#30daysblogging Jumping in With Both Feet

I love it when a plan comes together. I recently discovered Recap (@RecapThat) and by recent I meant just this past Monday…when I was poking around on a friend’s blog (http://comeongetappy.com). Thanks Jody (@peerlessgreen)!

My first inclination was…What the heck?!?! How did I miss this? And the reasonable answer is…it’s easy. There are so many awesome tech tools that appear on a regular basis that it’s hard to keep up. But that’s why it’s so important to develop a Professional Learning Network (PLN). But that’s a topic for another time.

Back to Recap.

We all know the importance…the imperativeness (is that even a word?)…of using formative assessments to check for understanding. We also know that some students need individualized help.  Recap does just that. Teachers can create a short video or text-based question and push it out to the whole class or certain students. Students then record a clip of their answer.

Teachers can choose the maximum level for the clips (e.g., 15s, 30s, 60s, or two minutes). This is helpful for students who like to talk because it forces them to be concise. It’s also comforting for the shy students to know that they don’t have to talk for too long. The videos are private (between teacher and student), students can rerecord their video if they’d like, and leave comments if they want.

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The videos are slowly coming in. Some students are choosing to record at home because they don’t want an audience. Others jumped right in today. Some used a cardboard barrier so that their peers couldn’t see their faces. My quiet classes asked for background noise so I softly played music in the background. And then there were the students who showed no fear…they clicked the chat button and recorded right in front of their peers and were done in no time. It was a sight to behold. I would have taken pictures but I sensed a heightened level of tension and anxiety after students found out that they were recording a video instead of typing or writing their answers. So I cut them some slack. For now.

I was so excited about this whole thing that in-between 2nd and 3rd period, I walked over to my colleague who teaches our ELD content vocabulary classes. These classes are for EL learners who are newly arrived to America. I couldn’t help but share my excitement about this app because I saw HUGE potential in helping his EL learners with their speaking skills.

We have about 76% EL learners at my school…so Recap is going to most definitely support speaking skills. And it’s doing it in a way that is different and though I don’t have much experience with this app (yet), I’m a fan. A HUGE fan.

This is why I love technology. There’s no need to subscribe to the status quo when there are so many cool tools and strategies that can make learning fun for students and teachers.

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Typorama Rocks!

So today my students had a chance to explore Typorama (@typoramaapp). Before Winter Break, they read, watched, and analyzed various primary and secondary sources about the samurai, their traditions, and the impact of the Bushido Code. Their task was to demonstrate their understanding of a samurai’s life through the use of poetry.

Seeing that this was a unit about Japan, students were given the task of composing both a Haiku and a Tanka. Using their annotated readings and various graphic organizers, students pulled phrases that they could mix and match to create these particular formatted poems.

One might think that this was an easy task…but not for second language learners. Breaking down words into syllables was hard. I gave them the tried and true methods for counting out syllables, such as clapping (but let’s face it, not all kids can clap) and putting their hand under their chin as they pronounced the word. But some of my kiddoes went straight to the Internet. As I walked around the room, I saw students on several sites that counted out the syllables for them. I didn’t tell them to do that, nor did I prohibit it. I mean, after all…if they can find tools to make their work more efficient, I’m not going to stop them.

I loved the looks on their faces when the syllables matched up just right.

Once they had their rough drafts, students opened Typorama…which offered them more options than they knew what to do with. I told the students to not bother to upload their own images but to find something that resonated with them and added to the mood or theme of their poem.

Let me tell you…their projects are turning out really nice!

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The five-lined Tanka is throwing some of them for a loop because some of them want to use a particular font that won’t allow five lines. It was back to the drawing board…because there aren’t enough font styles from which to choose (totally being sarcastic here as there are quite a few really cool freebies). But other than that…this app is great for a quick #funformativeassessment. I would totally use this app again with my students…in fact, I’m thinking that this might come in handy with our next school-wide Character Lesson. Hmmmm (and the wheels are turning)…

If you give students the opportunity to be creative…if you give them choices…if you let them work through the kinks…if you just let them take the lead in learning…they will be all the better for it. Trust me, I know. I see it in my kiddoes…both past and present.

If you want to see more of their work, check out our class Instagram account: @jiishawksrock

 

The Beauty of Doctopus

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-9-12-02-amI’m sure I’ve written about this topic before but it bears repeating because this tool is a game-changer…what am I talking about? Doctopus, of course! One of the best ways to determine what a student is thinking is by having them write it out. Our students have multiple opportunities to share their thoughts:  online discussion forums, collaborative GoogleDocs, F2F discussions (er, debates), and written assignments via GoogleDocs.

Let me be straight. I’m not a fan of grading. I love the creation aspect of teaching, the designing, the planning, the execution of activities and projects…but the assessment part? Not so much. As for grading essays…<sigh>….seriously not my cup of tea.

My department is extremely collaborative. We talk all.of.the.time. It helps that our classrooms are next door to each other and that we’re great friends to boot. During collaboration, we discuss student progress and grades. Needless to say, our grading procedures and process are closely aligned. And then Docuptus happened.

I can’t remember exactly when I first heard about Doctopus, let alone tried it…but once I did, I realized that this was going to revolutionize collaborative writing for students and grading for us. We give students the option to have a writing collaborator for the end of the unit essays because we see value in students working together towards a common goal. It helps that GoogleDocs gives us a sneak peek into their writing process and comments. 😉

To start, my department created several Goobrics (a.k.a. rubrics) for each of the assignments. We have Goobrics for Level 4 short essays, Level 5 essays, and various other projects (e.g., Crusades memes, Open Minds).

Once those assignments are submitted through Google Classroom, we use Doctopus (an Add-On) to ingest the assignment into a ready-made spreadsheet (I usually title it with the unit name+semeter&year+period –> China Unit F16P1). I choose the class and the assignment and then wait for the magic to happen. Doctopus gives you the option to ingest all student projects or just the ones from students who clicked “Turn In” in Google Classroom (I usually choose the latter).

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There are two ways to view the Goobric…this is the default. The other view allows you to scroll through the Goobric instead of clicking on the tabs at the top.

Once the assignments are ingested, all you need to do is choose the appropriate Goobric and then you’re off! All of the assignments are there…tied to a specific rubric…all that’s left is for you to assess student work based on the Goobric. Doctopus+Goobric gives you the option to click right on the Goobric, add comments to the GoogleDoc, as well as leave comments that can be emailed to students (I highly recommend this last option). But the best part?! Doctopus puts the Goobric right on the GoogleDoc with your comments. Students can see where their worked landed within the Goobric. Brilliant!

However, if I could change one thing…it would be the ability to easily notify the writing collaborator/partners that the document is graded. Of course, all students could go back to the original GoogleDoc to see the rubric and comments, but only the owner receives the email with the rubric attached. It’s not a deal-breaker and it’s certainly not something that would make my department stop using this easy way to assess student work.

Having said that, if you’re looking for a new tool to try in 2017 might I suggest giving Doctopus a whirl? You won’t regret it. Trust me. Game-changer.

Setting Intentions

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#amorebeautifulquestion #sketchnotes #paper53 #doodler

As 2016 comes to a close, I thought I would take a moment to write one last blog post…

Winter break began on December 19 for me. For most of my colleagues, it began Friday, December 16 at 2:25PM, but I wasn’t quite done yet. As soon as I turned in the last paper of my first semester as doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University, I felt like I could finally relax. And relax I did.

I spent most of my Christmas break reading and of course thinking about what 2017 would bring.  I’ve been practicing yoga for several years and it has a made a huge difference in my mindset. Things that I used to perseverate upon now (for the most part at least) roll off my back. I’ve learned the importance of slowing down, taking notice of the little things…and just Be.

Earlier this week, my yoga instructor mentioned that though she has nothing against New Years Resolutions, she focuses more on setting intentions and she welcomed us to consider that option for 2017. In fact, each time before class, she asks us to set an intention for our practice. Usually my intention is to not fall flat on my face because I’d sure hate to have to find a new yoga studio (I’m kidding, kinda). But for 2016, I spent the better part of the year reminding myself that I should be…that I need to…always remember to be grateful for what I have. So for 2017, one of my intentions is to show gratitude for the blessings in my life.

I am lucky. Blessed in fact. I mean, who else gets to work with little minions who want to learn…who crave interactions…who blurt out the first thought that comes to mind…who share perhaps more than their parents would like about what goes on at home…who poke their heads into my room to say “Hi” even though they’ve already seen me earlier in the day or will later on? I mean, who gets to be surrounded by this much awesomeness? I’m so grateful to be able to work with children. Their curiosity inspires me. Their willingness to try new things is like a breath of fresh air. They don’t fear…much. And they laugh. They giggle. A lot. Even the boys.

This break was sorely needed as I felt like I was burning the candle at both ends but I miss my little rug-rats. I miss their faces. And as I close the door to 2016, I look forward to what 2017 brings…because I’m grateful. I’m grateful to be an educator. I’m grateful to learn along side my students. I’m grateful to work with some amazing people. I’m grateful to be on this particular path. The road is windy, one never knows what is beyond the bend, but whatever the case, I’m ready. Bring it on 2017. Bring.it.on.

Train Your Brain

One thing that I’ve learned during my first semester as a doctoral student is that I really don’t know too much about how the brain works. But I also don’t know too much about how my car works either and I’m okay with that as well.  As long as both of them work, I’m good.

But what I’ve enjoyed this semester is learning about how the brain works.  My undergrad degree is in psychology because I love learning about how people think, why they think that, and how that affects their behavior.  In fact, I think that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy working with my middle schoolers.  It’s like living within a social experiment. Every.single.day.  But I bring that up because one of the assignments in my Multiple Perspectives in Teaching and Learning (MPLT) class is to review two websites that are supposed to help train your brain.  As I went through the various exercises for both sites, I was intrigued…interested…motivated…and definitely engaged.  At the end of the first phase for Lumosity, I even received feedback on how I ranked among people of the same age.  Talk about feeding into my competitive streak!  If I didn’t have to go to bed, I probably would have done those exact same exercises again just to see if my percentages would have gone up.

In reviewing both sites (Lumosity and Brain HQ), I have to say that I’m impressed with the individualized learning components.  Lumosity supports individualized learning as you fill out a basic profile before starting the exercises in order to give you a score based upon people in your like age-group.  Brain HQ does not use personal information, but rather from the get-go uses performance to determine components of the activity.  I didn’t get far enough to see if or how my scores compared to other users.

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It’s interesting to use technology in this type of format.  I’ve used brain teasers that are book-based but I did not receive immediate feedback nor was I moved to different levels based on my performance but rather based on choice…not that I was deterred (remember, my competitive streak?).  However, immediate feedback is something that technology can provide which is motivating to the learner.

screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-9-04-02-pmI’m intrigued by the idea of using technology for game-based learning.  The points, levels, and options to unlock other levels is definitely motivating.  If I didn’t have to go to work this morning, I would have unlocked one more level for sure!  The fact that I’m even intrigued by both of these sites is a testament to their ability to engage the learner.  Believe me when I say that I am not a fan of video games.  I’m terrible…just ask my brother.  Expect for Pole Position.  I rock at that game…you can ask my brother about that as well.  I feel it’s helped to make me the driver I am today.  😉

Lumosity and Brain HQ adapt to the user’s performance.  In both games, the speed and complexity increased when I did well and decreased when I did not.  Lumosity gives immediate feedback (yay!) but I didn’t advance far enough in BrainHQ to see if there was an immediate feedback component.  In fact, the “spot the different bird” game was a bit frustrating to me because I didn’t know why sometimes only a few birds appeared when I clicked versus a whole flock.  Or was that supposed to represent feathers?  Did the whole flock…er feathers…mean I correctly spotted the wrong bird?  Who knows.

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Anyone who has attended my PD sessions knows that I’m a fan of free stuff.  As an educator, I have no problem spending money on my classroom, my students, or my own professional growth.  But I prefer free stuff.  Both Lumosity and Brain HQ are limited free…which is nice.

In evaluating the physical space for learning…because students use devices to access these sites, I don’t foresee any space issues.  However, some students might find it too distracting to use either of these sites with the regular hum of classroom noise.  I would suggest students use earbuds to block out the noise but also cardboard barriers to lessen visual distractions.

I believe sites like these are a valuable enrichment tool, especially for gifted learners, although across the spectrum I suppose these sites could be useful for all learners.  In fact, students who suffer from low-efficacy may be encouraged by using adaptive learning sites.

I believe that video games have a place in learning.  In fact, games that are historically based could help students visualize and remember historical content but having not seen or used any video games for learning in my own classroom, I cannot attest to its true value.  But I do see video games as another avenue for learning.  If the goal is to find something that interests, motivates, or engages students, I think educators need to be open to a wide variety of options.  Educators cannot use their fear of the unknown or bias against their perceived value of technology to automatically write off video games as a viable tool for learning.

#trainyourbrain #gamebasedlearning #yourbrainisamuscle

Pictures Don’t Reveal the Whole Story

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It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to write a blog post…but I’ve been posting plenty of pictures of learning in action on our Instagram account (@jiishawksrock).  This week my students are using their deductive reasoning skills as they analyze images about Chinese inventions.  Students were told to pre-read sections of the textbook (for background knowledge) before coming to class today.  Now, I’ve had discussions with many teachers about assigning reading for homework as most of them have found that students do not do the reading.  I am no different.  However, I also don’t believe in simply assigning something for students to do with the reading when all I want is for them to build a little background before delving deeper into the text in class.  The students who did the reading prior to class today had a much easier time locating textual evidence to support their inferences based upon what they thought they are seeing in the images.

This deductive reasoning skillbuilder activity is a modified version from Teacher’s Curriculum Institute (TCI).  Ever since the world history classes went 1:1, I’ve been slowly modifying lessons to incorporate the meaningful use of technology with critical thinking skills.  The image above doesn’t capture the dialogue that ensued all day in class today.  At the basic level, students were utilizing listening and speaking skills.  But on a higher level, students were engaging in meaningful dialogue as they used critical thinking skills.  They were making inferences, justifying their thoughts, and citing textual evidence to prove their point.  It was a beautiful thing to behold.  I’m only bummed that students tend to stop speaking when I start recording a video.  They are used to my taking pictures of them…but once I stand too long in one place their conversations slowly stop.  One of these days though I’m going to capture this learning moment…one of these days…

And…it’s gone…

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School starts tomorrow. Well actually, teachers report back tomorrow and students come on Thursday. This should be an interesting start to the school year because our school is in the MIDDLE of modernization. In fact, my entire quad is starting the school year in portables and if all goes well, we’ll be in our new-old classrooms come January.

Because we weren’t given access to our classrooms until today, I didn’t get to engage in my usual pattern of leisurely getting my room ready for the kiddoes whenever the mood struck. Instead, we were told that the first day we could have access to our classrooms was today. Well, that didn’t work with my schedule so tomorrow is the first day that I’ll be returning to school…to pick up my keys…and to see where the movers put my boxes. Hopefully, the ones marked “priority” are on top (a girl can only hope). The only good thing (well, actually there are two) is 1) I finally have air-conditioning so that I won’t be a sweaty mess after setting up my classroom and 2) at least I’m with my department in the portables. There’s comfort in numbers.

In spite of all that, I am looking forward to the new batch of 7th graders who are going to walk through my door. They are my inspiration. They are the reason why I teach. Their expectant faces, shiny binders, brand-new backpacks…it’s the same ritual every year and I love it. I don’t think there’s any other profession out there where you get a do-over every year and for that I’m thankful. I have some GREAT ideas that will hopefully make learning meaningful and fun for my students…and I’ve done a ton of reading (both pleasure and informative) this summer so I’m ready to tackle this new school year.  Bring.it.on.