Monday, January 19, 2015

#FlipclassFlashBlog 2: Classroom Hacks

The #flipclass chat on Monday nights is my favorite chat for a number of reasons.  One, this was the first chat I found when I enter the twittersphere and, two, #flipclass is always pushing my learning in new directions-- great people and great topics always keep me thinking.  Tonight, we are doing another flash blog post:  chat for 20 mins, compose blog post for 20 mins, and then share with the #flipclass folks for 20 mins. The topic for tonight is classroom hacks.

"Hacking" the multiple choice/true-false quiz, Edmodo's quiz feature is my go-to tool for replacing paper quizzes and scantron forms and providing instantaneous feedback on student performance.  Edmodo's quizzes have saved me so much time grading.  For tips and tricks, check out this post.  Edmodo's overall platform has done so much to move my classroom into the 21st Century and beyond.

Helping my students become better readers, Curriculet is my choice for a digital reading platform.  As with other digital tools, Curriculet provides instantaneous feedback on student performance and allows me to be there with my students as they are reading.  The annotations and questions embedded in the text are MY annotations and questions-- not some canned curriculum devised by a company that may or may not have seen the inside of a classroom. Curriculet is build by teachers for teachers-- they are an amazing company driving the digital reading evolution. Whether you use Curriculet to flip novel reading (I did it with Romeo & Juliet  and A Tale of Two Cities!!!) or for short reading assignments, you will love Curriculet as much as I do.

Aside from digital tools, one of my favorite lessons for the day before break or needing a filler between units is doing a card shower for alumni serving in the military.  A few years back, I asked the principal's professional assistant for a list of alumni serving in the military and any mailing addresses available.  I kept a master list and stock piled craft supplies (cardstock, construction paper, glue sticks, markers, glitter, etc).  On the day of the actual card shower, students were given the task to create a card for as many folks as possible on the list.  I then bundled each together in a large envelope (or more per alumni) and dropped them in the mail.  Usually we do this around holiday time so we can use a holiday theme.  My students learn informal letter writing and the alumni get a nice surprise in the mail.  Every now and then, I get to hear back from the alumni.

I Have a Dream....

While I am not nearly as gifted as an orator or leader on a national scale, in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I've listed some of my educational dreams...

I have a dream that one day America's students will free from the tyranny of high stakes testing, able to learn and showcase their prowess in any way they choose.

I have a dream that classrooms will be student-centered with all students engaged in learning activities that are relevant and promote higher-level thinking.

I have a dream of working with students in small groups and one-on-one without time or curricular constraints, that students will want to learn from their teachers in a collegial and collaborative manner without focusing on points or grades.

I have a dream that all classrooms will be provided with resources and tools regardless of budgets or demographics, that classrooms will be comfortable and engaging learning environments without desks situated in linear rows.

I have a dream that students will be knowledgable and appropriate digital citizens so that classrooms across the country and world will be connected, sharing their learning experiences.

I have so many dreams for myself, my students, classroom, colleagues, and beyond, but I feel that dreams of today's educators are being squashed by forces beyond our control.  How can we achieve our educational dreams when testing dictates schedules, access to resources, and curriculum?  How can my students achieve their dreams when they are pulled in so many directions?  I don't have the answers, but I can do anything and everything in my power to guide all towards a better education.

What are your dreams?

A big thank you to Sylvia Duckworth who made a #sketchnote out of this blog post. So cool! 

Class Dojo: All About Relationships with the New App

I am continually impressed with Class Dojo's ability to meet the needs of educators. Striving to keep all stakeholders informed on students' performance in the classroom, Class Dojo uses behaviorist techniques and positive reinforcement to track student behavior and provide real-time data for parents (and students).  Whether teachers use Class Dojo all the time or during specific class activities, Class Dojo is the only app for better classroom management.

In case you missed it, last week Class Dojo announced that they have redesigned the Class Dojo app.

From the horse's mouth, here is the update announcement:

Monday, January 12, 2015

Don't Let Your Birkenstocks Get Moldy

So I'm sure you've seen those cable versus satellite commercials-- yeah, those ones with the crazy trains of logic.  Here's one about lowland Gorillas...

Despite the crazy logic, there is sense in this, and I've had my own epiphany this school year.

If you haven't noticed (or maybe you have), there has been quite a lag in the number of blog posts I've written since this summer.  My teaching schedule is a tough one. I teach in 2 buildings, 3 different preps in 3 different classrooms.  Every time a bell rings, I must move to somewhere else because another teacher's class is coming in to the room. I embody my "Go! Go! Go!" mantra. I can barely keep things straight and I am only able to do 1/10th of what I normally do: Brody stays home, desks remain in 5 rows facing front, classrooms are not decorated with student work, blog posts are unwritten. But aside from what I'm not able to do, I've realized that I've forgotten tricks that I learned in my first few years of teaching when I last travelled. I became comfortable and complacent having my own classroom space for 10+ years of the 16 years of my career-- sure, I shared rooms with other teachers during that time, but it was still "my room" that the other teacher was entering. Now, I'm a stranger in a strangeland, and I'm having so much trouble teaching in spaces that are not "mine".   Despite the craziness of the schedule, it has forced me to me out & about more, connecting to colleagues I haven't seen often.

So, what does all of this have to do with moldy Birkenstocks?

Well, I digging in my closet the other day looking for shoes and I came across my much worn, beloved Birkenstocks that I haven't worn in far too long. The miles I've walked in those shoes... only to be buried in the closet, and, to my shock and horror, the cork footbed had a layer of dusty green-grey mold. How could I have neglected the Birkenstocks that walked me to where I am today?

My Birkenstocks are a symbol, reminding me to not forget to be ingenious, free spirited, and well-travelled.

So in the spirit of Direct TV's logical advertising campaign...

When you occupy a classroom too long you get comfortable.
When you get comfortable, you forget the things you learned.
When you forget the things you learned, you stop wearing traveling shoes.
When you stop wearing traveling shoes, they get moldy. 
Don't let your Birkenstocks get moldy.
Get out of your classrooms and keep learning.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Giving Voices to Stars

In case you missed in my myriad of tweets every Monday Night and Tuesday morning for the past few months, my former student, Matt McAndrew, has been a contestant on NBC's The Voice. Every Monday at school has been, "Matt McAndrew Monday!" and every Tuesday, students take out their phones as part of their Do Now to Vote for Matt. I am over the moon and so enthralled with Matt's performances.

I can't stop listening to Matt's duet with Adam Levine, "Lost Stars" nor reflecting on this whole crazy Matt McAndrew & The Voice craziness. Playing this video for my students today in room 5-1, I pointed at the spot where Matt used to sit in class and pointed at the screen showing Matt singing with Adam Levine. 

I am in awe and humbled as an educator. I cannot predict what my students will become. And sometimes, on a rare occasion, there is a glimmer where I can see the girl or "boy caught up in dreams and fantasies reaching for someone" he/she will be. But never would I have predicted what Matt has accomplished the past few months. Now, that doesn't mean I didn't believe he could do it... that means I didn't see it coming. I didn't recognize the glimmer or "lost star" back in 2005; I was too caught up then in the assignments & grades & rigor of education.

Thank you, Matt, for this gift of sharing your talent with all of us, for reminding me to look for the glimmer and the "lost stars". All I can do is be a teacher on a daily basis who will give students the skills and support to do whatever they want to do whenever they find their calling. No test score or homework assignment will ever determine the worth of the students in class. Thank you to all the Southern Regional High School (and everywhere in the world) teachers who shine for our students.

Regardless of tonight's outcome, Matt McAndrew is a star.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Connecting with Authors via Social Media

While many will vilify social media and focus only on the posts where folks are acting inappropriately or unprofessionally, social media is very powerful tool for connecting regular ol' folks like you and me with experts in a field.  I use Facebook to share photos of my girls with family who live elsewhere and to keep up to date on what some of my favorite authors are up to.  I've had a guest post by author MJ Fletcher, and I've written before about connecting with Shakespearean actor/director and author David Blixt via Facebook and this week I had the opportunity to converse briefly with Diana Gabaldon.

Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series is at the top of my must-read list if you like historical fiction/sci-fi/fantasy/timetravel books. Her work is really knows no bounds of genre, and it so wonderfully well researched and written. Much to the delight of her fans, Gabaldon's novels have recently been turned in to a TV show on the Starz network sparking a whole series of blogs and websites dedicated to all things Outlandish which Gabaldon frequently shares the links to such sites via Facebook. One such site, Outlander Anatomy, is a fascinating read about the science of anatomy using the characters and events in the TV series as inspiration for the posts.  Gabaldon also shares excerpts from her novels and current projects, and she will even share HOW she writes.

As an English teacher, I deconstruct and analyze texts with my students, and often I am (and every English teacher out there is) accused of close reading too far into the text. My students will question, "How do you KNOW that Poe is using irony in "Cask of Amontillado?"  "How do you KNOW Shakespeare intended to invert the gender roles in the balcony scene of Romeo & Juliet?" My defense often involves supporting my opinion with proof from the text and, if available from the author, researched explanations. We also have a discussion about who creates meaning in texts: the writer or the reader? The answer is both.

I also use literature as a means for modeling writing for students.  We examine the techniques used by acclaimed authors and students attempt to use the same technique in their own writing. We examine Richard Peck's use of literary devices and motif in "Priscilla and the Wimps," Poe's use of narration, verbal irony and dialogue in "Cask of Amontillado," and Richard Connell's use of ellipsis and characterization in "The Most Dangerous Game". We analyze each author's style, diction, sentence structure, and I challenge students to attempt using these same techniques in our Create a Hero project. The students draft a profile of a hero they create, map out the storyline following Joseph Campbell's monomyth/hero's journey, and write a scene as if ripped from the pages of a larger novel. Students are now sharing their scenes and talking about the choices they made in crafting the story. So not only have we discussed how an author writes, but the students take on the role as authors and showcase how/why they wrote the scene they way they did.

Thanks to Facebook and the power of social media, I can share with students an example of how one author crafts a story and makes intentional choices when writing.  Take a look at these screenshots of Diana Gabaldon sharing an excerpt from her novel, Written in My Own Heart's Blood, complete with annotations explaining the scene. The original post is much, much longer, so you will have to go to Facebook to read the rest.

And if I didn't think Diana Gabaldon sharing her work was cool enough, she also REPLIED to my comments on her post validating how I teach writing through literature. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

PBL & Flipped Learning at Home using Rainbow Looms

My daughters are 8 and 6 years old and they have gotten into the Rainbow Loom craze.  In the melee of doing laundry and catching up on stuff during our November break, I realized that flipped, project based learning was going on in my own home. My girls are intrinsically motivated to create their bracelets and often refer to YouTube videos for how to create them. Through the process, my daughters are practicing counting skills, recognizing and following patterns, hand-eye coordination, and organizational skills.  My girls are also demonstrating search and evaluation skills as they scour YouTube for videos that work well for them to follow, and (thank heavens) interpersonal skills as they work together.

This got me wondering about how the Rainbow Loom craze could be brought into the classroom. Not only could students work on all of the skills (and more) that I mention above, but they also could practice writing skills creating how-to manuals and digital literacy skills by creating their own video tutorials. I would love to read/hear/see if/how folks are incorporating Rainbow Looms into their classes.

I just snapped pictures of my girls, and my 6 year old first-grade daughter counting her pink bands and laying them out in pairs, declaring, "I'm counting by twos!"

Look closely for the pairs of pink bands laid out on the carpet and don't mind Charlie's photobomb.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Flipped Learning Podcast: Tools for Assessment

I had a great conversation with Troy Cockrum and Joan Brown about tech tools for assessment on the Flipped Learning Network's Podcast. I look at edtech as a vehicle for learning and a way to leverage the workload for teachers.

Check out the conversation:

Friday, October 31, 2014

In the Teacher's Lounge: Using Edmodo to Teach Digital Literacy

I had the pleasure on Tuesday last week to give a webinar on how I use Edmodo to teach my students digital literacy skills and help prepare them for digital assessments.  My students piloted the PARCC last Spring and it became clear that knowing how to effectively navigate through a website will impact student scores on the Common Core assessment.  Not only are my students being assessed on reading and writing literacy skills, but they are also being evaluated on understanding how to navigate and use a website.

Watch the webinar to see what I do and how I do it.

Here is a copy of my Google Slides so that you can access the resources linked in the presentation. There are lots of Easter eggs hidden in the slides, so use your digital literacy skills and explore!

Interested in crowd-sourcing a catalog of digital tools that target specific skills? Add your favorite tools here!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

#ECET2NOLA Starting

I can't stop thinking about the Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching & Teachers conference that I attended last weekend. I keep thinking about the notions of leadership and being a change agent as I reflect on how I got to attend such an inspiring event.

I'd like to say it started on the plane on the way to New Orleans and #ECET2NOLA, but it started before that.  It started before we were at the gate waiting to board the plane. It started before the invitation to #ECET2NOLA. It even started before #NJPAECET2 where we met face to face after months of planning and prepping for the regional conference. I keep thinking (read: obsessing) about how I got to this point, and I realized after lengthy discussions and quick interactions with others, I've been asking the wrong question all along.

It is not about "when" or "where;"  it is about "who."

Every moments begins with someone that incites it. I keep thinking about how ECET2 as an organization got started. What was the chain of interactions; what was the inciting incident? I need to do some research.  And as I've been desconstructing and mulling all of this over while walking through the halls of my school with my thoughts being interrupted by greetings from present and former students, I realized that the inciting incident begins with the smallest of gestures.  What starts the interaction between two people that leads to more interactions that eventually escalates and expands into a conference? It is one word, "Hi." It is the courage to say one word, "Hi."

PD on a Plane

At the gate, seven of us make introductions and realize that we have been brought together by one person who had the courage to say hi to us on Twitter, at TeachMeetNJ, at NJPAECET2... Barry.  One might think there would be awkwardness or that tap-dance of give-take getting to know one another, but it was so natural and energizing. 

Fast forward to the embarking on the plane, finding seats, scrambling for overhead space, and then begins the hat dance of "will you trade seats with me?"  Moving so a husband and wife can sit closer together, I end up 5 rows back in an aisle seat next to a young woman in the window seat and across the aisle from two others in our #ECET2NOLA party. Our conversations at the gate spill over to the aisle of the plane. The three of us, Scott C., Ryan, and myself, chat about educational issues until I hear from the window seat, "Excuse me, I overhear you are teachers.... I am a teacher, too..."

What was scheduled to be a three hour flight becomes a three hour mini-conference on the plane. From a keynote address in the aisles to break out sessions about flipping and being an administrator, we talked about best practices and how to problem solve specific classroom issues. Christina, my window seat companion, thanked us profusely about how helpful the conversation was was for figuring out how to increase student engagement and ensure students are performing in her class. She even went on to say, "Thank you so much. You have no idea what you have done for me."  I replied, "Yes, I do know because someone did the same for me years ago."

Saying HI Matters

In year 12 of my teaching career four years ago, I experienced a crisis. Struggling with being a wife, mom, coach, and teacher, I was lacking a sense of community and a way to manage it all. I needed a new way of doing things and people that would lift me up. Poking around on Twitter and local conferences, I connected with Cheryl, Andrew, Karl, and Liz.  Without these people, I would not be where I am today.  I am grateful for the opportunity to pay it forward with Christina. 

The courage to say HI and engage in a conversation opens a door to a space that was not known prior. We can't get to new places if we aren't willing to start the process. And starting the process begins with the most simplest gesture of making a connection to someone else: make eye contact and say hi.

When I build relationships with new classes each year, I make sure I learn my students' names as fast as I can, and then outside of the classroom, I make sure that during the change of class that I say hi to my students in the hall.  Not only does it give me practice recognizing their names and faces in various contexts, but saying HI in the halls lets my students know in the simplest terms that I care about them and see them as people. When I first start saying Hi in the halls, I was the one to say HI first and some students would try to walk past me and not make eye contact. I will lean towards them or step in their way so they are forced to look up, see my smiling face and hear me say hi. And when I say hi, I am energetic and exuberant, showing my happiness at having "run into" the students in the hall. Now two months into the school year, both former and "new" students are saying hi to me first before I say hi to them. They know I care because I say HI, and I know they care because they say HI to me. 

If you want to elevate yourself or your students, start with saying HI. 

It isn't about when it started.
It isn't about where it started.

It is about WHO started it.

Be the person who starts the chain reaction.  Be the person who says HI to colleagues and students in the hall.  Be the person who joins a community of educators. Be the person recognizes the greatest in others.