Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Birthdays come every year on the same day, at the same time, regardless of what is going on in the world or in my world.  My birthdays remind me that I am alive, loved, and give me a chance to reflect a bit. Like the fall season, it brings new beginnings, a harvest of fresh ideas and resources, and the richness and beauty of the changing of the leaves.  My birthdays have been happy, sad, important, and small.  Birthdays mean getting older, wiser, a bit calmer, and accepting my lines and scars.  Tonight, I reflect on a few birthdays, and celebrate my breath, my life, and my place in this world. 

I was born on September 27, 1976... my father's fourth child, and his only girl, and my mother's first.  I was named after a cat that was brought into my dad's animal hospital.  My dad was a veterinarian, and my mom worked along side him throughout her pregnancy.  Animals were very important to them, so it makes sense that I was named after one.  It is funny that I am allergic to cats, but appreciate the namesake nonetheless. 

For my second birthday my mom wanted to buy me a party dress.  She took me to the store and asked which one I liked the best.  My response was this, "If I get a party dress, then I will only be able to wear it once.  If I get a dress with a vest, then I can wear it to preschool, to play, and at my party."  My mom stared at me, stunned.  She wanted to buy me a princess dress.  I wanted a practical dress that I could use for other occasions.  I loved that dress with a vest, and my mom most certainly got her money's worth by purchasing it.

Growing up, I was very blessed to travel a great deal.  I learned to love adventures and exploring, and while my family and I were in Europe for six months, I turned three.  I thought it was the coolest thing that I got to celebrate a birthday in Kettenbach, Germany.  Although I only really remember my red snow suit and the cobblestone streets, I have fun filling in the rest with pictures and stories. 

My life changed forever just after my sixth birthday. That was my last birthday with my dad.  He died of cancer three months later on December 27th.  I was too young to understand what was happening, but I know that the age of six is forever ingrained into my existence.

Turning nine meant moving to Riverside... a new city, new school, and a new long bus ride.  Fun birthdays were shared with friends and really bad hair!  For my sixteenth birthday, my mom planned a surprise party.  I hated surprises, and I sure let her know it.  Sorry, mom.  I have a feeling I will one day know what that feels like from a mom's point of view.  I turned 18 in college, and I was the only one on my college volleyball team who needed a parent's signature for the various paper wok.  

I knew when I turned 23 that I it would be my last birthday as just me.  I felt change coming, as I often do, and since #24, birthdays have been spent with close family and friends, my husband, and our three beautiful babies. Today, I turn 35.  My life is full.  My children are healthy.  My marriage is strong.  I am lucky.  There is constant change in my life, and I wouldn't have it any other way.  35 is going to be a good year, and I am blessed to welcome it in with the cool autumn breeze.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Two Most Important Factors in Determining Readiness for Online Teaching and Learning

The two most important factors in determining student and teacher readiness for entering the online world of learning are initiative and curiosity.

Students must be willing to take the lead with online learning, asking questions, figuring out assignments and objectives, interacting with classmates online, contacting the teacher, and overall owning their education.  If a student is willing to seek out the answers, ask difficult questions, admit when they need help, and offer assistance to classmates who also may need help, then they are off on the right foot. 

A second factor is curiosity.  Just as a student needs to be willing to start the conversation, sit down and work rather than be distracted, and figure out the requirements, a student needs to be curious.  Curiosity means that you want to learn, want to know the answers, want to look up a topic, idea, or word because you want to know more, not because it is required.  Students entering this environment, more than anywhere else, must be curious about their world, about their classmates, about technology, about collaboration.  Students must understand that they can learn without being told to learn.  They must be curious in order to stay up to date and current, and in order to get the most out of their education.  Initiative and curiosity go hand in hand.

Teachers must be willing to take the lead with online teaching.  An online teacher cannot wait for someone else to teach them all they need to know.  They must take the initiative, take the lead, and start learning on their own, just like their students.  Seeking assistance is essential.  It is foolish to try to do it all alone, but waiting for that assistance rather than starting the process or moving on to another task while waiting, remaining flexible, and being patient, is key.  Initiative goes hand in hand with planning as well.  Planning lessons, getting ideas organized, and taking the lead when it comes to learning along with your students is important.  As an online teacher,  if I do it right, I will constantly be stepping out of my comfort zone, will constantly be learning, and will constantly be researching. 

This leads to curiosity.  What is new and innovative now will not be new and innovative in a few years, or maybe even months, in this ever-evolving world of technology.  Online teachers must be curious.  They must ask questions, join Twitter, start following leaders in the world of online and blended learning, they must collaborate, be willing to put in extra time to create lessons rather than use pre existing ones.  Curiosity, just like initiative, will take online teachers out of their comfort zone.  For me, this will not only make me a better teacher, colleague, student, and mom, but will also allow me to guide my students through the process, understanding what it is like to be in their shoes a bit.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Riverside Virtual School

The Riverside Virtual School, RVS, is a WASC accredited, public, free, online school offering courses for students in grades 3-12.  Our full time program is organized to meet the needs of students seeking a challenging and innovative curriculum. 

A student at RVS is provided an Instructional Supervisor (IS) who they meet with once per month.  Our courses are online, but we are hybrid in many ways; throughout the month, our students choose how often they will be on campus for purposeful and meaningful face to face assistance, guidance, and interaction.  Our flexible schedule is designed to meet the needs of our students and their families.  

It is our goal that students enrolled at the Riverside Virtual School understand what it means to be a 21st Century learner who is exposed to a standards based curriculum, creative thinking, and choice.  We want our students to become digital citizens who aware of their electronic, "E-Legacy."  The dynamic faculty at the Riverside Virtual School see their role as that of a learning guide because we all teach and learn together. 

If you are interested in learning more about our program, we would love to hear from you.  Please feel free to contact us:

Courtney Hanes- Online English Instructor, Curriculum Developer, and Department Chair, Instructional Supervisor for grades 11-12 Chanes@rusd.k12.ca.us

David Dillon- Online History Instructor, Curriculum Developer, and Department Chair, Instructional Supervisor for grades 11-12 Ddillon@rusd.k12.ca.us

Sarah Lwanga- Online Mathematics Instructor, Curriculum Developer, and Department Chair, Instructional Supervisor for grades 9-10 Slwanga@rusd.k12.ca.us

Kelly McAllister- Online Science Instructor, Curriculum Developer, and Department Chair, Instructional Supervisor for grades 7-8 KmcAllister@rusd.k12.ca.us

Jerome Hill- Online English Instructor and Curriculum Developer, Instructional Supervisor for grades 3-6 Jvhill@rusd.k12.ca.us

Scott Hanes- Online Health, Physical Education, and Computer Instructor, Curriculum Developer, and Department Chair Shanes@rusd.k12.ca.us

Dr. David Haglund- Principal of the Riverside Virtual School Dhaglund@rusd.k12.ca.us

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Coaches, Start Tweeting!

Several popular and well respected college coaches have taken a stand against the use of Twitter for their student athletes.  They are concerned that Twitter is a distraction, and if used, will prevent their players from dedicating the time it takes to be top-notch.  They are fearful that if they allow their student-athletes to tweet, they will lose the battle of having solid, focused athletes as a part of their program, and that these young adults may "say" something that could get them into trouble or that they will regret.

Yes!  Twitter has the power to be a distraction and to take away concentration from a student-athlete's responsibilities to themselves, their team, and their coaching staff. 

Yes!  Twitter protocol and acceptable use needs to be taught and modeled. 

Yes!  Twitter has entered mainstream, and is a part of our technology-infused world. 

Yes!  This is a teachable moment. 

The best way to teach student athletes how to properly interact on Twitter is by tweeting yourself.  The best way to teach a student athlete how to stay focused on their athletic responsibilities, school, and their social life, is to teach them how to balance all three, not eliminate one.  Coaches have the responsibility to make sure that student athletes know the power of their words, and take pride creating an athletic and academic legacy.  Coaches must make sure that their athletes leave their school and program as responsible digital citizens who are prepared to interact and thrive in a technology-rich society, especially as an alumni who will now represent your school and program.

If you ban the use of Twitter, you are releasing the opportunities to teach them how to be productive, thoughtful, responsible communicators.  Rather than ban the use of Twitter, create an account and start tweeting yourself.  Reach out to your athletes, peers, alumni, future athletes, and fans as a role model of appropriate behavior.  See if your student athletes follow your lead rather than resist your apprehension.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering September 11, 2001

I grew up listening to my mom and her friends and classmates recall where they were when they learned of President Kennedy's death.  I was not alive when he was killed.  I was not alive when Robert Kennedy was killed, or when Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. I was not alive during the Vietnam War. Even though I did not live through these events, I feel the need to mourn for them very strongly.  Those who were alive during these tragedies have stories and memories to share, emotions so strong, and connections so deep, I realize that it is my responsibility to listen, to reflect, to learn, and if not remember first hand, not to forget.

On September 11, 2001, I was far away from the devastation in New York, Virginia, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania.  I was at home, alone.  I was almost 25, had been married for two months, and had just started my second year of teaching.  My husband called from an early morning cross country practice as I was getting ready for work.  He told me that something awful had happened.  I turned on the news.  This was before Facebook and Twitter.  I watched in horror.  I, like everyone else, was shocked, confused, scared, changed.  I drove to work knowing that the day would be spent balancing the news with a sense of normalcy for my students.

As we came together as a country, as a planet, to make sense of all of this, I wondered how I would ever fly, shop in a crowded mall, or attended a sporting event again without being haunted, paranoid, terrorized.  I looked at strangers in elevators differently, wondering if they were good or bad, wondering if they had the desire to hurt others, to kill themselves, to use themselves as weapons as the terrorists had on that awful September morning.  I mourned for the victims and their families, for the missing that may never be found, and for the witnesses and survivors. 

The following summer, our first son was born.  The nursery was over-crowded, and some attributed this to the tragedy that occurred the fall before.  Regardless of how many babies were born that next summer, lives would never be the same, and these children would grow up hearing about these memories, rather than living through them.  It would now be my responsibility to teach my children about a tragedy that they did not experience first hand.  It is now my responsibility to make sure they understand, remember, and reflect. 

Ten years later, my husband and I sit with our three children and explain what happened before they were born.  We, now, recall for them where we were when we heard the news, and what it was like to live through 9/11/01.  We make sure they know that not all people are bad, there is still beauty in the world, and that life is to be cherished and embraced to the fullest.  My husband and I will never forget, and we will make sure our children do not either.  Amen.      

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Helping Students Create their "E-Legacy"

A best practice for online learning is for students to begin to create their electronic, "E-Legacy."  This provides the teacher with a portfolio of student work over time, it provides the student with a digital resume for their future employers, and it allows them to leave their footprint behind to inspire other students.

Three ways to accomplish this are:  Blogging, Haiku's ePortfolio, and Jing.


Blogging helps students develop a deeper knowledge of a subject they are studying, and allows them to share what they are learning with others.

Blogging helps students build a name for themselves or a personal brand or product, and lets the world know who they are.

Blogging helps students understand a language they will need to navigate through new territory.

Blogging helps students establish a positive digital impression of themselves, which they can revisit as they grow.


Haiku's ePortfolio allows students to:

Track and assess learning and progress over the course of years, not months.

Enable students to take ownership of their work and see their development and learning through their portfolio rather than solely through grades.

Provide an intentional venue for students to connect ideas and knowledge across disciplines.


With Jing, students can take pictures or videos of what they see on their computer monitor, share instantly via the internet, email, Twitter, or blog, and enhance online, face-paced conversations- all for FREE.  This is a great tool for student-created tutorials, narrating photos, or collaborating on a project.