Round 23

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 5.27.29 PM.pngJust three days ago, I started my 23rd year as a middle school history teacher. When people ask me what I do…my answer typically transforms their faces into a look of horror or sympathy. They then lament about how horrible middle school was for them and that they gave their teachers a run for their money…to which I reply that I love teaching middle schoolers and I can’t imagine doing anything different. And this year is no different.

As the hopeful, shiny, scared, and baby-faced students timidly walked through my doors this past Wednesday, I greeted them with a huge smile knowing that we are about to embark on a fantastic journey through the middle ages…or as I like to call it, “The Study of Super Dead People.”

Middle schoolers get my humor. And to a large extent I get theirs. And all I know is that these kids are awesome. The world hasn’t beaten them down yet…they still harbor elements of creativity and outlandish ideas…and they are still very much innocent. Even the horrors of current events don’t quite shatter their belief that if people could just get along that everything would be fine.

As I reflect on my first three days with my kiddoes, I’m feeling grateful for the opportunity to be their teacher. My goal this year is to encourage creativity and inquisition. And I’m looking forward to what they will teach me in the end.

Advertisements

Why I Love Summer…

First off, I love summer because it gives me a chance to rest, recharge, and basically get caught up on everything that I couldn’t get done during the school year. Second, summer is all about relaxing…napping, sleeping in…going to bed because I want to and not because I have to get up at 5:30 AM. Third, summer is about family and enjoying the little things. I’m lucky in that I get to spend the summer far away from home at our second home in a quaint little town located on Lake Michigan.

This summer has been different than others in that it’s not necessarily all about relaxing…it’s also about research, and learning, and writing, and revising, and reading, and more research. I hope my family doesn’t feel sorry for me when I have to read studies, research articles, write, and then rewrite my drafts. Because I love it. I love learning…and I can’t complain about the view. If I’m not in the kitchen looking at the East Bay, I’m on the deck looking at the East Bay, on the porch at our “farmhouse” (I’m using that term VERY loosely) overlooking West Bay, or as I right now, looking into the woods behind the house. Sometimes if I’m lucky a beautiful bright red cardinal will keep me company.

I’m taking a break from researching, reading, and writing to enjoy this moment because I’m thankful for everything that I have. The road hasn’t been easy, but even when I’ve had to traverse the gravel or unpaved path, cross rickety bridges, or leap from rock to rock over a madly rushing stream, life has been good to me. And I love that I get to work with children for the better part of the year, and I love even more that I get to learn along side of peers in this doctoral program. There are only two more weeks before Residency…and there is still much to do, but I’m excited. I’m excited that I am surrounded by nature while pursuing one of my passions–learning. I’m excited that I have the drafts of two assignments already done with still one more week before they are due. I’m excited that my Year 1 paper is coming along nicely and I’m excited that I finished the draft for my poster session presentation at Residency. I’m excited about the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights tonight (yay!). But most all, I’m excited (and super thankful) that I have the summers off so that I can enjoy being a “full-time” doctoral student yet still have time for a good book and a nap (both of which I plan to enjoy after I publish this post).

I’m excited that I am surrounded by nature while pursuing one of my passions–learning. I’m excited that I have the drafts of two assignments already done with still one more week before they are due. I’m excited that my Year 1 paper is coming along nicely. I’m excited that I finished the draft for my poster session presentation at Residency. I’m excited about the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights tonight (yay!). But most all, I’m excited (and super thankful) that I have the summers off so that I can enjoy being a “full-time” doctoral student yet still have time for a good book and a nap (both of which I plan to enjoy after I publish this post).

Whether you have summers off or not, I hope you find time to enjoy the little things because it’s most certainly the little things that count.

“You Should Probably Write This Down”

These were the words from one of my 7th graders as we worked through the steps for how to use Aurasma…

I was hoping that at least one of my students would have experience with Aurasma since they use VR at home but no…we’re all collectively newbies. Noobs. I muddled my way through explaining how to use Aurasma to my morning classes…but it wasn’t until after school when I got the chance to work one on one with a student that it clicked…for the two us. And that’s when she told me, “You should probably write this down…”

She knows me so well.

That was two days ago…and today as I write this blog, I’m watching my students create their first Aurasma project. Students were given the option to use Tellagami, iMovie, or Snapchat for the overlay. They were also given the option to work with a partner. I’m a firm believer in student choice…and in this project there is an abundance of it. But what there’s another abundance of is student engagement. I mean every student has their nose to the grindstone. They are communicating, collaborating, troubleshooting…all on their own. It’s a proud moment for me because when it comes down to it…it’s really all about them. Not me. Not teacher-directed, but student-centered…student-created.

I can’t wait to see their final projects! #soexcited

Always Room for Improvement

As this semester comes to a close, I do what I normally do which is take time to reflect on how I can make the learning process for my students more engaging and meaningful. Though I like predictability and routine, it doesn’t work so well for me in the classroom since I teach the same thing all day long. So when it comes to a new semester with new students, this is when I like to shake things up a bit.

What I liked from this past semester:

  • Using Flipboard a public platform for sharing student work
  • Using Recap as another means to check for understanding while also helping students to practice speaking skills
  • Finding readable primary source materials for The Crusades and then having students turn those into #booksnaps

What I need to work on or change for next semester:

  • Put together a reading schedule for students to ensure that all of the required readings are covered earlier in the unit
  • Create more opportunities for writing
  • Give students more opportunities for mastery learning

Most of these changes will not require a lot of work, but rather revising or tweaking current instructional practices. Though I believe I offer many opportunities for student-centered learning, I could…I must…I will do better.

#bringiton

Make it Better Moment #30daysofblogging

frogI know there are proponents out there who insist that a due date is a due date…no ifs, ands, or buts. And I understand that because, at the end of a quarter, I have to submit grades. There isn’t a way to push back the due date for final grade submission. But for all of those other times…when I can…I give students a Make it Better Moment.

If it’s not the end of the quarter, I believe that it’s important to give students the opportunity to submit late work and/or to fix their work if it is incomplete. Is it more work for me? Of course. But when it comes to students…children, in my case, I think a little leeway is warranted…and in some cases, welcomed.

Let’s face it. Students today have a busier life than we did. I know for a fact that for my middle schoolers, after school gets out some of them have to pick up little brothers and sisters from elementary school, others have to make dinner for their family, a few more have to babysit siblings until their parents get home…and then there are those who have to do a bit of all three. And that’s on top of perhaps, playing sports, going to tutoring, and finishing up any work that didn’t get done in class. So yeah, their life is busy. So I understand when their assignments don’t always get done on time.

Just so we’re clear, I give time to complete most of these assignments in class. But not all students work at the same speed. Some students are more methodical, others have a difficult time staying focused, and then there are those who just work at a slower pace than what the pacing guide allows. So I try to be flexible…to accommodate for their needs…because my job is not to penalize students. It’s to help them learn…to guide them…to encourage them in this learning journey.

So we have Make it Better Moments.

These Make it Better Moments is what puts the onus of learning back on the students, again. Sure, they were given this task earlier (with the original due date)…but sometimes students just need another shot at showing their best work.

Today is one of those days. And though I have a bit more to grade…I feel much better knowing that I gave my students another shot at showing their learning. I can’t control much in my life, but I can control the learning opportunities that students have in my class (well…fire drills, assemblies, etc. notwithstanding).

Make it Work Moment #30daysofblogging

I am not sure where the time went…but it flew by this week. My students have been crazy busy working towards finishing our unit before the end of the semester. Currently, my students are working on creating an Instagram post from the perspective of a historical figure who lived on a manor during the Middle Ages in Europe. But because our district firewall is like Fort Knox, I have to constantly find workarounds…

But because our district firewall is like Fort Knox, I have to constantly find workarounds…

To get students to practice analysis and writing skills, I created a Life on a Manor Big Idea assignment. This series of tasks has students analyzing documents, using the CER writing formula to put together evidence, and then creating an Instagram post from the historical figure’s perspective. Students used a variety of technology tools: Padlet, GoogleDocs, GoogleSlides, and Flipboard. I created an Instagram template in Google Slides for students to use. Then when they are finished with choosing the perfect picture, developing two hashtags about the thoughts and feelings of that historical figure, and writing their post, they will take a screenshot and upload it our class Flipboard magazine.

The Flipboard magazine will act as our collective “Instagram” feed about life on the manor for the lords, ladies, knights, peasants, and serfs. I’ll share the links to the magazines tomorrow after students have commented on their peers’ work.

The district firewall is not a means to give up on finding creative ways to engage students. I know my students are on Instagram…they know how this site works…so why not figure out a workaround that will give them the sense of using a tool they already know?

I can’t wait to see their final projects tomorrow…

 

Jumping Right In #booksnaps

Screen Shot 2017-01-14 at 12.48.31 PM.pngEarlier this week, I decided that this would be the week to figure out how Snapchat worked. I started off by clicking around (it’s a tried and true method for exploration, trust me), but alas, it wasn’t as intuitive as other apps I’ve used. In fact, I watched two tutorials on Snapchat (thank you YouTube) to get the gist of how Snapchat worked. My hesitation with Snapchat has always been…where are my pictures and videos going?!?! I’m still not quite sure…right now I have a couple in My Story section, but I don’t think I’ve actually sent anything out. Of course, it could be because I only have four connections on Snapchat at this time.

But I persevered because I really wanted to try creating a #booksnaps. As an avid reader, I’m always coming across things that I highlight, mark-up, or make note of…so I thought, “Why not do this digitally?” This past summer, I was lucky enough to vacation on a lake for five weeks…plenty of time to read and sketchnote. It was pure bliss. But now I’m back to reality…and the craziness I call my life. Sketchnoting will always be my preferred method for a creative outlet, but now that I’ve tried creating a #booksnaps, I’m hooked.

Having seen the awesomeness of #booksnaps, I decided to try it with my GATE/PreAP kiddoes. This activity was perfect because I wanted students to examine primary and secondary sources about the Crusades…and I thought, “Booksnaps? Why not? Why NOT?!?!”

On to Thursday Period 6.

I introduced #booksnaps to my students. I showed them an example from @TaraMartinEDU. They joined our Seesaw class so they could use the emojis, text, and the drawing tool. And then they were off…highlighters, documents, and iPad in hand. My students aren’t new to document analysis, annotating, or the use of emojis to demonstrate understanding…at this point in the semester, they are old hands at this type of task.

My students have been posting their #booksnaps in our class Flipboard  magazine and I have to admit that I’m super stoked! If you get a chance, check out their first attempt at #booksnaps and feel free to leave a comment. They will be so tickled!