Sunday, December 18, 2016

My Students Have Taken Over The Easel!

An easel sits in the right hand corner of our room.
It's always been there.
Sometimes I use it, most of the time I don't.
I started to notice something a few days ago.
My students have taken over the easel.

First, they would write who was sharing during Morning Meeting.
Then at the end of the day, they would write the date.
The other day, I did a double take.
Unknown to me, they asked a question of the class, and the class answered, on the easel!

OK, call me a bad teacher, but I do not know when they wrote it or when the kids responded, it was just there.
"How was your day?" was the question.
The answers ranged from "not so good" to "awesome." (I wish I knew who wrote not so good so that I could find out why. Hopefully, I had already resolved that issue.)

I could have blown a gasket. I could have started yelling about how the kids were writing on "my" board. I chose not to, instead I encouraged it.

I am an advocate for student ownership.
Our students need to feel like it is "our" classroom,not mine.
If they were confident enough to commandeer the easel without even discussing it with me first, I think my job is done.:)

I am ecstatic that among the many other things that happen in order to make this classroom theirs, they have started their own trend.

I love reading their questions and responses.
Today's question was about our field trip, whether they enjoyed it or not.
I still don't know who is writing these messages, and I really don't care.

The easel is theirs now,and I can't wait to see what their future messages look like. :)

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Synchronized Teaching- The Loss of Uniqueness!

There used to be a time when a teacher would find his/her groove teaching, a style of teaching that produced results. Of course,as the years went by, that style, hopefully, would be refined, adjusted, tweaked.

But "individual teaching styles" seem to have gone by the wayside. Teaching has lost its spontaneity and  I am baffled. 

A friend of mine shared that if someone walked in to observe the classes on his grade level, each of them should be teaching the exact same thing at the same time. I cracked up, laughing at his attempt at humor.
He said somberly, "There is a binder." 

PLC's, formative assessments, pacing guides, and scripted curriculum have made synchronized teaching a thing.
Unfortunately, as is so often  done in the field of education, we have taken concepts that are meant for good, and turned them into...if I say evil, am I going too far?

PLC's should be shared ideas, strategies, and yes, even data.
Formative assessments shouldn't be group planned. "Hold your teammates accountable if their data is not ready when it should be."
"What if my kids are not ready?"
Pacing guides should be just what they say they are, guides. Guides that allow for flexibility, depending on the child who is sitting in your classroom.

Scripted curriculum should not be followed blindly. That's not teaching.
Teachers who strayed from the script were not teaching with "fidelity."

If teachers on a grade level, or even throughout the school, are all doing the same thing, where does spontaneity come in? 
Can you get off track? 
Can you engage in conversations that weren't planned? 
Are you able to give your class the chance to do what other classes aren't?


We each move to the beat of the kids in our classroom.

Our kids learn differently.

Teachers teach differently.

Synchronized teaching.

Stepford teachers?

Monday, September 19, 2016

"Flocabulary" Vocabulary, "Week in Rap Jr." AND a Giveaway!

I've always been a fan of Flocabulary, ever since I played the "Five Elements of a Story" video for my class for the first time. They have evolved so much since then. They offer songs and videos in every subject,and so much more.

For those who are not familiar with Flocabulary, it is a web-based learning program for all grades and subjects that uses educational hip-hop music to engage students and increase achievement. There are so many resources and features available, I decided to choose 2 of my favorites. However, enter the giveaway below, so that you can check out all the features yourself!

Vocabulary is an integral part of the lessons in my classroom. However, providing my students with  a list of words, telling them to look up the definitions, and giving a quiz on Friday was not how I taught them. Creating lessons for vocabulary took a lot of time. Finding the appropriate words took time.

Flocabulary offers a way for me to introduce new words to my class in a format that is engaging,uses standards-aligned skills and content, while helping my students develop academic vocabulary. 

Their lists are made up of grade appropriate vocabulary and go from K-8, up to 9-12 SAT words. The great part is that I am able to differentiate instruction without added stress. Each group has a video which uses the words in a song, printable lyrics, and then printable activities. The printable activities are amazing, not your run of the mill worksheets.The students love the videos and the songs, and have a clearer understanding of the words after completing the exercises. The new Pause and Play feature pauses the video and asks students questions about what they are viewing.This feature is applicable to all their videos, not just vocabulary.So much better than looking up words and writing their definitions!

Current Events
Week in Rap, Week in Rap Jr., and Week in Rap Extra
What a fun, engaging, way to discuss Current Events, and it's perfect for elementary students. This is a weekly staple in our classroom, and my students remind me if I forget to share it. 

We watch the video which contains events which have taken place during the week. The educational hip-hop videos are not long, but they give enough content that leads to meaningful discussions. Perfect!
Teaching summarizing? Assign one of the videos and have students summarize the content.

Looking to implement Flocabulary in your school?
Explore these resources for information and ideas on how to use Flocabulary!

    • It includes a self-guided training presentation as well as a short tutorial video about getting started with Flocab.
  • Explore our Lesson Resources page for implementation ideas per subject.
  • Please also find our lesson plans on Pinterest (we have one board for elementary and one board for middle and high school)!

Flocabulary Giveaway
Here'e your chance to find out what the fuss is all about! Good Luck!

    • You will need to enter each field in the form to be eligible (it should only take them a minute!)
    • Everyone that enters the giveaway will receive an email for an extended 45-day school-wide trial of Flocabulary. Yes, schoolwide!
    • Winners will be drawn at random.
    • You must enter by October 16th at 11:59ET.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

"My Name is Idiot."

My heart broke when I read the story of this  4 year old abused girl. When the officers asked her what her name was, she responded, "Idiot." The other child living in the house said that she was called that in place of her name.

Soon after reading this story, I came across a tweet of this video, "Every Opportunity". It was produced by the Atlanta Speech School and it shows the negative effect our language has on students through the eyes of a student. If you have not seen it, please watch it.I don't consider myself a "bad" teacher, but it spurred an immediate evaluation of the language I use in my classroom.

We are aware that there are teachers out there who call their students out their name. The words idiots, fools, stupid, animals, and other unmentionables flow freely every day, all day.

And although some might not actually say these words to their students, (even though I am sure there are those who do),their very actions belie how they feel about the children under their care.

Imagine walking into a classroom where the teacher believes you are no better than the dirt beneath his or her shoes. A classroom where the teacher dishes out a daily dose of humiliation and belittlement. And while he or she might not call the student stupid, idiot, or animal their actions translate into words the students feel.

We have to make sure our words do not strip our children of their humanity. We have to make sure that our words uplift our students, not put them down. We have to understand the impact our words, actions, and thoughts can have on the choices our students  make.

We have to make sure that our students know that their name is not "idiot."

Friday, August 19, 2016

Beginning of the School Year Activities!

It's that time.
I'm sad summer is over, but, I am excited at the start of a new year!:)

Besides some of the typical activities I use every year, (e.g"Getting to Know You" Bingo), here are some new activities I will be using.

Two of the ideas I got from Matt Bergman's blog, "Learn, Lead, Grow." He created a Google Slides of class expectations and had the class work in groups to complete them. Can you say "student ownership?" I added some of my own expectations that I want them to work on. When they are done, I will print the slides, put them on posterboard and hang up our rules. (I have to have rules posted in my classroom.)

The other idea is the game.(This site no longer exists) I created a game similar to this in a Jeopardy format, it's mentioned in another blog post. All you need is a device and somewhere to project the quiz. The quiz was very easy to make and I know the kids are going to have a great time!

I am beginning the year with a project. Boo!!! No, wait, this will be fun. It is the Selfie Project. Students are given items that they have to take selfies with or of. It's a way for them to have fun and for me to get to know them a little better. I purchased a selfie stick for my class, and I didn't include too many "at home" items, not knowing the phone and home situations. Many of my students are looping, so I was able to let them choose how they want to present.

If you want to combine Math and a "Getting to Know You" activity, "Figure Me Out" is a great, fun, way to do this. This one was shared by my teacher friend. Not only is it fun and educational, you can also hang it in the hallway or complete a bulletin board with the finished product.

Of course, I always have my "Getting to Know" you surveys. I updated it by using questions that I found on a paper survey and inputting them into Google Forms. I like these questions better than the simple "Favorites" questions because I think it will help me understand my students better.(As soon as I recall where I found the questions, I will give them credit.)

Goosechase is a Scavenger Hunt, brand new for me. I created a "mission" for the students to complete as a team. Getting my team building in. I made it very simple and they get points for each part they complete. The students will need a device. They also have an education version but I can't afford the $119 a year. :(

And last , but not least, BreakoutEdu! I think of it as an "Escape the Room" in a box. The students have to follow clues, digital or physical, that will help them unlock the box. You do need a box and locks. You can purchase it from the company or put together your own box/locks.. (Amazon). They have breakouts created, or you can create your own. Since this is my first time using it, I will stick with a ready-made version.

If you would like any of the forms, go to Files, click "Make a Copy", and it's yours. I will not use these activities in a day, they will be spread out over the next 2 weeks, mixed in with the curriculum. Hopefully, you can use at least one of these ideas in your classroom. Have a great year!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

"Cheat Sheets" Saving My Voice and My Sanity!

One year I was being observed and the class I had was trying to sign into Schoology, again. I was frustrated because a. I was being observed and b. This was not the first time they had signed into Schoology. And to be honest if I wasn't being observed, I might not have been quite as frustrated. But that's another story...

So, during the post observation my administrator suggested that I create "cheat sheets." I  said, "I keep telling them how to do it, they should get it." And then, I went home and created the "cheat sheet", and I have been doing it ever since.

I make "cheat sheets" because, eventually, whether it's the 2nd time or the 20th time, the student is going to figure out how to get on, log in, post, or whatever it is you want them to do. And when they don't, they won't have to ask you, because they have something to turn to besides you or another student.( I do have "techsperts" in my class, but their purpose is not to help every single time a student has an issue, especially when they are trying to complete work themselves.)

Instead of having to walk over to the students's desk, I would say, "Didn't I give you a cheat sheet for that?" They would look at me, realize I wasn't coming over to take them step by step through the process for the umpteenth time, and find their cheat sheet, (which is should be glued in their notebooks), and do it themselves. If they lose it, they have to borrow one, I do not make more copies.

Eventually, they don't ask me. Eventually, most of them don't need the sheet.

Of course, you can always make a screencast, (video), that can accomplish the same thing, but I prefer paper in a notebook.

Tips for creating a cheat sheet:

  • make sure the directions are clear (I write the directions in steps)
  • add pictures. I used Snagit or Awesome Screenshot (Chrome Extension) to capture images
  • bold or highlight important parts
  • if possible, try to keep it to one page
  • walk through it after you have written it
  • Revise if necessary
"Cheat sheets" have saved my voice and my sanity!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Buffalo Wild Wings and Teaching!

Buffalo Wild Wings introduced a 15 minute lunch guarantee:

"Buffalo Wild Wings, Inc. (NASDAQ: BWLD) today introduced a limited-time, 15-minute lunch guarantee across nearly 900 U.S. restaurants, designed to show time-strapped Guests that they don't have to sacrifice quality, value or variety for speed at lunch time.

"We want to prove to our Guests that they can get the Buffalo Wild Wings experience they have come to know and love within the limited time they have for a traditional lunch break," said Todd Kronebusch, vice president of food and beverage for Buffalo Wild Wings. "Our standard was already to deliver Fast Break meals within 15 minutes, but the new guarantee adds a promise to our Guests, and some fun, friendly competition."

"Servers will start a timer when they leave the table and stop the timer when the food is delivered. Any Guest who doesn't get their meal in 15 minutes gets their entire meal and any fountain soda for free."

Every time I hear this commercial I cringe. It reminds me  of the way teaching is handled today, top down. Orders, or "suggestions" from someone who is not actually in the field. A  "great idea", that those  in the field are forced to carry out.

Those poor servers. Our poor teachers. 
Our guests are our students. I worry that every time we teach to tests or switch to the latest tend teachers are sacrificing quality, value, and/or variety. If a teacher is juggling all the latest and greatest ideas handed down from above, can they really do their best? Can they get it done in "15  minutes", and get it done well? If they are constantly rushing to pick up the next order, where is the time to connect? 

Fun, friendly, competition? Is it really fun to know that if you don't get the food to a table in 15 minutes, the guest gets a free meal? I wonder who is penalized for that meal? How many times are the servers allowed to "fail" before they lose their  job? The pressure on those servers must be intense. How about the cooks? Are they taking shortcuts in order to make sure the food is served on time? 

Apply to education.

How many times are teachers forced to deliver instruction in a way that is not conducive for our students? How many times are they handed a book focused on the latest trend, written by someone who has not been in the classroom for years, and told to use it, knowing it is not best  for their students? How many times are the buzzwords of education (server timer), limiting what teachers could  accomplish in the classroom?

Teachers always say they wish politicians, reformers, etc.. would spend a day in our classrooms. I wonder if Todd Kronebusch ever delivered  a meal in 15 minutes? 

Disclaimer: I don't know any Buffalo Wild Wing servers.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

An Introvert Travels to #ISTE2016!

I am an introvert.
Those who know me, wouldn't believe it.
But it's true, I  have always been an introvert.
Since I was a kid, others have always mistaken my introversion for arrogance, or exhibiting anti-social behavior.
I am just extremely shy.

And yet, here I am, a teacher.
Not only am I a teacher, but I am also a workshop presenter.
How could I be introverted? Is that possible?

Um, yeah. Put me in a room full of strangers.

Unlike my hubby, who will talk to just about anyone, I freeze.
I have tried, as I have aged, to become better at striking up a conversation, but it is very difficult for me. I usually wait for someone to speak to me. I sit by myself,  busy on my phone, eating, or people watching. All the while, watching, envious of  those around me, engrossed in conversation,

I am not traveling with a team, so I will be forced to seek out others.
So, what do I do?
I've decided that I am going to take advantage of all the connections I have made via social media.
My Twitter, Twitterchat, Voxer, and FB "friends.", those connections that can ease into "real life" connections.
I will go to Meetups, visit the booths, attend sessions, and yes, talk to people.(My stomach does flips as I say these words.)

This is scary for me, but I will face my fears, and I will be okay. An introvert at #ISTE2016! :)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

You Should Want to Know What They Think: End of Year Surveys!

I always want to know what my students think of me.
Not in a "shower me with praises because I am so great" kind of way, but just knowing how they felt about being in our classroom.
I usually do a survey each quarter, but for some reason, probably new grade, curriculum, etc... I didn't get to it.
Therefore, I wanted to make sure the students completed an end of year survey.

I used Google Forms to create the survey, and then I posted the link on Schoology.
This year I used a survey I found on TeachersPayTeachers for FREE, and I tweaked it a little.
I liked this one because I teach 4th grade and it was pretty basic.
After giving it to them, I realized I should have tweaked my options a little more, but there's always next year.:)
I made it anonymous because I wanted the kids to be honest.

Here's are some of the ones that stood out:

  • 100% of my students think that I am good at my job. LOVE it!
  • Only 52% of my students think I am available to answer their questions,32% said most of the time, and 16% said no. Hmmm, I will have to ask my class what I can do to fix this next year.
  • I was happy to see that many kids did not choose, "No", when they didn't choose "Yes", instead they chose "Most of the time."
In the comment section, it was great to see that I am the best teacher ever.:) I have to admit it does make me feel good about the community we built all year.
However, this one had me cracking up, "I think you need to work on your attitude." LOL Another one I will discuss with my class. Maybe this student sees something I don't.

Good or bad feedback, end of year surveys are a learning experience to prepare me for the next year!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

If You Give a Child a Packet...

If You Give a Child a Packet...Or Sometimes a Worksheet.

Packets come in all shapes, sizes, and subjects.
I have used packets on occasion, less and less with more and more years of teaching..

Packets can be cute, fun, and/or adorable, but it doesn't disguise its intent. Time spent on, usually, meaningless work, busy work.

Packets of math create students who are either bored out of their mind , work through, numb, or those who struggle to the point of tears.Some have dashes on the bottom, where you solve the puzzle if you solve the problem. Pssst...between you and me, the puzzle can be solved without doing the math. Some have row upon row of the same types of problems written horizontally, and then to change it up, (gasp) vertically!

Packets for reading, or Book Study, as they are sometime referred to, can kill the joy of reading. I've used them, I know. Assigned Vocabulary words (What if they already know these words, or what if they have no clue?) Mundane questions that ask for explicit answers, and maybe one that might require critical thinking. Read a few chapters, Define the vocabulary words. Answer the questions. Read a few chapters, Define the Vocabulary words. Answer the questions. Arrrgh! Kill the story.

What if they just want to read? But you need to know they are actually reading, I get it.

Homework packets. Uggh! Homework given out on Monday, collected on Friday. I can't even begin to wrap my brain around this one. The "bright" kids are finished on Monday evening, the struggling students miss Recess so they can finish something they couldn't do in an entire week. So many things wrong here.

Summer/Spring/Winter Break packets. How much paper is wasted sending these home. Cmon, let's be honest, which kids end up completing the summer packets? Try something different.

Ditch the packets. Spice up the worksheets or don't use it at all. Require thinking. Make the worksheets interactive. Integrate technology.

If you give a child a packet...

Friday, May 20, 2016

Personalized Learning Via Tedx-Like Talks...The Joy of Being a Facilitator!

My 4th graders are working on TEDx-LikeTalks.
Yep, they are creating TEDx Like Talks.
I posted this assignment in the "ALL DONE" folder on our Schoology page, and they all gravitated towards it like moths to a light.

I posted a few TEDx-Like Talks by kids, asked them to watch at least one, choose a topic, and then create their own.

It has been amazing watching them work.
I have watched them create speeches.
Edit speeches.
Add images.
Add video.
Add speeches to the teleprompter.
Did I say collaborate?
Take this thing seriously, "working on it at home", seriously.
Come to me for a little help and apply what they take away from me.
Go back and work some more on topics like: "Why We Should Have Music Programs in School.", and "Youth Tackle Football is Dangerous."

"Mrs.Mims, can we work on our TEDx-LikeTalk during... ?" I willingly give whatever time they can squeeze in after testing.

At one point, I suggested to one group that they create a survey, using Google forms, so they could see how others feel about their topic
I showed them how to set it up and moved out the way.

They created the questions.
Used the "Go to this section"(with a little facilitating from me.)
Everyone has a survey now.:)
(Shout out to my colleagues and Twitter PLN!)

Can anyone say Common Core Standards? Oh yeah, they are being met!!

They will practice using the Swivl I won during Teacher Appreciation Week2016,(Shout out to Recap!)

I have to let them present on stage before school ends. Can't wait to see the finished product. The journey in itself has been great.

I am excited! They are excited! They are learning! And I? I am just the facilitator.:)