Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Michael's Story-

Photo Credit: horncologne via Compfight cc

You know the kid.  The small, insecure, kid in the back of the room that feels like he has to show-off to make up for his lack of size compared to the other 5th graders. He's the one slumped in his chair, acting cool-- daring you to make him learn or do anything.  The jokes, bad attitude, and sarcastic outbursts disrupt class.  You wonder why this kid is screaming for attention--any attention--even if it's negative.

His name was Michael. He was in my class my second year of teaching.  To make a long story short; he challenged me.

Why am I thinking about him now?  I don't know exactly. Maybe it's the music of the holiday season. Maybe it's because I'm thinking about how to reach and engage some of my kids that are in my class this year.  Maybe it's because Michael taught me the importance of building a relationship with students early on in my career.

None of my college prep classes taught me about the importance of building relationships- that there really couldn't be learning without trust. I was unprepared.

Michael was an only child.  His single mom worked hard, but couldn't or chose not to be home. There was little, if any, support for Michael as far as school was concerned. I cringe now that I didn't know more about him earlier in the year.  Did he have food in the house?  Is that why he couldn't concentrate in class? I don't know.

As a new teacher, I tried to attend some of my students' extracurricular activities.  I couldn't make it to everything, but I certainly did try.  Michael was a baseball player.

I remember him being so surprised that I showed up at one of his games.  I can still see his big smile after the initial shock of seeing me there.  He played well! I took pictures, talked with his mom and enjoyed conversation with her.  [There's something to be said about conversations with parents outside of school in a more informal atmosphere.]

After my visit, Michael worked harder in class.  He didn't interrupt as much and tried to learn.  It took me nearly the whole year to get him to that point. I learned a lot of patience.  I learned that kids learn at different paces and that they learn in different ways.

 I learned that Michael had a passion for music.

Once I unlocked that tidbit of knowledge, the world changed. However, by that time, school was almost over for the year.  

It's never too late to connect with a student.  Michael started to hang around after school.  We had some marvelous conversations!  Although I loved to visit with him, part of me wanted to shoo him home so that I could prepare for the next day.  I'm glad that I didn't! I'm glad that this time I listened to my inner voice telling me that I needed to take the time with this kid.  After all, I said all of the time that my students were "my" kids!

One day during one of our conversations, he went over to the piano and started plunking on the keys.  I invited him to sit down and play.  I could tell that he was self-conscious because he had no musical training or experience.  I asked him if he'd excuse me for about 10 minutes to grab some books for the next day's lesson.  Michael told me that he didn't mind and after I left, started to play the piano.  As I listened just outside my classroom door, it warmed my heart!  And then...a moment of inspiration!

Upon further investigation, I found out that Michael had always wanted to take piano lessons.  There were some hurdles though.  His family didn't have a piano nor could his mom afford lessons.

 I just happened to be good friends with Mark, a former concert pianist that taught piano lessons. (An  injury to his hand changed his life's path, but that's a different story.) Mark and I had collaborated to produce some school musical productions.  He was already a hero to Michael which made my plan even sweeter.  

I made arrangements with Michael's mom to take him to Mark's house once a week for music lessons.  I paid for the lessons, but Mark basically taught the hour long lessons for free.  Michael practiced a couple of times a week on the piano in my classroom, but in between those days, he used an old keyboard.  It was summer by now and although I didn't have to be at school working, I was. Having Michael come to my classroom to practice the piano was really no big deal. [Note* This was nearly 30 years ago.  Life was different.  Policies/practices were different. I'd never do now what I did then.]

In a couple of months, I literally watched a boy grow into a young man as he pursued a life-time dream.  He learned to play the piano quickly and beautifully.  Michael had a natural talent, passion, and drive to practice which allowed him to excel at an unprecedented pace.  Words won't even allow me to express how happy he was while playing the piano.  I could see it in his countenance.  Nor will words allow me to express my feelings of actually making a difference in someones life.  After all, that's what all teachers want to do.

Unfortunately, the lessons only lasted a few short months.  Fall brought changes and he stopped making music.

For years after that summer, Michael would occasionally stop by my classroom to say hello, plunk on the piano keys, tell a few jokes, and engage in the 5 minute conversations of middle schoolers.  He struggled in school and laughed off the pain.  He had a life that no child should have.

There were a few years when he didn't come to visit and I wondered where his decisions were leading him.  And then he came.  It wasn't a very long visit.  He had just been released from the Juvenile Detention Center. We laughed. We joked. We reflected on his growth and future goals.  

He told me that I had made a difference in his life and was one of the few people that he knew cared about him. He told me that he still loved music but didn't ever get a chance to play the piano.  He promised me that he would make better decisions and straighten out his life.

Shortly after that visit, I found out that Michael had been killed in a car accident.  He had been with friends in the canyon drinking.  The driver of the car was speeding and didn't navigate a curve.  Everyone was killed when the car went over the embankment and plummeted down the side of the canyon.

I often think of Michael when I don't take the time that students need.  There are so many times when I want to shoo them off so that I can finally have a peaceful, quiet, moment and time to prepare for the next lesson.  I've done that so many times.  Did I miss another chance to have a conversation that could make a difference?  It makes me cringe!  I can always make time to prepare a lesson, but I won't always have opportunities to build relationships.  What good is a lesson if kids don't know that you can be trusted and that you care?

As I'm planning for the next half of this year, I'm also renewing my commitment to build stronger relationships with my students.  I will make time for positive phone calls home because I know the power behind positive communication.  I want to make sure that when students leave my classroom this year that they know that I care about them as an individual.  They may not remember all of my "great" lessons. I hope they'll always remember how much I cared.

Tucked away in my teacher treasures is a little potpourri burner that Michael gave to me as a 5th grader--a reminder to "light the fire".  It's time to put it on my shelf at school as a constant reminder of the importance of building relationships with my students.

We all have taught or know a "Michael".  How do you build relationships with your students? I'd love for you to share.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Part 2 More Chuckles 'n Chortles- Looking Forward to 2015

Photo Credit: casting lights via Compfight cc

Personal/Professional Growth:  The Ferris Wheel is an amusement park ride that I love and hate at the same time.  I love the view from the top and I don't mind the climb to get there. But the tickling sensation in my stomach of coming back down is almost more than I can stand sometimes.  Of course, I laugh and enjoy myself as the cycle repeats over and over again. And so it is with my personal and professional development and growth.

What Am I Looking Forward To For The Last Half of the Year?

Pushing to the Edge: I'm required to fill out a report card with letter grades, to teach a "recommended" number of minutes of this subject or that subject, to "cover the curriculum" and to assess and report testing data. But, there's a little rebel within my spirit.  The rebel's voice is getting louder, more confident, and desirous for change. There is a little fear- the tickle in the stomach- but there's also the side of me that takes risks, enjoys challenges, and cares more about student learning than "this is what we've always done".

I can play the "game" and jump through the hoops, but I'll do it my way.  Could I get in trouble? lose my job? There is that potential. But I'm ready to defend the things that I'm trying (makerspace, throwing out the emphasis on grades, gamification, flipping, etc.)

Next year, it's my turn for a formal evaluation.  It seems to me that much of what I'm supposed to do relies on my ability to run a very traditional classroom.  I don't know how all of the new practices that I'm implementing will "score". It's a potential barrier, but it won't stop me.  I'm confident in my ability as a teacher.

For this year, I'm required (because of new accountability standards) to show evidence that I'm an "Effective" or "Highly Effective" teacher.  I'm okay with that.  Truthfully, it's busy work to me.  My time could be spent on more beneficial tasks.  But, I'll play the game.  I'll use the evidence as a way to reflect on my practices.  I'm not convinced; however, that the suggested types of "evidence" will give a full picture of what I'm trying to accomplish in my classroom. [Side note to myself- Stir things up a bit and make multi-media presentations.]

If an administrator came into my classroom, they'd see engagement and hear the busy "hum" of collaboration.  That's IF an administrator came to my class.  Instead, I think that I'll be evaluated on two 30-40 minutes of observation--observations that will expect me to be in front of rows of kids "spewing forth my great knowledge". Blah! Oh, how much more an administrator could learn if they spent some time in my classroom!  [Side note to myself- IF I ever become an administrator, spending time in the classrooms will be at the top of my priority list!]

At this point in my career, the formal evaluations mean very little to me other than my own pride.  I'm like everyone else and want my scores to be the highest. It's that straight A mentality so ingrained in me.  Sure, there will probably be a tickle of nervousness knowing that I'm being evaluated, that a percentage of my salary will be based upon my score, that the administrator will most certainly NOT see a traditional classroom, and that there is a HIGH probability that I may have to adjust during a lesson to Plan B, C, and D as I try to integrate tech into our daily learning. But, I'll be prepared--prepared for the day and not a pony show.  Evaluations of performance are necessary and have their place.  I don't believe in putting on shows for administrators.  What they see, is what they get. Merit pay is not a motivator!

I learned a long time of go to try and stay true to myself.  It hasn't been easy! As a new teacher, I was criticized for dressing up, decorating my room in themes, singing/chanting to learn, making up simulations, and a host of other FUN activities in my classroom.  Ironic that I should find a whole CREW of like-minded educators at the END of my career! For the next half of this year, I'm really looking forward to building relationships with my fellow PIRATES!  They inspire me every day to give my best to my students.

During this last half of the year, I will be experimenting a lot!  My kids are affectionately called my guinea pigs.  We are learning together!  I'm really trying to give them a voice about their education and to listen. We are making educational decisions together and we're just getting started.  I'm not sure how it will look by the end of the year.  Learning can be messy!  We DO know that we want more class time for reading, learning about our passions, choosing how we learn, and more time for science and Making.

How will I balance their wants/needs with the pressure I have to follow the directives from my district to stay "on schedule" and to report the testing data? I don't know.  That is the million dollar question that I'm trying to sort out in my head.  What I do know for sure is that I have a whole support group behind me- my PLN.

I'm truly looking forward to more learning from members of my PLN! My Edmodo family will always be my heroes and best friends, but I've met MANY wonderful educators.  I have some mentors for learning and integrating technology, mentors who are administrators, and mentors for all of my other interests.  I'm learning from the BEST!

I guess that without listing all of the specifics of what I want to accomplish on a personal/professional level, that I'm most looking forward to the challenge of making this the best year of learning and growth for my students!  I know that the path that I'm on will get me there. It's a little scary not knowing all of the "hows" right now. I have SO much to learn!  I KNOW that I will make a lot of mistakes!  I "fail" and fail miserably all of the time.  At least it keeps me laughing!  And...I might add, keeps others laughing as well.  But I'm excited for this journey!

It's still frightening for me to go from a such a private person to public.  I'm nowhere near my comfort zone!  I can't believe that I'm writing and publishing online.  It helps to know that this blog is selfishly for me and my growth.  I know that only a couple of people will read this, but even that is a huge change for me.  I can see and feel myself changing.  To do so in the public eye, making myself vulnerable to critics, knowing how I'm NOT an expert at anything is pushing me--pushing me to the edge.

My expectations for myself are high.  I have many goals.  It will not be easy to balance my own schooling, teaching, family, and life.  I'm taking on the challenge--to be the change that I want to see.  That's what the next half of the year will be about in my classroom.  Get ready to LAUGH a lot!

What are you most looking forward to in 2015?  I'd love to know your thoughts!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Giggles, Gaffaws, Ooo's, 'n Ahhh's- Looking Forward To 2015

Photo Credit: alibash via Compfight cc
I'm lucky! Not only do I get a traditional Winter Break, but I also get an additional 3-wk break because of being off-track in a year-round school.  I need the time! I know that the days will disappear quickly. I have a long list of "to-do's".  But I'm longing for the time to let all that I'm learning- all the ideas spinning in my head- to incubate.  That's how my brain works. I get an idea and then I let it sit.  As I go about my business, ideas (sometimes really crazy ones), start popping in my head.

This year so far has been like a roller coaster- full of ups and downs and plenty of twists. I've tried many new "things" (hate that word) with varying degrees of success.  [Definition of success could be another whole new post.] We're mid-year. I've accomplished so much! I have so much further to go still.

What am I looking forward to for the next half of the school year?


Sphero/Makeymakey/Coding: During the next few weeks, I'm planning to work with our district tech person to get the iPads, iPods, laptops all updated and ready to go.  [No one will really understand my excitement unless you've had to deal with the Apple Configurator, and district tech people that are overwhelmed and over scheduled.]  I'm excited to have the Sphero apps and to plan some time for kids to engage in some hands-on learning! I really want to do the chariot races (something I saw on Youtube), but haven't had time to really investigate the alternative activities.  I'm looking forward to seeing SMILES, ENTHUSIASM, and COLLABORATION! My kids will love this! I'm also looking forward to students learning more about coding--especially my girls.  I have a few girls that are really having fun learning and I want to encourage them to keep pursuing their interests.

Mystery Skype: I have connected with the most wonderful teachers in the world and many of them are 5th grade teachers.  They've been having MS (mystery skype) sessions together and I've been missing out! This is a MUST DO! I'm glad that I have January to test and figure things out.  I'm depending on my PLN's expertise to help me.  I can't wait!

Moving Kids to more Meaningful Blogging: I don't want to discount what my students have already accomplished on their blogs. But, my goal is to get them to a point where they really feel ownership and are motivated to make a meaningful change in the world.  I've given them quite a bit of freedom as we've learned using Kidblog. I'm ready to give them a wider audience than just our classroom/family members.  I'm hoping that it'll make a difference.  I'm hoping that I've taught them enough about being a good digital citizen that the experience will be safe, fun, and an authentic learning experience.  Having the kids practice communicating and connecting with peers around the world via Edmodo  prepared my kids and I'm confident that it'll be a positive experience.

Science (or more specifically teaching Matter/Chemistry): When I return to school in January, we'll be studying more about Magnetism/Electricity.  It's a lot of fun! There are so many fun experiments for us to do! But, my real love is teaching about matter/chemistry!  There's just something innately engaging about mixing "stuff" and seeing explosions (even little ones from baking soda/vinegar) that makes it fun to learn.  I'm not supposed to do certain experiments in an elementary classroom (because we don't have an official science lab), but I do them anyway.  I teach safety. I demonstrate a lot. But, if it's just a matter of mixing pretty harmless chemicals (unless ingested), I let the kids do it.  It's fun!

Civil War Simulation:  We have a lot of learning to do before we'll study the Civil War. I love teaching American History! I love Social Studies in general. But, after teaching the American Revolution, teaching about the Civil War is a close second in my book.  I've been using simulations since my first year of teaching (28 yrs. ago) and have never looked back.  As far as I'm concerned, it's the only way to teach history to young students.  I STILL have students come back to see me and talk about their memories of our simulations.  The Civil War simulation is truly something that I can't wait to do!

Seeing The Students/Class Community Grow:  The next few months are great for learning!  Students are in routines, they know how to use various tech tools, they know each other well, the big holidays have passed, and sunny days are not distracting- especially to me. :) This is where I start to see the pay-offs of a lot of work.  All of the extra effort to do team building activities, build relationships, conference, and build a classroom community come into play.  I always get a little nervous about the curriculum and "not covering" the curriculum in the prescribed time frame. But after years of experience, I know better than to rush and cover! I know what's important and that taking the time to build the foundation of relationships and community will pay off.  The learning speeds up and not only do we "cover" but we "dive deep" into understanding.

Gamifying Math:  I wish that I had the talent and know-how that some of my friends have in their pinky finger when it comes to gamifying their class.  It's a future journey that I definitely want to take!  Their websites, story lines, management, etc. is AMAZING!  But, I'm pretty proud of what I've learned so far.  I REALLY want to implement Classcraft, but their site has changed a little since last spring when I was learning.  I need to catch up during the next few weeks so that I can have it ready! I think gamifying (at least math) will help my kids be motivated to take some ownership of their own learning.  I also think that I can use Classcraft along with flipping my class. I'm experimenting with in-class flipping.  It's challenging with little/no tech available to me on a regular basis.

As far as my classroom is concerned, those are the activities that I'm most looking forward to doing during the second half of the year. However, there's another list spinning around in my head. The second list are the things that I'm looking forward to as part of my personal and professional growth. Hey, another blog post idea! Part 2 is coming!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Mind Stretching

"A mind that is stretched by a 
new experience
can never go back to its
old dimensions."
-Oliver Wendel Holmes, Jr.

Photo Credit: Gewel Maker via Compfight cc

Some of the things that I've learned After Twitter (or during the last 6 months):

TWITTER: I started using Twitter because Edmodo started to have weekly chats. Many of my friends were on Twitter and participating in the chats. I didn't want to miss out.

Learning the language (#, RT, MT, @ etc.) was a little weird at first.  I felt very much out of my comfort zone! I wanted to jump into the chats and did--but I made plenty of mistakes! Since there's no way to edit the tweets, I laughed at myself and went on without worrying. My friends in #edmodochat supported and helped me. It was only when I joined other chats that I really felt like I made a fool of myself. People were kind and helpful. It didn't stop me from feeling dumb though. I joined many other chats and quickly started to connect with great educators. I looked at joining the many chats as opportunities to learn something new.

It didn't take long to learn the basics. I even learned how to moderate a chat.  I have made PLENTY of mistakes though! I'm still learning.

Genius Hour/20% Time/Passion Projects:   

I've loved the whole idea of students having time to research and learn about a topic of their choice- their passion.  I was excited to get my kids started.  They were REALLY EXCITED to have the freedom to learn something of their choosing.  The first time to the media center to check out several books (instead of one) confirmed to me that I was on to something that would really benefit my students.

We started off great! Kids were excited to read, blog, research etc. There were only a few kids that had a difficult time deciding on a topic. But, we went off-track for several weeks. It was hard to get the momentum back.  It was also hard to make time to help the kids prepare presentations because of other deadlines.  We decided to give 3 min. mini-presentations for our first round.  I loved hearing what the kids had learned! But I was also disappointed that some of my boys chose to talk about football which was not their original topic choice.  Their speeches were fine.  I blame myself for not keeping them on-track with a narrower topic.  It was as if one student chose to talk about football and then others abandoned their topic and just "winged it" to fit in and do what others perceived as "cool". 

For their second project, I need to rethink some management strategies.  I also have to think about timing.  We have a science fair coming up and some other school activities that might interfere with class time.


A couple of weeks before the Christmas break was a perfect time to provide time for making.  I was lucky that our Makeymakey kits came. The kids had a blast!  It took a lot of time out of the day to make our electricity projects, but worth it. I'm not even positive if that'd even be considered as a maker space by definition. I found though, that after an extended period of time, that some kids lost motivation for making anything.  I made the time very flexible and actually combined many elements of Genius Hour.  I'm not sure if it was the time of the year, my lack of supplies for other kinds of making, or something else.  I wish that the classroom was bigger.  I felt like the kids would have benefitted from more space to move around and spread out in the room.


In our data-driven world now, assessment is always on my mind.  I'm not in the camp that thinks that assessment is a bad thing.  I just worry that the emphasis on data and assessment has gone overboard.  It's a topic that could take several blog posts to scratch the surface.  I am trying to find other forms of assessment. Fitting that tonight, another great educator shared with me some things that he's trying. I love his ideas! I'm eager to try some of the ideas out on my students. I'm also trying to give kids more ownership in their learning and progress.  I think that through reflection that my students are really growing.  I need to take the time to have them do even more reflection on their learning.


I have learned an enormous amount about leadership by participating in the various chats.  More importantly, I learned about leadership by reading the blogs and tweets of leaders who I've really come to admire.  Although I've connected and chatted with many principals, superintendents, and other leaders, there are a few people who I consider as real mentors.  I'm excited to draw from their rich experiences as I work my way through the administrative certification program.  I value their thoughts and am very grateful that I've been able to connect with these great individuals.


I've learned more during the past 6 months as far as Professional Development than I have at any other time in my career.  I felt like being on Edmodo made me a connected educator.  Twitter took my level of connection to another level.  Voxer is making those connections that I've made on Twitter even stronger.  I feel like I've known some people my whole life.  I can't wait to meet them in person!

Overall,  I have changed.  The changes in me have been good changes.  My mind has been stretched and will never go back to the time BT (Before Twitter).

Decimal Data- Snapshot, IXL, Student Reflection

   I'm using Edmodo's Snapshot for quick formative assessments to track student progress and guide my instruction. I love the visual information that is provided instantly following a four question assessment. (Each Snapshot is four questions, but a teacher can assess more than one standard at a time.) As a class, we've been working very hard on understanding decimals. Place value, and applying their knowledge to real-life situations (word problems) always seem to be the most difficult concepts to understand.  I think it's going to take constant practice to improve in those areas- especially word problems.  Understanding and working through word problems is also a reading skill.  Practice-Practice-Practice Sometimes I also think it's a mindset. Students see a word problem and their brain seems to shut off.  They often give up without even trying.  I'm trying to change that. We're getting better, but it is a struggle! 

   The information from Snapshot gives me the names of the students that are falling into each category of meeting the standard, borderline, and behind.  This allows me to quickly pull a small group aside for reteaching or to help an individual student.  The challenge is to find the time that the students need with me.  I'm very thankful for parents that have been coming in to help this year.  I usually don't have such reliable, competent help. It is really making a difference!

I can also see how each student answered the questions for each Snapshot, and assign them remediation lessons/activities. I usually use the Learnzillion lessons.  Edmodo has a new addition to Snapshot called OpenMinds for Premium users that is brand new.  I really haven't been able to use it because it is new and currently has issues of operating smoothly.  I think that the engineers are working on the bugs after the holidays. I look forward to using it to provide more specific help and games to assist students in their understanding.  I'm lucky that Edmodo is letting the Ambassadors use the new features for free.

   I'm also using IXL to track student progress and growth.  This is more of an independent learning program.  I use it for practice, not for instruction.  I love all of the visual graphs and charts that they make available to teachers.  This graph looks pretty good.  We worked hard to be able to convert decimals between standard and expanded form.  Other graphs are not so pretty and could put me to shame if someone wanted to be critical of my teaching practice.

This graph shows how rounding decimals is still a challenge, but that students are starting to understand the concept better and are mastering this skill.

This chart is showing student progress.  There are 18 skills that students need to master.  I can easily see who needs help and support.  I can also see those students that need more of a challenge.  That's important to me because too often so much attention is on the kids falling behind.

   Graphs and charts are fun to look at and I can see why our country has gone assessment "crazy"!  Technology now allows teachers, administrators, and others to see in visually stimulating images the assessment data. The whole focus of assessment is something that I'm getting used to.  I've always assessed my students' learning with quick, multiple formative assessments.  I've never really been able to have the visuals that are available now.  I've relied on my "gut" and "teacher instinct" through the years.  The difference that I see now, is that I have real data, charts, and graphs, to back up what I already know about my students.

   As much as I'm loving the colored graphs and charts, I'm most excited about my students reflecting on their own learning.  Refer to my other post.  Students know when they understand a concept.  It's exciting for me to see them taking more ownership of their learning.  Their progress in IXL and on Snapshots validates what they know.

I'll continue to use web 2.0 tools/apps for practice and to engage students in the content through various modalities.  Kids like using Mangahigh Zondle Wizenworld and Kahoot The challenge is to find what works for each student.  Everyone learns differently.  Sometimes, it's just a matter of 1:1 time with me (or a parent) and no technology. It's rewarding when I can help the "light bulb" turn on for them.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Colonial Crafts Day

Having a Colonial Craft Day is always a fun, memorable experience. Today was no exception. Today we had candle making, sewing (mini pillows), butter making, quilt block designing, games (marbles, jacks, checkers, stick pull, leg wrestling), silhouettes, tin punch, and play-dough candle holder crafting. The kids were very well behaved moving from room to room on their own. They had a choice of where they wanted to go and what they wanted to make. We also had a whole crew of parents help us. I have the BEST parent helpers this year.  We all had a great day!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Lessons Learned from Building Complete Circuits w/a Switch

My classroom is a MESS right now and I love it!  Kids are in the process of wiring a complete circuit with a switch using wire, paper clips, brads, a D-cell battery and a Christmas light.  I've done this same activity in many different ways. This year I chose to not give specific directions. My purpose was to challenge my students with a little more problem-solving.  I gave some very basic directions, drew a diagram, and showed them a model of the wiring.

As I watched the kids work today, I noticed them learning some lessons besides the obvious learning of the content.

Perseverance:  This challenge was a struggle for some kids.  I had a few kids want to quit.  I had a couple break down in tears because of frustrations.  I had a few more joke off their obvious frustration.  But then the magic happened.  I watched as my students reminded each other that "We're not quitters!" and "It's okay to make a mistake. That's how we learn!" "You'll get it! Keep trying!" I also witnessed the thrill of victory! As each light came on, the class broke out in spontaneous applause for that student.  They were not only applauding that the circuit was complete, but also applauding that their classmate had persevered and had conquered the challenge.  Every single student in my class was able to make a complete circuit. Every single student in my class received a round of applause.  The students that really struggled received a standing ovation. It was fun for me to see the big smiles on the kids' faces.

Teamwork:  My students worked together in order for everyone to be successful. It was a teacher's dream!  They problem-solved together, helped each other measure wire, cut tape, held the battery in place, etc. If two people couldn't get the circuit to work, a third or fourth person jumped in to give suggestions.  Girls helped the boys. Boys helped the girls. Gender was not a factor when it came to teamwork.

Appreciation and Admiration for Others' Work:  I gave the kids supplies like cardboard, paper, and some styrofoam. But I didn't give them specific instructions about how to decorate their box.  My classroom oozed with creativity as a result! Kids were passing out compliments like candy to their peers.  A great idea was well respected and if others liked it, they asked if it was okay to do something similar. I have all kinds of houses, outdoor scenes, buildings, a nativity scene, and many basketball courts compliments of Joseph's idea. (name changed) A little note about "Joseph". Joseph is a kid who struggles in school and has very little support at home. He shined today!  Not only was he creative with his embellishments, but he was creative about how he made them.  He received many compliments from his peers today.  It was definitely a self-esteem booster!

Here's some pictures of our progress.

Mini Makerspace

Last summer, I heard a lot about Makerspaces.  It was a new term for me.  Honestly, I'm still not sure what the difference is (if any) between a makerspace and giving time for kids to build, craft, invent, etc.   Actually having another room for a Makerspace, the library turned into a makerspace, or a 3-D printer is way off into the future.  I don't have any financial backing nor the space. My solution is to start small--very small.

I have plenty of "stuff" and a few plastic tubs. That's what I'll start with to get the kids being creative and creating something of their own.  I'm sure that when I ask parents to donate their "stuff" that I'll get plenty.  I don't have room to store it though. I hate the classroom to look "junky".

The school had a cart of laptops delivered recently and so I was able to get a huge box.  I used the box as a "hook" today and made it into a present for the class. Inside I just put the "mess" of maker stuff. It's driving the kids crazy!

"Ms. King, You're torturing us!" "Pleeeease let us open the box!"  "Why do we have to wait so long to open it?" Yup! Kids are hooked!

Today after lunch, I'll give them all afternoon to "play" with some electricity equipment and some Makeymakey kits that I was able to get from a generous grant from the Jordan Education Foundation.

This will be the second time for the kids to work with Makeymakey kits, but they haven't worked with the electricity equipment. Magnetism and Electricity is our new science unit.  I love this unit of study because it's completely hands-on and fun!

Here's the Animoto video from our first day of using Makeymakey kits.

Makeymakey Animoto Video

Post was written 12-17

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

First Attempt...Students Reflect Upon Their Own Learning

We have talked a lot about a growth mindset this year in our class.  Every day we discuss the common mistakes that we're making (mostly in math) and the common mistakes of most 5th graders.  We have frequent, open, and honest conversations.  A parent volunteer once commented on how she couldn't believe how open the kids were about mistakes.  I have my parent volunteers teach small groups, but the kids self-assess and volunteer to join the various little groups.  

Today, I wanted the kids to reflect on their growth and to write down their feelings on paper.  (We do so much online.  This time I wanted a record on paper.)  First, I modeled a reflection and had the kids help me write one based upon progress with the Decimal section of IXL As a teacher, I was tickled pink as I watched the kids write. I was delighted to see that they were honest about their progress. Kids always seem to know how they're progressing if they've received frequent feedback along the way. Not only do the kids get specific feedback from me, but they get immediate feedback and reteaching hints from the ixl program.  

Here are three examples of student writing. *Note: I'm not assessing their writing/handwriting skills. :) 

I have done well in standard C.4. It has you convert decimals between standard and expanded form.  It was hard for me at first to convert the decimals or write them in expanded form.  But now I got the hang of it.  I am still a little shakey on Standard C. 11.  It is hard for me to do the long division.  But it is getting easier!  Another shakey one is C.10.  It just hard for me to read it and get it in the correct order.  But again it gets easier.  I get about 70% correct on C.10.

On standard C.3-C.8 I have masterd and identify the decimals easily.  I had a hard time doing C.10. it was hard to put the decimales in order from least to the gratist. I whould now my mastake but I did not read the top right or the number. I like to put decimals in order but I have to look clostley.  C.3 and C.8 where easyer then C.10 I am all most finished with decimals.

On standard C1 and C14 I can identify a decimal by looking at a picture and counting by tens.  I can identify comparing decimals and fractions on a number line.  On standard C10 I think that puting decimals in order is fun but, I also think that it is hard for me to put decimals from least to greatest or greatest to least is hard.

I've had kids write reflections before, but I need to thank Starr Sackstein for the idea to have the kids actually add the standard that they're addressing right into their writing. It makes sense!  Kids pay attention to our class objectives and focus on how well they understand at the end of a lesson or series of lessons.  Keeping it real- not all kids are making the connection between understanding the lesson objective, putting forth some effort to learn the standard, and demonstrating mastery.  I have a few battles.  But for the most part, the kids are being very motivated by tracking their progress.

I have noticed a huge difference this year amongst my students as we've focused on the learning rather than the grades.  I HAVE to fill out a report card with letter grades. But this year, I let the kids fill out their own and I tweaked them if necessary. I'm looking forward to the next conference where the kids will actually have evidence of their learning that they can talk about with their parents.

The conversations that I've had with my students about their learning have been amazing!  The challenge is to find the time. I've had the most success with finding a minute here or there as I'm walking around helping kids. I've also found that using Edmodo helps me to have little mini online conversations. As the kids turn in their work, I try to tell them something good that they've done. But I always try to add in something specific that they can do to improve and let them resubmit their work.  This kind of feedback is what I've done for years.  I know that there are formulas and acronyms out there now for how to give feedback, but it's really nothing new to me.

One element that I've needed and done before (but just barely started this year) is a data notebook where the kids can graph their progress on the "Quick Quizzes" that we do.  The quizzes are usually five questions straight from the "homework" assignment. They are quick formative assessments that tell me what we need to work on and where the understanding is breaking down. They are also conversation starters about common mistakes.  I'm getting such a late start this year because it's just one of those things that unfortunately got pushed to the bottom of the "to do" list as I started school.  It was just a crazy start of the year having to move, starting school myself and being so sick. (Excuses! But, it did impact how the year started.)

Now that I have the data notebooks in place, I'm excited about adding in their reflections. I think the information in the notebook will offer parents a better picture of progress than a letter grade.  The notebooks will also give the kids something to refer to as they conference with their parents. (I have them direct their own parent/teacher conferences.)

The movement for #TTOG (Teachers Throwing Out Grades) seems to be gathering momentum. I'm not on Facebook so I'm not involved there. I've known that grades are basically useless information for a long time, but I can't see them disappearing any time soon. For me, I will continue along this path of trying to keep my students focused on the learning. I'm seeing some great benefits so far.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My, How Far We've Come!

    My team is trying to find the best way to assess and integrate some RTI (Response to Intervention) time into our crowded schedule. This is a challenge on a year-round schedule because someone is always gone. We are also in different places in the scope and sequence. For example, Track A just finished a section of math with multiplying decimals. Track B is gone on vacation. Track C is finishing the previous unit. Track D is just starting the unit with multiplying decimals. Our solution for using common assessments is to use Edmodo's Snapshot.  It will help us track the progress of each student and identify which students need extra support for each standard. Since our district is using MasteryConnect, we'll use that for the summative assessments. Snapshot is an easy way to track progress before the bigger, higher-stakes tests.

 Since my team members are new users to Edmodo, we planned for me to take each class into the lab to  help the students set up their accounts and to get started by taking a Snapshot.

Yesterday, I took the first class into the lab.  It was a little frustrating for me because the kids lacked so many basic skills.  They didn't know what a URL address was or where/how to type it in. They didn't know how to make a tab or refresh a page. They didn't know how to exit a page. Perhaps the most frustrating part for me was they had no sense of "click on a few things to see what happens" instead of asking the teacher about every little thing. It wasn't their fault of course. It was mine! I needed to shift down and start from the beginning. Their lack of patience was understandable. They didn't know what to do and I didn't do a very good job of teaching them.

The whole process of setting up an account and taking a Snapshot is really quite simple. It became difficult because I didn't set expectations from the start.  I assumed that the kids had been learning some basic skills in the lab, had been taught some digital citizenship, and knew behavior expectations and care for the computers. Never assume!

I only had the class for 45 minutes but it felt like 2 hours! Afterwards, when I was back in my classroom and with my own students, I had to take the opportunity to express my appreciation for all of their hard work this year with learning technology.  I really hadn't realized just how far we've traveled! My students started off not knowing much if anything just like the other class, but now they're quite tech savvy. Not only have we learned how to use many web tools, but we've learned how to navigate through new sites/apps.  My students are not afraid to take a minute or two to just "click around" to explore a site. They work independently and use each other for help.

Sometimes, it takes losing something to appreciate what you have.  I have a new appreciation for my students and their efforts to learn.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

If I'm "Just" a Teacher, Can I Drive Change?

I've been using Twitter for six months now. In that time, I've met some amazing educators who are driving change in education. I've read many of their books, read their tweets, and listened to podcasts,  discussions on GHOs, and TED talks.  Their websites are phenomenal resources of information and I have felt humbled and honored that many have followed and engaged in conversations with me on Twitter.  My admiration for these game changers cause me to do a lot of reflecting about myself. Most of the people who I consider as game changers are authors, principals, superintendents, or hold other leadership titles. I don't meet that criteria in any way.  I don't have thousands of followers, awards, a published book or have a title in the educational world other than "teacher".

Soooo....If I'm "Just" A Teacher, Can I Drive Change?" 

I'm a risk taker and I always have been. After 28 years in the classroom, I still feel like I am constantly "changing it up". I embrace change if it helps me to better meet the needs of my students.  It usually does! Discussing all of the changes that I've made would take several blog posts so I won't address it here.  Suffice it to say that I consider myself to be a life-long learner and that I'm growing and changing all of the time. I  experience many "failures" and integrating tech into my classroom forces me to have a Plan B, C, ... Z all of the time. In essence, I teach every day with a little welcomed uneasiness that keeps me on my toes.

I'm not afraid of change like others may be in the traditional sense.  No, my greatest fear is being "out there" and in the public eye on a larger scale. I've always had an open door policy to my classroom and have tried to involve the parents as much as possible. That doesn't bother me. But, to share my thoughts, feelings, beliefs with a larger public is somewhat terrifying.  I still feel very much out of my comfort zone and vulnerable.  All that has to change if I'm to be a driver of change on a larger scale. Last week, I stepped out of the box and presented the need for change in our district to the school board.  It was a huge step for me.  I hope that I will have the courage to take more steps. Someone has to step up. I can no longer sit back and depend on others to do the work.  

There are a lot of conversations on Twitter and other social media platforms about change and how it's needed in education. What I haven't seen a lot of is accountability--maybe that's just me and my inexperience. Yes, there needs to be change!  But change happens with ACTION! What are the necessary action steps? This is what comes to my mind.

Driving Change

1.  Start with a personal vision and mission statement. What do you value? What do you stand for? What is your 5 word GPS? Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess Having a personal vision/mission statement gives you a focus. It should be easy to recite: a sentence or 5 words. Post your statement somewhere where it can be seen. Say your mission statement on a regular basis if not daily.  I have mine posted on my bathroom mirror and on my desk at school.  Every time I say it, it makes me more determined to actually practice what I value in education.

2.  Immediately try something new.  I usually jump in with both feet, but start small if needed. The point is to get out of the comfort zone and try something that you haven't done before.  I think by trying something immediately, some of the fear goes away.  I've also found that my students appreciate my efforts to try new things. Whether it's a new app, a science experiment, or dressing up as a fictional character, NEW captures the attention of learners. You can always tweak the lesson for another year. In fact, I think that it's necessary! I never teach a lesson in the same way because I have a new group of learners each year with different needs.

3.  Use social media to tell your classroom story.  If you don't tell your story, someone else will and it may not be accurate.  In all honesty, this is something that I really have to work on to do better!  I started off strong at the first of the year, but the "to do" list became very long and overwhelming. I'm trying to catch up now. I wish that I'd made it more of a priority.  Parents and the kids love to see their pictures online so that it can be shared with family and friends. Smore is my favorite tool for making class newsletters because it's easy and looks professional.  Animoto allows you to literally make a professional looking "movie" of pictures in minutes.  I've learned an incredible amount about the importance of telling your story from leaders like Eric Scheninger and the authors of the Corwin Connected Educator Series.  Story telling- your story- is the best way to engage stakeholders and share the changes that you're making.

4.  Share what you learn with your colleagues and others.  Too many teachers are confined to their own classrooms with little opportunity to share and collaborate.  When I first started teaching, the culture was very competitive. Ideas were considered as "my ideas". Some teachers are STILL  stuck there. What they haven't experienced yet is how much better "their ideas" can be when shared and elaborated upon by other creative colleagues.  Together we are so much more! Not all teachers are using social media.  I would like to invite them to join in and become connected! I've loved being on Twitter, but I also enjoy Pinterest, Edmodo, and lately Google+ (although I have a lot to learn). The point is to be a connected educator. Being connected gets the conversations started and teachers greatly benefit from the expertise of the whole learning community.

5.  Be prepared for the critics. Change is hard. I wish that I could go back and talk to my younger teacher self.  I'd tell her to not worry so much of what others think, but to stay focused and to continue to do what's best for kids.  Even as a first year teacher, I did things out of the ordinary in order to engage my students. I was a PIRATE without a crew for support. I also was highly involved in extracurricular activities and in the unwanted spotlight many times. The spotlight brought professional jealousy, but that's a topic for another blog. However, it did make me feel like I was walking on egg shells much of the time trying to find balance between being myself, doing what I felt was right, and not drawing attention. I was lucky to have supportive principals and teammates. It took me a long time to get to the point where I am today. I'm still careful about being in the spotlight. I don't do what I do for accolades and recognition.  But, I still have my critics especially about my attempts to change the status quo.  The difference now is that I'm better prepared to defend my beliefs about education. I've had to grow thicker skin.

6.  Have someone hold you accountable.  Having accountability motivates you to action.  You can't just talk the walk, you have to walk the walk. Here's where I need help from my PLN. I need you to hold me accountable. Ask me questions? Call me out? Ask me to share pictures of class activities. I'm trying a lot of new things and if I'm not sharing, ask me to.

7.  Model and be the change that you wish to see in the world! Leaders and game changers need to model the change that they wish to see.  They can't expect others to change if they can't model it.  I always get a little frustrated with administrators who say, "Do this! Do that!" when they have no experience of actually trying to implement the latest initiative into a classroom setting. Show me! An administrator who is not afraid to come into my classroom to model will not only gain my respect, but will also gain an advocate for their cause.

8.  Record and document your failures and successes. I think that sharing your journey of change motivates others to make changes. I personally appreciate others who reflect and share their thinking via blogs or books.  It's inspiring for me to read about the personal journeys of people that I consider role models. It makes me think that in my own small way that I can accomplish great things too!

Yes! Even if you're "just" a teacher, you can drive change!

Leaders of change don't need an official title. They need vision, drive, and passion.  A teacher, like myself, can drive change in education by building trusting relationships and modeling the desired change. As I share what I'm learning with others and integrate changes into my classroom, people will see my passion.  Telling my story is important! I'm making a commitment to do a better job of sharing what I'm trying.  It needs to be a priority!  I hope my colleagues will trust my judgement enough to jump in, follow my example and try something new. Our kids are depending on us.

There are many changes that I feel need to happen in education and to a large extent, it starts with me.  It may only happen in my classroom at first.  Changes in my school and district may happen slower than I would like.  I'm not that patient and feel an urgency to drive the changes that will best meet the needs of my students.  But baby steps in the right direction are still moving in the right direction.  I'm hoping that I can influence others in my school, district, state, and even the world with the actions that I take.  The educators that are shaking things up now can't do it alone. More voices are needed in the choir.

What do you think are the action steps for driving change in education? What did I miss? I would love to know your thoughts.

  *Taking time to blog is a challenge for me! I'm trying! :) 

Friday, December 5, 2014

American Revolution- Kid Style

5th Graders Win Their Independence

Dec. 4, 2014

Students rallied yesterday morning chanting, "We hate King George!", "No more taxes!", "No taxation without representation!" and singing "Yankee Doodle" at the top of their lungs.  They also had a 3-pg Declaration of Independence written by Brooklyn, posters, and a bundle of sticks (it was a class analogy) that couldn't be broken.  The Royal "Govna's" had no choice but to give them their freedom so that "school" could begin.  The "Tea Parties", British soldier invasions to search and seize, the arrests and false accusations finally had taken their toll. The colonists, with incredible courage, decided to fight for their rights and won!

I love teaching American History! I especially love teaching about the American Revolution!  Students are completely engaged in learning. It's fun for me to see them gain a sense of what it means to be an American, to have the freedoms that we do, and to appreciate those that have gone before us to defend our rights.

Former students always come back and ask me about King George. It's an EXPERIENCE! Today I had the students write a reflective essay about freedom/liberty. They wrote some pretty profound words!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Not So Secret CODE To Student Engagement

This morning it was raining and so it was an "in" day.  I had a lot to do and so I put a sign on my portable door telling the kids to come in the school to the computer lab. My intention was to have them work in the lab until school started.  But, I found out that the teacher that usually starts in the lab, was not going to use her time.  Carpe Diem! Not only did we have an hour in the lab this morning, but we were able to grab a couple of other time slots due to teachers not wanting the lab today. Woot! Woot!

Having so much time on computers today gave me the luxury of giving kids time to learn some Coding. I had them go to and start with the Anna and Elsa activity.  They were self-directed and motivated to learn. Although most worked independently, I noticed that if a peer really got stuck, someone was there to give a hint. (We give hints not answers in our class.) Later in the day, we had more time and I introduced them to the web version of Tynker. I gave the kids some choice since it was towards the end of the school day. They could work in, Tynker, Gamestar Mechanic, or the other coding apps in Edmodo . They could also use the time to work on any online assignments.

We spent nearly the whole day in the computer lab doing a variety of activities. I worried a little bit about so much screen time, but the kids LOVED it! It's easy to understand why they enjoyed the day so much.

Choice-  Students are always more engaged in their own learning when there is choice. There were some general directions, but for the most part, the students directed themselves. Tynker and others have done a marvelous job (from the viewpoint of a teacher with no coding background) to provide engaging free activities for the kids to try. There is variety and choice for every type of learner.

Challenge-  Learning to code and solve the puzzles is challenging for many kids. But, it isn't so challenging that the kids give up and don't try. In fact, they are "in the zone" where magical learning takes place because the kids are so motivated to solve the problem at hand. They learn through trial and error. Errors teach and they make adjustments and move on to the next problem. Today I heard little bursts of "Ya! I did it!" or " close!" all day long.

Instant Feedback-  Students didn't have to wait to get valuable feedback that would help them learn and progress. The feedback was instant! They were allowed to try again and as many times as necessary until they completed the puzzle. There were no grades! There were no high-stake tests! They were intrinsically motivated, made a huge amount of progress, and experienced the real joy of learning.

Personal Success-  Today wasn't about competing with a neighbor. It was more about competing with yourself. There were all kinds of personal victories today. Peers celebrated those triumphs together.  My personal delight came while watching some of my "lowest" math students love and succeed at coding. They didn't have a clue about degrees, loops, and angles before but they sure understand it now. Little victories! I can build upon their successes that they experienced today at math. I can use the self-confidence that they gained to attack other challenges.

It was a great day!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

P is for PIRATE! Preparation Meets PLN

*This post was written a week or so ago, but I didn't want to post it until the official announcement was out.  Monday night 12-1 Dave and Shelley Burgess announced that P is for Pirate: Inspirational ABC's for Educators was available for sale. Woot! Woot! The book cover is beautiful! I can't wait to see the inside!

I am soooo excited! It was just announced (via DM) that Shelley and Dave Burgess have their ABC book ready to release next week! I can't wait! I was hoping that it'd be ready to be released in time to purchase some copies for Christmas gifts and my wish came true.

I can't help but think about how being a connected educator has brought me so many opportunities- especially since I started using Twitter last June.  I don't think that it's just luck. As Seneca said, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." I've also heard a similar quote using the word, "success" instead of luck. I think that this opportunity of contributing to the "P is for PIRATE...." book came about because of all of my work and preparation.

What did I do to prepare for this and other opportunities that are coming to me? (These ideas are in no particular order.)

1.  Read-  I'm always reading- books, blogs, articles, posts, etc. It was reading an article from Edutopia that led me to Edmodo about four years ago and the rest as they say, is history. Most of what I read is related to the field of education and if it's not related, I'm always making a connection to education in some way.  It's my way of being a life-long learner. The more I read, the more I know, and the more I want to know.

When I found and read Teach Like A Pirate, it spoke to me. It validated everything that I'd been doing my whole teaching career.  I made many personal connections to the text as I read the book.  I never dreamed that I would ever know the author, Dave Burgess. I certainly didn't ever imagine that I'd be collaborating together (even in a small way) on a book.

2.  Connect- When I started using Edmodo, connecting with other educators was an easy, natural practice.  As a newbie, I had several amazing, life-changing experiences of collaborating with other educators across the country and around the world.  Although I still have never met many of my online friends and acquaintances in person, we are friends.  I hope that someday that we can connect face to face. I know that it will be a big, happy family reunion.

It is very empowering to meet and work with amazing educators who are like-minded. I grow professionally in immeasurable ways! My students grow because they benefit from my learning and growth. They also benefit because I'm able to connect them to their peers, across the country, and around the world because of the teachers that I meet online. Connecting on Twitter allows me to connect and grow with a whole network of people on a regular basis. The whole experience is something that I'm unable to describe to other educators. It's something that they will have to experience. Connecting and growing with my PLN is a virtual hug from the most inspiring people in education every single day.  Connecting with people that inspire me places me in a position to connect with even more people and expand my network. Who knows where a connection can lead? I believe that opportunities come my way because I'm a connected educator.

3.  Take-Risks-  As a teacher, I've always been a risk-taker. I've always challenged the status quo and done things a little differently than most teachers.  I'm usually one of the first people to try something new. I may feel a little fear and anxiety to take a risk, but challenge motivates instead of paralyzes me.

 I hate the phrase, "I'm just a teacher." But as a newbie to Twitter, I was "just" a teacher with only a few tweets and few connections to my credit when I reached out to Dave and Shelley. To my thrill and surprise, they not only Followed me, but interacted with me. I felt like I mattered and actually had something to contribute to the conversations. Since then, we've interacted many times. I'm so grateful for their friendship, genuineness, and being down-to-earth. I consider both of them role models and appreciate their enthusiasm and love for education and kids.

I'm sure that all of my hard work also had something to do with my preparation for meeting this particular opportunity.  I admit that I'm a workaholic to the point that I consciously have to plan to have more balance in my life. But reading, connecting, and taking risks is opening doors that I didn't even know existed.  I'm amazed and grateful for the opportunities that are coming to me.  I hope to keep preparing myself for many more.