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!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Rocking the Class Features of Flocab

Recently I was at a conference talking none other than Flocab with a number of other teachers.  Many had heard of it or had played with some of full class features, but I discovered something that shocked me: the number of teachers who had the full school subscription but had never tried any of the class features.

So that leads me to today: How can you rock the class features of Flocab in your classroom?  Because, well frankly, you should.

With just a couple extra clicks and about 10 minutes, you can better engage students and get instant feedback that you can you use modify your instruction on the fly.  I don't know about you, but those exact words are listed on our teacher evaluation rubric.  The steps are simple, so here we go.

Click on My Classes and select 'Create New Class.'  You will get a class code.

If your students haven't made an account yet, have students 'Join a Class.' They will enter in the code, click that they are new to Flocab, and create their account.  If you use Google or Microsoft sign ins, use them! We found our students LOVED to forget their usernames and password; the easy log in makes it way easier! (Don't worry if you don't.  You can reset passwords for students in your class!) If students have already created their accounts, just click 'Already Have a Flocabulary Account' and log on in.

Now, let's make your first assignment. Super easy! Find the video you want and click 'Create Assignment' and select the class you want to assign.


Now select the parts of the assignment you want to assign and select a due date.


This is where the advantages really start.  Not only can you assign and get individual student feedback on the quiz, but your options really open up.  I've done the front of the classroom quizzes before and we all know there are students that never answer or pretend that was going to be their answer, too.

So, first you can just assign the video so the students know they need to watch the video.  You can also assign the quiz, the same one you used to do at the front of the classroom, but now you are going to get back individual student data. You know which questions need to be reinforced as a class and which students need further reinforcement themselves.


Keep in mind that if your students don't explore the Interactive Lyric Notes, the questions will be super tough.  The bulk of the content, including diagrams will appear inside the Lyric Notes. This is what my middle and high school teachers love about Flocab.  It doesn't just stop with the basic concept but provides further details to get to the heart of the content and the standards.

If you are not happy with how your students performed, you can always reteach and then reassign.  Our teachers like to add another round of the quiz for students who need to be retaught and reassessed; they simply call is Round 2.  You can even select only the students who need to be reassessed when making the assignment.


Read and Respond is another new feature that is available for assignment on some of the videos.  Read and Respond reminds me of almost reading comprehension test prep style questions.  Not only do your students have to understand the content, they also need to be able to apply a literacy skill in order to be able to answer the question.  We know that state tests don't ask students 'how did Bobby feel?'. Instead, these tests ask what details from the passage support the inference of how Bobby feels.  Best part, you get the same data feedback as the quiz.

 
Last but certainly not least is Lyric Lab.  Tons of people have posted about using Lyric Lab with their kids, so I'm not going to spend a ton of how time, but let your kids create their own! We have had primary grades through high schoolers create their own hip hop lyrics to demonstrate their understanding.  I remember at ISTE one of Flocab's artists said that he learns so much about the topics because he has to fully understand it in order to write the lyrics and complete rewrites.  That's so true and it turns technology from a culture of consumption to creation and I love this!


We love to have our students record their creations and share them with each other and the world around them.  It's not uncommon to see QR codes posted next to student pictures in the hallways as they share their creations!  The best is the process is easy.  With preset content vocabulary for students to utilize in their lyrics and a built in rhyming program, everyone can write hip hop!

Bottom line: if you haven't set up your classes and checked out the class features, it is a must! It's easy and totally worth it!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

...But I Don't Have Time to Teach Coding...


I hear this; I'm sure everyone has heard some variation of this; I'm sure I said something like this when I was in the classroom about something at some point.

And, I get it.  With the demands of state testing and performance evaluations, it is easy to focus in on those tested subjects, to spend the majority of our time with math and reading.  And, I agree.  Those are very important content areas because as we know students who struggle with math and reading will likely struggle with science and social studies because the core skills of comprehension and computation are necessities inside of those areas as well.

Then, computer science standards showed up in the state standards this year.  However, having a kindergartner myself who loves to code on my computer and my tablet and with the robots in my room, I know that they are capable, truly enjoy it, and learn constantly while doing it.

So, my goal: find ways to embed coding into the core content areas.  It really isn't that difficult to do, so hopefully with a couple of ideas you can add some coding, critical thinking, and collaboration into a classroom while still working in those reading and math skills.

Beebots: They're not just for the little ones.

The Basics: Set up a grid on lamination that each square is 4.5 in by 4.5 in to measure up to the Beebot's movement.

2nd graders were talking main idea, supporting detail, and doesn't belong.  For 4 main ideas, the supporting details as well as the distractors that didn't belong were placed under the grid.  Students selected a main idea and had to code the Beebot to get to the correct 4 supporting details all while being careful to not select the tricky detail that didn't quite belong or an entirely different detail for another main idea.



This activity challenged the students.  Not only were they having to figure out main idea and supporting details, they were also having to program the Beebot in the correct sequence to get to the answer.  Even more challenging for many, students had to work collaboratively to accomplish the tasks and had to work on cooperation and communication--essential 21st century skills!

Kindergartners are practicing Base Ten, so we set up a similar idea.  We put 20 different numbers until the grid.  Students drew a number set up in Base Ten and they had to code the Beebot to the correct numerical number.



It's easy to see the Beebots as just primary or lower elementary but totally not true! Our Algebra teacher used them as she provided an algebraic expression.  Students had to simplify the expression and then code the Beebot to the simplified expression.  Coding the Beebot in order to create a geometry proof would be another easy way to apply the same idea.

In middle or high school English, students can code to the details that BEST support a main idea, a common question on state tests or types of persuasive appeals.  In chemistry, students can code from the element name to the element symbol or even the atomic number.  The opportunities are endless.

With these easy activities students are practicing the content, but they are also learning so many other skills along the way.  Yes, coding.  But they are learning about critical thinking, cooperation, collaboration, communication, and content all rolled into one activity students have fun doing.

Dot and Dash: And yes, Kinders can code them too!

Same idea as the Beebots but the coding becomes more challenging.  They are actually going to have to use Blockly to create their code this time around.



Dot and Dash are great for talking about angles and we've seen them used in 2nd grade all the way through geometry as they practice translation and rotation.  My own kindergartner even codes with Dash, so the opportunities are endless.



Just give them a try! Coding really does work into the everyday content of your classroom and you will be teaching your students so much more than programming in the process!



Thursday, January 19, 2017

My Highlight Reel of 2016

I decided that this year I would actually make it a priority to blog.  Last year, I kept telling my self that I would and then... I wouldn't.  Something always came up; something always took priority.

I have seen some unbelievable things happening in classrooms over the last year, and I want nothing more than to share those.  So here are my top 5 things I loved doing last year and can't wait to do more of this year.  Oh, and I added one more because, well... I wanted to.

5. Connect with another country, another culture!


We have been lucky enough to connect with classrooms across the globe, but sometimes it is easy to explore Mystery Hangout after Mystery Hangout and teachers forget that hangouts can be used for so many content-specific collaborations.  This 6th grade class connected with a class is Brazil to each discuss natural wonders in their ecosystems and explain the effects if elements of their ecosystems were to change. It was powerful because they were digging deep into their content while connecting, engaging, and learning with students from a different culture and background.

4. Green Screen Something!


Using a green screen is a super easy and cheap way to engage students in content, creation, and creativity.  We've had high school PSA's on drug use and digital citizenship, and we've also had elementary students create weather reports or social studies projects.  All it takes is a painted green wall (or even a plastic tablecloth or piece of fabric) and a $5 Do Ink on iPads.  It's so easy that second graders are recording each other!

 3. Breakout!


At this point it seems like everyone has tried a Breakout box with their students, but if you haven't, it's a must! Students reviewed novels, digital citizenship, and content areas galore. Using the box, they even practiced teamwork, cooperation, and critical thinking.  Our staff even used it for teambuilding and professional development. From kindergartners to seniors in high school, a breakout box gets students engaged and active in their learning.

2. Plotting Points Battleship


This is one my favorite ideas we came up with last year.  I had a 6th grade math teacher that wanted to practice plotting coordinate pairs in all four quadrants, so we developed this game of Battleship. On a graph, students plotted the points of their ships before the hangout call was made.  A google doc was shared between a pair of students in one classroom and a pair in our classroom.  Just like Battleship, students had to guess their coordinate of their opponents' ships.  In the shared doc, students responded with hit or miss.  -15 to 15 was super tricky and took a long time, but they loved watching the reactions of the teams on the hangout as they played! We have also tried this with just quadrant one and it's just as fun! Prepare to sink those ships as students plot an unbelievable amount of points in a short period of time!

1. Integrate Coding into Your Content!




Whether studying main idea/supporting details in 2nd grade or translations and rotations in geometry, there are constant ways to integrate coding into your core content curriculum.  I hear all too often that there isn't time for things like coding, but when integrated into your content area, you are providing students core curriculum, basic coding, and critical thinking skills that will serve them well long from now.

+1 Print Something in 3D!

If your school has the capability, try to brainstorm ways for students in all grades and all contents to utilize the 3D printer.  Our second graders designed and printed wheels for a science experience in which they were learning about motion, friction, and gravity.  Our third graders created buildings that must be comprised of a variety of 3D shapes that they must identify and measure.  Our high school geometry class used old building records and live measurements to build a scale model replication of our downtown area including the original Indiana courthouse.  Students are capable of these types of creations and they are excited and actively involved in the learning process.