Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Facing Layoffs, Teachers Need to Advocate for Themselves

Like many states, New York is struggling with how to manage a bloated budget. Unfortunately, rather than trimming fat and implementing ways to spend wiser, education has become the target of severe cuts in state spending (my school in particular is currently forced to operate next year with a massive 17% cut in funding). Last year, states laid off 58,000 teachers nationwide, and projections for the 2011-2012 school year don't look any better.

Sadly, I have a personal connection to this. My sister-in-law, Amanda Wagner, is one of those teachers whose job will not be in the district budget for next year. Rather than be angry, she took the chance to share her insight via an editorial in The Buffalo News. Her overall message is a call to action; a plea for parents, students, teachers, and community members to take an interest in their schools. Too many see education as an almost invisible part of their community, and this can be dangerous as conditions slowly and quietly decline.

A few days after Amanda's editorial printed, someone posted a negative comment. Maybe this guy was just trolling, but I took the bait and we have been sparring back and forth. My goal isn't to make this person look foolish; I have a much deeper motivation.

I'm proud to be a teacher, and I truly believe that what we do on a daily basis makes a tremendous difference in the lives of our students. I have used the comment section of my sister-in-law's editorial to hopefully dispel some of the popular misconceptions of teachers. My hope is that immediately after reading my blog post, you will read her article and the comments. Think about what makes you valuable as an educator, and add your own comment. As professionals, we need to advocate for ourselves.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

How to Create Soundboards Without Flash

I just finished an annual expressive writing unit with my 7th graders where they studied old time radio plays to learn about the importance of description, details, and imagery in dialogue. After listening to several examples, students are put into groups and then collaborate to write their own authentic radio play. To add to this authenticity, students also integrate sounds effects to help enhance the imagery of their plays.

In the past, I've struggled with how to handle these sound effects. There are plenty of sites with free wav and mp3 files, but the actual method for playing these can be difficult to coordinate with a live performance. But this year, I had an idea. What if it was possible to create soundboards for each group?

Soundboards are (usually flash) web applications with buttons that link to brief sound clips. They are typically the weapon of choice for juvenile prank phone calls, but I decided they would also be great tools for our radio play performances. My first instinct was to coerce my super-tech brother into creating a customizable flash file for each group. This would have gotten the job done, but with far more effort on my part than necessary. Fortunately, I then had a much easier idea – PowerPoint.

I personally despise PowerPoint as a presentation tool, but it turns out the program makes a great soundboard. The performances were a success and the sound effects flowed seamlessly. This tool can be integrated into any kind of performance, oral reading, or skit – even schools where students run morning announcements could find use in this simple method of adding sounds to a project.

Here are directions for creating a soundboard in either OpenOffice or PowerPoint. Feel free to use my template – download it here.

  1. Open a new file.

  2. If you're not using my template, use the shape tool to create “buttons” that students will click to trigger the sound.

  3. Right click on the shape and choose “action settings” in PowerPoint or “Interaction” in OpenOffice.

  4. Browse for the file that you wish to add to the soundboard.

  5. When all of your sounds have been added to the soundboard, view the slideshow and your buttons should now be able to be clicked to play the correct sound.

The Interaction menu in OpenOffice Impress

Action Settings in PowerPoint

A Few Hints

  • Create a small wav file with a few seconds of silence (Audacity can do this quickly and easily) and add to the soundboard as a “stop sound” button. This way students can control how long a clip is played.

  • Wav files can be embedded in the file. This makes it easy to manage the soundboard, but it can also make the file very large. MP3 files do not embed but create relative links within the presentation. This means the actual file is small, but must remain in the relative location to the sound files. (If all of this is confusing, you may just want to stick with using wav files. Free software like Format Factory can convert mp3 to wav for your soundboard.

  • There are tons of websites for free sound effects, but I've had the most luck with Wavcentral, Soundjay, Soundzabound, and Freeplaymusic. When in doubt, google works wonders.
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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Police Pepper Spray 8-Year-Old Boy

ABC News reported yesterday an incident involving 8-year-old Aidan Elliot, a second grader who was shot with pepper spray by police after teachers were unable to de-escalate his explosive behavior. Immediately following, angry mom, Mandy Elliot, took to media outlets across the country to defend her son's behavior and condemn the actions of the police. Despite repeated previous altercations at school where police had to be called, and young Aidan admitting to fashioning a makeshift shank from a piece of wooden molding, Ms. Elliot found the pepper spray to be excessive. She added that she also wanted police to get special training in dealing with children. Hmm... Or maybe, I don't know, she could work on improving discipline at home. Aidan (admittedly) has behavior and aggression issues, but that's no excuse to allow these kinds of events to happen. If anything, children with these problems benefit from more structure, not less. Take a look at the video below. Watch it closely, and then scroll down to see if you noticed what I did... (Direct link here if embedded video doesn't load.)

Her son - the boy who had to be physically removed from school for threatening to kill students and teachers - is sitting in his room playing video games. I'll ignore the obvious irony of the game being a violent first person shooter to focus on the fact that there was clearly no consequence at home for his actions. I just don't get it.

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