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.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

#ECET2NOLA I see what you did there....

I see what you did there....

On the plane, chatting with folks around you around.  Keynoting in the aisles and igniting learning in others who are struggling.  But did you see, that you gave me a chance to pay it forward?

In the session, tying Seinfeld to blogging...."Seinfeld is not a show about nothing and your blog is not a blog about nothing."

It is not about me it is about YOU.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Yes, you can get out of your comfort zone.

While on vacation this week on Mount Desert Island in Maine, I had the opportunity to unplug and focus on family in a setting that has stunning scenery and vast opportunities for exploration.  I also realized that there is a whole heck of a lot of the world that I'm missing when at home.  We marveled at all the stars we could see every night from our rental house.  Every night at home in NJ, I could watch Orion rising over the trees out my front door, but with all of the light pollution, it is impossible to see anything besides the brightest stars. Here in Maine, I got a crick in my neck staring at the Milky Way and was literally seeing spots in front of my eyes trying to count all the stars I could see. It was dizzying.

And this got me thinking: the same stars and Milky Way are over my head at home and in Maine, but I've lost sight of them at home.  While it isn't necessarily my fault-- I can't control the streetlights and shopping plazas-- I've forgotten that all of those stars actually exist. I've let, to be cliche, the wool be pulled over my eyes.  What other things am I no longer seeing because I've gotten comfortable with others controlling my view?

We can't see or experience anything new when in our comfort zones. The daily landscape of home and work becomes mundane and, again to be cliche, it is easy to take things for granted.  This week, I stood in awe of the cliffs and crashing surf. I was swept away by the views of mountains and ocean converging. I could stand on the shore and gaze for hours at the bobbing lobster buoys and my daughters exploring the tidal pools in the rocks. And how did I get to this point? I had to drive 12 hours --literally out of my comfort zone-- with the family packed in our Yukon.

Hiking Higher

Exploring Acadia National Park, we took our daughters along the coastal trails of Ship Harbor and Great Head and up to the south summit of the Bubble Mountains. My husband and I, sans the girls, went up the Beehive and to the south summit of Mount Champlain.  While the Beehive is shorter in comparison to all of the other mountains in Acadia, it is one of the most difficult hikes: vertical, exposed, climbers pull themselves up via iron rungs secured in the rock face. Only the Precipice trail is harder.  I'm proud to say I've hiked both multiple times, but that was years ago.

I've gotten complacent and comfortable at home-- as my waistline will attest--and managing being a mom and career woman has kept me with my feet firmly planted on the ground.... although usually running from one thing to another.  But when my husband suggested we take a hike up Beehive, I had a moment of panic. Could I handle this kind of stress? Could I handle clinging to the mountainside? I've surmounted professional tasks with ease, but the Beehive? It has been 6 years since I last climbed it, and so much has changed in 6 years.

I had a choice: I could let me fears and uncertainty rule my actions or I could embrace the opportunity.  Here I was hiking with my husband, and I couldn't remember the last time we took the time to do something together without the kids. I knew without a doubt that as long as I had my husband with me, I could face my fear of heights (actually falling from those heights is my fear), and be rewarded with stunning vistas and a sense of accomplishment.  Whether it was holding my hand across the iron walk or giving me words of encouragement as I pulled myself up the rungs, we reaffirmed our commitment to one another. We are a team whether climbing mountains in Acadia or tackling the mountain of laundry at home.

But it was this challenge that reminded me that even though 6 years have gone by and it has been 12 years that my husband and I have been together, total time is just as important as the small moments of time where we can be pushed beyond our comfort zone. And missing recognizing those opportunities can be detrimental. It is like that old saying found on many locker room walls: Pain is temporary; Pride is forever. Who knows what you might never realize about yourself if you don't push yourself to do something new?

This coming school year I am faced with a difficult schedule of traveling across the building to different classrooms, and while I don't want vacation to end, I know that I can meet this challenge. And while I'm hiking between buildings between classes, don't think I won't visualize being on an Acadia trail.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hiking Acadia

Spending the last week of summer on Mt. Desert Island in Maine, we've done quite a bit of hiking in Acadia National Park.  While the paper map we got at the Entrance Station to the park has been our most useful quick guide, being the techie that I am, I wondered what I could find for tools online.

All Trails partnered with National Geographic can be found online, in the Chrome Web store, and in the mobile markets. Search for trails and keep a trail journal, this is a useful resource for hiking. I really like that I can search for trails and filter by difficulty and other

MapMyHike is an app that will track your route, and much like MapMyRun, track your activity.

Cell service is spotty on the island, so I wonder how well these apps will work. I've been able to follow our progress on the roads via GPS and Google Maps, but being on a trail is being off the Google Map.

When on the trail, I've been documenting the hike with my cell phone and GoPro camera.  Thank heavens for digital photography because I would be spending a fortune on film --or at least not taking as many pictures. I've been uploading all the pictures to Google+ in a folder. I think this is the modern version of the vacation slides. Take a look at all 400+ pictures I've taken from the first two days of our trip by clicking on the link or view the preview below.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How to Use an iPad for Academic Use

One of my students, Matt D., created a presentation on how to use an iPad for academic use based on his experiences last year.  We are a BYOD district, but still being rooted in paper, our paperless skills are still emerging.  Part of the delay is that it takes time to figure out an effective workflow with new technology. Well, Matt has taken the guess work out of using an iPad in a BYOD classroom. As a pioneer among his classmates, Matt made it his mission to be paperless in my classroom last year, and this year, he is making sure that others can do it, too.

Take a look at Matt's presentation.  We welcome any feedback and please share how YOU and your students use a paperless workflow. Also, keep an eye out for other posts that showcase the paperless workflow for other devices.