Thursday, May 24, 2018

Genius Hour

Today is a proud teacher-mama moment. My students are presenting their Genius Hour projects. All semester they have had one class period per week to work on a technology connected project of their choosing. I asked them to pick something related to technology that they would like to learn. Sure, I gave some suggestions for those who didn't know what to do, but some really embraced the idea. I have had kids choose a coding language to learn, working on creating 3D drawings, learning to make websites, program an ozobot, as well as some other truly fun projects.

Yesterday, one student taught the rest of the class how to create music online and played his song for us (which he has also used as background music in his final project). This morning, I'm looking at the computer two of them teamed up to build from scratch that they will be showing this morning. Others have created video games in various platforms. Imagine if we turned all that pent up creativity loose on all their subjects...

Presentation Day
I think one of the most important lessons learned from this is that it is OK to fail. They are not penalized for trying something and changing their mind. (They just have to record their efforts in their journal and explain what was hard or not to their liking.) They can pick up and try something else as long as they are working on something during that class period. If you haven't tried Genius Hour, I think it may be one of the best uses of time I've done with my students.

Stop motion video         
of the boys building
their computer.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Evolving why and how.

 itsLearning is a platform. ✔
Learn how to collaborate with teaching partner. ✔
Learn how to create a playlist. ✔
Learn how to individualize playlist. ✔
Make it look cute. ✔
Implement platform and manage student agency,  digital expectations and 
anticipate other ambiguous and challenging things...

I have recently realized I am moving from a "superficial why" to slowly uncovering my real "why" as an itsLearning user. Part of my "evolving" why is connected to better understanding and learning the pedagogy (clothed by the platform). Definitely- itsLearning is a powerful tool for our students. 

What I mean by that is more important than understanding the "nuts & bolts" of itsLearning is understanding the shift in pedagogy that comes with implementing and using the platform with students.  The "nuts and bolts" allows users to create anything! itsLearning truly a blank canvas with limitless creative possibilities. It's so exciting!!

Unfortunately creativity has a needy cousin-- practicality. Let me first say I have taken a million Myers Briggs personality tests and they have all said that I am a true to the core ENFP . ENFP's are known for being creative but lacking in practical skills. To connect the dots I know next in my journey is to learn more about the pedagogy of blended learning. 

So what I can tell you so far is that there are still many missing pieces to implementing a playlist into the classroom. I am a constant work in progress and have been working on:
1. Holding students accountable
1. Setting students up to be successful.
1. Maintaining student to student and teacher to student relationships.

In regards to setting students up to be successful here one something I strategy I have used: 
I've named it "mirroring."  The idea of mirroring is that as a teacher you pair warm ups with content students will later encounter on a playlist. It's NOT rocket science but it is something I have learned that is imperative to student success.

For example:  I wanted students to participate in an online discussion where they had to analyze two word problems and write about it.

Discussion on playlist: 

Strategy: Mirror similar activity in warm up prior to students accessing discussion online: 

Student's solve 2 word problems then have class turn-and-talk/class discussion & write an analysis in their journal.

Class warm up: Rehearse solving 2 types of word problems.
Close warm up: Students compare and contrast the structure of the 2 word problems by discussing with classmates how were they similar, and how were they different. For example 1 problem uses a table the other does not. 

Result: The purpose and timing of doing this whole group warm up is because later students encounter a similar activity while working through their playlist and we want them to be successful:

Mirroring could also be done in small groups: 
 I knew that near the end of a playlist students would encounter an activity that asked them to determine a jeweler was selling real or fake "gold" (based on its density) and they had to justify their answer. 

I also knew that another student learning goal we had was for students understand the tools used to measure mass and volume. 

During small groups we killed two birds with one stone. Unplugged with dry erase boards and measuring tools students used a triple beam balance and displacement to determine if the sample of "gold" (pyrite) was real. 

Students find volume of pyrite using water displacement.

Students find mass of pyrite sample using triple beam balance.

On their playlist they would encounter a similar but different discussion problem:

They would also encounter similar problems to calculate density using pictorial models of the tools they used in small group.
Small group practice aligns to pictorial models of similar problems

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Learning to Create not Consume

Image result for teacher attitude quotes

My first 5 years teaching (2008-2013) I was with a district that technology was only in a lab not in the classroom.  I had one computer in my classroom and that was my teacher PC.  Students used it only to do Accelerated Reader quizzes.  They considered innovation to be the fact we had active boards in some rooms and projectors.  Also if you were lucky you had a front row system to help project your voice in your room.  I really didn't know any other way.  I began teaching in SBISD in August of 2013.  I entered my Pre-k classroom and to  my surprise I had ipads!  Not just one but several!  I was beyond excited.  So how did we use those ipads?  Well of course I spent hours researching the top education apps for that age group and downloaded all that I could for free.  My kids were merely consumers and I saw nothing wrong with just that.  Fast forward to our district technology upgrades and integration of our mini ipads.  When we were told we would no longer have free range to download apps groans could be heard across the district.  I was one groaning too.    I mean what could a Pre-k/Kindergarten possible do with an ipad if they can't have the educational gaming and learning apps?    So they would just be for Istations and that would just have to be it.  I was bummed my attitude not exactly positive.  Then one day it hit me.  Education is a constantly changing environment and we are leaving the age of consumable technology and we are entering in to the creative technology world.  It reminded me of when my mom who had taught for over 40 years got a smart board.  She called and asked me to come show her how to use it and when I arrived to my absolute horror I saw she had been writing on it with dry erase markers.  At that moment my mom said she knew it was time for her to retire because she had no desire to learn new technology and she knew it was unfair to her students.  That is what popped into my head when I was trying to figure out what to do with these ipads.  So I decided I owed it to my students to learn about the apps on the ipads and in turn allow my students to use them to create.  Now I am not your sit down have a lesson you don't touch the technology kind of teacher.  I am the ok here is the ipad this is the app you will be exploring I have guided access on please enjoy exploring this app kind of teacher.  So we started with scratch Jr.  Guys if you have not used this app I urge you to change that!  The kids have figured it out in no time.  They are creating and coding with it and I love going by sitting down and listening to the stories they are creating.   Is it perfect?  No but it's authentic and engaging.  I have made a personal challenge to expose my students to every app the district has approved that is on their level on our ipads.  It's a gradual process but one that is paying off.  Just this week in our PLC I shared Scratch Jr, Green Screen Live and WonderWorkshop with my grade level and administrative team.  I expressed to them that like many I had to choose to change my attitude and mindset when it comes to how to use technology with my students.  We are no longer using it for them to consume but we are using it to encourage them to create.  We must remember that as educators it is our attitude and mindset that sets the tone in our classrooms, on our teams and on our campuses.  So I encourage you to be the one to think creatively and show others it is what the students in our classrooms need. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Student 3D Creation and ItsLearning Page for Volume

The unit we just completed focused on solving the volume of rectangular prisms/pyramids, triangular prisms/pyramids, cylinders, cones, and spheres. Before lesson planning for this unit I continued to ask myself "How can I get my students to create?" 
My answer was giving students the shapes that were required and then allowing them to be create whatever their imaginative minds could think of with those shapes. The amount of imagination, dedication, and student learning exceeded my expectations and blew my mind! 

Click HERE to view the rubric students received. You will notice they only received 10 points for the actual creation and 90 points for the mathematics behind the creation. With our previous unit, many students fell behind in their agenda and were not able to truly practice solving for lateral and total surface area. What better way to practice then to spiral it back into this unit? Students were expected to use each shape a minimum of one time and were also expected to solve for the surface area and volume of each one of those mandatory shapes. 

The second part of the project was for students to create an ItsLearning Page in which they could upload pictures, videos, and voice recordings displaying the shapes they created and how they solved the volume of those shapes. Sadly, not many students got to this part because they invested more time in creating. However, it was exciting to see the ones who did get to this part. Since time was running short I awarded the students who managed their time and created their ItsLearning Page bonus points for their unit exam.  Here is a video showing an example of an ItsLearning Page that was created (I did remove the student name): 

The results of the unit exam were phenomenal and it was all due to the fact that I had allowed my students to create. Last school year 94% of the students reached the approaches level (they passed with the minimum score) and 26% reached the masters level (commended). This school year 100% of my students reached the approaches level and 54% of them reached the masters level. The school year is coming to an end however, the amount of rigor will only increase! 

Reflections: Harvey did impact the amount of days cut so hopefully, next year I am able to give more time to the prior unit which contains surface area. If it is possible I would like to remove surface area from the creation so that students can focus more time on solving for the volume. This will then allow them more time to create their ItsLearning Page. I will also have students measure their nets before beginning their creations so that they are able to manage their time better. I would also like to have a day in which students can do a gallery walk to view each others creations in which they can leave positive comments on sticky notes. This will help increase the ownership and pride in their work. 

Here are pictures of some of the wonderful creations: 
This student decided he wanted to make sure his was the largest creation. This Robot is large enough to sit on a chair!

Here we have a beautiful park that contains swings, a tent, and even a see saw!

This ladies showed their love for nature and brought in their own animal figures. 

Who doesn't love to go shopping? Don't forget you can stop by chik-fil-a after getting your eyebrows done!

This beautiful city looks so calm and tranquil. Check out that moon!

This city does not exclude cars!

Would you like to have a refreshing water filled day? Come to this water-park!

Welcome to Strangville!

This wonderful home did not forget their Welcome Mat! 

While one student wanted to create the largest robot another student wanted to create the smallest one. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Jeopardy Math Review

Students are getting ready for STAAR Math in my class and what better way than to promote team work and cooperation in solving some readiness standards. Students paired up in the Class-craft teams and worked together to solve problems. They used their math notebooks for resources.  Feedback from students were positive. They preferred this type of review than paper and pencil. They said it left like the work was easier to tackle and manageable than to do it alone. Next project will be to post some STAAR type questions using Quizziz and have students solve them since they loved this kind of inter-face.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Alternative Seating in the Middle School Classroom

My alternative seating journey began the summer of 2016. Vanguard asked what my fantasy classroom would look like and the imagination began! I applied for a grant that same summer and was accepted so my alternative seating was ordered in November and arrived in December. I recently had future teachers observing me and the most asked question was about my flexible seating which I realized I never shared. 

My initial presentation:

Since it was the middle of the year I showed my students what I ordered and asked them as an exit ticket "Which seat would you like to have and how would it help your learning?". 
From the beginning I explained to my students the purpose of the seating was to improve their learning experience. At first I did start with a teacher controlled seating chart. My goal was for each table to have a specific type of seating. For example one table would have the yoga balls, another table would have the seat cushions and so on. I soon realized this was not beneficial to my students because I was the one assigning them their seat and this seat didn't always reflect what was best for their learning. I quickly changed the expectations and continued them to this school year. 

How I started this school year: 

The first day students were in regular chairs and I once again showed my students the different type of seating options and explained to them how this affected their learning. This anchor chart was up from day one with the seating expectations. 

How it happens on a daily basis: 

  • Before the bell rings students select their seating and take it to their assigned desk. 
  • They must be in their seats ready to go when the bell rings.
  • During class if students feel the seat is not working for them they may get up and change the seat.
  • If students are not using it correctly for their learning I or my co-teacher or student teacher give them one warning. This is the important part to holding students accountable, if they continue to misuse it they are asked to return the seating and grab a regular chair. This is only for the class period so the following day starts fresh for students. 
  • The last two minutes of class when students are returning their materials to their appropriate place they return the seating to the shelves or stack their chair. I learned this from my first year of using it. The purpose is so that the next class can come into a clean and organized classroom and repeat the process. Otherwise you are going to have yoga balls, chairs, and who knows what else all over the classroom. 

Here is a google slide presentation that shows how I and a Vanguard Fellow, Anne Smallings, have used alternative/flexible seating in our classrooms. It also includes websites with more ideas and where you can fund raise or shop for your alternative seating. 

And a few pictures of my students using their alternative seating. I apologize for the dim images I have my lights half on and half off to create a calm classroom environment. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wifi vs. Whiteboards

I am a young high school English teacher. 

So young, in fact, that I have been mistaken for a rogue student escaping into the parking lot during lunch by a truancy officer. Don’t get me wrong, when I am not a miscommunication away from Saturday detention, I don’t mind looking youthful. I am actually pretty thankful for that youthfulness, because it allows me a connection to student culture that helps me understand the way my kids think. It isn’t a perfect connection, because in the words of multiple students, I am totally not cool. But, whatever.

This connection has made me more aware of why classical sit-and-get education is losing students’ attention; consequently,  I try to build lesson plans that meet kids at their ever-changing needs. Lately, I’ve been feeling the effects of being caught in the middle on the issue of cell phones in the classroom. Often times I refrain from engaging in conversations about devices with colleagues older than me in fear of creating a generational fissure, or slightly less dramatic, an awkward silence. I often hear this generation of high schoolers described as disrespectful, lazy, and cell-phone dependent. As a young adult only a few years removed from “this generation,” I always wonder if my cell phone usage ever inspires those descriptors. Then in true millennial fashion, I get back on my cell phone.  I certainly agree that it isn’t easy to get kids to set down their devices these days, but I don’t always think they should have to.

Ask any veteran teacher what the biggest change in classroom culture is over the years and those darn cellphones are always front and center. I hear and respect that struggle. Kids do take each and every opportunity to text, post, FaceTime, play games, plus my personal two favorites: “I’m calling my mom I swear,” and “I’m just changing the song I swear.” This can be disruptive to learning time, distracting to others, and straight up annoying to teachers. I’ve even read the headlines claiming technology is making our kids stupid. I read those headlines on my cell phone, where I also track my health, do research, keep my family in the loop, pay my bills, write lesson plans, showcase my work, and answer emails. You get the point. My cell phone allows me to be my most efficient self, and I never pass on an opportunity to teach my students to utilize the tool in their hands.

In the time it takes me to ask students a simple question, their cellphones allow them to define my question, find current events on my question, locate disagreeing points of view on my question, and type their answer to my question. Why is this such an outrageous thing? All I see is an opportunity to build skills faster.  For example, during a discussion on colorism and how it can be influenced by religion and culture, I started using the genocide of the Rohingya people as an example. I backtracked immediately because I questioned whether my 11th graders would have any idea what I was talking about. 3 students mentioned that the genocide was on the Snapchat news feed. Instantly, half my kids were reading about it in the NY Times straight from their Snapchat feeds and relating it to our other examples. If my English classroom is truly centered on critical thinking, creativity, and innovation, how could I possibly ban that type of instant understanding?

Sometimes high school teachers create a tech-free bubble under the guise of teaching students discipline and self-efficiency, but most careers are becoming more and more tech dependent. Instead of banning cellphones, we should be teaching kids how to use them as a support resource. Our kids have the world at their fingertips. Who else should be responsible for teaching kids how to hone that power sensibly in a professional setting, but teachers? I understand that push-back comes from a complicated and sensitive place; there is always an underlying fear that teachers could easily be replaced with tech. It terrifies me too, but I like to think the human connection and mentorship that happens in a classroom is not so easily overthrown. I hold true to the sentiment that teachers are the irreplaceable spark leading students to knowledge they wouldn't otherwise pursue. I choose to do that leading through the obnoxious and constant Reminds I text to my students daily.

Don’t get me wrong, from time to time I do enjoy speaking to my kids’ faces instead of their glittery, over-priced, plastic phone covers. So I do make it clear to my students that there are times the cell phones need to be out of sight in order for them to show mastery independent of their devices. Kids ignore me all the time, and I am not immune to taking up a cellphone in a frenzy of indignation and sass. I just want to do what is best for my students. In my mind, that means I cannot ignore a future where they will be expected to have a comprehensive grasp on technology, whether we teachers do or not. So until my district is 1 to 1 (a blog post in itself), my classroom will be the place cell phone batteries go to die.