Thursday, December 7, 2017

What's the Hype on Hangouts?

I am a lover of Hangouts, Skype, Zoom, anything really to connect classrooms outside their four walls.  I'm not going to give you my million reasons why I think it's so important for students, but leave you with, it is.  I've even gone through a lot of that in a previous post, Not Connecting Globally is a Disservice to Your Students.

And as a coach, I am always trying to find different ways and reasons to connect our students to the world around them. 

I was on maternity leave earlier this year and was having a hard time transitioning back into being in the classroom a lot.  I felt caught behind my computer accomplishing tasks from being gone on maternity instead of out there working hands on with teachers and students, so I issued a challenge.

Hangouts Hype was born!

For one month, each time a teacher connected outside their classroom walls in any way, I entered their name in a big jar. Each week a winner was selected for a $5 gift card and then at the end, the greatest gift of all: an extra planning time. 

Yes, for one lucky winner who decided to open up those classroom walls, I will cover your class for 45 minutes for you to do whatever you want.  Need to plan?  Need to grade? Need to sit on the couch in the lounge and relax? You do it because I'm covering your class!

In one month, my small school with only 32 classroom teachers K-12 had over 40 global connections take place!

It went so well I'm thinking about issuing another challenge in January.  If you have an idea, drop a comment!

Interested in Hangout Hype?  Here's the flyer!
Want some ideas on connections?  Here's an upcoming presentation I am doing at the IAG Conference in Indianapolis.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Back to the Grind...

So, I've been MIA from all things school: Twitter, my blog, Instagram, etc.  The reason?  Maternity Leave!

On June 7th this little one, Temperance Brooke, came into the world-- no joke one day after my last post.  Between a rough start and enjoying every moment I could with her, the blogging fell by the wayside.  Let's be honest, all work things fell by the wayside. 

But I am now back at work and returning has been quite the experience. 

Since I'm a digital learning coach, they didn't get anyone to fill in for me while I was on leave.  That also meant they started the school year without a coach. 

Now, normally I would say, not that big of a deal, but we rolled out brand new devices K-12 at the start of the school year (totally not here for that) and a ton of new programs that we purchased this year in lieu of paper/pencil. 

So... I return to a whole lot of programs needing to be set up and teachers that have just been waiting for me to come back.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE that they want me in their rooms and that they want my help; however, the list is long and so I continue to slowly work my way through the Google Form of teacher requests.  I'll get there; it just might take awhile!

On a side note, our FAV new programs we are using this year! (And yes, some are paid.)

1. Storia--Scholastic stories leveled by Fountas and Pinnell or Lexile.  You can put them in reading groups in the program and then provide different shelves and stories to each group based on their reading ability or skill set. 
2. USA Test Prep-- yes, it's test prep, but it is also great for standards review and remediation.  We started out only using it at the high school side and now we use it all the way to 3rd grade.  It is also fairly reasonably priced for everything you get.
3. Flocabulary-- We've always loved Flocab but with more of our teachers taking advantage of the class features, it has to make the list!
4. STEM Fuse-- We are just getting started with this one but it has pre-created units for different grades that allow teachers to incorporate math, science, literacy, critical thinking, problem solving, and 3D printing into their standards easily!

Okay, there are tons more that I love but these are the ones that teachers are asking for set up, like ASAP so I thought I'd share!

And, now I'll share one more sweet pic just because this being back to work stuff--even though she's the third--is still tough!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

New Devices... New Year: My Reflections as We Start Again

Three years ago we pulled the trigger and went one to one district-wide.  K-2 was equipped with Samsung tablets while 3-12 were issued Dell Chromebooks.

As our lease comes to an end this year and we adopt new devices for this upcoming school year,  I look to reflect.  What went well?  What do we need to do differently? While for each school this might vary drastically, for me, there are a few things that I wish we would have started sooner or that we start now.

First and foremost, our breakage rate was offensive our first year.  I mean, truly terrible.  It was the year before I went into the tech coach position and at that point I was still teaching in the secondary English classroom, but even I knew it was bad.  We had multiple students with four or more screen breaks in a single year and there were no consequences.  I know; this sounds crazy, but I guess looking back, we needed to spend time coming up with better device policies and making sure all students, staff, and parents were on the same page when it came to that policy.

We needed to press upon all stakeholders that these devices are meant to help in the learning process, but they have to take care of them.

Finally partway through our second year with devices and my first year in this position, we FINALLY started charging students for the repair costs associated with their devices, but only in the case of physical damage or screen breaks.  Even more, we still covered the first break as an "accidents happen" policy.  And while this helped, we ended up investing in better cases and charging for the repair on the first break starting at the beginning of the third year.

To be honest, this is still something we have to work on.  If teachers, parents, and other stakeholders don't hold students accountable for how they are treating the device, we are going to get caught in the same vicious cycle.  Just like it is hard to take back control of a classroom once classroom management has been lost, it is equally difficult to magically snap your fingers and expect students to treat their devices with value and respect if EVERYONE hasn't been expecting it previously.  

Beyond the devices and breakage, we have also experienced a high volume of student bills being processed on chargers.  Students were swapping chargers and losing chargers faster than I could possibly keep up.  Students were charged for lost or damaged chargers; however, I spent two weeks attempting to match up chargers as students turned in the wrong one at the end of the year.  This year we found GREAT success by implementing 2 simple new policies.

1. All chargers were clearly labeled with student name and device ID number.  So even if a student brought it to school, even though they are told to leave them at home, students could easily see which one was theirs if multiple were plugged in.
2. NO LOANER CHARGERS.  Best decision I ever made.  I was spending way too much time trying to track down chargers and frankly, it wasn't worth it and ultimately contributed greatly to our charger chaos at the end of the year.  Instead, each teacher was given one loaner charger with their name labeled on hot pink duct tape.  Yes, obnoxious, but effective.  We are even ordering in extra chargers for our new devices to start the school year with this same policy.

Finally, training.

We have tried a number of different professional development models: rotating subs during the school day, differentiated PD, and after school trainings.  However, the most effective training has always been when we provide both choice and time for our teachers.

This year, we set up training days where students completed their work digitally from home while teachers were in trainings all day, an option provided by the Indiana Department of Education.

Each teacher selected 2 main sessions they wanted to attend each day out of the 6 options: 1 hour of training or instruction by a tech leader and 1 hour of time dedicated to the teachers physically creating something that they could use in their classroom.  At the end of the 2 hour block, teachers actually shared out what they created with each other.

Teachers left with an actual lesson, activity, or plan for their classrooms on how to implement whatever training took place.  Walking through the hallways and classrooms throughout that next week, it was unbelievable; teachers were using what they learned in the training within the week.

In the fall we will start the year with the new Asus 213 flippable chromebooks for our 3-12 students and iPads for our K-2 kiddos.  I am super excited but also a little nervous.  Rolling out new devices is stressful and time consuming and you want nothing more than for them to improve the instruction and the learning in the classrooms.

What helpful hints have you learned over the years to make roll out and device utilization as effective as possible?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Using Tech in PE: Yup, that happened!

I totally get the screen time argument. I don't want my own kids sitting in front of an iPad or a TV for hours on end.  However, sometimes I think that argument is used to discredit technology being used in the classroom--that teachers don't want to contribute to the screen time dilemma.

Some have this vision of students sitting at their desks just staring at the screen of a device, but I think that is totally underestimating tech and what it could look like in a classroom.

Technology can be active.  Technology should be hands-on.

Technology shouldn't stop at playing an app on a device when it can be so much more.

Our PE teacher has been wanting to try a game with her students and I'll be honest, I hadn't thought through setting up the tablet with the projector in the gym until yesterday, so the fact that it took until yesterday was my fault alone.

Her kinders through 2nd graders were working on throwing and accuracy when throwing.

We added the Jitterbug app to one of the Android tablets we have in the building and connected that tablet to the projector using an Android Miracast.

The kids lined up in the gym and their job was to smoosh the bugs with their throws.  If a student hit a bug with their throw, the teacher clicked the bug on the tablet and made it disappear.  Even cuter, the students thought it was them the whole time! They had so much fun!

Check out a video of the craziness here!

Later today we are going on a nature walk where students to will capture photos from nature to create Animoto poetry videos from their pictures and their writing.

Technology shouldn't just be students sitting in their seats quietly obeying; tech should be fun, hands-on, active, and engaging!

Putting technology in students' hands means being open to opportunities of which we could have never dreamed as students ourselves.

When I was in school, we would have practiced throwing and accuracy by throwing the ball through a hoop or toward a circle tapped on the wall.  Which do you think looks like more fun?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Quick Mother's Day Writing/Gift Idea

I see so many of my elementary teachers trying desperately to put something together to send home a little Mother's Day gift this coming weekend.  So in a combination of mom and ed tech coach, with a little bit of inspiration from DoInk's Twitter feed, the video Mother's Day card was born.

One of our first grade teachers had her students draw a picture and write about their moms: what they loved about them, what they did together, and what makes them the best.  No doubt, some of them are humorous, but they are genuine.

I took their art and writing to snap a quick photo with just a construction paper background.

Then, we opened up our FAVORITE green screen app, Do Ink, and got to work.

It is super simple and took little to no time at all.

I loaded the picture I had taken of their work into Do Ink, placed the students in front of the green screen (literally a wall painted green in my classroom but a green plastic tablecloth works too) and had them tell me about their moms.

After I recorded all the students, I moved them into a Google Drive folder, changed the share settings, and turned each video recording into a QR code.

From there, the QR codes were passed off to the teacher who printed them and the students put them into Mother's Day cards.

So simple.  So heartfelt.  So adorable.

To all the moms, Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

And Then I Had Kids: How Becoming a Parent Changed Me as a Teacher

I still remember my first year of teaching a parent came to me and said, "Well, you don't understand; you don't have kids." To be honest, I was kind of offended and by kind of, I mean just offended.

I forget in what particular context the comment was said, but it was one of those parent comments that I will never forget.  How could they say that?  I am always thinking about the kids and what's best for them.

Then, I had kids. As as much as I would never say that to a teacher...ever.., there's some truth to it.  You just look at things a little bit differently.

I constantly ask myself what I want for my own child.  I see the struggles and mistakes I probably made as a teacher and how there were definitely times I wasn't, looking back, doing what I could have done for a student like my own.  Don't get me wrong: I tried really hard to make sure I was making the best decisions possible, and I don't judge myself for what I could have done differently.  You don't know what you don't know and a day only has 24 hours.

Like the importance of differentiation and not just in terms of more but different.  I tried to differentiate for my students as often as possible, but until you have a kid coming home with activities and assignments that are either way too easy or way too difficult, it's hard to walk in those shoes.

I get it; sometimes we, as teachers, need everyone to do the same thing in order to get a baseline.  I get it; it's more work for the teacher and there are only so many hours in the day. I get it; at the end of the day, every student has to pass the same test for the state.  By no means am I saying that we should give second grade work to an eighth grader because that is where they are academically, but scaffolding needs to take place.

On the other end of the spectrum, it is easy as teachers to forget to challenge the gifted students in our classroom.  We know they will pass the state test, so it is easy to divert our attention and efforts to those students who might not pass, but please don't.

It's easy to do.  An extra school-wide assembly gets added, so one of the reading groups needs to get dropped.  Which one normally goes?  The high group.   You get overwhelmed and run out of time to make an assignment, so you don't have time to create something for all the main leveled groups in your room.  Which group just gets the basic assignment?  The high group.

You have RTI time, but is there a time carved out for your high ability students to be challenged? In so many situations the answer is no and that saddens me.

I truly like to tell myself that I thought about all these things before I had my own children, but it is just different.  I look at students and I see my own son or daughter.  Is this what I want for my own children?  Is this the classroom, the activity, the daily school life that my own children deserve?  Sometimes the answer is absolutely; sometimes, sadly, the answer is no.

Being a mom changed me.  As I look back at my first year of teaching and that parent comment, I see the subtle truth to it.  I always wanted what was best for my students, but when you see your own child's eyes in your students' faces, it takes on a whole new meaning.

Simple question: Would you want your own child having the experience of the students in your classroom?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Not Connecting Globally is a Disservice to Your Kids

There.  I said it.  If you have the ability to connect your classroom to the world around them, why wouldn't you?  Surprisingly, there are still teachers who don't want to or don't think global connections are worth the the time and effort.  Frankly, that is providing a huge disservice to your students.

Hangouts or Skype are not extra fluff; they are standards-embedded, engaging, and important.

We have been lucky enough at our school to hangout throughout the world in a multitude of ways, and even the connections that didn't go as smoothly as we would have hoped have taught the students and the teachers unbelievable lessons.

Not only have our students practiced mapping, geography, number sense, and so much more, they have also had the opportunity to learn about the world and the people around them.  By learning about the world around them, they can become more globally aware and culturally sensitive.

Coming from a school with little diversity, our students need this type of interaction and education. Our world is shrinking; the fact of the matter is that the students we are preparing today will quite possibly be working and collaborating with others across the globe.  Why would we not want to expose our students to these types of experiences throughout their education?

Hopefully at this point I have you convinced and you're thinking what type of connection can I make? Here are some of my favorite ones!

The Classic Mystery Hangout: Each class must ask yes/no geography-based questions to try to discover where the other classroom is located.  For higher level grades, we go beyond state to city.  We have also seen our students struggle when trying to discover the location of a classroom outside the United States, so that challenge is always fun to throw in.

Mystery Numbers: Same type of concept but students ask yes/no questions about place value and the numbers.  We have gone into the decimals or just 1-120 for our little ones.  They ask questions like even/odd, multiple of, prime/composite, etc. to discover the mystery number of the other class.

 Read Alouds: Just like you might have a mystery reader visit your classroom, try having a digital guest read your students a story.  We even like playing a game of Kahoot against the other class at the end to compare and contrast the 2 stories read or review the story read!

Content-Specific Presentations: While studying ecosystems in science and South America in social studies, students researched ecosystems of local natural wonders to present to a class in Brazil.  The class in Brazil then presented about their natural wonders and ecosystems for students to compare and contrast.  We've had kindergartners compare and contrast weather with a class in a different part of the county, 5th graders engage in debates, and high school physics students pair up with elementary students to help them develop Rube Goldberg machines; there are so many content-specific ways to connect!

Cultural Tours: Using resources like Learn Around the World's GeoShow, your class can explore locations and cultures all over the world.  If you haven't checked it out, it is a must! Our students learned about local animals, ancient ruins, and even met locals where they were able to ask questions live!

Expert Experiences: Often times it is hard to get an expert in a field to travel to your classroom for the day, but with Hangouts or Skype, they can simply connect and still share their knowledge with your students, local or not! Our students presented marketing pitches to businesses, and we have connected with a head engineer at NASA, museums, and so much more! Reach out on Twitter or Google Plus and many times people can help connect you to experts on a topic, even one that will give a tour while they talk.

WildEarth Live Safari: We just did our first one this week and the kids were in LOVE! You actually join safari guides on live safaris in South Africa while the students get to ask questions.  Here is the sign up information if you want to explore!

Plotting Points Battleship: We take it back old school and play battleship on a -15, 15 coordinate plane.  Through the use of shared google docs and a live hangout, students battle by guessing coordinate pairs for  hits or misses.  The kids plot an unbelievable number of points and they never just want to stop; we always run out of time when trying to play.

Veteran's Day Afghanistan Choir Performance: Our choir was even able to connect with an air force base in Afghanistan on Veteran's Day and sing a variety of patriotic songs.  Even cooler, months later the base sent a US flag that had been raised above the base in honor of them.

I could go on and on, but these are some of our favorites.  If you want to start connecting, I would join some Google Plus Communities to dip your toe in the water: Connected Classrooms Workshop, Google Hangouts in Education (for Educators), and Mystery Hangout are just a few to get you started!

Grab a webcam and get connecting.  The world is at your fingertips!