Thursday, October 26, 2017

Taking the Dread out of Sub Days with itslearning

Image result for sub day meme
Oh, the sub day. That day where you have to do twice as much work to get ready, and get half the work in response. Now, I'm sure some of you have great go-to subs. Even still, you never know what kind of work you are going to get back. So this year I decided to try something a little different.

I had to miss school a few weeks ago, and my students really needed a work day to revise their essays. Here's the problem: I teach high school seniors. And as we know in high school, work day = free day. So I wanted to hold them accountable, as well as actually have a way to immediately check their work.

I left them an assignment itslearning, asking them to write a brief summary of what they did that day, ask any questions they still have, and to attach a photo of their work. This photo allowed me to ensure they actually worked, but also allowed them to take their essays home to continue revising.

The result? I was able to visualize the work they did through the photos (revising is a messy process!) and I was able to prepare answers for some of their specific questions. The added perk was being able to hold them accountable for their work that day. Below are a few sample responses

To be totally honest, the sub was about 25 minutes late but it was great because I was able to finish my chemistry lab and my calculus study guide. I'll probably ask for help with revisions later. But is it okay for me to change my thesis statement? I don't think I can support it with the evidence I have and my knowledge of the book. 
***Honestly, I include this one both because it made me laugh and also because she had a legitimate question

Today I reread my essay about a million times, to try and figure out how to add commentary. I decided to take out a few lines of summary. I rearranged the conclusion to try and transfer the commentary to the rest of the page. I am still unsure if what I'm changing is adding value to my paper. 

During class, J and I highlighted each other's commentary and plot summary and discussed how we think the other person could best improve their essay from an outsider's perspective. After looking over my essay with J, I decided my essay needs more specific text references and less commentary.

Before I worked on actually rewriting my essay, I highlighted my theme, plot summary, and commentary in different colors. Then I began from the beginning of the essay by rewriting my thesis statement to make it apply to the world in a broader way. I then rewrote the intro to include more information about the time period...I still don't believe my intro is strong or flows very well, so I'll probably go back at the end and rewrite it again. I think my second paragraph is stronger than my first, so I decided to focus on the first page. I noticed I had less commentary on the first page than the second, so when I was rewriting I focused more on that. I also took into consideration how often I repeated words like we'd discussed in class, but that was after I repeated the word "education" multiple times...Sigh. I ran out of  time after that, because trying to figure out how to rewrite the thesis and claim statement, plus adding more commentary made my brain hurt. 

Okay, so some of these responses made me laugh a bit. Many were basic summaries (which is exactly what I asked for, mind you). But some, like the ones shared above, surprised me by explaining their thought process. That was awesome! I think I might include something that prompts more students to do that in the future, making it more of a reflective piece than a summarizing piece. I truly loved seeing their thinking.

All in all? I'd do this assignment again. First, it was EASY to prepare. This was probably the simplest sub lesson I've ever prepared. Second, it was effective. I would possibly even do it on a day that I didn't have a sub, because high school students love an excuse to type on their phones. Honestly, they probably typed their summary on their phones faster than they would have hand-written a response. It felt informal as well, which I think was necessary for this to work. Lastly, (and just as a humorous side note), a few weeks after I posted the assignment, I got an email from ed tech asking if they could use it as an example of an itslearning assignment. I was embarrassed to tell her it was for a sub day - and yet, that seemed to make it all the better! The simplicity and the effectiveness made it a perfect example of how itslearning can be used with ease :)

And now, I no longer fear the sub day; instead, I'm drinking all the itslearning kool-aid and embracing some new ideas.

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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Nearpod with Rational Numbers = Success

Even whispering "rational numbers" gave me shivers! This is the first unit our students in 7th grade learn in Spring Branch ISD and I can vouch how difficult it can be.  The first part that makes it challenging is how students haven't reviewed adding and subtracting with rational numbers for a whole year, since it was taught in 5th grade.  The second part of the challenge is how any and every word problem shown to students has more than two steps and can be solved in numerous ways! 

 Reflecting on past years I can say whole class teaching in which I am standing in the front of the room did not work; I repeat IT DID NOT WORK. Solely giving students technology without a purposeful meaning also did not work; I repeat TECHNOLOGY WITHOUT A PURPOSE DID NOT WORK. Thoughtful reflections challenged me to think of other solutions. 
Challenge accepted and as a fourth year teacher I can now say I have seen success! 

My solution
There is a free version of nearpod that includes everything I used with my first unit so it has been tried, student approved, and now recommended.
Nearpod made my instruction engaging because students were actively participating rather than copying notes. You can see every student had choice in their video selection. Every student had their "Book of Knowledge" (interactive student notebook) out and was deciding what was important to write down as examples and notes. Through out the lesson I included videos, collaboration tools, open ended questions, quizzes, and a few more things.

My favorite the DRAW IT tool: It allowed me as a math teacher to see students work instantly as it was submitted. I didn't just receive data from multiple choice questions; I saw steps!


I could catch mistakes my students were doing immediately; instead of cringing when I saw these mistakes on exit tickets or worse in their test booklets. 
All in all I am beyond happy that I tried Nearpod because our scores for our first unit test increased 12 percent!!! Happy dance time!!! We definitely have room for improvement but all I can say to that is 
because nothing can stop me now!!!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

New Technology Tools I will be Using This School Year

I have started taking my Graduate Courses at the University of Houston for Curriculum and Instruction. One of my classes has focused on technology and I have learned of a few new tools that I will be using this school year. I also wanted to share them with you!
Here is my happy dance because THEY ARE ALL FREE!

    VoiceThread is an awesome tool for collaboration. The teacher can post a question and share the link leading to the question. Students can then go to the link and choose one of three options: responding with a written response, responding with a voice recording, or responding with a video recording. Once the post has been made other students are able to reply to it with the same three options. Students can also view all of the original posts and responses to gain new insights and continue collaborating.

CLICK HERE to view an example from my Graduate course that shows all of the above.

2nd: FlipGrid
    FlipGrid is another tool used for collaboration. I have already seen a few Vanguard teachers tweeting about it! Teachers can create a discussion thread on FlipGrid that has the question typed out for students. The teacher can then share the link to the thread so that students can collaborate and respond. The difference between FlipGrid and VoiceThread is that students can only respond through video. Students are also limited to 2 minutes for their response. At the end of creating their video response students are asked to take a cover picture for their response. It allows for emoji's and stickers to be added to the picture and then students hit submit. Other students can watch the responses submitted and respond through video if they would like to. It can definitely be fun to use in the classroom!

CLICK HERE to view an example from my Graduate course that shows all of the above.

   Screen-Cast-O-Matic is a great tool for creating screencasts. Spring Branch ISD has done a great job of including Camtasia on the teacher computers. However, I really loved learning about Screen-Cast-O-Matic because it is a free tool that students can use on their computers. My goal as a teacher is for students to produce final products and this tool allows that to happen. You have three options when recording: displaying the screen, displaying the presenter through the computer camera, or displaying both the screen and presenter. Once the recording has been made students/teachers have different forms of saving their recording: saving it as a local file on the computer, saving it to your screen-cast-o-matic account, or saving it on your youtube account. It is extremely easy to use and beneficial for student presentations.

View how you use screen-cast-o- matics.

You can view me using it to explain the importance of 21st century teaching and learning with the video below.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Itchy Brain Syndrome

Summer always gets me "itchy" - not in the physical sense, but rather in the need to "scratch my brain".  It seems counter intuitive that I wait until summer to really start focusing on my learning - I mean, shouldn't I be learning alongside my kids? Maybe I shouldn't admit this, but the truth of the matter is, my learning from August to May, with the exception of the occasional PDs that come along (all of which I am so grateful for), is what I would call "reactive", rather than "proactive". My need to learn is driven by what my kids need me to learn to better support them as readers, writers and thinkers in my English classroom, rather than for me to grow as a professional.  So, about this time every year, I develop what I've come to call "Itchy Brain Syndrome".  For me, this manifests in the form of making resolutions, such as "I am going to read my Twitter feed every morning, rather than once a week", or "I am going to make it a habit to diigo the articles I find so I can go back to them later and remember why I thought they were great".  So, for this summer, I'm adding a new one to the list - I am going to start listening to a new podcast I just found called the "Creative Classroom Podcast", and I invite you to do the same.  The podcaster is former middle school teacher, John Spencer, who is now a college professor.  His primary focus is on helping kids to build on their innate creativity, specifically in the classroom, but also in the world. Finally, each web based podcast (found at the link above), is embedded in a corresponding article.  So, to bring this full circle, I am going to be "diigo-ing" the articles as I listen to the corresponding podcast, as well as other articles I find through Twitter, and other sources.  If you'd like to diigo along with me, the name of the diigo group is "Summer Brain Itch".  Let's get scratching!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A new App

I have been working very hard to build number sense with my kids. After working with a few team mates, we decided to focus a lot on word problems that have a missing part. I loved to have them use the app Explain Everything to give them an electronic white board that would share their thinking. I see a huge opportunity to develop thinking and strong academic language. This was one of the first times that we were able to have patience while waiting their turn. iPad groups traded the iPad while those that didn't have the device, worked on a dry erase board. I am hoping that we will be ready to use this same approach for our Where is the Math boards. I think it would be so cool to have kids uncover another kids explanation of the solution! I think this is "Real World" at least form a 6 year olds' world. Here is one example...

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Happy Accidents Along the Way

“It’s never a good idea to organize society in a way that depletes the energy of half the population.” - Susan Cain

Happy accidents.  I can’t think of a better phrase to define my work this school year.  One of the many struggles that I have had this school year is creating a space in which each type of learner is consistently engaged, challenged, comfortable, and progressing.  Time and time again I have designed activities and experiences that are effective at engaging some but not others.  When I redesign, the reception is vice versa.  UGH!  Why can’t I figure this out?!?  Some students want to talk, talk, talk. While others seem to prefer to lose a limb rather than say single word from 7:50-3:00!  Seriously, I am beyond over the head nodding and shoulder shrugging responses and the seemingly endless wait time for a response to simple questions. I have tried strategy after strategy after strategy to get reluctant students engaged and speaking, but had not been able to yield any game changing results... until recently.

About 2 weeks ago, I attended a 6 hour GT update training (that I really did not have time to do) on the social/emotional needs of highly able students.  Part of that training included Susan Cain's work on introversion.  About a year ago, a friend of mine introduced me to her book and, and last year, we shifted how we worked with students that exhibited characteristics of introversion.  However, even armed with that information, this year I failed to honor this type of learner in my classroom.

Full disclosure, after reflecting a bit,  I realized that I was so hell bent on creating a visibly and audibly collaborative learning space because... voice, collaboration, creativity, active creation, interaction, movement, energy, sharing, in my mind, are the hallmarks of learning and effective teaching. If an observer comes in and doesn’t SEE or HEAR this then they won't know…and that means I...

WRONG!  And, shame on me for losing focus of my priority as an educator… my students.

“I’m not saying abolish group work- I think there’s a time and a place for people to come together and exchange ideas, but let’s restore the respect we once had for solitude.  And we need to be much more mindful of the way we come together.”
- Susan Cain

Voice, collaboration, creativity, interaction, energy, and sharing do not HAVE to be overtly visible or audible to be effective.  These are 100% non-negotiables for me as a classroom educator, but we can provide opportunities for these elements in ways that appeal to all learner...introverts, extroverts, and ambiverts.  

Well, that reminder of Susan Cain’s work in a GT training 2 Saturdays ago propelled me into a committed relationship with Its Learning and, unintentionally, on a path to becoming mostly paperless. Thus far, it seems that opportunities to engage in all of the aforementioned non-negotiables can be provided through an LMS.  It has been about 2 weeks since shifting almost exclusively to the LMS and the head nodding and shoulder shrugging responses have transformed to some pretty insightful discussion board posts, open ended responses, new relationships, and ….get ready… SPEAKING (just to ask for tech or navigation help, but I will take what I can get)!

More on the paperless journey coming soon.

Moving into the Realm of Real World Problem Solving

Our introduction to the real world problem solving process came via a lesson on the Shrinking of the Aral Sea (handout and image resource).  This resource is a bit dated, but I appreciated its simplicity so I used it as a model design this activity. The first half of the activity was conducted whole group broken into 3- 10 minute chunks that include small group dialogue, whole group sharing, and class decision making.  

The second half of the activity was comprised of students working in small groups or pairs to develop 2 solutions and 2 consequences for each solution, calculating a budget, selecting the solution with the consequences they were willing to accept, posting their solution on an Its Learning discussion board, and commenting on at least 2 other posts.  Students were also invited to respond to comments made or challenges to their solutions. Lastly, the students were provided with sentence stems to aid them in formulating their discussion board comments and questions.

  • The process was messy, loud, and productive.
  • The process produced heated, competitive, and meaningful exchanges during the class decision making process.

  • As the facilitator, the process unveiled lurking habits and perceptions held by students that are a barriers to authentic collaboration. This is something that I am still reflecting on and searching for strategies to counteract. Time is not on my side.
  • I learned that I need to provide instruction on how to communicate in an academic or professional space.  I am going to employ Accountability Talk resources to build a mini lesson to address this issue.
  • Everyone’s voice and ideas were shared and viewed in a seamless and self paced manner thanks to the discussion board tool. Some images from the discussion boards can be viewed via this link.
  • Student to student interaction was seamlessly increased 10 fold (or, just a lot) regardless of ability or language acquisition levels.
  • The standard for quality and sense of confidence in questioning and challenging was set by the students. Luckily, the hyper contentious and motivated got to the discussion board posting finish line first;-)

Next step...
  • Definitely provide 2-3 more opportunities to engage in the real world problem solving process.
  • Mini lesson appropriate and productive ways to have honest, challenging, and meaningful dialogue.
  • Address observations regarding unveiled habits and perceptions of our purpose in the "Areas We Need to Improve" portion of the 4th 6 Weeks Recap.
  • Incorporate the creation of a product or content as part of the assessment.
  • Incorporate reflection on the process.

Talking about plants

As part of our science curriculum we are discovering how the plants grow. The students were amazed when the first plants began to sprout. All the learning can be shared in an interview using Seesaw showing their plants and talking about all the different things they learn about the plants.

 Como parte de nuestro currículo de ciencias estamos descubriendo cómo crecen las plantas. Los estudiantes se sorprendieron cuando las primeras plantas empezaron a brotar. Todo el aprendizaje puede ser compartido en una entrevista usando Seesaw mostrando sus plantas y hablando de todas las cosas diferentes que aprenden sobre las plantas

Thursday, February 16, 2017

An experiment with feedback...

It is community badge presentation eve for the 4th time this school year!  Like with all experiments, there have been a few tweaks made along the way.  Each tweak was born of the priority to make the process as meaningful and impactful as possible for the students with whom I work.  The idea was born of necessity (specifics can be found here).  Four 6 weeks into the process and after constant reflection, I feel comfortable recommending this practice to other educators.

In the process of reflecting on why I was so motivated to implement a seamless, meaningful, and, most importantly, consistently manageable process for providing authentic feedback, I realized that I had not shared some research I while lurking on Twitter in 2013.  That little tweet has been a whispering force that has driven my practice as an educator from the moment I read through it’s linked content.  And, because I am a tweet  hoarder, I have it to share with you:)

“Feedback.  Feedback.  The number one influencer of student learning?  Feedback.  FEEDBACK?  Great! The single most difficult thing to provide meaningfully to 100-120 students at least 10 times per 6 weeks is the one thing that will make the biggest positive difference on their learning.  Well, that’s just grrrrrrreat!”.  That was my initial reaction to this tweeted research.  And, yes, I said it out loud to my computer.  Then, in classic introvert fashion, I went silent and inward, and began an ongoing journey to discovering and creating “how(s)”.

The community badge process was the first scaled “how” in this quest to augment learning via feedback.  Previous to this year most of my work as a special educator was with individual students or very small groups of students, so it was pretty easy to provide consistent feedback in that context.  This year, I am working in a space in which I am both the classroom teacher and the special education teacher so I had the opportunity to experiment with feedback at scale, if you will. I mean, I feel like 110 students in 4 co-teach classes can be considered scale.  Can’t it?

The logistics:

  • Purchased scrapbook paper and put them up on the wall.  6 sheets per class period.
  • I created the badges using  It is free, easy to use, and creates custom badges.  I just copy pasted each badge that I created to a Google doc, stretched it to fit the 8 x 8 space on the doc, and printed them in color.
  • The initial idea to award 2-3 per class period per 6 weeks was abandoned the 1st 6 weeks for 2 reasons.  One, space limitations.  Two, honestly, the students really only had enough time to demonstrate and develop one soft skill at proficiency in such a short period of time.  Part 2, of two, is that I needed time to get to know them and build enough rapport to authentically assess their soft skill acquisition and proficiency.  Part 3, of two, less was more.
  • Then, we changed the name to Learning Community Badges.  I Just felt like the name needed to reflect the purpose and include a encourage action and involvement.
  • At the end of the 1st and 2nd 6 weeks, I selected the badges and presented them to the classes as part of our “looking back to move forward 6 weeks recap”.  
  • The 3rd 6 weeks (and 4th-6th), in the interest in creating opportunities for student voice, the student voted for their badges.  I created a Google Form for each class that included the 19 soft skills and characteristics that I observed the students across all class periods exhibiting at at least minimal proficiency to choose from.  Although, the student voting process went well and I could see that the students valued being included in the selection process, moving forward, I am limiting the number of soft skills to choose from to 2-3 for 2 reasons. One, we had to have a vote off because of 3 way ties.  Two, I think there is value in the teacher providing a short customized list for each class rather than a general list for all the classes.  Here is a link to Google Form for voting for copying.

Well, back to where we started.  It’s Learning Community Badge Eve!  I can’t forget.  Last 6 weeks, I forgot the badges on my printer at home. So, I tried to be slick and leave if off the agenda on the 1st day of the 4th 6 weeks. However, to my surprise, some students in my 4th and 5th periods remembered and asked about their badges. I confessed my transgression and had to endure being mocked with, “Miss, our student heart is broken”.  Oh the shame! LOL!  But, SILVER LINING...I received some authentic feedback on their feelings regarding my first “how” experiment with scaling consistent meaningful feedback in a manageable way.  Would ya look at that?!  Feedback impacted my learning and motivation! Those researchers do know what they are talking about...most of the time😏

Friday, January 20, 2017

Using Technology to Produce Academic Language!

We are working during centers on individual menus that are tailored to each student's needs! One of the choices on some is to report on a book that they have read. We are looking to use academic language and give a little oral summary of the book. Check out the 2 latest reports!