Monday, May 30, 2016

Beyond the Basics- What My Students Learned This Year

Inspired by Kara Welty's @kara_welty blogpost I asked my students to write the top 10 things that they learned in 5th grade. Here is a compiled list of some of their responses. (I did not include specifics about a content area or more personal responses.) My heart did a little happy flip when I read their answers. We learned so much more together than the required curriculum standards.

  1. Just try!
  2. It’s good to make mistakes.
  3. Never leave someone out. You accomplish more as a team.
  4. Set goals to help you improve.
  5. Read! Read! Read!
  6. Be yourself!
  7. I learned to work as a team and to build each other up.
  8. I learned to learn from my mistakes.
  9. I learned to be more responsible.
  10. I learned to ask questions.
  11. I learned that leaders listen and don’t just think about what they want to say.
  12. I learned how to become a better person.
  13. I learned how it’s important to laugh.
  14. I have learned that school is FUN!
  15. To keep our classroom clean
  16. Coding is AMAZING!
  17. How to not be that shy
  18. To reach out for help
  19. To take brainbreaks
  20. I learned that it’s cool to have couches and comfortable places to work.
  21. I learned to push myself. I pushed myself in reading and became a better reader.
  22. I learned to try my best.
  23. I learned that some questions have many answers.
  24. How to be polite
  25. To never give up
  26. I learned to follow my passions!
  27. The history of America and why we should be grateful to live in this country
  28. To have an awesome time
  29. To have fun as you learn
  30. To have high goals
  31. Have a positive attitude
  32. A mistake just means you’re learning
  33. Treat others how you want to be treated
  34. I learned how to love math.
  35. I can change the world!
  36. I learned a lot of math that I actually understand for the first time in my life.
  37. I learned a lot about writing and how important it is for a leader to know.
  38. To connect with people around the world and learn from them
  39. First, I learned how to speak in front of people. I’m not as nervous as I used to be.
  40. I learned that even if you know a lot about a certain subject that you can still learn more.
  41. We learned a lot of science but we had fun at the same time
  42. I learned a LOT of technology!
  43. I learned to think and show evidence
  44. To have plan B, C, D, etc.
  45. I learned to not worry if I’m not really good at something YET.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

I Failed

End of level testing is finished, and I have the data. But, I don't need the official test scores to tell me that I failed to reach one of my students. The worst part is that I must confess that I know that I didn't do everything in my power to help this student. I know I could have done more. I needed to be a little more patient. I know that I needed to scaffold and differentiate his learning more. He needed more one on one time with me. All the excuses in the world for why I didn't do more seem so shallow now.

Five more days to make a difference. I've been enthusiastically doing a countdown of sorts to keep going strong- to keep the kids learning. The reality is that the year is going to end, and I will not have made a difference for this child. I failed.

Logically I know that I can't reach every child, but I want to. I always believe that I can be the one to make a difference. I can't help but think of the impact of my failure. This student still can't read proficiently. He still is struggling with math. Many of his skills are at a 2nd-grade level. Will I be a cause for him not graduating? Getting a good job? Having a successful life? It makes me cringe.

There were times this year when I wanted to give up on him. He was not an easy student to have in class. There was even once where I caught myself being more than frustrated and almost angry that his scores brought down my class average. That's what the testing pressure does. It made me forget (even momentarily) that I teach kids, not test takers.

I didn't have to, but I apologized to his parents for not being able to do more. Looking in their eyes was hard. They are at their wits end and feel helpless about how to help their son. We tried so many strategies to help him improve this year with minimal effect. I let the parents down. I let my student down.

I feel awful.

The only thing that I can think of is to make a stronger commitment to try harder next year. I can also hope that this student's teacher for next year will be the one that can make a difference. My student did experience growth this year but not enough to get him on grade level. But, I hope he learned he is not a failure. I hope he gained some confidence in himself. I hope he learned the power of YET. I hope he continues to have big dreams and follows his passion.

I hope.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

King's Kid edKamp

This post is in two parts-
Part 2: The How's, What's, Why's, Future Tweaks, Etc.

Last Fall was my first experience at an edcamp other than at a virtual one.  Inspired by Glenn Robbins @Glennr1809, and many others in my PLN, the one activity that I wanted to try before the end of the year was an edcamp. So, knowing basically nothing, I decided to jump in any way! I'm not sorry that I did. It was a WONDERFUL experience for me and my students!

I tweeted out the night before that there was a possibility of an epic fail. I wasn't sure how to physically arrange my classroom. I didn't know if my scheduling would work. I didn't know if we could have six "classes" simultaneously being taught at the same time. I worried about the amount of noise that might happen. The safety of the students because of the furniture placement concerned me. It was crowded. I worried about those "blindspots" and wondered if kids would take advantage of me not seeing them and goof off. I hoped that my students would have a good experience. I was confident and apprehensive at the same time about our edcamp. Being comfortable with being uncomfortable has become just a way of life for me. I dreamed edcamp all night long. My brain couldn't quite shut down. I problem-solved. Some dreams were sweeter than others.


My modified edcamp was a blend of Genius Hour projects and an edcamp. Students had complete freedom of topics and choice for how to present their lesson. Most kids chose some type of multi-media presentation along with their demonstrations.

The day before our edcamp, I let the kids sign up for the classes that they wanted to attend. I held my breath hoping that no one would be left out, but still had a quiet confidence that my kids would shine and make sure that every person had a few people in their class. I was not disappointed. I didn't even have to say anything. All of our lessons and practice of being good citizens throughout the year paid off.

After a few ground rules, we were ready to start! I had a parent there to help if I needed it, but it wasn't necessary. The kids were WONDERFUL! They were polite, spoke with an appropriate voice level, came prepared, and genuinely appreciated each other for teaching them something interesting!

Their reflections are amazing! I'm posting some excerpts.

What I Learned As Their Teacher:
  1. Have high expectations for students. I think the success of our edcamp was in large part because the kids already knew expectations for behavior, presenting/speaking, having a conversation, sharing, etc. 
  2. The more I keep making the shifts to a more student-centered classroom, the happier I am as a teacher. I see so many positives! 
  3. Students always surprise me when they speak about their passions! 
  4. The extra time and effort to create a meaningful experience is well worth it every time! It's the end of the year and I'm exhausted. But, making every day count is energizing! When I'm with the kids, I'm "on"! At the end of the day, I collapse until I get a second wind. But I feel fulfilled and grateful that I have the amazing opportunity to work with kids every day.
  5. There is nothing like the energy in the room when students are teaching and learning from each other. It's palpable!  
Part 2 

Officially, I guess I couldn’t call this experience an edcamp. The students didn’t have the freedom to leave a class if they felt like the class didn’t meet their needs. They also had prepared presentations. The presentation was left wide-open. The students knew that they had a 15- minute window to present/teach their students in any way that would engage their learners. I think the structure of having a prepared presentation helped my fifth graders have a little more confidence that they could facilitate a discussion for 15 minutes. Most were a little “freaked out” when I first said 15 minutes. They didn’t feel like that they could teach for that long. In the end, they were surprised by how quickly those minutes passed and how easy it was to talk about one of their passions.

This was NOT their first experience sharing a passion project. Plus, we’d also given other types of speeches throughout the year. I actually began the year with the challenge to talk 120 seconds. We built from there. 

Little Things I Did That Made A Difference:

  • The kids wrote their topic on a sticky note. After school, I drew a schedule (grid) on my whiteboard and placed the sticky notes in the various boxes. Then, I moved around the sticky notes so that when the kids signed up, the classes would be balanced. So, for example, I knew that some topics would be more popular, so I placed three of them in the same time slot. I knew that a few kids were a little more popular, and so I put them in the same time slot. I didn’t want students signing up for a couple of classes and potentially leaving someone left out with no one signed up for their class. We’d worked all year building team spirit and citizenship. I wasn’t too worried, but I didn’t want to take the chance of someone not having a good experience.
  • I also arranged where each class would be taught. For example, I scheduled a lot of the crafty presentations at our back table. I scheduled the topics centered around sports in an area where the teacher would have a little more room to move/demonstrate.
  • Once I knew the schedule, and where each student would teach, I rewrote their names/topics on colored sticky notes. Each time block was a different color. I planned 15-minute blocks of time, and that seemed to work beautifully.
  • The next day, I had kids sign up for their classes. I took all of the 9:00 classes (sticky notes) and had a group of kids sign up for a class. I rotated groups of kids so that everyone had a chance to be the first to sign up for a class in a particular time slot. Based on a suggestion from one of my students, after four people signed up for a class, kids agreed to sign up for an alternate class so that everyone would have at least three students. After everyone had signed up, I had the kids write down their schedule.
  • The day of the edcamp, I had kids put their backpacks on the backs of their chairs. I did this mainly because I’d put storage items under the coat rack but it worked out great because kids had all of their teaching “stuff” with them.
  • When we were ready to start, I had the teachers rotate to their “station”. Everyone else stayed seated. I did this mostly because our room was crowded, but once again it ended up being a little bit of structure that prevented some potential chaos. For each rotation, I had the teachers move first and then the class members. I also had a designated seat for the teachers. I strategically placed the teachers where they could teach without distractions from another class. I provided them with a white board, but they didn’t have to use them.
  • Before we rotated, I played a chime as a signal to wrap up. Then, I asked the teachers if they were ready to switch. There were only a couple of times when a “teacher” asked for one more minute. Once everyone was ready, teachers rotated first and then the rest of the class.
  • Before we ever got started, I talked to the kids briefly about safety procedures. The classroom was crowded with only little walkways because of making six different distinct areas. I didn’t want students to try to rush out in an emergency. We used the “emergency procedure” to exit the room for recess and again for entering. Basically, it was just an order to exit and enter. 
  • Just before the kids arrived, I turned on some music to set the mood and made sure that the room smelled good. I wished that I'd had more time/energy to make or hang up motivational posters or something. But the room looked great and I was excited! 

Learn More Here: See what Glenn Robbins is doing in his middle school here. Their school will inspire you! Mariana also sent me this tweet. They are also doing something similar. You can check out what they did here.
I'm very grateful for my PLN who continue to inspire me and challenge me. Thanks everyone!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Among the Stars

One experience in Paraguay remains forever etched in my mind. I was hours away from the nearest city out in "the jungle" as I called the area. More accurately, I was was staying with a family who lived in the Hernandarias region (close to the border of Brazil). There were no modern conveniences of running water, bathrooms, or electricity. Also, the nearest neighbor was miles away from us. Evening came, and it was pitch black. It was the first night there that I will always remember.

I woke up in the middle of the night and was awestruck by the beauty of the sky! A gigantic rainbow of stars took my breath away! I had never seen the Milky Way's galactic center so intense before. I have yet ever to see a photograph that accurately captures what I remember. I couldn't sleep that night simply because I was so mesmerized by the sheer number and brightness of the stars. I remember feeling insignificant and part of something greater all at the same time. Words cannot convey the feelings that I experienced nor the beauty of the night. I was rendered speechless!

 There are times when I liken that experience to being connected with so many amazing educators. It's easy for me to feel insignificant especially when I fall into the trap of comparing myself with others. I can't help but wonder, "What possible contribution can I make to so many brighter stars?" I feel inadequate, incompetent, and even unworthy of their company. I'm in awe of what others can do. I admire them for their intellect, innovation, endless energy, and the seemingly infinite number of achievements. In those moments when I don't feel valuable, I have to stop myself from spiraling down a funnel of depression and judging myself too harshly. I forget that there are seasons in life when you can do more and when you need to do less. I forget to prioritize. I forget to give myself credit. I love being a connected educator! But the downside is the constant bombardment of others doing the great things that I wish I could do too.

The truth is that the Milky Way would not be what it is without every single star. It's the combination of all of the unique elements that make it such a grand site.

Everyone has a contribution to make. It's the uniqueness of each star or each educator in a PLN that makes it so great. If you're like me and find yourself once in awhile doubting yourself and your contribution, remember to reflect and take the time to celebrate your uniqueness and talents. You are your worst judge. Keep creating, sharing, and being you.