Monday, December 15, 2014

Hour of Code

Last week, my students participated in a global movement called the Hour of Code. Tens of millions of students from all over the world tried coding during the week of Dec. 8th-14th.  I have to admit, when I heard about the Hour of Code when it first began last year, I was both skeptical and intrigued by the idea. I knew what coding was in general terms, but I had never tried it before and I didn't know how to go about introducing it to my students.  Well, this year I decided to take a leap of faith and be a learner alongside my students. I'm so proud of my students and myself, for taking a chance and also for being the first in our school to begin coding. 

I started by following Code.org and #HourofCode on Twitter. I learned there were many web based tutorials and apps for learners of all ages and abilities. That was comforting! I signed up for the Hour of Code and checked out the tutorials. I chose the Play Lab tutorial because not only did it use block coding which is perfect for my first time coders, but I knew my class would love being able to create their own game at the end. They could also see the actual code hidden behind the blocks during each level of play.  Code.org's curriculum is mapped to the Common Core math standards, so that's a plus too!





I have honestly never seen all of my students engaged at the same time before the Hour of Code! Some chose to work by themselves and others felt more comfortable working with a partner. They were happy to help each other if someone got stuck and celebrated when they moved to each new level. When the hour was officially over, they did not want to stop coding! 


I am still running off the endorphins from the excitement over the Hour of Code. My students did an amazing job when their math and problem solving skills were really put to the test. Our first time coding was a huge success and my entire class wants to do it again soon. Of course, I'm happy to oblige! Computer Science is a foundational field for all 21st century learners and there is a strong demand for people who are trained in computer science. For me, it's all about exposing my students to new ideas. It's so much easier to do this when they're young, before stereotypes suggest it's too difficult, just for nerds, or just for boys. They're more likely to be open to taking a risk and trying something new.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Supporting Student Innovation

Ever since the big push towards STEM a few years ago, I started thinking about innovation and how I can best support my students. As I guided them through various STEM projects and programs, I began to see how innovation should look in the classroom. Research, conversations with other teachers, and taking part in a few Twitter chats also influenced my view of classroom innovation.

First and foremost, teachers must support their students. Children are naturally curious and have a ton of ideas to share. Teachers can help by supporting this curiosity through STEM and project based learning which both foster innovation. We can also support our students by connecting them with learners across the globe. With tools such as blogging and social media available, students have the opportunity to take their learning outside of the school building. They can share, and reflect on their experiences.

Innovation cannot take place without allowing time for making and tinkering. Students should have opportunities for building, inquiry, and collaboration. All of these components foster critical thinking, which I have found to be a key ingredient in classroom innovation. Failure must also be allowed. It's not about the final result, it's all about the process. I think about innovators like Albert Einstein and Walt Disney. They failed numerous times and many didn't believe in them. We must make time for students to explore, and encourage them through their failures. We might just be teaching the next Steve Jobs.


In order to make room for innovation, classroom instruction needs to maximized. One way to do this is to enforce reading and writing skills in other subject areas. Reading and writing can and should be taught across the curriculum. In addition, we can think of creative ways to incorporate project based learning in each subject area. 

When we allow time for innovation and support our students through the process, true growth occurs and a student's perseverance and resiliency can be measured. It's important to measure student growth so we can continue to support them as they engage in innovation. 



Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Superpowers

(Day 16 of the Teach Thought blogging challenge: If you could have one superpower in the classroom, what would it be and how would it help?)

When I was a kid, I always wished I could fly. In my opinion, that was the ultimate superpower! Since being able to fly won't come in handy in the classroom, I'll have to go with Superhuman Speed. I think about all the tasks I have besides teaching-grading papers and entering those grades, paperwork, copying, laminating, organizing, filing etc. It would be amazing to have those jobs completed in seconds so I can focus my attention on planning meaningful classroom lessons and activities. This would also come in handy on those days when I lose track of time during my planning period. I would never be late picking my students up from their specials because I could get there in a couple seconds. 

Getting back to reality, I honestly think teaching itself is a superpower. We have to be so many different things to our students. We are teachers, mentors, coaches, moms, dads, nurses, psychologists, lawyers, cooks, accountants, interior designers, and so much more. There are so many aspects of teaching that cannot be measured in a day. We do it all, each and every day. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Celebrating Our Strengths

(Day 15 of the Teach Thought blogging challenge: Name three strengths you have as an educator.)

Every teacher is different, each having their own set of strengths and areas for development. For the most part, I think teachers can talk a lot about the things they still want to learn or improve upon, but tend to shy away from celebrating their strengths. We are pretty humble, but I think it's important we share our strengths too. We are doing amazing things in the classroom everyday, and they deserve to be recognized. After all, we are the profession which produces every other profession, aren't we? 

Today, I'm sharing my top three strengths.

1. Building relationships- My students know me not only as their teacher, but as someone who really cares about them as individuals. They know I have their back, I will protect them, and I will help them. We're tight. We're a family, and no one messes with family! I take the time to know and understand them, which I believe directly affects their efforts in the classroom. They will take chances, try something new, and truly listen to me because they trust me. Obviously I can't guarantee such a strong connection with every child, but I can guarantee I will do everything in my power to make this happen. There will be some level of rapport and some level of a meaningful relationship with each one. 

2. Classroom Management- Preparation, organization, and behavior management are all keys to a successfulI school year. It takes some student training at the beginning of the year, but my classroom runs like a well-oiled machine. I have trained and mentored teachers in this area as well. 

3. Seek Continuous Development- I don't think a teacher can ever stop learning. As national mandates, educational trends, and student needs change, it's vital for teachers to stay on top of these topics and adapt to these changes. This is why I'm on Twitter. I'm constantly learning new things which both strengthen me and challenge me as an educator. I'm open to new ideas and thoughts which aren't my own. 

So, what are your strengths? Think about them and begin to share them with other teachers. You might just be helping someone in the process!

Feedback for Learning

(Day 14 of the Teach Thought blogging challenge: What is feedback for learning and how well do you give it to your students?)

When I think about feedback for learning, I think the following should be required:

1. It should be meaningful.
2. Reference the end goal.
3. Provide clear direction.
4. Consistent.
5. Timely.

Feedback can be given to students in many ways. I tend to give feedback to students verbally, one on one. I teach second grade, so giving a grade simply is not good enough. A grade doesn't mean much to them. They need to know exactly what they're doing correctly and what needs to be improved upon. This may occur, for example, during reading conferences, writer's workshop conferences, and even before classroom projects are completed. 

When I give feedback through praise, I make sure its genuine, citing details from their work. I do provide written feedback as well. As I mentioned, a grade doesn't mean much, but detailed commentary on student work does. It may come in the form of praise, but may also come in the form of questions to trigger more thinking on their part. My feedback is always given with the goal of moving students to the next step or the next level. I'm not one to give them the answer, but instead I ask probing questions to get them thinking in that direction. 

Feedback can be tricky sometimes. Each child is different, and sometimes a little sensitivity is required. I believe it's important to build some level of rapport with students before delivering feedback. When there's a level of trust between teacher and student, the student is more open and accepting of the feedback.

What other ways are teachers giving feedback for learning?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Top EdTech Tools

(Day 12 of the Teach Thought blogging challenge: Name the top edtech tools that you use on a consistent basis in the classroom, and rank them in terms of their perceived (by you) effectiveness.)

There are so many great edtech tools available to teachers and students, and I enjoy learning what's out there and figuring out what will work in my classroom. It was hard to narrow them down, but these are my top tools. 

The website is not the tool here, but it's the blogging itself. There are other great blogging platforms students can use to publish their work and connect with learners around the globe. I've chosen KidBlog because I like how I can change the setting to have posts emailed to me for approval before they are published. All comments people make on a post are sent to me for approval before they are visible on a students blog. The format is also a good match for my second graders. Blogging is my favorite edtech tool because it allows my students to reflect on their learning in an interesting way. They know children and adults from around the globe can read their posts so this motivates them to use their best thinking and writing. It also teaches them to give positive, valuable feedback to their peers.

2. Twitter
My student always ask, "Can we tweet that?" Along with blogging, they're excited to share their learning with others on Twitter. I love Twitter because students take their learning global, which is helpful when training them to compete in a global society. Students learn netiquette, digital citizenship, and media literacy. They make a digital footprint on both Twitter and their personal blog. Not only are we connected with learners from around the globe, but several parents follow us too. They enjoy getting a glimpse into our school day. Sometimes they even send the class a tweet with a link to a website or educational video we might enjoy. Other times, they give us positive feedback on a tweet. 

3. Remind
I learned more about Remind at ISTE this summer as well as from awesome educators who use it themselves, like Erin Klein. Check out her blog here all about Remind and it's value. This will be my first year using Remind, but I'm so excited about it. I love the fact that you can schedule your messages ahead of time. Whether it's a message about an upcoming field trip or class picture day, you can easily share this information with all your parents at once. If you're not using Remind yet, please read Erin's post. She explains how to get parents signed up and has also included a video chat with Remind's founder about its newest features. 

There are so many great edtech tools available, but these are my favorites right now. They are effective and both parents and students enjoy them. Which edtech tools do you find the most effective in your classroom?

Friday, September 12, 2014

How Will Teaching Change in Five Years?

(Day 12 of the Teach Thought blogging challenge: How do you envision your teaching changing over the next five years?)

Does anyone really know how their teaching practices will change over the next five years? I honestly don't. Each year of teaching brings something new to learn at the school level, district level, state level, or even nationally. Implementing new mandates can be overwhelming at times, but I don't see this stopping. I teach totally differently than my teachers taught me and I'm sure future teachers will teach differently than me after I retire.

In addition to new mandates, there are always new trends to learn about. There are so many brilliant minds in education and we have the privilege of learning from them. It's up to us as teachers to keep up with what's new in education and find out what works for us and our students. Like I said, I don't know how my teaching practices will change in five years, but I know that they will. It's up to me to be ready and open to these new ideas and strategies.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Best Part of the Day

(Day 11 of the Teach Thought blogging challenge: What is your favorite part of the school day and why?)
My favorite part of the school day is the very beginning of the day when my students first enter the classroom. I click 'play' on the day's iTunes playlist, featuring songs like "Roar" by Katy Perry and "Happy" by Pharrell, and students walk in and get unpacked. They love being greeted by good, positive music! They have a little more pep in their step as they turn in their agenda and homework, and you might just see a few dance to their seat to get started on their morning work. It really starts the day off in an upbeat way, making my students excited for the day.
I also love their hugs as they greet me and the conversations we have during this time of getting settled in the classroom. This is our time to connect with each other. They get to show me the new book bag their parents just bought them, tell me all about Karate or soccer practice, or about the great book they finished last night. I treasure this time of connecting and building on our relationships. It's quality time that has a positive affect on everything we do for the rest of the day. 
What's your favorite part of the day?
If you're new to the blogging challenge, check it out here. 






Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Me, Myself, and I

Today is day 10 of the Teach Thought blogging challenge! I honesty didn't think I'd make it past day 3, but so far I have persevered! This is a fun one because it allows us to get to know each other on a more personal level, not just as educators. 

Here it goes...

Share five random facts about yourself.
1. I boycotted social media until I discovered there were teachers on Twitter.
2. But, I still refuse to get on Facebook!
3. I have been skydiving.
4. I will never turn down grape Pixy Stix.
5. I will never live someplace that doesn't have a Chick-fil-A.

Share four things from your bucket list.
I don't really have a bucket list, but here are some things I think would be awesome to do.
1. Travel to Europe. I know, everyone says that.
2. I might do it afraid, but I think ziplining through a rainforest would be really cool.
3. Write a book.
4. Be on TV-maybe as an extra, be surprised on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, contestant on a game show...

Share three things that you hope for this year, as a “person” or an educator.
1. I hope to connect with other teachers on Twitter more.
2. I hope for opportunities to speak at schools and conferences about STEM and innovative techniques I use in the classroom.
3. I hope to grow my personal brand.

Share two things that have made you laugh or cry as an educator.
1. I want to both laugh and cry when I hear a student start to sound like me! 
2. I could let out tears of joy when I think about certain disadvantaged students who have a passion for life and love school despite what's going on directly around them.

Share one thing you wish more people knew about you.
1. I'm funny! Since I'm an introvert, it takes getting to know me to really see and appreciate that side of me. Sometimes, it just comes out of nowhere!


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Think for Yourself

(Day 9 of the Teach Thought blogging challenge: Write about one of your biggest accomplishments in your teaching that no one knows about, or may not care.)
One of my biggest accomplishments as a teacher is helping my students become curious, independent learners who think for themselves. I don't give my students all the answers and I provide opportunities for exploration, research, and discovery. One way I do this is through Genius Hour. Genius Hour is a huge movement popping up in schools everywhere. If you're not familiar with it, I urge you to check out the following links. If you have other resources you'd like to share, please put them in a comment below!

www.geniushour.com
http://www.livebinders.com/play/play/829279
http://geniushour.wikispaces.com

It's important to grow thinkers, creators, and problem solvers, and I feel allowing these critical experiences does just that. My students have become independent learners who confidently take risks and are motivated to learn. For me, that is a major accomplishment. 

If you're new to the blogging challenge, check it out here. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

What Drawer?

(Day 8 of the Teach Thought 30-day blogging challenge: What's in your desk drawer, and what can you infer from those contents?)

I got rid of my traditional teacher desk a couple years ago and replaced it with a table. I like to be organized as much as possible, and a table just works for me. I have everything layed out and arranged on my table for the week ahead. Even though I don't have a desk drawer, I do have small, colorful pails to hold my personal pens, pencils, sharpies, highlighters, and scissors. I have another container for paper clips and binder clips. Next to a picture of my handsome nephew Chase, I have a three-tiered tray system to organize my grade book and school forms, as well as all class work and any tests for the week. My table also houses my zebra print teacher binder, class schedule, and all books I'll be using for the week. 

What does this say about me? What does this have to do with my teaching style? I think it says I'm organized, methodical, and fun. I definitely have a plan, and I like things done a certain way, but at the same time I enjoy the element of surprise. Thankfully, I work with second graders so that's not a problem!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Who Inspires You?

(Day 7 of the Teach Thought 30-day blogging challenge: Who was or is your most inspirational colleague, and why?)

My most inspiring colleague is our Music teacher, Meaghan Curry. She has taught at my school for a few years now and I have to say, she is one of the best teachers I've had the pleasure to work with. I respect her because she constantly looks for ways to improve her craft. She seeks out and is willing to try new, innovative techniques in her classroom. One example of this is how she is currently growing gourds in our school garden for 5th graders to make musical instruments. We teach at a STEM school, so this not only fits in with the Music standards she has to teach, but it fits our STEM initiative as well. 

Meaghan recently joined Twitter, which she will use along with student blogging with her students. I have never known a Music teacher to try either with their students. I'm excited to see how she uses both of these tools. I highly respect Meaghan because she is passionate about what she does. Watching and listening to her encourages me to continue seeking my own professional development and to keep innovation a priority. Who inspires you? 

I encourage you to follow Meaghan @MsCurryMusic.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Good Mentor

(Day 6 of the Teach Thought 30-day blogging challenge: Explain: What does a good mentor do?)

Whether it's a student, new teacher, or aspiring teacher, our job as mentors is to guide and support, but not give all the answers. Good mentors put aside their own beliefs and accept the mentee as the developing student or professional they are. They do not judge or reject, but instead are committed to helping the mentee. Good mentors are skilled individuals who are wiling to coach students and teachers along their journey, regardless of their current performance level. 



Quality support can come in many forms. Dialogue, modeling, co-planning, and classroom observations are just a few techniques that can be used, depending on the mentee. Good mentors recognize each mentee is different and adjust their teaching and communications depending on the needs of each individual. They are good communicators who take opportunities to affirm their mentee and they keep interactions positive. 

I also believe good mentors should be models of continuous learning. They should seek out their own professional developement. They attend workshops, participate in Twitter chats and other social media interactions, and they are willing to learn from colleagues. Good mentors are open about their own professional growth and share their new knowledge with their colleagues and as well as their mentees. 

If you're new to the blogging challenge, check it out here. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Excuse The Mess. We Are Learning Here!

(Day 5 of the Teach Thought 30-day blogging challenge: Post a picture of your classroom, and describe what you see--and what you don't see that you'd like to.)




I took these pictures quickly at school today during our math class. I thought about posting the pictures I took just after my room was set up, and before students entered. That wouldn't be the best portrayal of my classroom though. It's a busy place with lots of movement and activity. 


In these pictures, my math students are creating an original math game. THEY came up with the criteria, by the way. In these pictures, I see focused students on a mission. I see engagement. I see students utilizing different workspaces. I see concentration. I see precision. I see a mess! But, if it takes for my students to have necessary materials readily available, and for them to have space to work, then so be it.


I would like to see a little more collaboration. Even though it's an individual project, I'd like to see them offer support and elicit ideas from each other. Perhaps knowing they are responsible for fulfilling the criteria THEY came up with made them even more focused on their own project. I'm just not sure.


If you're new to the blogging challenge, check it out here. 

http://www.teachthought.com/teaching/reflective-teaching-30-day-blogging-challenge-teachers/
























Thursday, September 4, 2014

What I Love Most

(Day 4 of the Teach Thought 30-day blogging challenge: What do you love most about teaching?)

There are so many things I love about teaching. I think what I love most are the strong, trusting relationships I make every year with each student and what comes from these relationships. I enjoy getting to know them and connecting with them individually. Sometimes this is a difficult task, but it reaps big rewards. Each one is truly amazing and has something wonderful to contribute to the classroom. 

I read somewhere that if you don't have their heart then you'll never have their mind. This is so true. Forming relationships with my students makes them feel comfortable and they're willing to take risks even with the possibility of failure. It allows me to stretch them and inspire them. When this happens they begin to realize what they're capable of. This is amazing to see! They also know they can come to me for anything, even after they've left my classroom. I feel like a better person, not just a better teacher, after knowing them.





Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Room for Growth

Day 3 of the 30-day blogging challenge asks teachers to discuss one observation area we would like to improve on for our teacher evaluations. In Georgia, we us a teacher evaluation system called Teacher Keys, which contains 10 standards in which teachers are evaluated. Some of these include Professional Knowledge, Instructional Strategies, and Professionalism. The one area I feel I could improve the most in is Assessment, specifically the data piece of that standard. I feel I use several different assessment strategies and incorporate higher level thinking questions, but I'm working on really using data to help guide my instruction.  
My district uses the STAR Reading assessment by Renaissance Learning for our beginning, middle, and end of the year benchmarks. My school has also begun using Fountas and Pinnell this year, which has helped us level and group our students for reading. I'm working on using the data from both of these assessments to help guide my instruction in my Guided Reading groups. 
To be clear, I've never been one for testing. When I think about what I want my students to become, I don't want their one skill to be that of a good test taker. I want my students to grow up to be good people who contribute to their community, their country, and even to the world. But, I do understand it takes a lot to get them there. Evaluating current abilities, and using that information to improve the education they are receiving, is one of the ways they will get there. 
If you're new to the blogging challenge, check it out here. 


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tech Integration Goals

Yesterday I read about the 30 day blogging challenge for teachers from Teach Thought. The challenge is to answer a reflective teaching question everyday in September. I don't know how well I'm going to do with this challenge, but I'm a big believer in reflection so I'm going to give it my best shot. Here is my reflection for day 1 & 2 of this challenge.


My goals this school year center around tech integration. I did well with my students last year by having them tweet, blog, and use web based tools like Padlet. I attended ISTE this summer and came away with many new ideas and knowledge about new tools that I can't wait to try with my students. The biggest one for me is Augmented Reality. I've been wanting to incorporate this for awhile now and my district is currently working on the process for putting apps on our iPads. Many teachers in my PLN on Twitter use apps like Aurasma with their students, so I've read about how fun and effective AR can be in the classroom. One area I would use AR is in reading. For example, I could have my students create book reviews, make text to self connections, and make book comparison overlays in Aurasma. I can't wait to find ways to use it in other subject areas too. Any suggestions? 


If you're just learning about this blogging challenge, check out this list of 30 reflective teaching questions for each day in September. I forward to reading your goals and about tech tools you wish to incorporate into your clasroom too! 





First Week of School

My first few weeks of school this year have been awesome! They've also been a bit different than previous years. This year, I looped to second grade with my first grade class from last year. I cannot begin to explain how great it feels to pick up where we left off last year. I'm able to start the year off with an understanding of my student's needs and knowing what makes them tick. We already built that solid and trusting relationship last year which made it easier to jump into learning, collaborating and taking risks this year. My students understand our classroom procedures as well as my behavior and academic expectations. Most importantly, my students already know they are safe, loved, and that it's ok to make mistakes. 
 
My back to school prescription includes great read alouds, collaboration, and letting student use technology. I like to do all of this on the first day if it's possible. It sets the standard for the school year and it gives students lots to tell their parents about their first day or two of school. So, during the first week of school, my class and I read some great books, collaborated on decor for our classroom door, blogged about our favorite book character, tweeted our goals for the year, and had Genius Hour. 
 
We read Have You Filled A Bucket Today? which teaches students how to treat others, including people who are mean to them. We read Exclamation Mark which tells the story of an exclamation mark who didn't seem to fit in and then he suddenly found his voice. My students loved this book because it reminded them how important they are to the class and how we need to hear their voice; their thoughts and ideas. We also read Swimmy by Leo Lionni which had a similar theme, but also taught class cooperation. Other back to school read alouds included The Little Red Pen, The Worst Best Friend, and There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed Some Books.  


Students had the opportunity to collaborate on classroom decor during our first week back. I have to admit, I didn't like the idea of an unfinished door on the first day of school, but I knew they'd love putting it together and this is their classroom after all. I found a great poster online to go with the animal adventure/exploration theme for my classroom, so I put it on my door with a dye-cut, grass border and waited for my students to arrive and finish it up. We put a little spin on the back to school self portrait by taking selfies on the iPad and used them to draw our selfies on iPhone templates. We colored them, cut them out, and put them on the door. Our second grade adventure awaited us! Later, I found a similar idea called "Animal Selfies" in an article about back to school ice breakers on edutopia.com. Such a fun, simple idea to get everyone excited about the school year! 
 
Last year, we learned the importance of blogging as a way to communicate our thoughts and knowledge to our online learning community. On the first day of school, we discussed books we read over the summer and our favorite characters from them. Students blogged about their favorite character from any book they read or was read to them, including the ones we read at school together. It was so nice to just pass the iPads out and they knew where to go, how to login, and how to post. The perks of looping! We also tweeted during the first couple days of school. We reflected on our individual progress last year and discussed some goals we have for ourselves for second grade. My students decided to share their goals with other students on Twitter with the hope of inspiring them to set goals for themselves as well. 

Another perk of looping was having Genius Hour on the first week of school. My students were the most excited about Genius Hour and were able to jump right in. We began by watching the TMB Panyee FC Short Film about a group of children who loved soccer but lived on a floating village in Thailand. It doesn't sound like the ideal place to play a game of soccer, does it? You have to see to believe what these boys did to fulfill their dream. Even though we had Genius Hour last year, I wanted my class to take it a step further and really think about problems in the world or things they want to change or fix. This video truly inspired them to reflect on what they see in the word around them. It also challenged them to really put themselves out there and try something new or learn about something they've been thinking about for a long time. 
 
 
With new programs, new systems, and new school protocols to learn this year, it's been really comforting to have my same group of students from last year. I'm excited to continue our journey together, but I hope to throw in a few surprises too. Even though they have the same teacher and the same classmates again, I want them to have many new experiences along the way. 


















Saturday, May 24, 2014

End of the Year Reflection

My last day of school for the 2013-2014 school year was Friday, May 23rd. I always say this at the end of the school year, but it really has gone by so fast. I completed my eighth year of teaching this week and I don't know where the time went. I feel like it was just yesterday when I was in the middle of my very busy first year of teaching and I had the terrifying thought, "Oh my gosh. I cannot believe I'm really here and responsible for the success of all these students." I remember that moment and how I went right back into auto-pilot and back to my busy routine of planning, laminating, cutting, and grading. I'm actually surprised I had even that small moment of reflection.

Thankfully, as the years have gone by, I've had more time to reflect on my teaching. At times, I've had to force myself to do so, but it really is so important. It's how we learn and grow and even change, if necessary. I've spent the most time this last year or so reflecting more than I have in the past. I've been so fortunate to teach under two amazing principals and have had the most awesome students and parents over the years. Every year gets better and better for me, as I think it should. I believe self-reflection has played a major role in how my teaching practice has shifted dramatically this last year and how this has been my best year of teaching yet.

I have an amazing PLN on Twitter who have stretched me and challenged me more than I can say. Their thoughts and ideas have made me think about how I teach and reevaluate my philosophy of education. I've learned different ways to incorporate technology into the classroom and have learned about amazing innovative strategies such as Genius Hour and the importance of student blogging and student-created work. After implementing these ideas into my classroom, I've had to reflect on their success and make changes, if necessary, in order for them to work in my classroom. 

Speaking of a Genius Hour, I have been so impressed with the level of student engagement and how students have persevered through their struggles. During the first round, I had a few students who were interested in learning about a new topic at first, but quickly lost interest due to     it being too "hard". I worked closely with them to achieve the knowledge they were seeking and made sure they were able to create a final product which demonstrated their learning. The second round of Genius Hour went more smoothly for these students. They learned from their struggles, and after conferences with each of them they picked a topic more appropriate for them. They utilized tools they knew how to use and were much more successful.  I'm looking forward to next year because for the first time I have the opportunity to loop with a class. I'm excited to take my students to second grade and continue the great work we are doing together. Especially Genius Hour. We can pick up where we left off for the summer and continue our adventure. I'll be busy this summer learning the curriculum, posting Donor's Choose projects, and cooking up some new innovative strategies. 

During the past few years, I've incorporated more innovative teaching strategies into my classroom. I've been a teacher leader by presenting these ideas to audiences inside and outside of my school. I've also served as grade level chair, served on a variety of committees, filmed an online course for Knowledge Delivery Systems, and hosted student teachers. All of this led me to be named my school's 2014 Teacher of the Year and my principal recently nominated me for an Innovation in Teaching award from my state's Governor's office. I feel I've been successful, but as a teacher my goal is to never stop learning and improving. I will continue to learn how to best reach my ever-changing student population and be the best teacher I can be for them. Seeking professional development on my own and making time to reflect on my practices will continue to be the key to their success and mine. 


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

More Than a Teachable Moment


Have you ever had a student interrupt your lesson with a question they just had to have answered or an idea they were itching to express? Their face is priceless. Their eyes are open wide, staring right at you, begging for an answer. You've never had so much eye contact from a student. Sometimes these kinds of questions are on topic with what you are currently teaching, and other times not so much.  It's so easy to just say, "Hey, great question. Why don't you look that up when you get home?" But wait, this is a teachable moment. Actually, these moments are so much more than that. We should be thrilled with this display of curiosity and take advantage of these moments as often as we can. My students and I had a moment like this and we are still feeling the effects of it. 

Recently, my first graders learned about light and shadow in Science.  After we went outside on a sunny day to make shadows with our bodies by blocking the sunlight, one of my precious students asked a series of questions about Mars. He asked how far Mars was from the sun, if there were shadows on Mars, and where you can see the planet in the night sky. After I picked my mouth up from the ground I walked my students back to the classroom, turned on the Promethean board projector, and had my student lead a Google search. We answered his questions and my student even continued to share how he used his telescope at home. 

At first I saw this as a huge interruption, but I was wrong. This somewhat off-topic, impromptu lesson had a major impact. By letting my student take the reigns he developed a new confidence and inspired his classmates to take control of their learning as well. This single moment also inspired some of our recent Genius Hour projects. It helped my students feel comfortable enough to seek deeper meaning into the subject matter by asking probing questions.

It sounds like such a small thing, but students gain so much when you take the time to look up a picture, check out a video, or do a Google search together to answer their unpredictable questions. Student learning should not be constricted to a single box consisting of grade level content, standards, or a timeframe. Learning should not be so limited and predictable. Let your students take the reigns and you will be amazed where it will lead. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Power of Video In the Classroom

When I first started teaching, I didn't have positive feelings about using video in the classroom. I thought they could too easily be used in place of good teaching and they took up too much instructional time. Thankfully, those feelings didn't last long as I came across different types of meaningful media for classroom use. I use video in the classroom for a variety of reasons. In addition to being fun and engaging, video can breathe life and meaning into almost any lesson. I have found video to be particularly effective in inspiring students, introducing new content, and creating content.

I use video to inspire students throughout the school year to achieve, to do their best both behaviorally and academically, and to be an example of learning and doing for others. On the first day of school I show Kid President's video "A Pep Talk from Kid President". If you haven't seen it, check it out below. Now, I teach first graders, so they obviously didn't understand the references to Robert Frost and the band Journey in this video, but they did understand the central message. I asked my students what they learned from this short video and they said, "to be awesome!" "Be Awesome" is now our class motto. My students aim to be awesome when they walk in the school hallways to show others what to do. My students aim to be awesome in their behavior so they can feel proud of themselves. My students aim to be awesome by putting effort into everything they do in the classroom. They dream big, set goals for themselves, and strive to accomplish them. I feel it's my job to inspire my students, but it turns out they inspire me more than I ever imagined.
 
Video may also be used to introduce or reinforce content. For example, starfall.com not only has great phonics games, but this website also contains short, animated videos which can be used to introduce or reinforce phonics rules. Discoveryeducation.com is another website that has short video segments, full videos, and interactive activities available. Simply search by subject, grade level, media type, and so on to find what you need. You can also save your content under your username to retrieve it easily year after year. I have content saved for every subject. Discovery Education does require a school or system wide membership, so check with your administrator if you don't have a subscription. Finally, YouTube of course has a plethora of videos available for classroom use. My favorites are made my The Electric Company. My students love learning their phonics songs to help them remember short and long vowels as well as vowel combinations. 

My students and I use video to create as well. We have used the Vine app for iPhone to record our learning and then share it on our classroom Twitter page. By recording our experiences in this way, we are taking learning beyond the four walls of our classroom. This gives parents a glimpse into our day and peek into what we are learning and doing. We are also sharing our learning with students from around the world. My first graders are becoming expert videographers by using the video capability on their iPads too. We record presentations, skits, and so on. Videos are something many consume, but it's important to us that we create them as well. 

If used appropriately, video can be a powerful tool in the classroom. It's always important to preview videos to check for appropriate content. During longer segments or full videos, pause frequently to allow time to identify and clarify what the students are watching. Stop to hypothesize and predict answers whenever a question is asked. After the video, allow time for activities such as a quick write, compare and contrast, or ask a follow up question for think-pair-share. Finally, let students create video. Videos can be an effective tool for students to demonstrate their knowledge and share their learning with others. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

#blogamonth Post for February: School Culture

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development defines school culture as:

"The sum of the values, cultures, safety practices, and organizational structures within a school that causes it to function and react in particular ways; the way teachers and other staff members work together." -from a Lexicon of Learning 

School culture is constantly being constructed and shaped by the students, the way staff members interact with each other, and by the community. This is true of my school. Our demographics have changed since we opened our doors 50 years ago, creating the diverse environment we have embraced as an asset instead of a hardship.

Our direction has also changed. After becoming the first public Pre-K to 5th grade elementary school in Georgia to become STEM certified, our focus has shifted to include additional rigor in the STEM subjects. Even though I'm so proud of our accomplishments, I believe in constantly improving and growing. I would still like to see the culture of my school evolve to include the encouragement of more student choice as well as student and teacher innovation. 

After some reflecting, I feel there are three important ways to improve school culture. 

1. Collaboration

School culture improves as staff members interact with each other, the students, and the community. I'm thankful to have a principal who believes in collaboration to make decisions for the school. This is necessary for staff to feel they are on a team and also because we all have a vested interest in student learning. Teachers and administrators should work together to create and improve the school's vision, systems, and goals. When teachers are not in the loop because of a lack of communication, the school is at risk of becoming a place where teachers are unwilling to change and the school culture becomes negative and oppositional. This is certainly not the tone we want to set for students. 



2. Professional Learning

Have you ever walked into a faculty meeting for a professional development session on a topic you had no input on and led by someone you are not familiar with? The presenter may have wonderful teaching strategies and have expertise in a particular field, but you and some of your fellow teachers may not need development in that area. I have learned so much from some of the presenters my administrators have brought in. I'm not against bringing strong, engaging experts and educators into the school for professional development, but I still wonder something. What about ulizing the talents within our school buildings? YOU are highly educated with awesome ideas and skills. And so are the other teachers in your building. We all know the areas in which we have extensive knowledge as well as the areas we could use development.  We should have input on the professional development we receive. We should also have the opportunity to share our knowledge with each other! Professional Learning tailored to teachers' needs will impact school culture in a positive way. Teachers who receive training in areas they are genuinely interested in are more likely to bring this excitement for teaching and learning into their classrooms. 


3. Trust

Teachers have relationships with administrators, students, parents, as well as other teachers. Trust is the glue that holds these relationships together, therefore fostering a positive school culture. To make change happen, teachers need to be trusted to take chances in the classroom and try new innovative ideas. Allow them to think for themselves and value this. Autonomy is the greatest gift a teacher could receive. Students should be trusted as well. They are our #1 most untapped resource. Trust their ability to think, create, and persevere. Teacher and student voices should be heard and and respected. 


School culture will continue to evolve and it's up to us as teachers and administrators to create the best working and learning environment for our students and ourselves We have the power to change our school culture. Step by step, bell by bell, and year by year. How can your school's culture improve?







Sunday, January 19, 2014

Celebrating Uncommon Thinking


We all have these students. The ones who can't sit still. The ones who have their own agenda and their own way of doing things. They are rebels. They are trouble makers. These are the kids who don't just think outside of the box, they simply don't acknowledge the existence of a box in the first place. They're called "weird" or "crazy" by both students and adults. These students challenge the status quo and are typically bored in the traditional classroom setting. They also have the ability to melt your heart and drive you crazy, all in a matter of seconds. Sadly, many of our institutions are structured in such a way to encourage these students to conform to some acceptable behavior code and culture. 

Now, don't get me wrong.  I'm not against behavior interventions to modify student behavior. But, the students I'm talking about don't need a behavior chart or an intervention. They need to be heard. They need to be encouraged. They need the freedom to be them. They do not need to be changed. 

I also love and appreciate a well-structured, organized classroom. However, organization which requires everyone to be the same, and do the same, limits our potential to unveil and encourage the kind of experiences that lead to student innovation and accomplishment. Fair isn't always everyone getting the same thing. Fair is everyone getting what they need. We need to celebrate uncommon thinking, allowing differences to enhance the culture of the classroom. 

The students who may have what some call "crazy" ideas or the ones who feel the need to break a rule for a good cause; those are the students who are going to change things. They will do spectacular things in their lifetime. Don't you want to be the one they always remember as the teacher who just let them be who they are? I know I do. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

My Top 5 Tech Tools for Teachers and Students

Educational Technology became a new passion of mine this past year. Thanks to my wonderful PLN on Twitter, I've discovered so many tools I can use in and out of the classroom. The following tools have helped my students and I get organized, create, demonstrate learning, and more.  I hope you'll enjoy these tools as much as we do!


Padlet.com - This website allows students and adults to build a virtual wall. Formerly know as Wallwisher, this site gives you a blank wall on which you can put anything you want. Simply click (or tap for you tablet users) anywhere on your wall and add your text.  Users can also add multimedia and share their walls instantly. My students have created walls to demonstrate what they have learned about a particular topic. They love to play with the layouts! Padlet can be used as a discussion forum to share thoughts on a particular topic, create timelines, brainstorm menus, and so much more. The possibilities are endless! Check out examples in Padlet's gallery for more ideas. 
Webwhiteboard.com - This is an online whiteboard students and teachers can use to draw a simple sketch, work out math problems, or even jot down a quick list. My students love using this website on their iPads during math. Instead of using individual dry erase boards, students can solve math problems by drawing and writing with their fingertips. The drawing tools come in two different thicknesses and various colors. There's also an eraser tool. Your whiteboard is instantly saved and is designed for collaboration. 
Pocket - This is a free app available on iPhone and iPad which allows you to save articles, blog posts, or web pages all in one spot.  This app quickly became my favorite tool! There have been so many times I've come across an article or a blog post on Twitter and I just didn't have time to read it right then and there. Now, within five seconds I can have it saved to my Pocket. The app is easy to set up and gives you very easy directions showing you how to save items you wish to read later. 
Cloudart - Cloudart is a great creation app that let's you make colorful and dynamic word clouds. Check out the word cloud I made under my last post. I've also used this free app to create a cloud for my students. Create a word cloud using the lyrics to a favorite song or words from an iconic speech.  Let your imagination run wild! Simply copy and paste, or type text into the app and it will automatically create a beautiful word cloud for you. You can also play with fonts and color pallets, or create a custom pallet. Your word cloud can be saved to your camera roll and easily shared with friends. 
Vine - Vine is Twitter's baby. Vine allows you to create six second videos and instantly share them on Twitter. My students and I use Vine to document the learning that takes place in our classroom and then we post it to our classroom Twitter account. Through Twitter and Vine, my students connect on a global scale. Parents also love having a glimpse into our classroom. Vine allows us to be creative and think carefully as we record and edit using a six second time frame. Whether you're documenting the learning process, or making how-to videos, parents and students around the world will enjoy learning from and with you and your students.
My students and I love these creation tools and I hope they will be helpful to you and your students as well. 
    

Thursday, January 2, 2014

#oneword

New Year's Resolution? No thanks. Let's be honest here, those almost never stick. Authors Jon Gordon, Dan Britton and Jimmy Paige have written a book introducing a new take on this ill-fated tradition. One Word that Will Change Your Life encourages us to simplify our lives and careers by focusing on one word for the entire year instead of endless goals and resolutions. Your "one word" will create a simple and focused approach for the new year. 

After a great deal of thought and reflection on the past year, I've decided my word for 2014 is IGNITE. The definition I found that best describes how I envision this word is "to arouse the passions of; excite".  Like most teachers, I want my students to love school and to love learning. I pride myself on providing my students with an uncommon classroom experience. 

At this point in the school year, rules and procedures are established and are second nature. I have a trusting and solid relationship with each one of my students. We have also discovered and embarked on uncharted territory together. Exploration and innovation have become part of our culture. My focus for the second semester is to take this a step further and IGNITE their curiosity and passion. I want my growing first graders to create more, initiate more, and excite others with their enthusiasm for learning and doing. 

My One Word for 2014 is not only related to my passion- my students. For me, IGNITE also means to create and launch ideas myself. Hence, this first blog post! I also hope to IGNITE sparks in my family, friends, and fellow teachers simply through encouragement and support. 

What will your One Word be for 2014?

Thanks for reading,
Monica

For more information, check out getoneword.com or search the hashtag #oneword on Twitter.