Monday, November 21, 2016

A Little Adventure in Learning (and uploading videos) - Macbeth Unplugged

It's that time of year when all AP Literature students (or at least the ones at Stratford) study "the Scottish play" - or, for those of us who are not thespians, "Macbeth".  I firmly believe that Shakespeare, when he sat down to write his plays, didn't envision high school students some four hundred years later reading and annotating the plays, but rather intended for them to be acted out on the stage.  Couple that with the fact that I was (and am) one of those kids who, when called upon to role play anything immediately start either sweating, or laughing, or both. It's a bad scene.  So, in the spirit of not being a hypocrite, yet wanting to honor what I believe were the Bard's true intentions, I decided that rather than just reading the play and filling out a packet, we would take a more interpretive route.  Here's what we did, and here's what I learned from it...
After splitting the kids into six groups, each group was assigned a section of the play (there are five acts, but act one is a doozie, so I split that one in half).  Each group was then charged with creating and presenting their interpretation of their assigned section with the following guidelines:

  1. Do NOT just reenact the play as it is written.
  2. Capture the key events in the section.
  3. Determine the most important lines in your section, and speak that in Shakespearean English (the rest of your reenactment should be in modern day English).
  4. Film whatever your final product is, and upload it to itsLearning.
Additionally, the kids had to (presumably*) read the entire play, as well as their scene, and were given two and a half weeks to put their piece together.  I created an assignment page for the kids to upload to, as well as a "viewing" page, with the reasoning that it would be much more fluid to watch the play from start to finish with the embedded videos, rather than having to jump from one assignment to another.  Plus, this plan caused the kids to have an opportunity to upload the video twice, which hopefully will make the future projects I have planned easier for them.  

Thankfully, the majority of the project went very smoothly, with only a two of groups out of twenty-four struggling in some fashion to get their videos into its.  (I'm not convinced it was a technology issue, but more along the lines of procrastination).  Of the two that were not successful, I just had them email me the video, I uploaded it to Google Drive, and then pasted that link into the embed box.  

Finally, I created a survey asking the kids to give me feedback on how this project, as opposed to a more traditional approach to studying a play (e.g. read the play, fill out the packet, take a test), worked.  I'm interested to see what the overall response is, and will share that in future posts.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Sixty two days has been pass since we began this school year but in Pk they are like dog years! Routines and procedures are in place and we have been building a community of friends who really like to be in the school and learn. Teaching technology in Pk is like teaching any other skill like reading, counting or writing you begin from level 0. For those of you who works with upper levels that means they don’t know how to read and they need a lot of modeling but I don’t know these new generations have new skills embedded in their genes because once you start they quickly know how to do it!
Right now we are working how to use a digital portfolio (I am using Seesaw), but that involves more than lessons about how to upload your files (for that I already have my expert tutor helping me), it is more about lessons about reflecting about your work and the importance of collaboration.

Sesenta y dos días ya han pasado desde que empezamos el año escolar pero, ¡en el Pk se sienten más! Las rutinas y los procedimientos funcionan en el salón y hemos construido una comunidad de amigos que realmente le gusta ir a la escuela y aprender. Enseñar tecnología en PK es como enseñar cualquier otra habilidad como leer, contar o escribir se empieza desde cero. Para aquellos que enseñan en grados escolares más altos, eso significa que no pueden leer y no siguen instrucciones, por lo que necesitan que se les modele mucho, pero no sé si estas nuevas generaciones tienen estas nuevas habilidades escritas en su código genético porque una vez que empiezas, ellos aprenden como hacerlo rápidamente.

Ahora estamos trabajando en cómo usar nuestro portafolio digital (estamos usando Seesaw), pero significa más que lecciones acerca de cómo subir tus archivos (y ya tengo un experto guía ayudándome) es mucho más acerca de cómo debemos de reflexionar acerca de nuestro trabajo y de la importancia de la colaboración.

Welcome to November.

Welcome to November.

It’s hard to believe that the first semester is almost over! I have had so many aha moments in my teaching methods this semester. I have tried and failed at many things since beginning my #vanjourney and am so excited to continue to try small shifts to become better every day.

One of the push points I am currently trying to explore and refine:

·       Accountability
What you need to know. I’m crazy. No but really I am. So here is my problem with accountability. When I am working with my small group I get super excited. Like super excited. I love talking to my students and listening to their perspective on different ways to solve and how to explain a million trillion things. #mathlife. So the problem here is I am so outrageously engaged in what is going on in my small group that I forget to actually hold the other groups as accountable. Whoops. Sorry.

The problem: I work in middle school. Obviously they are going to get off task if you let them. Duh. So my students have mastered the art of fake working. They are really great at it. Ok, ok, no more pervasive language…. SOME of my students are masters at the art of fake working!
I’m actually fairly impressed. Adults try to master this skill all the time. Bravo kiddos bravo!
Anyways I obviously have things in place that I am supposed to do to hold them accountable.

Let’s list them all:
·       The google doc- I should be checking each night. Yaaaaa…..

·       The group accountability- you know where they check each other… Yaaaaa……

·       The daily reflections at each station that they write. Wellll…

·       The time I’m supposed to walk around and stamp where they finish each day to keep track that I don’t do.

Basically what I am saying is that I’m not checking on them every day like I should.
But why?
I have been placing my priority on what is happening in my group. They get to ask me anything they want when they come to see me, they get to explain their thinking and use sentence stems to explain WHY something works not HOW to do it. Since I am placing my priority here the work they are doing in other places is falling further and further behind on my things I actually have time to do list.

My next plan is to have students track what they have accomplished each day on a poster in the room so that they can hold each other accountable. (Quick backtrack… when students are not with me they are working through a travel itinerary combined with computer lessons, differentiated practice on computers that provide scaffold supports, and group work reviewing and practicing new and old mathematical problems. see travel itinerary over there <-). We shall see how this public tracker works. I’m still working on logistics of how

Overwhelmed Being Innovative and Feeling It

"With great responsibility comes great reward," said Voltaire and then reiterated by Spiderman. Although it feels good to be in a place where I can be in a position to make change, it is overwhelming the feelings that come with it. I wish that I could have time to take a step back and breathe a bit.

I have taken a lot of flack for wanting to be innovative, and I've tried to let it flow like water off a duck's back. It takes a lot of time and energy to research the different ways we can bring new ideas and learning in to the classroom, but luckily, I have friends who are on the front lines with me fighting the good fight. It still gets lonely sometimes.

I presented at CAST last Saturday with two of my most innovative friends and the Science department. It was probably one of the best experiences of my life, but it was also shrouded in darkness knowing that people from my own school weren't in the class to support two of their own. On the bright side, it was a wonderful presentation that included Weiss via Skype, and four separate presentations collaborated in to one. It was truly a blending of minds and ideas. We seemed to engage and encourage the attendees to break out of their comfort zone and join us in innovating their classrooms. In fact, a woman from Sherwood reached out to me for help in illustrating what blended might look like with her kids. I need to concentrate on the good and leave the gloom behind.

I need to regroup and make it my mission to seek out and offer support to the innovative ones that have been scared into hiding and doing things the way we've always done them.  They need me as much as I need them.

There are always fireflies in the darkest of nights, and I need to venture out and find them.

Reflections from PreK

As we prepare for the Thanksgiving break, I have been reflecting on the progress my students have made so far this year. They are definitely coming along in regards to my goal for them of taking ownership of their learning. We are working every day on self-awareness; allowing them the opportunity to realize when they are not learning at their best and if and when an alternate seating arrangement might be more beneficial. This is definitely a work in progress, as it is extremely difficult for 4-year-olds to truly understand the process of thinking about their needs rather than their wants.

In addition to this, I was inspired by fellow Vanguard teacher Annie Mitchell to participate this year in the Hour of Code. Annie made an awesome slideshow for the Prek students on her campus that she was gracious enough to share with me. I have since taught a small group of my students how to use the Kodable app, which is the app that we will primarily focus on. They have been very excited and engaged with it and will serve as my peer tutors when we participate in the Hour of Code next month.

Finally, I recently gave one of the first “TED talks” at my school. I chose to highlight the 8 things to look for in an innovative classroom (as written by George Couros in The Innovator’s Mindset). I spent some time researching and relating to teachers how these things would look in PreK. I was very pleased with the teacher response and hope that teachers took away something valuable from my talk. I am excited to see where the rest of this school year takes Lion Lane. J

Culture and Tracking is the Key!

Well it is November in my 24th year of teaching and I feel like my first year all over again. Being the trailblazer is hard work. Not because of the late nights, but the feel of being alone in the world. I can soooo identify with the main character in "The Martian." You are working hard, not knowing if it is all for not, or someone will someday return to you and say "That really worked for kids!"

After returning from iNacol, I found some inspiration. I was able to network with some awesome people, but the best part is that NO One has the answer. We are all "trial and error-ing" our way through this process. I think that the culture piece is huge and must continue throughout the year and I've learned that tracking is the key!

I have struggle with keeping up with student work and where they are and what they have completed. But as I learn more about Student Agency, I've learned to give some of that over to the students. Hold them accountable for their learning. The rubric that we were given for the Raise Your Hand Piece of my life was awesome. It allowed me to see exactly where I am in the process and gave me a goal to look forward to. (And let me tell you, the future is bright if we can get to the end of the rubric.)

I am trying several different trackers. Here are a couple of examples.

I also got a great idea from an it's learning afternoon about putting it in google sheet and posting on activboard. Can't wait to try it!

So my vanflection year to date...give myself and the kids time to adjust, keep my culture going, and tracking is the key!

'Appy Hour! Pour Me Another...and Another

I have committed to my classes to do at least one new app or tech project every two weeks. We have made five social studies projects on historical and contemporary heroes. We have also created projects about government and historical documents. The kids LOVE this Smart Songs and were able to use them to create tech projects.

This year I am trying to spill into Language Arts with tech projects. Since technology makes the students so in LOVE with social studies, why can't it engage and motivate students in reading? 
I started with Shadow Puppet app. The students were very motivated to read so they could summarize and infer the moral of folktales. I then tried it for their book club book which is on an instructional level. WOW! They were so motivated to keep with their assignments and discussions that I now know a tech project is must for book clubs now. I am going to try Show Me, Explain Everything, and PicCollage for reading. 

1st 6 weeks Recap

I often describe this part of the school year as the part of the year with training wheels on.  Typically, I all the metaphorical training wheels to stay on through the first semester so that the kiddos are ready to ride autonomously 2nd semester.  But, that was in a kingdom far far away known as Non-Vanguardia.  Under the rule of Vanguardia, the training wheels have to come off much quicker and at different times depending on the learner.  

So who we are and what we are workin’ with...

Classes-- 90% freshman, 10% refried upper classmen.  ALL classes consist of a combination of these learners---On level, co-teach, in-class support, resource, g/t, pre-ap overflow, 504, and ESL beginner, intermediate, and advanced level.

Our digital tools and resources---15 chromebooks, 2 netbooks, 4 ipads, student cell phones,  ItsLearning, Google Drive, Inigma QR Code Reader, and Socrative.

So the 1st 6 weeks...

Formative assessment was the theme.

Our norms-- Daily 6 minute ‘think and writes’, daily share outs via volunteers and random selection, partner and/or independent work, content knowledge acquired from digital resources, and small group instruction provided as needed.

The pedagogical verbs--self-paced note taking, student choice, student self pacing, metacognitive reflection, and daily writing.


My City Project-- The formative and summative assessment purpose of this project was to test student ability to apply and demonstrate understanding the information from their self-paced notes without teacher explanation or lecture as well as observe how they approached the task of doing a “project”.

Tic Tac Toe Menu-- This was  lighter version of what I would do in the spring, but in the interest of fast tracking training wheel removal I decided to experiment with student choice this 1st 6 weeks.

After both learning activities, student’s wrote reflections on the process. Although many of the reflections were very "I am writing what I think the teacher wants to hear" (training wheels), there were 1st 6 weeks glimmers of breakthrough and authentic metacognition.


This seems to be my motto this year.  It feels like it's still the beginning of the year, then I realized this morning when I logged in that there are three more school days with our cherubs until Thanksgiving break!!!!  And of course that means......Christmas is SO close and the year is half over.

Our blended classroom practices are taking hold....students have developed some amazing independent work habits that have shown some great results in their data (data is a key aspect of our focus this year).  They are able to move seamlessly between independent work and team work.  Students will switch from technology based research to a science lab then to testing & traditional practices, showing mastery in all areas and needing no redirection.  We are always moving from teacher presentation to students taking the lead and presenting, then back again.  AND we are having a pretty good time, enjoying the classroom freedoms and respecting the roadmap we've been given.

So my next true focus before wrapping up the first semester.....make ItsLearning become an everyday part of each students' science experience.  Its happening now, but we aren't there yet - the journey has been a little slower than I anticipated, with a lot of stops along the way, but we will get there.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

November Musings

While at the iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium, I had the opportunity to hear from, literally, a bajillion people currently doing, dabbling and perfecting blended and personalized learning. A few weeks later, as I sift through the many ideas that were shared at this conference, I have two major takeaways:

1. I don't have to put everything in the blender at one time
This past summer as I was planning to embark on a blended learning journey, I had brilliant ideas about how I was going to blend every content area (self-contained teacher). And, let me tell you, in this summer dream, it was going to be amazing. Then, the realities of time constraints hit hard and fast. Now, nearly half a school year into the process, I heard a few magic and inspiring words from a district that had implemented blended learning three years ago and was offering advice to year 1 and 2 blended learning teachers: "You don't have to blend everything at one time." *wait a minute* WHAT?! Stop. WHAT?! Yes. In year 1, blend what you can, when you can. #blendhardblendfastblendWELL

2. #failhardadjustquick
While I can't take credit for this hashtag, it has been great in helping me readjust my thinking about some of the challenges implementing a new learning model has brought this past year. Most recently, after nearly two semesters in a blended learning environment, I asked my third graders the seemingly simple question, "Why do we do Blended Learning?" *cricket cricket cricket cricket cricket...more crickets* No response. No hands raised. Many averted eyes. "Wait...," I thought to myself. "My kids don't know why we're doing this?!" I've been to trainings, conferences and engaged in many discussions encouraging others to push their students towards blended and personalized learning but I had never, ever, thought to have this conversation with my own students. Oh Em Gee. So, we got busy trying to answer this question. We watched videos. We talked. We wrote. We read. We created our blended learning model. Together. Check us out!

Next Stop: Student Goal-Setting/Tracking!

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

November, we are almost done with this semester and is time to stop and look back. I find myself saying my usual phrase more often, "figure it out" and most of the time my students do! (figure it out)

I am very proud of the way my students are working now. They trust that there is something to learn and that I will help them solve the problem but not by giving them the answers they know they will have to think. I have been gradually incorporating technology into the class activities. This helps me focus on the students that really need a little extra instruction.

The students conversations in the classroom are getting better every day. They are helping each other, working together and really becoming better individuals and better scientists. I have a long way to go since I have set such high expectations for myself but again slow and steady wins the race and I want to get there and I am taking my students to victory!

I like to move it, move it!

I can't believe that it's already almost Thanksgiving break!  This school year has been flying by. 

 As we approach the holiday break, the kids are getting more excited and teachers are getting more creative!  I have been helping teachers implement all sorts of new things, including flexible seating, flexible grouping, and it's learning (this is taking the longest), but the thing that I am most excited about is the progress some teachers have made with Action Based Learning (ABL) stations. 😊

Below are a few students having fun in their spelling workstations.

Other classes have incorporated ABL into their brain breaks, math stations, and other language arts centers.  The kids are enjoying the break from sitting & the teachers a loving the progress kids are making so close to the holiday.  It is amazing how excited and focused students are when you incorporate a little movement into their assignments!

students in control of their learning

After attending iNACOL blended conference in October, I got an idea for my food science class. Students have learned the concepts needed for the Fall semester. Instead of me deciding how we would apply that knowledge in a project, I would let students decide. Students are working in groups to produce an online recipe book. The only constraints they have are time (it must be completed in a class period including clean up), cost (they can't choose things with too expensive ingredients or hard to find), and they had to be able to explain the science behind the recipe.

Once students decide on a recipe, they need to come up with the list of ingredients, cut the recipe down to a smaller scale and rewrite it, check comments to find the best version of the recipe. Students then make the recipe and take pictures of each step. They also put all the information on a blog to show publish it to the world.

Students enjoy being able to learn about the foods THEY like and learning about new foods. They like making something that others can use and enjoy. They dislike having to think about the science behind their food. It's much easier to just think about what they want to make.

My students blogs are a work in progress but are at

Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'...

Yes, yes, yes!!! I am so excited to be rolling along now with teacher collaborations and student projects. The past two weeks have been so crazy, but extremely fun and full of collaboration in the library.

Our 6th grade CSI project began on Monday with my friend, a crime scene investigator for HPD, coming out and spending the day talking to the kids about how to look at evidence, find the facts, make inferences, and look for bias in people's stories.

We also had 4 different stations -

  • A re-created a car accident  
  • Research stations (using infographics) on 3 types of drivers 
    • distracted drivers
    • teenage drivers 
    • drowsy drivers
Day 2, they read and analyzed statements from the 3 drivers and a police report to see if they could decipher facts, bias, and filter the evidence to find the cause of the accident. It's been interactive, full of energy, and more fun and authentic for the kids! They will be completing authentic writing pieces based off of the accident scene as well - newspaper article, diary entry, or a letter to their lawyer (we even have a lawyer who will respond to their letters!)

I've also been working with our U.S. History teachers to help them locate and utilize primary source documents in online activities. They've discovered docsteach,org, the New York Public Library, and the Smithsonian Learning Lab. What has been fun is creating and working through activities on - a fabulous resource from the National Archives! We had kids work through documents about Valley Forge in one activity a couple weeks ago, then we created our own activity we started today about the Articles of Confederation - weighing evidence and deciding on the strengths and weaknesses of the Articles.

Student #1 scale

Student #2 scale
Again, it's amazing to see how much more engaged kids are when they are investigating and doing authentic activities rather than simply taking notes during class...more to come at a later date!

Bringing the Fun and Differentiation into the Classroom... The Vanguard Way!!!

November... Already?!?! This year has been flying by and it's probably due to the good old saying "Time flies when your having fun!"

In October we covered Equations and Inequalities:
My math partner and I continue to ask ourselves while planning... How can we make this fun for the students so that it remains forever in their teenage minds? Our innovative way of teaching this was by bringing in shaving cream into the classroom. Students got their hands messy and were able to practice their equation/inequality solving skills by using shaving cream as their whiteboard. Everyone was having a blast which prevented students from becoming upset or quitting when a step or two were done incorrectly. They were able to simply spread more shaving cream and correct the mistakes. You can definitely guess that when it came to the unit exam students felt confident and they were truly successful!

They have begun to love math! (I promise I didn't pay them to write it, they did it themselves!)

Late October and Early November we have dug into proportionality:
This can be a scary topic to teach because this is when you learn that students don't realize there is a connection between everything you learn in a math class; until they are confident and successful with proportionality. 
My math partner and I were feeling the struggle the students were having and kept thinking about ways to make this fun. We introduced it in a fun way by allowing them to play games and create unit rates for those games but when it came to the problem solving we were hitting a brick wall. 
Our solution... DIFFERENTIATION! It's one of those words educators consistently hear and are either too limited in time to try and create or unaware of how to truly create it for their students. I believe this is the first time in my 3 years of teaching that I have truly created differentiation and the success it has brought has made me feel extremely excited to keep doing it. 

The first station was for the students who were beginners with percent applications. They worked with the Activboard problems and were able to click on the answers to see if the sound was cheering (correct) or moo'ing (incorrect; yes like a cow). 

The second station was for those who were stronger than the beginners. They "shopped" for items in and then found different percent applications for those items. They were excited due to the fact that they selected what they were going to "buy" which was truly what they were going to do the work for.

The last and final station was a restaurant menu that allowed students to once again select what they were going to "buy". The difference was that students had to find multiple parts of this one problem. They bought their food, found the cost of all of the food, found the tax, found the tip,  found how much change they would get back after they cashed out, and lastly gave a detailed written response. It was once again real world and something they got to select. 

The students had fun during these differentiated stations and they were able to move up when they mastered the one they were in. 

 I am excited to see how we can use the excitement and differentiation with our next unit! 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Other Ways

Since my Algebra II experiment years ago, I've been obsessed with students to start making connections between graphs and algebra. Fairly consistently I have students who dismiss graphing and something uninteresting because no one seems to making connections about why it's so interesting. That's it's possible the "x= " they're able to find with a calculator represents something. Pre-Cal has some algebra objectives and I've brought what I learned with that experiment along for the ride.
In addition to emphasizing graphing, I've been demanding a lot of explanations from my kids this year. A go to for a while now has been justifying a situation. Recently I gave kids a graph and three possibilities. In class we focused on the quadratic formula, it's super solving powers, and it's ability to show you the x-values of the intersection points for a pair of functions. In the setup for this question, I didn't specifically ask them to use this method, though most went with that approach. Here's a representative sample:

The brute force method. The student solved all three and made a connection to the picture with their work. Nothing wrong with it.
However, some found other ways:

An excellent observation of graph transformations. The functions used were simple enough that spotting some features was a quick way to accomplish the task.
The next student made a similar find:

Not only did they attempt a quadratic formula solution (apparently done on the calculator and not recorded) but they weren't satisfied that the mere presence of an imaginary number would do the trick. The slope of the line was important!
This last one might be my favorite:

Not only do they grind through the quadratic formula here, but they remember that if those intersection points are solutions, they are useful! I think only one other student (out of ~60) tried this out.
I was pleasantly surprised because I only had one method in mind when designing the question, forgetting that kids could wander in so many interesting directions.

When our work is shared in authentic ways!

It was a great sight to look out the window and see Kinder kids all spread out working to find the "Math Around Them". Mrs Dunavin brought her class to use our Where are the math boards. It was a great to share our learning. We will be making new boards next week. This is real learning using a the Problem Based Learning.

I'm in love with 'its", and I'm not ashamed to say it!

Soooo, I spoke of my newfound love in my last blog post, and my forsaking of all others for itsLearning.  I'm glad to report that the love affair continues.  As of this post, my students are currently embedding videos of their interpretations of Macbeth into a page I created for them.  Not exactly a new concept, the idea of having students interpret a portion of a play, create a video, and then present the idea to the class, but a solid one that pushes students to move beyond mere rote memorization of the characters and plot.  What is new, though, is the option they have to upload it to a central place where other students are able to view, critique (NOT criticize), and learn from their peers.  In addition to providing the kids with an authentic platform for their productions, I have an additional "evil plan", in that I intentionally created a group project for them to upload so that they may support each other in the technological arena.  This paves the way for future pedagogical projects in which the kids can research, formulate, produce and share lessons that teach their fellow students, all in the platform of itsLearning!  Finally, the best part of this affair is that it is seemingly boundless (well, maybe not literally - but there are still an incredible amount of things yet to be discovered in itsLearning, and I am excited about the opportunities, not just for me, but even more so for my kids!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Where is the Math?

We are so excited to get our Where is the Math Boards up and running!  Students in our class will maintain the math boards by working in the iPad groups to create problems from things that around us in the world.  The questions are targeted to other 1st graders and kinder students.  We have recorded the questions and answers with a QR code to help young readers still participate!

We have sent the instructions to the other classes through this cute video that Connally and Kirby helped put together.  Each student helped create a problem that is now located around the school.  We hope to change these out every few weeks!

If you are at school, be sure to check out their hard work and learning.