories and some music that she likes. She already knew how to use the controls from using my iPod from time to time. We’re laying down the guidelines for when she can listen, when she has to shut it off. I’ve locked the volume so she can’t play it too loud and damage her hearing. She is teaching her sister how to hold it carefully and how to turn it on and off.

I don’t want my girls to wait to use technology until they already “know how.” I want them learning and developing as they use iPods and laptops and digital cameras. Yes, I recognize that they are young and that the technology needs to be sturdy enough for them to handle, and occasionally to drop. But I don’t want to keep them from the tools that I take for granted in my life simply because they don’t yet know how to handle them. I want to be the one setting the guidelines, explaining the rules, modeling responsible use. I want to be a part of this digital landscape that my daughters are living in, and I want them to take full advantage of the opportunities they can have because of it.

Is 5 too young for an iPod? I don’t think so.  What do you think? Do you have favorite podcasts for pre-K and kindergarten age children? How do you think young children should learn from technology?

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Ave atque vale

In Memoriam:  Edward Sylvio Charest, September 4, 1991-May 13, 2009

Last week a student of mine passed away suddenly and unexpectedly after school.  It has been a difficult time for all of us. As a mother, I am devastated by the thought of losing a child. As his teacher, seeing his empty desk each day is heartbreaking. As a teacher of his classmates and friends, trying to help them come to terms with something so raw and emotional has been a new lesson in what it means to be a teacher. Each of us will come to terms with Eddie’s passing in our own way. I do believe that time heals all wounds. And I am certain that the memory of Eddie’s gentle, mischievous smile will not soon fade away.

Eddie had a plan. He was a junior, set on attending a Division III school where he was certain he would get onto the baseball team as a walk-on. He was going to be a lawyer; he loved a good debate and was willing to start one just for the fun of the verbal sparring. He loved history, in particular, and hoped to find that baseball team at a school that has an excellent history department. Eddie was a Boy Scout who hoped to earn his Eagle Scout this year. He was planning to do maintenance and work to improve some hiking trails in the woods not far from his hometown. He reffed for Little League Baseball games and had a distinctive (and occasionally colorful) strike call that could be heard from afar. According to his classmates, when Eddie was in 4th grade he kept tossing the quarter for his milk money in the air. One day, he looked up at the wrong time and inadvertantly swallowed the coin. He raised his hand, smiled (I’m imagining that smile) and said, “Excuse me! I just swallowed my lunch money!” Students taped a quarter up on the Memorial Wall created in his honor last week.

A homemade scythe, a clock, and a shaggy beard add to his costume.

A homemade scythe, a clock, and a shaggy beard add to his costume.

Eddie sat in the front row on the left side of my classroom. The class he had before mine was right around the corner so he was usually the first one in my room. He would come and chat and ask me about my day. Eddie had asked me if I would write his college recommendation. We talked about his goals and what he did outside of school. For our annual Saturnalia celebration, Eddie chose to dress as the Titan Chronos, who came to power by castrating his own father and ultimately was overthrown by his own children. He thought the typical Olympian gods would be too boring and too easy.  I don’t think he really loved the Latin language, but he enjoyed the challenge of the course.  In the weeks before the National Latin Exam in March, Eddie printed up copies of the last 10 years’ tests. He took every single one of them and then stayed after school each day asking me questions to try to understand the answers. Last Wednesday Eddie stayed after school for a few minutes, like he often did. He asked me some questions about the subjunctive so he would be ready for the quiz on Thursday. Before he left he said to me, “This is so much fun now! I wish Latin 2 wasn’t so hard in the fall. Now I really get it.”

Over the past week I’ve heard many stories about Eddie. Facebook has been the connection for so many students, his family, and friends to share their thoughts and memories. Eddie was funny, a Boy Scout, a member of Mock Trial team, a brother (he leaves 2 sisters and 2 brothers), a caring son. He was an all around good kid. Yet every story about Eddie seems to have some mischievous twist or a sarcastic comment that Eddie would drop, all the while smiling that same endearing smile. In the words of the poet Catullus, “hail and farewell,” Eddie.

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PerseusDigLibThere are so many websites out there, and yet not too many of them focus specifically on Latin and teaching Latin.  I think that Latin teachers are often expected to be as dusty as some of the texts we teach, living somewhere in the 1st century instead of the 21st. In reality there are some great on-line tools that every Latin teacher should subscribe to – or at least check out to see how they can supplement all the traditional tools.

Most Latin and Greek teachers are familiar with Perseus. This on-line tool originally created by Tufts University is a great reference to find original texts (and translations), word frequency, alternate forms, and more. There are art & archaeology, culture, and mythology resources. Teachers (particularly of advanced levels) should explore Perseus to get a better sense of how they and their students can take advantage of its vast resources.

There are several on-line dictionaries out there, but not all of them are very user-friendly.  TeachPaperless recently recommended that I use University of Notre Dame’s Latin Dictionary and Grammar Aid.  I’ve now linked this dictionary to my class pages because of its simplicity and accuracy.

To keep track of Latin in the news and other classical tidbits, I subscribe to LatinTeach, “a blog dedicated to the teaching and learning of Latin and the Classics.” Recent posts have shared professional development and courses available to Latin teachers and links on the anniversary of the founding of Rome.  When my colleagues ask me where I found the latest Classics news to share, more often than not it’s from LatinTeach.

Two such Classical resources that might be particularly useful to Latin teachers of all levels  are Pompeiiana and Latin Via Fables.  Teachers might remember Pompeiiana, the newsletter created by Bernard Barcio, that was mailed to schools once each month during the school year for nearly 20 years.  These included comics, puzzles, games, articles, and news updates for students of Latin. Recently the rights to these publications were granted to Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers who are now releasing the original newsletters online one issue at a time.  Clearly the most timely material, such as movie reviews or song title translations, is out of date.  But in Pompeiiana there remains a broad range of activities that are still relevent today.

Latin Via Fables is a Ning created by Laura Gibbs, the author of Aesop’s Fables and Latin Via Proverbs, among other titles.  This resource for teachers includes discussion groups, quizzes, vocabulary and many other tools that make reading the fables more valuable as a teaching/learning tool.

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Yesterday I participated in a Latin teacher focus group. Some of you may have done something like this: tried a product and answered some questions, or watched a TV show and shared your feelings with a moderator. There was a mirrored wall and we were both video- and audio- taped. I was intrigued to find out what types of things they wanted to know from Latin teachers. Apparently (I don’t really know) a textbook publisher is looking for feedback and input regarding a new edition of their Latin textbook.

What struck me the most was the variety of perspectives there were in the room. There were 10 high school Latin teachers, all from the Boston area. There were definitely a few traditionalists who emphasize grammar and memorization of forms above all else. There were a few moderates who try to balance the discipline of memorization with the fun and culture of the people and language. And there were a few innovators in the room, looking for the most modern and technologically cohesive approach. It has been years since I sat down with other Latin teachers to discuss pedagogy in such a general way.

Three things stood out for me:

1.  Teachers want what is best for their students. We come from different schools, different socio-economic settings. We might disagree about how to approach the learning. But whether the school is entirely wired with SMART Boards in every room or the most modern technology is an overhead projector, the participants put their students’ learning as their highest priority.

2.  Latin teachers are an independent bunch. If you’ve ever attended a conference of Latin teachers, you’ll know the variety of people who love the language and love to teach it. Even when shown the ancillaries and when discussing all the additional materials that could be included in a Latin series, most of the teachers acknowledged that in the end, they would probably adapt the tools to meet their own needs.

3.  A well designed textbook can really make your life easier. I think of all the lessons and handouts and SMART files and games that I’ve created over the years. I think of the grammar summaries I’ve put together and vocabulary lists to help my students prepare for end of course exams. Perhaps other courses or other languages have always had some of these. But historically, Latin has had few ancillary materials and Latin teachers work on their own. A textbook that has continuity over several years, that is attractive and inviting to students, and that provides useful resources to the teacher – that could free up my time to really design fun and engaging lessons.

One final thought struck me, though. Realistically, will we be tied to textbooks in 5 years? Any publisher who can help me move on-line to a paperless classroom will be the one I look to buy from.  Are there any textbook publishers up to the challenge?

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Welcome, everyone, to my new blog home, Magistra’s Musings.  As some of you may be aware, November Learning has been the host of my blog since I started writing last fall. Now, due to changes at NL Communities, their free blogging platform will be taken down.  I am disappointed that the work that I have done this year will most likely not be able to be archived. However, I am excited to start writing again and sharing what I find and what I’m doing with my classes.  Using WordPress.com will allow me to be more creative with the format of my blog and will allow me to manage my site better. If you subscribed to my earlier blog, Magistra M’s Reflections, I will soon stop cross posting there; please join me here as I continue learning and sharing through blogging.

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