Empowering

Empower

This summer, I read a book called Empower, by A.J. Juiliani.  Thoughts flew through my head each night as I sat down to read chapter after chapter.  As I read, I reflected upon my own time in the classroom.  Did I empower my students? What could I have done better?  

While reading Empower, I thought of one particular activity that I always did before midterm and final exams.  I let the students take charge of the class and guide their peers through review activities.  This was a group activity and I assigned each group a chapter or unit to review with their classmates.  They prepared a lesson and activity to teach to the class.  Some kids loved this activity and some kids hated it.  

One student, Dylan, thrived in this environment.  He loved it so much during our midterm review, that he volunteered to do this more before unit tests.  Generally, I didn’t let my students “teach” a review prior to a unit test, but Dylan really wanted to.  So, I took a step back and let him go for it.  I was amazed with the clarity in which Dylan presented the material to his classmates.  He took great pride in sharing what he knew and asking questions to the class.  As a teacher, I could see what Dylan knew and didn’t know before a test.  In hindsight, I should have done this activity more often.

Jump forward to today.

I am out of the classroom; Dylan is a teacher; I have two school-aged children.  Last Thursday, my younger son (Zach), came home and told me that I had to look on Twitter to see what he did that day.  This is what I saw:

That’s my son!  He was a “teacher” and so proud of it! Mrs. Malloy, his teacher told me,  “I don’t do it often, and I always let the kiddos say no thank you, but gosh, he was so empowered, and to me -if he can teach it -he’s got it mastered.”

Empowered.  Isn’t that what we want for all of our students?

From the Mouths of Babes…

Have Conversations

Conversations with my children are generally quite insightful.  So insightful that I feel it necessary to share one from this past weekend.

Setting: In my car on Saturday, going to a soccer game.

Characters: Will (4th grade) & Mom

 

Will:  School is boring.

Mom: Well, what makes it boring?

Will: It’s just boring because there are not enough fun activities.

Mom:  What would be some fun activities?

Will: My dream classroom would be…there would be a teleport machine. Every desk would have iPads and on the iPads there would be apps of the students’ choice.  On one wall there would be a beach and on the other wall there would be a math board.

Mom: Interesting.  But, what would be the fun activities?  Part of my job is helping teachers find fun activities for their classes? What should I tell them?

It took a while for me to get Will to understand that teachers have to teach to standards.  But, once he got it, his responses were great.

Will: In Reading / English, teacher should take their classes outside the classroom.  Maybe, they could listen to an audio book together outside.  Every week, they journal about a subject they want to journal about.  Have the kids read what they want, not what the school wants them to read.  This is better because they can have more fun that way when they do what they want to do.  In Technology, every part of class, kids can go on a website they like and play games.  The kids would not be able to go to anything closed off or inappropriate.  And, also in every part of class, they can research on something they want to research on.  They would journal about it. In Math, do fun activities like less Math homework.

Zach (2nd grade) chimed in while I was typing: Rich tasks because, Mom, those are fun.

Will:  Kids should have more field trips and they could choose which class the field trip relates to.  If the school doesn’t have enough money, the teachers should collect donations from the parents or go on field trips around the school campus.  In Science, do more fun labs.  Kids take votes on labs.  In Social Studies, at the end of class, kids get to vote on a fun game to play.

Zach chiming in again: There would be ball chairs.  On some of the tables there would be regular chairs that had wheels on them.  You would get to decide where to sit.  And, on the first day of school, you would get to set your name tag on the seat you wanted and each quarter, you would get to change seats.  And, for homework, teachers would ask you to use Legos.

Reflection

There is so much to reflect upon in this conversation.  But, I would like to end with one question.  What would your students say if you asked them how you could make school (or your class / instruction) more fun?

How an Interactive Notebook Made My Week

Last year my son had an “Interactive Notebook” to keep track of all of his 3rd grade Social Studies work.  He brought it home about four times throughout the course of the year to study for tests that he had coming up.  As a child, I don’t think that I ever had this kind of interactive notebook.  I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.  The notebook was the black and white composition book, and inside he had cut and glued papers in the notebook to help him study.  There was a map that folded out, a pocket that held the types of government, and a worksheet pasted in which explained some basic economic terms.

The Value of Cutting, Pasting and Coloring

My son liked his “interactive notebook”.  He enjoyed pulling out the pieces to show me what he had learned.  He liked coloring the pages, cutting out the pieces and gluing them back in.  Sometimes, I look at these “interactive notebooks” and think to myself, how is this interactive.  Cutting, pasting and coloring are lovely classroom activities, but I wonder how much they added to my son’s knowledge of the social studies curriculum.  Furthermore, is he now able to take those skills learned and apply them to fourth grade curriculum.  Will his “interactive notebook” follow him as he progresses throughout his school career?

Interactive

This definition of interactive is phenomenal!  “Allowing a two-way flow of information between a computer and a computer-user, responding to a user’s input.”  When I read that, I wonder, how can the black and white composition “interactive notebook” be truly interactive.  It is not responding to the user.  It is only user-driven; doing only what the user does.

A Real Interactive Notebook

At the end of last school year, a teacher told me that he wanted to start his 6th grade Science year off with an interactive notebook.  My initial thoughts went to the black and white composition book.  But, no, he wanted more.  He wanted his students to interact with his template through Google using their Chromebooks.  Yes, my heart fluttered a little during the conversation I had with him describing the possibilities.  He could set it up through Google Slides, share it through Google Classroom (making a copy for each student) and they could create their own interactive notebook.  They could include links to videos, websites, documents.  They could video themselves doing labs and save it in their notebooks.  He could send things to the students that they could add in.  They could reflect and self-assess!  All while he could monitor their progress through his Google Drive.  I left the year on cloud nine, dreaming of this true interactive notebook.

New School Year

So, it’s the beginning of the year and he has a template.  He is ready to go and just needs some assistance making sure he has posted it to Google Classroom correctly.  I walk into his classroom while the kids are beginning their interactive notebooks and this is what I see throughout the classroom.

Collaboration!  Excitement!  Engagement!  Learning!  Student-Centered!

This is an interactive notebook which these students will have with them (saved automatically in their Drive) for the rest of their school career.

Stay tuned for how to create that interactive notebook…

Who is Your “Person”?

New Year, New Start

Blogging didn’t go so well for me, even after I joined the EduBlog challenge.  But, this time, I am not waiting until the New Year to try again!

Finding That “Person”

I read a lot over summer break and in many of the books I read, there was a theme that you need to find a person to motivate you and encourage you to persist through anything you find to be difficult or a struggle.  Many of the books talked about how educators can be “that person” for their students.  I looked at it from a slightly different perspective because I am not with students every day at this point in my career.

Finding My “Person”

The more I read, the more I reflected on the importance of having that person in my life.  As I thought about it, I truly realized that I have many of these people in my life.  And, in fact, I do much better at those activities where I have a “person”.  I look at my work outs and I have friends and coaches to push me through the hardest workout or races.  I have my Mom who helps me manage my crazy life and always encourages me to slow down to spend more time with my boys.  My colleague and friend, Sarah, pushes me to constantly read more, learn more and be better at my job.  As our opening convocation speaker, Bruce Boguski said, “It does not matter how good you are, you can always be better.”

Blogging is something I have consistently struggled with.  But, I think that this year, I have found my “person” to help me blog on a regular basis.  I need someone to hold me accountable.  When I returned to school earlier this month, our Director of Pupil Services, Julie, asked me about blogging.  As we chatted, we both realized that we could encourage each other to take this step and really reflect on our lives and careers.  We both have a shared interest to offer our reflections to readers on a professional and personal level.

I think about those students who were in my class who needed a person.  I knew of a few, but I know that there were many more.  I may have not been that person for them, but maybe if I had set up more peer mentors in my class, my content would have connected for them.  Sometimes students can be that person for another student.

I love the “buddy” system.  I think that children benefit so much from having an older student to look up to and connect with on a different level.  When my older son, Will, was in Kindergarten, he had a “prayer partner” named Leonardo.  Will thought Leonardo was the best!  He used to excitedly come home and tell us when he had the opportunity to interact with Leonardo!  I remember that they made pesto and tried it together, they went on field trips, were on the same field day team and so much more.  Leonardo is beginning his junior year of High School and we still see him often.  Leonardo was a great role model for Will . There was no way that an adult could have connected with Will in the same way that this older student did.  It would be great to see more schools adopting a system like this to provide a “person” for each student.

I know the importance of having a “person” or “people” in my life to help motivate me! I now have a person who will encourage me to blog and to persist along the way.  Julie, I may not be able to make all of our “blogging meetings”, but I will try to blog once a week!  Let’s make this work!  Thanks for being my person!

What’s in Your Bag? #EdublogsClub

My Bag

Last year, a friend, and colleague, encouraged our PLN to look at what is in our bags.  I think that what is in our bags, tells a lot about who we are.  I tend to have a lot in my bag.  But, recently, I have been trying to shrink my bag and eliminate some of the unnecessary items that I carry with me on a day-to-day basis.  I feel like this is an expression of my desire to simplify my life.  Honestly, I have a lot going on.  And, my bag is something that I can control.

Annotating an Image with ThingLink

Last year, I created a ThingLink to show what was in my bag.  If you are not familiar with ThingLink, it is an amazing tool that lets users annotate pictures with “hotspots”.  I like this site because it is very easy to use.  You can upload a photo and then annotate directly on the photo.  It saves in your ThingLink account.  You can click on my image below to see all of my annotations.

ThingLink

I’ll tell you, my bag looks very different today.  Maybe that is another post!

What is in your bag?  And, what does it tell about you?

 

Changing

Change is inevitable

Here is a tweet that I wrote less than a month ago.

change

I think about change all the time and often reflect why some people are so resistant to change?  After all, without change, wouldn’t life be boring?  If my life never changed, I would have never gone to college, grad school, become a teacher, married or had children.  I would have never left the classroom to do professional development for teachers.  I would always be wondering “what if…” Is change scary?  Yes.  Absolutely yes.  But, as one says “change is the only constant.”

Technological Change in the Classroom

I battle technological change daily.  Some teachers tell me “I hate computers”, or “I’m bad with computers”, or even “I can’t do this.”  I find it very ironic when I hear this from my fellow educators.  When I was teaching classroom World Language (French & German), I told my students that they were not allowed to walk into my room and tell me that they could not do the lesson that I had not yet begun to teach.  They had not learned it yet, had no experience and no confidence.  Now, I am facing this same issue with those people educating today’s students.  How strange.

So, what do I do? Just like with my students, I build relationships.  It has taken me four years and I have built many but there is always work to do.  More teachers to reach, more confidence to build.  I believe that this parallels my time in the classroom.  I cannot teach without building that relationship, that trust, first.  How can I make you believe in yourself and push you past your preconceived notion of what you can and can’t do?  I encourage.  I model.  I empathize.  I go off topic (yes, that is important, too.)  I learn while they learn. Then, I do this all over again.

I have found it important to keep my expectations in check.  When I first went into the classroom, I thought that my students would love French and learn quickly.  Anyone who has been in the classroom knows that it is only a very small percentage of students who love the content and learn quickly.  With most students, you have to take baby steps.  Baby steps help to build self-confidence in the student and trust in the instructor.  As I moved out of the classroom and into the professional development world, “take baby steps” has become my mantra.

Change is inevitable.  You might as well embrace it.  Just embrace it in baby steps.

 

My Office Space

Picture Time!

I don’t spend much time here, in my office.  I travel between five schools, so I am mostly in teachers’ classrooms.  I feel like I have a comfortable and cozy spot; sometimes, I wish I were here more often.

On my desk, I have a lot of paper.  When I receive it at meetings, I really don’t know what to do with it, so it ends up on my desk.  In the picture, you can see the stacks of papers.  On the papers, I have a magazine open.  I will frequently, check my mailbox, find a magazine, read it on my way up to my office and leave it open on my desk so I can come back to it.  It is hard to find time to come back to my open magazines, although, I always have good intentions.  The paper and the clutter on my desk bothers me, but I never have enough time to deal with it.

If I could take one word and describe my desk, it would have to be clutter.  I am not very good with paper, however, as an educator, I feel like I live in a world FULL of paper.  Does anyone else ever feel like that?  Each day, I walk past the copy room and hear that poor machine chugging away.  Somedays, I walk into the copy room, wanting to scan something on the machine and someone is making 200 copies of a packet that is 4 pages front to back and stapled.  Oh!  Those trees!  I frequently go into meetings and receive a paper agenda.  Or, worse yet, sometimes, I receive a copied version of the PowerPoint, with space available for note-taking.  I’m sure you know what I mean.  I look at those small thumbnails of the presentation, the lines off to the right-hand side and I think “why?”

Other than the paper, I am happy with my office space.  I love my big window, which lets in a lot of natural light.  I love my plexi-glass!  I have lists of teachers who are looking for virtual field trips or collaborations.  The lists are a constant reminder to me of what or who I should look for.

 

Happy New Year 2017!

Another New Year’s Resolution to Blog

Beginning 2017

I didn’t make it until midnight on NYE this year.  I was exhausted.  So, when I woke up at 6:30 a.m. with my kids, I thought about the New Year’s of 2016.  My big New Year’s resolution was to blog.  I looked back and on January 2, 2016, this is what I posted:

Last year, my New Year’s resolutions were to get on Twitter and to blog.  So, I got on Twitter very successfully, but the blogging didn’t happen.  2016 will be my year to blog.

It didn’t happen

That is OK. But, I will try again.  On January 2, 2017, I looked in my e-amil to see a message from a newsletter that I subscribe to claiming that it is easier to blog when others are blogging with you and you all are holding each other accountable.  I believe that.  So, I signed up to be part of the #Edublogsclub.

Prompt #1 – My Blog Story

As you can see, I have some experience in blogging.  Last year, I made it through March and my goal this year is to make it until at least the summer.  If I can blog all year, I will be thrilled! I enjoy writing and sharing my knowledge and story, but it is hard to dedicate the time every week to blog.  I like the idea that quantity is more important than quality so I hope to keep that in mind each week as I blog.

I enjoy reading other blogs.  It is helpful to me when I subscribe to the blog and receive the updates in my e-mail.  Then, I can read a summary and, if necessary, go to the website to read more.  One of my favorite blogs is Eric Curts’ Control Alt Achieve.  He always provides me with so many ideas that I can share with my colleagues.  If you haven’t looked at it, I encourage you to do so.

Thanks #EdublogsClub for encouraging me to blog again!  This is a great idea!

Let’s Hang Out! #NEOtech2016

Learning is Everywhere

When I was doing my teaching internship at Saint Ignatius High School, my mentor teacher continuously told me to “look for the teachable moment”.  As I have gotten more experienced (I hesitate to say “older”), I realize that the teachable moments are everywhere.  In fact, if you look around you, learning is everywhere.

Going Beyond the Four Walls

Classrooms are relatively small yet many teachers spend 180 or more days in their classroom.  In my classroom, I had one small window.  There were days when I yearned to go on a field trip, take my students outside, or even just go out into the hallway.  But, we were contained in those four walls.

The Web Cam

I was fortunate to live overseas as a child, so I know, first-hand what else is out there.  For the first few years of my teaching career in the World Languages Department, I struggled to teach my students what else was out there.  I could explain and explain, narrate and narrate, etc. but truly, they did not get it.  Even when I showed the “great” travel videos that I had borrowed from the library, they were still unimpressed.

One glorious day, I received a web cam.  Honestly, I do not remember the circumstance why I was granted this beautiful piece of technology, but there it was so delicately placed on top of my computer monitor.  I looked at that and the world opened up for me and my students.  Good-bye travel videos, hello real people, telling real stories! It was marvelous and a French/German teacher’s dream.

After Skype Came Hangouts

I was only with my sweet web cam for a few short months before I left my classroom to work district wide.  Fortunately, my new monitor had my favorite piece of technology also sitting atop.  I had previously used Skype and was tied to talking to one person at one time.  Also, Skype had to be downloaded on to a PC, which is another obstacle that I had to face.  I could download on my home computer, but not my work one.

Soon after I came into my new job in 2013, I learned about Google Hangouts.  Like Skype, you could video chat with people. One big difference was that more than one person could join that Hangout.  This meant that you could talk to multiple people, in different places all at the same time.  All you needed was a web cam.

Hanging Out

This brings me to my presentation today.  If you are in my session, you will have the opportunity to take part in a Mystery Hangout (providing the technology is working).  If you are not in my session, I encourage you to Google “Mystery Hangout” and see what you can find.  You will be surprised to see how engaged your students will be when you connect them to the world outside of the four walls of your classroom.

And, don’t forget…you need that web cam!

Click here for today’s slides

EdCite #OETC16

If you are reading this, perhaps you joined me in my session this morning at OETC16.  If you missed the session, I hope to provide you some insight on how and why we need to create interactive assessments for our students.

“These tests are not going away.”

Today, I was in a session where the leader was talking about preparing our students for online assessments.  One thing that she said stuck with me for the rest of the evening.  “These tests are not going away.”

I’ll admit, I am not a fan of standardized testing.  I was never very good at standardized tests, although I did very well in school and now have a successful career.  I have never understood how one’s intelligence can be measured by a test that is taken on one day.  Baffling.

With that being said, standardized tests have existed for a long time.  The presenter today was correct – they are not going away.  We just have to better prepare our students for the assessments that they are required to take.  The difference between their assessments and mine ( ** years ago) – their assessment is digital.

How can I prepare my students?

Back in the day, when I had to prepare for any type of standardized assessment, I went to the bookstore, bought a book and did the tests in the book.  I used a pencil, made flashcards and worked my way through something like this:

sat verbal workout

My test was going to be paper and pencil, so that is how I practiced.  In the 1990s, I had no option.  It wasn’t until college, that I even had internet (dial up).

Digital Preparation

So, if I prepped for my paper and pencil tests with paper and pencil, and our students are taking online tests, shouldn’t they be prepping online?  I feel like this is an obvious statement, but a fact that many people tend to miss.  We don’t want the technology to prevent the students from succeeding on the tests.  We cannot assume that they know, understand or feel comfortable using a computer, keyboard and mouse to take a high stakes assessment.  Most of the time that we sit kids at a computer, it is to play a game.  And, now, all of a sudden, they are doing high stakes assessments?  I would feel nervous and probably wouldn’t perform very well, either.

Interactive Assessments

Last year, a 4th grade teacher introduced me to EdCite.com.  She told me that she was using EdCite to prepare her students for the PARCC assessments and that she liked the website because it allowed her students to practice the tech skills needed to complete an assessment online.

I began to explore the website and found that I liked it too!  I began to encourage other teachers in my district to use it and as I talked to more teachers, I found that some had already been using it.

Click here for my slides from OETC16

If you would like to try to take an assessment, you can click on this link.  ASSESSMENT  You don’t even need to have an account to take my assessment!

In the classroom setting, I recommend that you and your students have EdCite accounts (by the way, these are FREE).  The easiest way to create an account is to “Sign in With Google.”  Once the teacher signs in and creates a class, a class code is generated.  This is the code that you can give to your students to join your class.  If you are familiar with Google Classroom, it works in the same way.  This is minimal work for the teacher.

In my opinion, the best place to start is in “Assignments”.  Teachers have two choices in EdCite.  First, to create their own content, or, second, to use the teacher created content in the EdCite library.  I am very picky about what my students see in an assessment. So, I suppose that my preference is to create my own content.  I will then have more ownership over it and I will know how best to prepare my students.  But, in a time crunch, teachers can go into the EdCite library and use whatever content they want.

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I have no time

Generally, teachers have very little time.  In this case, go to the library and use the resources there!  Any question that is in the library has been tagged with standards.  Now, this is the tricky part.  Keep in mind that this is teacher created content.  So, if a teacher incorrectly tags his/her content, it will be difficult for you to find.  As you curate more content, you will begin to know the content providers.  You can then search their particular content.  This is a big time saver.

Once you find an assessment that you like (make sure you preview it), you can copy the assessment to save it into your own account.  When you save it, you can assign it. EdCite generates a “Quick Link” to share with your students.  The “Quick Link” is the easiest way to get to the assessment.

I have all the time in the world

Well, maybe one day, I will have all the time in the world…But, if you do, you can create your own content in EdCite, or you can pull some questions out of the EdCite library and tweak them to be your own.  You could even pull some of their questions and mix them with some of your own questions!

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If you create your own question, be aware that there are 60 question types in EdCite.  Think about which skills your students need to practice.  Look at the Sample Questions provided by EdCite.  Choose the right question type for the question that you are asking.

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Once you have your questions created, you can add them to your assessment.  Save your assessment and get the quick link.  You can post the quick link in your Google Classroom for the students to easily access it.

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If you are doing this, start small.  Do a three question exit slip.  Get the students in and start slowly easing them into the world of online assessments.  Unfortunately, “these assessments are here to stay.”

Please contact me with any questions or suggestions.