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.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Driving over Tukey's Bridge

This summer I spent time with family and wrote content for titles that will appear in Curriculet's premium store.  One such title was the young adult novel Delirium by Lauren Oliver where love is considered a disease in a dystopian future. 

I greatly enjoyed working on creating questions, quizzes, and annotations for a young adult title, applying all that I've learned from teaching canonical texts like A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Romeo & Juliet, Young Adult literature should have a place in the academic classroom.  Young adult literature is the bait and hook for reading.  Dr. Jung Kim from Lewis University makes the case here for young adult literature in the classroom. There are also some examples of canonical and young adult pairings. In creating the curriculet layer for Delirium, I examined the text just as I would with a canonical text: narration, structure, diction, plot, setting, etc.  

While the syntax of Delirium is not difficult, I targeted Common Core Standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.9 in the creation of the questions and annotations: Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work.  Through out the novel, author Lauren Oliver makes allusions to Romeo & Juliet and sets the story in Portland, Maine. While author Lauren Oliver doesn't exactly copy the story of Romeo & Juliet, she does emphasize similar themes and conflicts: forbidden love, man versus society, and personal growth. The main character, Lena, begins to question the restrictive society in which she lives as she develops a relationship with another character, Alex. Not only can I have students make connections between Delirium and Romeo & Juliet, but also to 1984 and any other text where a character realizes that the world in which he/she has lived is not as it seems. If I want my students to be independent and analytic thinkers, I need them to have opportunities to do so by giving them texts that connect to them FIRST and then using the young adult text as a bridge to understand and connect with the canonical texts. 

I applaud Curriculet for working to evolve reading in the digital era and making ALL texts more accessible for readers.  Renting publisher-controlled digital texts for my classroom will be much more budget-friendly than asking my supervisor to purchase class-set paperback copies-- and I don't have to worry about collecting and replacing paperback copies over time. While I could send students to the library to check out individual copies of the book, I would not have enough books for the whole class to read, and even though I could have students choose their own books for independent reading,  what I want is to have students reading more of the same books together.

So back to Tukey's Bridge.... Delirium is set in Portland, Maine, and Oliver continually references real locations found in the city, in addition to adapting them to suit the vision of the dystopic future. The statue of the Governor that Lena and Hana run past in Delirium is really Our Ladies of Victories statue in Monument Square. This connection provides opportunity to discuss how societies memorialize heroes and students can explore the monuments in their hometowns. In addition, if students traveled to locations mentioned in the text, they can walk in the shoes of characters. 

As my family traveled to Maine for a week-long summer vacation in Bar Harbor, following 295 North through Portland, we drove over Tukey's Bridge and past Back Cove.  I craned my next to spot the Promenade and envisioned Lena swimming with Alex on East End Beach. I had a moment of double vision as we rocketed along at 70 miles per hour, I imagined that we were really travelling in to the Wilds.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

#Flipclass Workflow: Differentiated Instruction

Chatting this morning with Stacy Dawes on Voxer in the #ELA Flip group, we were discussing ways in which we can differentiate and diversify our instruction for students, especially those who are ESL/ELL immersed in mainstream classes.  Thinking about how to use technology to differentiate instruction in the flipped ELA classroom, we came up with the following ideas:

  • In your main Edmodo class, create small groups in which the students are leveled, then post tailored assignments to each of the small groups.  If all students are working with the same content, they will not know that they are receiving different versions of the same assessment or activity. Resources to assist that particular group of students can also be posted. Students can be in multiple small groups, but they can only see the content posted to the groups they are members of. 
  • Use Curriculet to differentiate reading instruction. Much like Edmodo, in Curriculet, teachers can create multiple versions of layered annotations, quizzes, and questions for texts and all versions are saved in the teacher library. Teachers can assign canonical texts or upload documents from their files or the web into Curriculet's interface meeting both literature and informational text reading standards. To manage assigning the texts to the students, I recommend creating reading groups by level instead of traditional classes.  Managing classes in Curriculet is very easy and students can be in multiple classes from multiple teachers at the same time.  So rather than having a Period 2 class in Curriculet, name your Curriculet classes to differentiate the reading level. For example, Level I, Level II, or Reading Group A, Reading Group B, etc. Assign the the particular custom curriculet to the particular group and track student performance.
  • Newela could also be used to differentiate informational text reading instruction since articles can be adjusted to meet student lexile levels. Newsela is an excellent resource for differentiating current event articles. Where as Curriculet anchors the text with the question and quizzes being adjusted, Newsela enables the text itself to be adjusted to meet student reading ability.  Students also take quizzes to assess their reading comprehension. 

As far as classtime is concerned, students could complete differentiated instructional tasks on asynchronous working days or at home.  Teaching 9th graders, I do not give them free reign, but instead give them small chunks to work asynchronously, usually about 2-3 days at a time.  We will start a task in class and then homework becomes whatever the students need to finish.  If they were productive during classtime, then homework can be avoided.

While the above ideas are focused on ELA instruction, they could also be applied to all subject areas.  What ideas do you have for using technology to differentiate instruction?  Share

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

#Flipclass Workflow

With the start of the new school year looming, a favorite topic of discussion among #flipclass teachers is workflow.  Rookies want to know how to make flipping work with class procedures, and veterans are always tweaking what they do. Edmodo, Curriculet, and Google Drive are essential to productive workflow in my class.

Essentially, this is what I do:

  • Organize students into classes on Edmodo with all resources, agendas, links to edtech tools, assignments, and quizzes are completed in Edmodo.
  • Students go to Curriculet for reading texts.
  • Students use Google Docs for typing up essays and other assignments.


Edmodo is my online classroom space. Everything that I do face to face with students is also completed via Edmodo.  From posting the daily agenda to taking quizzes to connecting with others, everything is done in Edmodo as you can see from the list below and public folder of classroom examples.  

I create a main classroom group for each level I teach because I want to promote the online PLN experience.  So all of my Honors 9 students are in one group regardless of period and all of my English 12 students are in another group. Students interact with others that they may see in class or merely pass in the the hall. When I name my groups I always use the following naming convention:  School Year & Level.  For example, 2013-14 English 9 or 2014-15 Honors English 9. 

  • The daily agenda is posted as a Note with any attachments needed. I always date it and put a heading in all caps as well as a numbered list of activities for the day. I type up my lesson plans in a Google Calendar which is posted on my class website, and merely copy/paste from my plans to create the daily agenda.  Click here to see a sample.
  • All work is turned in via Edmodo Assignments.  Whether it is a final project or an online activity or a photo of a paper worksheet, students turn in their work on Edmodo because the assignment is automatically added to Edmodo's gradebook or Progress area which keeps a spreadsheet record of all assignments assigned to that group. This spreadsheet is my working gradebook and replaces the students' three-ring binder. Students still keep a notebook using any method they choose, but I no longer have to do paper-notebook checks.  When parents, counselors, or administrators have a question about a student's performance, I have a record of the student's work at my fingertips.  I can also see the student's performance in relation to other classmates. I transfer by hand scores to my district's gradebook as applicable.
  • Preparing for digital assessments, students complete quick Edmodo Snapshot assignments. Snapshot provides students with standards-aligned assessments for math and ELA. I can quickly choose the standards I want to assess and assign the questions to my students.  Edmodo takes care of the rest from selecting the passage to writing the questions. I set the due date and track student progress, assigning later Snapshots to address deficiencies. Snapshot will be a weekly automatic assignment for my students in the coming school year. 
  • Students access Edmodo apps for automated tasks or projects. The No Red Ink Edmodo app is added to my Edmodo groups so that I can quickly assign students grammar tasks without having the students log in to another site or make more work for me.  Students also have access to other apps such as Powtoon, Pixton, Audioboo, and Dogo News for other online projects. I often ask my student to "Show Me" what they know using any online tool. 
  • Students communicate and peer review in Edmodo small groups.  I break up each main classroom group into smaller sub groups.  I just go right down the roster and select students in alphabetical order.  The small groups then becomes a place to share work that is turned in or complete online small group tasks.  I may ask students to find a resource about parallel structure and post it to their small group or have them share copies of essays for peer review.  By posting in small groups, we are keeping the main classroom page relatively clean.
  • Students are added to other main groups throughout the year. I will create other Edmodo groups for collaborating with others or delivering content in an asynchronous manner. When collaborating with other teachers and students across the country or globe, I (or the collaborating teacher) will create a new main group to which we add our students for sharing their work or completing collaborative tasks.  I'm excited to try out a Writer's Corner group with California teacher Beth Oing and Maine teacher Natalee Stotz.  This group will be an informal space for students to share whatever they are writing for peer review and feedback.  For delivering content in an asynchronous manner, I will create a separate group for each unit.  Check out this post on how I gamified The Odyssey using Edmodo. 


Curriculet is my go-to tool for reading instruction.  From uploading my own documents or articles found on the web to reading canonical texts to preparing students for PARCC assessment, Curriculet is essential to tracking my students' reading progress online. I've successfully flipped reading Romeo and Juliet and A Tale of Two Cities with my students. We've also read Great Expectations, Pygmalion, and current event articles related to the Great Depression and The Olympics. With Curriculet's premium library of contemporary texts being released this Fall, I'm excited to get my students reading more.

To use Curriculet, I create classes and give my students the classroom code.  I'm not worried about my students having too many log ins because they click on the "Sign in with Google" button since we are a Google Apps for Education school. Their Google credentials can be used to create and sign into a Curriculet account.  I assign an entire text to my classes and post a reminder in Edmodo for students to access Curriculet.  The students read the text at home or in school on smartphones, tablets, Chromebooks, or computers, answering questions and quizzes embedded in the text to check their understanding.  To see the student view, watch this quick video.

I use Curriculet's data analytics for formative assessment-- my students are allowed to make mistakes without too much penalty.  I take a look at their time on task and their accuracy for answering the questions and quizzes and give the students' a holistic score in my gradebook.  Using the OSU rubric, students receive Outstanding (100%) if they completed the task in an average amount of time and with an accuracy rate over 88%.  Students receive a score of Satisfactory (88%) if their accuracy was in the range of 78-87%, and Unsatisfactory (75%) if they completed the reading too quickly (ie. they clicked through the questions instead of reading) and scored below 78% on questions and quizzes. All summative assessments are completed in Edmodo as either an Edmodo Assignment or Edmodo Quiz. I allow students to have Curriculet open in another browser window while completing the summative assessments.

To see behind the scenes in my Curriculet account, view this video.

Curriculet is also available as an app in Edmodo, but since many of my students have smartphones as part of my district's BYOD initiative and Edmodo apps are only accessible on computers and iPads, I do not utilize the Edmodo app version of Curriculet at this time. For elementary schools or 1:1 iPad districts, I would recommend accessing Curriculet through Edmodo.

Google Drive

Google Docs has replaced Microsoft Word in my classroom. While I still access files I created in Word or PowerPoint, my students primarily create documents and slides using Google Apps.  We will have access to Microsoft 365 this year, but the simplicity and versatility of Google Apps have won my students over.  I needed a word processing option for students on smartphones and Google Drive fulfills the need. Students can complete notes, Do Now activities, quick writes or other journal writing on their smartphones through the Google Drive apps. 

We are a Google Apps for Education school, so the workflow is seamless. Students have accounts already created through school, so getting started is easy. Even though student Google Docs are shared with me, I still have my students turn in the link to their document in an Edmodo assignment.  Again, I keep a record of all things in Edmodo.  I'm excited to see what Google Classroom will do in terms of streamlining sharing documents with students, but in the meantime, this is how I used Google Drive with my students.

  • For assignments, I used Autocrat and Google Forms to deliver individual documents to students. Learn more by reading these posts: A Gaggle of Google Docs and Creating Certificates with Autocrat.
  • Daily directions, assignments, or Do Now activities are on Google Slides with the link to each presentation posted in Edmodo. Information is nicely chunked on each slide and it is easier for students to read than a lengthy Google Doc assignment.

Instructional Design

Edmodo is the hub of my classroom with Curriculet and Google Apps forming the spokes of our wheel of learning.  

The daily schedule may vary, but essentially I follow this routine in our 43 minute class periods:
  • 5 mins. Do Now Activity and review of answers-- as students walk into class they get started
  • 3 mins. recap of objectives and timeline
  • 25 mins. asynchronous activities or group work
  • 5 mins. wrap up 

This is my general plan per week:
  • Tuesday: introduce a new concept
  • Wednesday thru Thursday: work asynchronously or in groups applying the new concepts
  • Friday: whole class teacher-led activity reviewing and synthesizing  the material
  • Monday: assessment on the previous week's content

Last year I was 1:1 with the Chromebook cart on Mondays, so I liked having students take Edmodo quizzes or finish up individual digital work on Mondays because we had guaranteed access.  Sometimes I could get the cart mid-week, but it was never a guarantee as I shared the cart with four other teachers (each teacher taking a different day). So our mid to end of week activities featured BYOD, paper, and face to face tasks. While I do not let technology drive the learning in my class, technology is a vehicle for learning so our access to technology does factor in to our schedule.

I'm interested to read what others are doing with their students. So please reply with your questions, comments about #flipclass workflow methods.