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.