Friday, September 23, 2016

Are you a difficult student?

Yesterday, I was a difficult student. I was frustrated, upset, even angry at times. I'm sure my attitude was difficult and I know I didn't make my "teachers'" lives any easier. Why was I difficult? I was asked to complete some inquiry know, the kind where you're given a task to complete, but you don't know what it should look like, how to get it finished, or what process to use to complete it. Ooooohhhhh, was I frustrated!! Let me take a moment to apologize to my "teachers" - Karen, Krystal, Amy - for any stress or difficulty I caused them yesterday as well, and then share a few reflections and takeaways I have from that experience:
  • Learning is messy. Ever wonder why learners act the way they do during activities? Learning is messy...maybe they don't understand how to do what you're asking. Maybe they just want the end result. Maybe they just want structure. Maybe they've been spoonfed. Maybe, just maybe, they're like me and take longer to process something and later that day or even the next morning, they'll have their AHA moment and understand what to do and how to accomplish it.
  • Everyone is a learner...even the adults! Have you ever been to a PD training session and wondered why the adults were worse than your students or were working with your team and realized that you have just a difficult person in the group? We forget that adults are learners too with similar needs as the kids. They'll get frustrated, bored, upset, difficult, stressed, etc and will act - like me - just like the kids!
  • Maybe, I need to remember that teachers, administrators - well really all of us adult-types - are learners too. I need to treat the adult learners around me in a similar manner to the kids I work with. They think learning is messy and frustrating too. They need time to process, adjust, and figure out how to work through the "projects" they are given. They may be difficult, frustrated, and stressed, and I need to not take that to heart so much. It may have everything to do with me, or it may have nothing to do with's just the process!
In the end, am I going to stop asking learners, kids or adults, to do "messy learning"? Of course not, because messy learning is one of the best places to go deeper, reflect, and learn so much more than simply "sit and git" teaching. I just have to give myself and others more grace in the moment!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

"Go Go Fast..."

6 weeks of blended learning with eight year olds. 6 weeks of blended learning with eight year olds. SIX WEEKS OF BLENDED LEARNING WITH EIGHT YEAR OLDS.

If that doesn't scare you, you probably haven't experienced it yet. At this point, my third grade class has been a blended learning environment for six weeks and it has, quite honestly, been the most thrilling, nerve-wrecking and challenging experience of my entire life (like...crazier than that time I decided to study abroad for a semester in West Africa and missed every flight from the U.S. to the African continent). Let's see how it's been going:

Successes (and yes, there have been many)!

1. Open House
This year for Open House, students participated in their first Project-Based Learning opportunity. Given the driving question, "Using Google Slides, can we design a classroom tour for our families that highlights the most important and exciting parts of our class?" As preparation for this project, and in an effort to integrate curriculum content into this project, we celebrated Freedom Week by going on virtual tours of both the 9/11 Memorial and Pentagon. We charted, discussed, discussed some more and discussed lots more the components of a tour, aka, "How can we show our families evidence of all of the awesome learning we've been doing?" In the end, we developed a class tour framework and success rubric and they were off! "How scary," thought their teacher...."I'm not going to say one word on Open House..." *breathes into paper bag* As I opened my door for Open House I was met by not one...not two...but about six excited kiddo's who practically ran me over to get their Chromebooks and take their parents on the classroom tour they had developed. Parents loved it. Students loved it. Teacher loved it. #PerfectWorld #StudentOwnership

Take a look!

Student Uno:
Student Dos:

2. Google Classroom LMS
What can I say, Google Classroom has won my heart. While there are many phenomenal LMS' floating around out there on the interwebs, when introducing third graders with Chromebooks to the concept of a LMS for the very first time, it doesn't get better than a system that integrates EVERYTHING they use! In a blended environment, students are expected to develop BOTH deep content knowledge AND 21st century skills such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. As a GAFE district, our access to other Google Apps such as Google Slides and Docs is extremely helpful in this process as students are easily able to digitally co-create and collaborate on a variety of content-based deeper learning challenges. Then Google Classroom wraps everything up for them in an easy-to-navigate package with an accessibility-for-all bow on top! #GAFEAddict

3. Culture, Happiness, Culture, Student-Engagement, Culture, Relationships, Culture.

"But Ms. Roberts, this class is HARD." 
--Anonymous Student, Week 2 of Blended Learning

One of the greatest realities I've had in the past few weeks has been the importance of shifting student mindsets, behaviors and actions in preparation for the self-driven work required to be successful in a blended environment. By creating Character Exploration Hyperdocs and engrossing students in the Class SMART Goal Development Process, it's been exciting to see them become more accustomed to, and take ownership over, the process of turning in quality work and re-submitting it if/when it doesn't meet our class SMART goal. #kidgoals


But, as with any new project, the past six weeks have also had their challenges. The single-greatest challenge I have experienced is explained below: (keep reading if you're wondering, "Will my students ever be able to independently complete quality work?!")

****Student Agency****
Education's most magical unicorn!

If you asked me two weeks ago if I genuinely believed student agency was possible with third graders who had never experienced a self-driven classroom or environment, I might have uttered a doubtful, "Yes," knowing that's the "Innovator's Mindset." Yet, in the back of my mind, I also would have been furiously grappling with an internal cloud of doubt. In order for my blended learning model to be successful, it is imperative that my students are able to work independently for a minimum of 20mins and complete assignments it in a timely manner so they are able to receive feedback. Despite this, as I've worked with my students and seen them grow, I've learned that, if we genuinely expect this of our younger students (and probably any students), we have to be willing to take the time and scaffold, design, model, support and reinforce this notion in everything we do. From tasks as simple as putting students in charge of checking in their own library books to greater ones like following written instructions, this concept will not be fully developed in one day, week or even a year (I know, for us Type-A folks, this is challenging to accept, trust me). Rather, it must be developed, refined and personalized to meet the needs of all students BUT by gathering a strong team of thinkers and doers, your kiddos too can become more self-directed agents of action who are passionately and fervently on a mission to achieve a rigorous goal! #staystrong

Joys and Challenges...or should I say Challenges and Joys!

OK...I admit's totally true...I'm a self-professed nerd and geek and I LOVE it! I can't turn off my curiosity and zeal for finding and trying new ideas and activities with my students. I am an educator who is constantly trying out ideas (even on just my library aides), running ideas by others, and working to collaborate and improve student achievement and engagement.

I think conceptually, with PBL and design thinking at the forefront of my brain at ALL times. It is virtually impossible to turn it off and see things in reality, but these past couple of weeks, while I've seen some absolutely AMAZING innovative steps being taken, I've been forced to consider reality quite a few times. It's been extremely frustrating to think big only to be forced back to what to do...what to do? I feel like I've hit the wall of limitations and "inside the box" thinking one too many times and my creativity/innovation/idea making is crying out for attention !

I truly understand having to fulfill district and state requirements in education, but at the same time, my brain ponders the question..."What is best for my students?" Yes, they need to pass tests and improve their skills, but can't that be done using engaging, innovative activities? Do we as educators and classroom experience designers have to be the same as everyone else? Where is the balance between what is proven to work with others and innovative practices that move students forward and provide authentic real-world engagement that not only improves skills, but also requires more critical thinking, engagement and creativity from them?

I don't have the answer, and that bothers me to no end! 

So the hunt begins for answers...and one of the biggest joys of thinking big has to be the hunt. I've been stymied by reality, so what's the next step? Find ways to think big AND innovate within the boundaries (and then go beyond outside of class hours!!!). I'm on a hunt for a place to try some of the innovative ideas I have to help students better engage with their learning and begin to cultivate their own curiosity to learn and grow independently and within a community. I will hunt for opportunities to try new things - no matter how many baby steps I need to take - and work to improve my educational practices, my growth, and affect change for my students! Because in the end, as I read and learned from one of my eduheroes, Todd Nesloney, #KidsDeserveIt! They deserve my best each and every day and that involves THINKING BIG!!


Over all the beginning of the year has been a great success!
Some highlights/events to note:
  • Implementation of itsLearning- it has taken some getting used to but I feel as if my students have finally learned how to (mostly) navigate though the platform and find information as needed. Although I do not feel it is entirely user friendly for middle schoolers, I think it can serve as a great starting point for many things. I hope to receive more training and become more versed in this resource.
  • First menu project for the year- I was really able to get a feel for the learning styles of many of my students by starting the year with a group project. I can see what type of projects they are more comfortable with, gravitate to, who is more tech savvy and who is more hands on. I feel like I will be ale to adjust and cater to kids who need more support in the future.  

  • Flexible Seating- I have encouraged my students to embrace flexible seating but I am not sure if it is quite taking off. Some are eagerly grabbing a clip board and sprawling out on the ground where as others are still afraid to get up from their chair without asking. I do have a few that prefer to stand at the back table to complete their work. I think if I add a few more options or model myself, I may have a few more takers. :)
  • Padlet- This was a fun resource we have used in our meetings and I wanted to try it out with my kiddos as an introduction activity. It was very user friendly and they immediately took to it!
  • QR codes- I have played around with QR codes and my students seem to love them! I hope to find others fun uses for them soon. 
  • Nearpod- After going to an informational during the summer, this looks like it could be very awesome! I would consider this like a presentation on steroids. If I had the resources for my students to each have a device, it would be a very interactive way to get immediate feedback and assessment of students. I plan to try this out in table groups to start but it will not have the same interactions as I would like the kids to have. 

Thanks for reading and I love all the ideas that I am able to get from everyone in this group.  Thank you again!

"You must go slow to go fast"

After attending ISTE & Tots for Tech this summer I had a vision and numerous ideas of things I wanted to implement in MY dream classroom ... then I remembered, it is not my classroom.  With my change in position (which I LOVE), I had to change my mindset from the start.

Me, being me, I wanted to share all of my ideas with my collaborating teacher and have her incorporate everything on day one.  Quickly learning this wasn't going to work, I learned the most important coaching lesson thus far: "You have to go slow to go fast"

Four weeks later, we are making progress!

Step 1: Alternative Seating.  So far we have purchased exercise balls and core seats.  The kids absolutely LOVE it!  It makes a world of difference for our students who are now more attentive and focused on their learning.  Other teachers on our campus have followed suit and have also seen a decrease in behaviors and an increase student learning.  Who knew something so small could make such a big change in the classroom environment?  At open house, parents were so excited to try our new seating options!  Their one complaint: "Why can't we have alternative seating for ALL of the kids?"  

Step 2: Flexible Grouping.  Each week teachers on our 4th and 1st grade teams are regrouping their students based on student needs.  The goal is to meet each student at their level and provide focused instruction.  Stay tuned for our results!

Step 3: It's Learning.  I am currently working with a few teachers, including my collaborating teacher, to get everything set up for student use.  Hopefully we will be rolling this out with the kids soon!

Now that my mindset has changed, I can see one of the best parts of my new position: I have the opportunity to see a lot of classrooms, obtain new ideas, collaborate with a lot of people, and share my knowledge with everyone on our campus!  We are off to a great start & I can't wait to see where we go from here!

Give Me a Vanbreak!

Well it is week 6. I have been in school with my kiddos for 6 weeks! I have been running on all cylinders for 6 weeks and I need a Vanbreakthrough! In my classroom this year I have been challenged to be innovative and I have taken that to heart. I have googled, pinterested, twittered, and read, all to find the magic pill for innovation. Guess What...There isn't one! It's all up to me to figure it out... what my kids and I need to be successful. So I have narrowed my focus to creating self directed learners, teaching in small groups based on data collected, and students having some personalized time and collaborative time (PBL) in the classroom. (Yes those are some big ticket items, but that's how I roll.)  My saving grace is my class! I love my little learners. They are loud and love trying new stuff. They are willing to jump in and try. We spent a couple of weeks at the beginning really focusing on relationships and building character. It is great to hear them using words like "you need to show self control" or "you have to show gratitude to others". I also felt it was important to put a system in place for helping each other. It really is starting to pay off. Instead of coming to me for everything, they are slowly beginning to check with each other or offer help if they see someone struggling.
My biggest reflection is that I need to go slow to go fast! I don't and can't do everything right now (although that is my make-up!) I had some great things in place before, and I have to remember that. I need to get more input from the kids as to how they want their experience to be, and I would like to go to bed before 3am. So as I said before...I am ready for my VanBreakthrough!!

From the mouths of babes!

Fourth week into the school year and that little voice in my head has kicked into overdrive.  The newness of the year has worn off, students’ true colors are quickly coming into focus, and that voice is chanting, “are you sure about this?  They aren’t learning?  What were you thinking? Abort before it is too late?  In the midst of internal panic and frantic searching for a smidge of affirmative feedback in a sea of student faces… out of nowhere, BAM!,  that little voice got a slugged in the chords by a student's courage to self advocate.  As soon as the student started talking...I knew!  I grabbed a pencil…sat down in the middle of the room with the student and wrote what he said. (After asking him if it was okay to quote him.)
As I am walking around collecting the self-assessment rubrics this student looked at me with dread and serious concern.  He locked eyes with me, but would not hand over the self-assessment.  Then he says, “Is this all this class is going to be?”
I replied, “what do you mean?”  

He says, “Well, I like history.  It’s like my favorite, but this is different.”  

So I said “what do you think you should be doing?”  

He say, “writing on paper.  I am used to that.  I mean I was in Pre AP in middle school and elementary.  You know, we didn’t do this {and that was more advanced}.  We did normal stuff like take notes from the Activboard, watch movies, handouts, and, you know regular work, textbook stuff ya.  I am not used to this.”  

So I said, “so you are feeling like you don’t have control?” He replied, “yes, and I feel frustrated and rushed”. I mean, I am failing this class, ya.

A bit of context, before I share what happened next.  These first 4 weeks of school I have thrown them in in the pool without a physical life preserver, and only rescue (on the DL) those who are actually drowning academically; which has only been some with identified learning disabilities and beginner level ESL students.  I have not provided any verbal content instruction, i.e. no lecture or presentations.  The decision to do this was fueled by a lot of formative assessment and data review.  Will spare you all the specifics, but day 1 every student took the released STAAR for the class and every student got at least 3/17 correct.  2 students scored within passing range….passing 1.  I’ll just leave that last statement right there.

So back to the self-advocating student. I inquired about his previous experience in history classes and suggested that his previous experiences entailed the teacher doing a lot of the doing and him doing a lot of receiving.  To which, he nodded (with a sheepish smile).  To which I replied, “well what is happening here is we are flipping that situation and balancing the doing a bit so that in every situation in your life moving forward this self doubt and panic that is happening to you in this moment will not happen without you being equipped to handle it powerfully and positively .”  I reassured him that what he was feeling was part of the plan, and that I appreciated him self-advocating and gave him extra points for his impromptu self-reflection and expression of self-awareness.  I also reassured him that I would not let him fail the class as long as he does not quit.  
This work we do is like no other…so little authentic feedback.  Hope this gives you a bit of encouragement to stay the course!

"This is the most magnificent life has ever been. Here is heaven and earth and the brilliant sky in between"

The school year has been off to a great start with regards to my classroom.  I'm doing flexible seating this year, and I have gone completely desk-less. My parents came to meet the teacher and walked into the room speechless.  The looks on their faces and the questions in their eyes said it all, "Have you lost your flipping mind? You must be bananas, and I can't believe administration actually put my child in your class." They questioned my sanity, and I admit, I questioned it too at first, but they realized that I had approached this new idea with gusto and armed with research.  It has been completely amazing and full of failures.

Nerd House Coffee is Born!
During the Age of Enlightenment, coffeehouses became the hub of innovation.  In the spirit of enlightenment and district of innovation, my classroom has become a coffeehouse; 21st century as opposed to 18th.  My amazing students have even named it; Nerd House Coffee.  We are a place where ideas are freely shared with respect to our differences.  Voices are heard in an environment free of ridicule but packed with constructive criticism.  Questions are asked and the "what if" spirit is celebrated.  It is amazing to think that these kids are only nine and ten.  Very wise beyond their years, but kind as only kids with free spirits can be.  It is the most magnificent my school life has ever been.
In Between Heaven and Earth
I know I make it sound like everything was perfect, and most of it has been, but we have had our stumbling blocks.  Bean Bags deflating, back rest pillows popping and oozing their stuffing around the room, and not-so-innovative friends trying to crush my Vanguard dreams.  It is interesting to me that people in education have such a fixed mindset on what should happen in a classroom and what a classroom should look like.  How are we supposed to set our students up for the future if we can't have a growth mindset that allows us to dream of what the future may hold.  How do we keep ourselves in line with district expectations of #limitlesscuriosity #collaborativespirit if we can't even act on our curiosities without fear of ridicule?  I have made the executive decision, as CEO of NerdHouseCoffee, that our classroom will be a place full of limitless curiosity regardless of how the haters react.  We are only limited by our imaginations, right?
All Subjects 
I have given Math tests in Butterfly chairs, yoga balls, and on the classroom floor.  I've seen the anxieties of my GT kids drift away as they cover with blankets and settle in to just another day in the coffee house.  I've watched their active discussions grow like those of our "Friends" at Central Perk, and I know I've made the right decision for my kids and those that will come after them.  My only regret....I didn't do it sooner.
May we all embrace this most magnificent educational life...and in the daily grind of the in between.

Pinkies Up,

Moving Ahead.... what week is this already???  The year is flying by and it's been a whirlwind of new implementations, new directions, new ideas added to the challenge of what "old" ideas to maintain.  

Here's our year so far:

  • Students have been actively involved in sharing and collaborating online with classmates and teachers.  For many of my students, this experience is new to them which has made the journey very enjoyable for me.  Seeing their excitement and their desire to complete what really is a hidden "assignment" has been the most fun.  I am looking forward to watching their academic growth along with their personal growth within this new arena.
  • We have created students accounts within a variety of applications where students access work, complete research, share ideas.....again, just another way of doing the same old thing but in a new way, while allowing them to see what their peers think and to self-monitor what they are learning along the way. This has created some feelings of competition between a few students while providing an outlet for some of those more reserved students to share what they really know.  
  • On the planning side, our campus planning initiatives have created some restraints, but nothing we can't work around.  The planning time within our team is very directed and the curriculum dashboard is very traditional.  In our "mingle,mingle,mingle" game today I came to realize this year's biggest challenge for me may be time. . . time to plan for a more blended classroom, additional time to revamp an activity that does not meet the goals I have set for myself and my students.
Five week Celebration checkpoint.....NO classroom discipline issues, many days of students asking to stay (for no reason that is academically necessary other than wanting to be there and wanting to keep working), frequently adding new applications & having students keep up with the challenge, LEARNING about new applications all the time and not reaching the point of "it's too much", and learning that if I set the alarm for 4:00 I can build in an extra hour each day ;o)

Three Things

Some thoughts on the nascent 2016-17 school year. Cross posted: Infinite Sums

Biggest Success

I entered the year with some plans for Pre-Cal. Initially I had some grand ideas, but the result on paper was a little reordering and some and a more intensive Algebra unit. In practice, the move has been to focus on explanations with a mix of mechanics. The first round has proven to be very fruitful. Recently we had a fantastic moment where students were given a triangle like this:

In my approach to trig I'm trying not to explicitly teach methods as much as possible, instead seeing if students can piece together ideas from what we have talked about and what they've seen before. In this case, we never explicitly discussed finding two missing sides. Two students cracked the puzzle (that sin 42 is a known quantity that can be exploited), but the methods were very different. One determined it through algebra (setting sin 42 = y/37 and solving). Another went through elaborate guessing using his trig table, using the approximate value of sin 42 and then fiddling with numerators until that numerator divided by 37 came close to the same decimal value.
This "figure it out" method is slowly creeping into Calculus, but it's harder.

Biggest Challenge

Time. I mentioned it a while ago. I'm at school like 65 hours a week, plus however many to play catch up and do minor things like, you know, plan.

Summer Learning

Let's do a break down of #1TMCThings, shall we? That's where all the summer learning comes from.
TMC13 - Wide-eyed, the community is every bit as energetic and passionate as I had hoped
TMC14 - Presenting, having people confirm curriculum ideas I had and provide feedback
TMC15 - Collaborating with Michael Fenton, sharing the Varsity Math love, getting input from Lisa and Dan on how to improve my Calculus teaching
TMC16 - Bruce Cohen's great Calculus problems, helping Lisa rebuild Algebra II, remembering Julie Reulbach should be pronounced JULIE REULBACH!!!!
I never walk away from conferences with a mountain of ideas, it's more about being around energetic people who will spitball about math notebooks with you at 11pm on the floor of a dorm.

Life in PreK

With all the changes in PreK this year, life has been a little stressful. We have a completely new assessment system as well as the introduction of I-station (which I am completely excited about!). Even with testing going on, I really wanted to focus from the get-go on the driving goal at our campus this year, which is "Are our students doing all they can do independently?" Many times, people see 4-year-olds and think that they need help with everything. Their ability to learn and understand complex ideas are often times underestimated.

With this in mind, I think my biggest challenge this school year so far has been time. There is just not enough time... CIRCLE testing has taken 5 weeks to complete, and I am just now beginning a full day teaching cycle. There are so many ideas that I learned about in the summer that I want to try out this year, but right now I am just focusing on trying to get Seesaw up and running by mid-semester. I currently have my students inputted and am working on adding their pictures as icons. I have started working with them on documenting their learning with pictures and videos, which they have been practicing during centers.

One of my biggest successes so far this year has been with letting go the reigns a bit sooner and allowing students to take control of the technology in the classroom. At the beginning of the year, we learned about school and the people who worked there. People came to talk to our class about their jobs (principal, assistant principal, nurse, counselor, speech teacher, etc). As a conclusion to the project, students collectively wrote a thank you letter to each person. They also made a video (which I added captioning to in Camtasia) in which they talked about what they had learned about that person. We turned that into a QR code. 


I also enlisted the help of a "QR code expert", who taught the recipient of the letter what a QR code was and how it worked. 

Now my students have taken to finding whatever QR codes they can around the room and scanning them. They also make their own video about their name that I attach to a QR code for them. They love it. 

My next challenge is to get Seesaw up and running and start exploring some of the other apps, like Book Creator, which students can eventually use and submit to Seesaw. I have a feeling that this year is just going to fly right by!

Don't Believe Me ...Just WATCH!

I wanted to be innovative with my classroom room this year. I wanted to be different. I want to make people pause and take a look. Make people think...I can do this too. So I believed it needed to start with the classroom set-up. I was so grateful when Mr. Moore gave me his red couch for my classroom.  I was ready to put in the front of the room as I saw in this photo below. My VANtasy classroom.

When I was in my classroom moving desks out and furniture out. I stared at the couch. I stood there for a good ten minutes battling in my head-"put it to the side of the ACTIVboard" and "No, put it front in center." I then I realized why worry, jump in, do it and I did!

Students will want to learn, want to read, want to be in the couch for learning (and mucking about). Look how the couch is such a magnet for learning. 

We also were able to jump right into doing tech projects with ease. I was thrilled to know that most of my students knew their username, password, and were able to independently log into a Google Chromebook. This is all thanks to the great work of Ms. Marshall!
The students created trading cards about themselves from BigHugeLabs as a way to introduce themselves to each other. The students also created face mapping projects about historical people who influence the common good with Morfo app. We also used an augmentative reality app for International Dot Day called Quiver app

Ready to learn

This year I am teaching eight graders and is different... 
I have been teaching sixth grade for so long I forgot that I need to work for their trust and appreciation. The students are normal teenagers, just like most, friends are the most important thing, learning comes second to being cool and respect is earned not blindly given to anyone. This has been a great learning experience. Teaching is all about learning, stretching and growing. I love the challenges that life have given me so far and appreciate the opportunity to fail and try again. This year in particular I want to fall and get up quicker than ever. I want to fail and learn faster than ever. This year I want my brain to tickle everyday!! 
How can I get my students to learn? Showing then how learning looks like. The struggle and the satisfaction of learning, they need to see the process and I am willing to model it. I will try new things. I will empower them to find their passion. I will help them focus on getting to a successful place academically and in life. I will guide them to see the world as their canvas and show them that they don’t have to think outside the box because for them THERE IS NO BOX. We worked on building a culture of collaboration and respect, now is time to launch. I am looking forward to incorporate these amazing tools into the classroom and see them strive.

Rational Numbers Done the Vanguard Way!

The Goal: Creating a STUDENT CENTERED classroom from day 1!

            Collaboration began from the first day of school with the cup stack challenge. Reflection also began with the our #MathIs exit ticket. 

           Rational Numbers is a difficult unit for any 7th grader. My first year teaching, with a naive mind I believed my written notes were the most wonderful thing and there was not a chance my students would not succeed... EPIC FAILURE! I laugh at myself now for thinking that was the smart way to go. Now that I know better I knew teacher centered learning was not the way to go. 
        BEGINNING: Students had a pre-quiz so that I could realize what their absolute weakness was. I separated my students by those weaknesses and had them watch a tutorial video that I created on Students then created a mini-poster that allowed them to practice solving rational number operations and have a written step by step explanation. 

            REFLECTION FOR THE FUTURE: I will create a menu of options as to how they would like to create their mini-poster (prezi, powerpoint, google doc, powtoon, create a video tutorial themselves, create a mini-poster as I had assigned this school year) to allow their own creativity to shine!!!
         MIDWAY: Now that student had practice with the computational part of rational numbers it was time to move the problem solving part of rational numbers... the scary part! I realized many of my students had a hard time picturing the real world problem which is why they couldn't understand which answer was unreasonable. I assigned students a word problem in which they created an animation for on How some of my students visualized their word problem:
          REFLECTION FOR THE FUTURE: Allowing my students more time to create their animation as well as giving them an option on how to create it (creating a video representing the word problem, creating their own visual if they prefer drawing).
             ENDING: I included the student made animations as visuals in the students independent practice which I noticed help many of my students when they were trying to problem solve. 

Did I meet my goal on having a student centered classroom for our first unit... I believe so. I hope these student centered ideas can be changed a bit to be used in your own classroom. If you have any other ideas that I could incorporate I would love to hear them!!!

it(sLearning)  Moved My Cheese!! (How I Let Go of My Weebly)

Anyone who knows me knows that I can be a little zealous about things I really believe in - almost to the point of perseveration.  Additionally, anyone who stands within earshot long enough will know that I love me my weebly.  In fact, I (apparently) am was such a fanatic that this devotion was skit worthy - as in my passion about weebly's possibilities in the classroom was featured in a pep rally skit, and the phrase "It's on my weebly" became a catch phrase with my kids.   But this devotion came to an end the day I became a Vanguard fellow.  Yes, I was walking away from a tool that had become central to my classroom - a FREE tool that I even loved so much that I paid for the upgraded membership - so that I could focus my devotion on itsLearning.  I made the commitment to replace my weebly (with three months left on the membership, no less) with the itsLearning platform, fully expecting that "its" would fall far short of all of the capabilities offered by my weebly. 

And...I was wrong.

itsLearning has not only replaced my weebly.  It has surpassed it, proving itself to be a very user friendly platform, in that it meets my "click and find out" rule, which goes something like this.... "I wonder if "its" can fill in the blank with whatever I want it to do.  I'll just click here and see...", and then I just click and follow the logical progression of options.  As of now, I have:

  • Embedded a video that explains the difference in collaboration and cheating, so that my kids know what I mean when I say "work together".
  • Embedded audio files (made on my iPhone's free voice recorder app) that explain the important points of chapters the kids have to read, as well as my "lectures" (< hate that word) for kids who may be out of class that day
  • Created a Discussion Board for book clubs so that ALL 140 of my kids can discuss common texts
  • Placed hyperlinks to Amazon books (for those kids who want to own their own books) and free online pdfs of books (for those who don't) that my kids have to read
  • Placed a Google form survey for my kids to fill out that indicates which book they want to read for book club
  • Placed a Google form survey for kids to share their most troubling grammatical issues (see below for more on what I'm doing with this!).
  • Created a folder of handouts that I give the kids for those kids who miss class or misplace the one I give them
And this is just the beginning!  In the near future, kids will be participating in "mini Socratic Seminars" on their book club books, recording those conversations, and uploading those files for their peers to listen to and note additional ideas.  I'm also working on a way for kids to create their own teaching videos on the common grammatical concerns, based upon the google form mentioned above.  These videos will then be uploaded to a "Grammar Page", becoming a resource for kids to turn to when they have those troubling grammar questions. 

So, while I will forever have a soft spot in my heart for weebly, I am now an itsLearning devotee.  Who knows, maybe there will be a skit about it!

One month in..

Trying to manage 3 itslearning classes is A LOT, but students are starting to grow in their knowledge of navigating the system.

Food science is completely online and students are getting better on every lab at working in a group. The first lab report was a mess as many students didn't know how to share a google presentation with each other or how to turn it in with a link. Inserting pictures into the slideshow report caused issues. After the first lab and going through the process, the second lab was a breeze for students. I like having them submit some of their lab reports as a group google slideshow and then presenting the information. I'm able to see what misconceptions all the students have and we can have a conversation after the presentations about what was good and what needs work for their next presentation. Students are also working on their presentation skills.

Pre-AP chemistry and AP chemistry currently just have their agendas on itslearning with links to worksheets, videos and homework.

In pre-AP chemistry, I think I want to do self-paced flipped starting in the next nine weeks. Students will complete the tasks at their own pace (but they will have a date of the test). If they fail a quiz, they will have to come into tutorials during lunch or after school. They will have some options on which labs/activities they want to choose to personalize their learning. If they finish the required material before the test date, they will have three options. 1) They can do the other labs/activities that they didn't choose the first time  2) do peer to peer tutoring to help students that are stuggling on a topic or 3) Take the test early and then work on a project/lab that brings in multiple concepts that we have covered.

In AP chemistry, I plan on using itslearning more to make pre-quizzes and pre-tests that students will take to gauge their learning.

Making the Move into Week 5!

We have hit the first 5 weeks with a great stride. It has taken a little bit of pre-planning and a lot of practice to get kids use to using the devices. I have found that the best way to manage the sharing of devices was to put them in groups. Each student has a a group and an assigned device. In their group, they are able to all have a time to serve as captain of the device (a job that rotates and is very important in the life of a 6 year old!). We have managed to create some wonderful products with the app Chatter Pix and Popplet. As I was worried about loosing some of the other foundation skills for the place of technology, we have been able to integrate writing. Students have to write their thoughts and then use to guide what they say as they produce their learning. I have seen a big increase in their confidence to speak, and share by simply sharing within the app and the product they created. I have always believed, their ability to verbally share their thinking shows their level of understanding. Using the camera and the recording devices has helped me as a teacher assess the level of understanding. In addition, their has been big successes for kids that might struggle in other academic areas. They are able to be successful with the devices and produce, because it is a different way. There is no way that the students can say the first 5 weeks have been boring! Reading, writing, creating, and moving about sum it up!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

One month in...

I can't believe its the fourth week of school. Time is flying! We've already begun working on personalizing learning using Allowing kids to have some control over their pacing and providing individualized instruction for #everychild to meet their needs has been empowering them. It's been fun to see them engage in the activities and see where they take their learning! 

I've been working with teachers on planning QR activities/Google hangouts, and other digital activities for Teen Read Week in October, and we're really starting to see kids responding well to integrated digital activities after adding a tech apps course on campus!

I walked away from ISTE with a massive list of ideas and possibilities, and as I've talked with others, they had the same reaction. So many ideas, so little time to try things, but I've decided to take small baby steps so it's hopefully not so overwhelming. 

There's a TON of digital resources I want to try from VR like Google Expeditions to AR booktalks and book recommendations. We'll be trying lots of things at SOMS, but the first real "risk-taking" for me will come during Teen Read Week (early October). I'll be trying some AR activities and we'll do a Pokemon QR scavenger hunt for books as we celebrate "Reading Just for Fun!" 

Reading Innovator's Mindset this summer helped me really look at my practice as a teacher and think about ways to really empower my students, create innovative practices, and help students begin to take more risks with their learning. So often our kids don't want to try or are afraid to make mistakes because they think it'll mean their "dumb or stupid or a failure" when that is the exact opposite of what we want them to think. Helping students to overcome their fears, take risks, and try new things must be modeled...WE need to take risks, try new things, and be innovative in our practices to help our students become empowered learners who strive to continuously improve. It's a work in progress, but as I said steps!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

I could not resist...I am so excited to see some of the matter pics we did today! THEY ARE THE CUTEST!

Today we learned that matter is anything that takes up space.  We will start looking at the different properties of matter and create a matter board later in the week.  Thank you for sending in your trash!

These were created with the app Chatter Kids. I love how it brings oral language, content, technology, and fun all into one product. Kids were to pick a piece of matter and bring it to life by "giving it voice" to explain why it is matter! Check out these great examples!

More to Come...