Friday, August 3, 2018

Before School Starts...

Summer is winding to a close and many teachers are returning to their classrooms to decorate, get things ready and begin the new school year. I for one know the feeling of sadness, excitement, and worry that seem to embody any teacher starting another school year. It seems like a cycle is ending and a new beginning is just on the horizon. We all feel that little bit (if not more) of sadness rush us knowing that once again we will be back to work. So long are the days of sleeping in, enjoying the time to ourselves, and the all-important ability to pee when needed. Soon our schedule will not be so free, but instead will be full of meetings, meeting our new students, planning and so much more. The closer time ticks towards these moments the shorter the sighs of sadness become and instead we muster ourselves together to take on the challenge of a new year.

I have met two types of teachers. Some who dread returning and are tortured by it for they are the ones that lost their spark, their twinkle. Other teachers may have a moment or two of dread, but as they begin they are fully committed and excited to start the new year. These are the teachers that spend hours on Pinterest, in teacher stores and roam Target finding, creating, and buying things to make their classroom even better. Some decorate and make their room look magical and amazing. Others work hard to change their lessons or create something that makes students so excited they don't even realize they are learning. Tis the season of the bright-eyed teachers full of wonder and zeal ready to take on the challenges that lie ahead.

That excitement and joy are what we all need. We need to look at the new school year for what it is, a fresh start. We are getting a chance to start over with new students and try things we might never have done before. To that, I say BE BRAVE! Push yourself out of the box and try something new. Ask for help and be open with those around you about your failures and successes. We, teachers, need to be willing to take risks for us, as well as our students, to grow.

I recently posted in a Twitter chat that you can choose to worry, but it will get you nowhere, or you can choose to run, it will get you somewhere. I hold true to that as the time ticks down. I can choose to worry about "what if's" and be full of self-doubt or I can choose to run. I can choose to run after my dreams, try new things, and just be willing to push myself further this year. I might fall, I might look silly, I might make mistakes, but what if I soar? I will learn from every triumph and every failure and be a model for my students. I think as teachers we preach to our students about how it is ok to make mistakes, but sometimes we fear to make them ourselves. We have to be willing to put ourselves out there and try something new. I'm not saying change everything overnight, but try one or two big things this year. Take a leap and reflect. You never know what is possible unless you try.

Now there might be naysayers. People who doubt you and/ or your students. Block them out. You have to be your own champion and your students champion too! I have always loved being the underdog. People will count you out before you begin and then you have nowhere to go but up. If you put in the time, reach out to others for help and support, the sky is the limit.

Now that we are in a digital age there is support at your fingertips. You can find people to talk to on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and more. Don't be afraid to ask questions, ask for help, or just share because the teaching community is strong and supportive. You will find amazing people out there who are running just like you and have similar goals. Don't be afraid to run together and learn from one another.

With that being said don't fill yourself with doubt or fear. I know right now there are a million lesson ideas and classroom designs being posted. Don't let it get you down. Don't think you have to do it all! There are some amazing teachers doing amazing things out there, but just because your room doesn't look like that or just because you aren't creating something doesn't mean you aren't amazing too. I have gotten sucked into that Instagram rabbit hole where you look at all these amazing classrooms. Everything is perfectly organized, beautiful anchor charts, amazing lesson plans already made. I am not that teacher and though I try I am not perfect. But that is ok with me. I know what I do works for me, my students, and my classroom. Do I still try changing things a little bit? Yes, but I never try to weigh myself down with changing too much.

I say this to remind you that you are awesome! You are working in a profession where you get to impact lives and make a difference. No matter how small you are doing amazing things. Don't worry and fret, but instead smile when the new school year begins. Be open to taking on any challenges that come your way and learn from them. I'm in your corner rooting for you! You Got This!!!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

ISTE 2018 Reflections: Day 3

The final day of ISTE was full of relief and a sadness. I felt relieved that my brain would finally get a break. I would have time to look over and research all the ideas and tech I had experienced during this conference. I bit sad because I was going to miss this. I was going to miss being around all these educators, tech gurus and how much passion was in this building. I also felt like I was going to miss out on something. There was so much to see and do at this conference. I wanted more time to do all these things, but all great things must come to an end. With a full backpack and my bags packed I was ready to take on my last day and make it better than ever.
1st Stop on the Last Day!

I walked up the stairs with conviction and excitement ready to take on the day. We made it to the Expo by 9:00 and got coffee. We walked around and saw some of the booths we missed the day before and some new ones. We stumbled upon Renaissance which is the creator of Accelerated Reader. I loved their interactive booth! People were able to write their favorite children's book on a spine of a book. This books were on a "bookshelf" and posted on the board.
The bookshelf behind the coffe stand

Which one is my favorite? Write your guess in the comments!

After writing ours on the board we headed to a session at View Sonic. I had been following the ISTE Ladies Road Trip and was eager to hear them speak. Alice Keeler, Lisa Dabbs, and Christine Pinto all stood up and talked about the importance of the 4 C’s. In full disclosure, I had never heard of or thought about the 4 C’s before this ISTE conference. I realized I put these in place in my classroom.  Though, I had no concept of their importance and value in Tech until this conference. It was great to hear these three ladies talk! They discussed the amazing value of critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity in the classroom. It was also great to see them in person. I had followed Lisa for a while and talked to her on Voxer. Alice and Christine were talked about (by fellow teachers) so much during ISTE that it was great to put a face to a name. They gave me hope and strengthened my conviction to do amazing things moving forward.

Following this mini presentation I ended up attending Goog-smacked...yes that is what it was called. To be honest it was what I needed. It was a great format where three main presenters: Matt Miller, Kasey Bell, and Eric Curts. They went through many different apps, websites, or tips that could help teachers. There was a focus in certain subject areas, grades, and helpfulness to teachers. I loved how much information was given and the format was great especially on the last day. It was a lot of information, but it was all  practical information that I can use and share with others in my building. It covered a wide amount of material briefly, but efficiently. I loved it. Here is a link to their presentation: Goog Smacked

After this, I tried to get into a session but I got there too late. So I decided to go back to walking about and checking out the Expo. This is where I stayed for rest of the day until my BOYDex session. I enjoyed wandering and talking to different people. It’s funny how no matter how many times you wander through the expo you always see something new. I even won a hat and a bookmark! I also found the later it got the more booths started giving away things, which is something I am all about! I don’t care if its a sticker I am all about free stuff.
We met Moby!

Time dwindled closer to the BYODex session so I headed that way. I was excited to learn about resources that were considered an ELL Superpower Toolkit. After waiting both in the hall and in the room for a total of 25 minutes we found out the speaker was not present...bummer. So on our way out, I stopped one more time by the ball pit in was gone. It felt like as quick as this experience had started it was ending as quick. Saddened, I stopped by the Microsoft Vending Machine. All you had to do was tweet with the hashtag and out came a prize pack. We can all say that’s awesome! I have never seen something like that and to be honest I’m all about Twitter Experiences. We traveled for the last time to the Expo. We wandered through picking up freebies and crossing our fingers. With 2p.m. on the horizon, we were hoping one of us would be chosen in the raffles held across the expo. As 2p.m. came and went we were disappointed with no wins. I guess Hannah won big with the Hamilton Tickets so we were done winning for this trip, lol.
Alejandro made a few drinks while we waited around the Expo

I don’t want to end this all on a sad note though. As sad as it was to leave, and trust me I was sad to leave, I had such a great experience. I have so many ideas! I learned about so many products, met so many great people (including some rock stars of education), and I overcame my anxiety to make this all happen. This was a great conference and I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t gone before. I am doubtful I will end up in Philadelphia next year. If it ever comes back to Chicago ( I hope it does) then I will be there! I am so thankful to all those who spent their time to share their knowledge. I am so thankful to my colleagues for going on this awesome adventure with me. When we submitted our names for PD Scholarships we never thought we would get the chance to go and have such a great time.


  1. What is something you learned this summer?
  2. What PD would/ is #OneInAMillion to you?

Tweet out your reply to me @teaching_power
Use the hashtag: #teachingpower

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Monday, July 9, 2018

ISTE 2018 Reflections: Day 2

After a very long and exciting first day at ISTE I found myself back again for more. This day I had a better understanding of where everything was and also what I wanted to attend. I spent the first part of the morning once attending poster sessions and then jumping into the expo. I was excited to wander through the expo and see new products but also see favorites that I use in my classroom daily. I stood in line for what felt like a long time. In order to try and get a free book from Kasey Bell. However,  I literally was the cutoff. I was that one person who wasn’t going to get a book, darn. Well I kept pushing and with a little bit of coffee ended up finding Pear Deck, Wonder Workshop, and Lalilo. It was nice to be able to get hands-on learning and talk to the people who know the product the best.
So excited to find these ribbons!

Pear Deck was one of the places that I was excited to go. I dabbled in it prior to ISTE, but did not use it. After hearing about the added features, uses in the classroom, and seeing the possibilities reminded me of why I started using it. This showed how it can be used with Google as an add-on extension. It is easier than ever to create slides and use Pear Deck to get students further involved in the lesson. I got so excited and can’t wait to use this going into this next school year.

Wonder Workshop was exciting because they are the creators of Dot and Dash Robots. I had never operated one before and to be honest I was like a little kid. I was so excited to try and they had a whole station set up for people to program Dot to make a basket using coding. I was not very successful, but my mistakes helped my boyfriend make a basket on his first try. I fell in love at that moment with the robots and I am eager to use them ever since. My school will be starting a Robotics Club this year. Though I know nothing(about robots) I’m considering helping or running the club. I figure we can learn together. The day we attended the expo there was a sale going on their website to buy a Dash and get training included for $150. I thought it was an amazing steal and bought one that night while in the hotel room. If you don’t need training they are currently cheaper on Amazon. I’m excited to learn and it might be my classroom to design it with a hockey stick and a helmet. LOL

Lalilo was one of those booths in ATT’s Pitch area. I had never heard of it prior to ISTE and after them giving us a handout my colleagues and I wanted to learn more. It is still in the Beta testing stage, but it is a free online program that focuses on the primary skills. The skills of reading, word recognition, sounds, blends etc. Now you may wonder why this would be something important to me? Well even though I am in 5th grade I do have students who have IEPs and struggle with some of these skills. I also have ELL students who are the first generation.  They are learning English after traveling from the DRC (the Dominican Republic of the Congo). This is a site that a few of my students could use, but I can also share them with other teachers at my building (as well as all of you!).
Love the Set up!

After spending an hour at the Expo we made our way to the Ditch That Panel. At this panel, we would hear how educators are taking on Matt Miller’s ideas and utilizing them in their school or classroom. I remember getting in line and some people coming up and asking what we were in line for. This was because the line was so long, after answering many chose to leave. To be honest, once we headed into the room it wasn’t bad at all. People get defeated before they try. One thing I realized is that many people see a line and freak. You have to remember the doors don’t open until 30 minutes till so if you get there 30 minutes before you should be good. Patience People!
Regardless we got seats and in all honesty, I thought we were at a teacher concert. The lights, the stage, and giant screens got my energy up and excited and the show hadn’t even started yet. Once again the presenters were out in the audience. They were passing out stickers and getting people excited for the presentation. I even got to talk to Tara Martin who walked by and like my shirt. The previous night, I had gone to her book launch party and I bought an R.E.A.L. shirt and her book. I’m currently reading it but I’m so excited to share once I’m done!). Once the show got started it did not disappoint. There were eight different people on the stage. They all were so well informed on Ditching that Textbook in their line of work. It was awesome to hear how teachers, administrators, and tech advisers were ditching the textbook. An important takeaway was the collaboration and connection between classes with technology. Once two teachers talked about how they connected their classes, I immediately tweeted about wanting to connect my class to other classrooms. I have wanted to do this before but it has been difficult. Luckily with Flipgrid and many other apps, it is easier. My hope is that Twitter will pull through and make this year awesome and full of connections for my class.
Amazing Panel!

We ended up running out of this session to hurry back to the NewsELA booth at the Expo. At noon they were pulling names to win tickets to see Hamilton in Chicago later that night. I am a huge Hamilton fan and I was hoping to get tickets so my colleagues and I hustled up the stairs and into the expo. We made it in time to hear….my friend and colleague's name called! Yay!!! How awesome of a moment and what about me you wonder? I won the chance to be “In the room where it happened.” (Hamilton joke) Hannah has such great luck and great ideas! You should follow her and her class @MrsOrellana
Hannah was soooo excited! 

Following this experience, we spent some time eating and wandering the expo hall. I ended up wandering upon two awesome booths. One I knew about and was excited to see their product. It was Qball by @peeQ. I had seen the product on Facebook and was so excited about the possibility of adding it to my classroom. It is a  microphone ball that can be thrown. It allows someone to speak into it and it amplifies in the classroom via a speaker. I have looked at this tool many times but never held one before. I saw the booth I ran straight there. I wanted to get my hands on one of their Q-balls and they were so welcoming and willing to let me try it out. I wasn’t expecting them to be so soft and light to be honest. I worried about them hitting the floor. I felt at ease. The people at the booth said that it would be fine. They have worked on it to make it safe and make it possible to handle wear and tear.

The other booth I never heard of before was Woot Math. This booth I stopped at to drop off a raffle sheet but in the process, they gave us a quick rundown of their program. My building is departmentalizing this year. I am taking over math for my entire grade am very open to any math resources. I loved that it was free for teachers to use. There seems to be a formative assessment tool and also adaptive practice for students to practice skills. They can import your class roster from Google Classroom and get them started. They have a dense problem bank based on the Common Core Standards and I’m excited to try it out this year. I will say so far I am impressed with their customer service. They are willing to answer questions and help you get started.
Such a great session!

I then made my way to the Sketchnoting session: Visualize. Connect. Doodle. Repeat: Sketchnoting to Enhance Learning with Explain Everything. This session was put on by Carrie Baughcum @heckawesome and Dana Ladenburger @dladenburger. This session was focused on the basics of sketchnoting and how to get started using the app Explain Everything. I have always loved drawing and even doodle when in meetings. When I heard about the idea of sketchnoting this past year I was interested. Yet never made the time to learn more. I wanted to attend this session because I wanted to learn more about it, but also just try it out. It was a nice session to end the day on because I was drawing and writing in a quiet room. This was peaceful and almost put me in a meditative space. I had never noticed how much sketchnoting I already do in my notebooks, but found ways to improve. For me I know I need to find other fonts I feel comfortable with and practice them more. I also need to create an icon vault. I have to create and practice different icons that I can use when I am taking notes. Explain Everything is an app that I had never heard of prior to going to this session, but after using it I am excited to use it more on my new 360 laptop. I came home after ISTE practicing my sketchnoting skills. I even created one based on what I was reading in Teach Like A Pirate. It wasn’t the greatest, but I realized after tweeting it out and tagging our presenters I have entered a whole new community. I have gotten so much support over my sad drawing, first Sketchnote and Carrie messaged me to give me some tips. I am so excited to take what I learned and practice moving forward. This session was more for me as a person, but I now am open to teaching my students when taking notes in class.

This concludes my awesome second day at ISTE.

  • What is something you are learning for yourself? 
  • Can you/ have you brought it into the classroom? 
  • What is one new resource you found recently?

Share your ideas and tweet them to me @teaching_power
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Saturday, July 7, 2018

ISTE 2018 Reflection: Day 1

So all I really have to say is WOW!!!!! I have never been to an ISTE before and didn't know what to expect. This place was completely amazing. This year ISTE was in McCormick Place in Chicago only an hour Metra ride from my family home. I need to let you know that as close as I used to live to Chicago, I rarely traveled there. One of many reasons one being anxiety. I get nervous when I'm in a big group and I get such huge butterflies when I’m on a new adventure that sometimes I shut down. That’s why when entering McCormick place I was both overwhelmed and excited. There is something about over 24,000 people in one place at one time. It evokes some anxiety in me. Yet I also liked the idea that the whole place was full of educators, technology gurus, and companies. They were all trying to make education better filled my heart with joy.
When we see a photo booth we have to stop!

Lucky for me (and especially my anxiety) I was not on this trip alone. I was able to attend with two awesome colleagues and one amazing boyfriend. I found the registration to be stress-free. Though with there being so many people it was hard to find an area that wasn’t hustling and bustling. I realized that if you are on the walkway you better move. Otherwise, you were going to get run over. People were committed to getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible. This makes sense since people wanted to make it into these amazing sessions. I remember finding a small wall to stand against and thinking to myself, “Where to?” It is funny to think I had planned the week prior. I made a schedule but at that moment I couldn’t think of one thing I wanted to go to. Luckily I had used the ISTE app to log a few items I really wanted to attend. After that small freak out we headed towards the poster sessions.
AR & VR were very big in the poster sessions

We walked into this huge space, but it seemed so much smaller because of the number of people. It was great to see so many educators share what they are doing in their classrooms or schools. To be honest it spoke to me the most as a 5th-grade teacher. These were people like me who are in the trenches and using these tools to make an impact with students. I was very excited to learn and take in whatever I could. Many presenters had QR Codes that made things even better. I could listen then use my phone to scan the QR code to get the presentation. I ended up storing all the presentations along with notes on my Google Keep. This made note taking and storage so much easier and I didn’t even need to take out any other device besides my phone. One thing I found surprising was the number of students who attend and share what they are learning. Caught off guard by a young boy asking me if I wanted to see his project and I was in awe. There is something about students excited about their learning. So much so that they are willing to explain it to complete strangers. This got me to stop at almost every table. Students taught me about DoInk, PowToon, and HP Reveal (formally Aurasm). It was so sweet to see nervous students approach you to share. Once you listened they got so excited to show you everything. This whole experience is about listening. Listening to presenters, companies, educators, and students. Listen to learn more than you ever thought possible. You have to be open to ideas and resources that might change your school or classroom for the better. I went in with an open mind and heart and I learned so much from so many people.
Kasey was so nice and I loved her positive attitude and her southern accent

After the poster sessions, I went by myself to Kasey Bell’s session on Dynamic Learning with G Suite. My anxiety cranked up. I had heard that many people weren’t getting into sessions not to mention I was going by myself. Lucky me I went about 30 mins early and got a seat! Now I knew of Kasey Bell. I knew she was an author, she was a tech guru, and I was even on her email list, but I knew little else. My goals walking into this session were:
  1. I wanted to learn more about how to better use G-Suite in my classroom. We are a 1-1 Chromebooks district.  I wanted the chance to uncover more ways to better utilize technology in my classroom.
  2.  I wanted to know if Kasey Bell’s book was for me. I had yet to buy her book because I have sooooooo many edu-awesome books that I haven’t read yet. Kasey’s book never made it to the top of my list.

After arriving I was surprised by the kindness of those around me ready to learn, but also by Kasey herself. She spent time before the presentation running around the room talking and passing out stickers. She even took the time to make sure the back row (where I sat) got stickers. Her energy was inviting and once she started her presentation I was hooked. I was engrossed in her ideals and ideas with my fingers typing feverishly on the Ipad taking notes. I am pumped to use Google Slides to create Digital Choice Boards and creating Comic Books. I also got excited to use the Google Keep feature as a way for Students to reflect and track their goals. The one huge takeaway for me was, 

“Start small, think of one way to go beyond.” 
This quote means many things:
  1. Kasey explains that you can use G-Suite for more than typing papers and completing worksheets. It is our choice to go beyond that and find out of the box ways to utilize this tool.
  2. I personally love this quote because it reminds me that you don’t have to do it all right now. I’m a runner when it comes to new ideas. I want to try everything and I’m ready to jump, but sometimes I need to slow down and try one thing.
  3. With that said I know some teachers are scared of taking the jump. They need to know its okay to try something new. Dip your toes in the water and try one new thing because the growth exceeds the fears.
Kasey’s presentation was a great way to start my ISTE experience. It gave me hope that I can take on tech in education one app at a time. And yes I ended up buying her book right after ISTE!
My excitement when I found this was at an all time high!

After that awesome presentation, I ended up playing in the ball pit. Why not? It was nice to have a fun childlike experience between sessions. I challenge ISTE to make more of those happen!
Andi was so down to earth and so nice! So excited to learn from her!

I ended my day attending a Genius Hour Presentation by Andi McNeil. I had done one Genius Hour project with my students this year during our library time. I had very little background knowledge of genius hour and jumped in and tried it. It wasn’t the best but wasn’t the worst. After more research, I realized that Google Slides isn’t the only way to display their knowledge. I need to work on how I present Genius Hour. Needless to say, I was hoping this presentation would help and it completely delivered. Some things that I noted:

  • We need to focus on 4 C’s (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, & creativity) plus Reflection
  • There are 6 P’s to Genius Hour Projects: Passion, Pitch Plan, Project, Product, and Presentation
  • Thrively is a great site to dive into the interests and passions of the students.
  • Wonderopolis allows students to find answers to things they wonder about. Also, having students do this and fill out short google forms helps the teacher gauge students interests.
  • is a great site that takes students to future careers. It allows them to practice certain skills that could help them in those careers.
  • Open up the classroom to outside experts. Make a google form for experts to fill out and help students connect. Let students ask questions of experts for the subjects of their research.
  • Trello is a great site to help teachers keep track of where students are in the Genius Hour process
  • Students can present their information in a variety of ways. Such as a Weebly Website, S’more poster, Book in Book Creator, or a community event.
Other amazing people to follow!

These are a few of many notes I took. One thing I walked away with was I NEED to buy Andi’s book. I know, not another book, but if you plan on starting or developing your Genius Hour this book is what you need. I ended up purchasing one right after ISTE. This was based on the great presentation. I knew it would be what I needed to develop my Genius Hour in my classroom.

My first day at ISTE was long and truly a great experience. What have you learned from ISTE or from me? What is one thing you want to try in your school or classroom?
Tweet me your answers @teaching_power and use the hashtag #teachingpower
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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

WITcon Reflection 2018

As I have discussed in past blogs WITcon (Whatever It Takes Conference) is a educators conference primarily focused on technology and how to incorporate it in the classroom. I have had the privilege of presenting at this conference each year. This year I got to present twice! Once on Digital Tools in the classroom like DoInk, SeeSaw, and the newly free Flipgrid! I also got to share ideas for a school-wide reading challenge that got so many of our students excited to read. I always enjoy sharing my experiences and meeting so many amazing educators at this conference. What I truly love the most is learning about new tech and ideas to bring to the classroom. It is funny I always feel like I know how to use these different tools and apps, but then someone will show you a different way to use it or a trick and my mind is blown again!
One of my two presentations

This year I just wanted to share a few things that have stuck out to me after the many sessions I attended.

1) Merge Cube
Ok, so I saw this awesome device on facebook months ago. I saw what it could do and promptly went out to my Walmart to look for these awesome items. I found them in the clearance aisle and wanted to buy 15, as they were $1 each. I had my cart loaded up and then that little voice (my boyfriend) asked had I even tried it out myself? Well, I said no and he, being my conscious, reminded me that maybe I should do that first. So I only purchased one. It was the end of the year, I hadn't really tried out the cube. It was just sitting in a box in my classroom up until WITcon. Well, when I saw a session I dragged some colleagues to it because I told them, "This is sooooooo cool!" Well, it was and let me tell you I had no idea all the amazing apps they have to go with it!
The presenter showed us all the apps she played around with and some she hasn't played with yet. If you are a science teacher you will love this AR Experience for your class! It allows students to view planets in the palm of their hand, hold a human heart, excavate dinosaur bones and so much more. I also found out about an app called 57 North that works like a choose your own adventure story. I think this would be amazing to use as a class reward for behavior or end of the school day! Now I will say that many of the apps you have to pay for but the experience is worth it. It runs on ios and android and will be working with the newer Chromebooks soon. They have found a great market in educational technology so I'm hoping the more teachers use it the more they will be willing to make apps for our classrooms. They have done beta testing for 3d shapes and historical statues. I'm excited what they will do next. Definitely, a must try if you want to dive into AR and bring experiences to life in your classroom. Check out the facebook group for amazing ideas and new products and follow them on Twitter!
Take a Picture of the sides of the Merge Cube and share digitally if you don't want to buy a class set.

2)Literature Circles are Not Dead
In all honesty, I never really thought they were dead, but with recent shifts in curriculum and technology, I haven't seen as many teachers utilizing them in the classroom. I went to a session in which a teacher discussed how to take the typical literature circle and update it using tech.

  • Having students create posters using Google Drawings 
  • Make Youtube playlists for characters 
  • Using Flipgrid for initial reactions and reflections after lit group time
  • Creating choice boards on slides or Google Drawings
  • Creating Twitter Chat Centered on Big Ideas encompassing the stories and following that up with a vlog using Screencastify, WeVideo, or Flipgrid
  • Having a big final project that is graded using student-created rubrics
So many great ideas that I can incorporate for my 5th Grade class to make Lit Circles more relevant and exciting. Shout Out to Traci Johnson!

3) Connecting Globally and within your own Community
I really want to find more ways to connect my students with other people and connect beyond our four walls. I went to a few sessions that gave me some great ideas on how to do that and engage the community we currently live in as well. When thinking Globally there are a few sites I was unaware of but I'm excited to try in my classroom next year. One is Belouga which allows your classroom to connect with other classrooms from all over the world. I love how this site allows students to ask each other questions to learn more about each other and recognize they have more in common than they thought. It also allows students to earn points that they can put towards helping schools in need of clean water, supplies, and food. They also are so willing to help you in any step of the process and have even created permission slips and notes to help you get started. Another neat site is Google Lit Trips which allows you to dive into a book in a different way and allow your students the chance to see where these characters lived and walked in the novels. For me, I'm excited to try this with the book The Watsons Go To Birmingham
Belouga Website

As for Community-based connections, I got to learn from another district some fabulous ideas to get your staff in good spirits and get the community excited about your school. I loved the ideas this school shared on staff support and events. You can really tell that they love and support one another with the different staff bonding they did such as:
  • WOW- Work Out Wednesday
  • Lip Sync Battles
  • Staff Sports Games
  • Photo Boards
  • Pineapple Charts
I thought these to be soooooo important because we all know as the year goes on the stress can pile up too. We have to have fun and relax sometimes in order to be our best selves and make school a fun upbeat place for our students. I also loved the idea that they had to have a community open house where the doors were open for everyone with kids and without to attend and learn about what types of things are going on in the school. I also like that it gave students and staff alike a chance to showcase the cool things they are doing in their classrooms. If you are interested in following this school you can check them out on Twitter.

Another successful year at WITcon in the books and so much to think about how to utilize for next year! I especially loved this quote from the amazing Eric Sheninger, "We need to focus more on the "What ifs" than the "Yea Buts""
From Eric Sheninger's Keynote Presentation

What are your "What Ifs" this summer? 
What questions can you ask yourself to better switch up your lessons?
Let me know your thoughts! Tweet to me @teaching_power 
Be sure to share your experiences and you try some of these tools using #teachingpower
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Sunday, June 3, 2018

Green Screen Made Easy!

I don't know what it is about technology, but sometimes it truly gets me nervous. I am so excited about learning something new, but then I always worry when trying it in the classroom. The green screen is no exception. For a couple years now I have heard about and seen other teachers use it and bring it into the classroom. I always thought, :Wow that would be awesome...too bad I don't have a green screen nor do I know how to do it." Well that excuse worked for a while until one of my coworkers started using it this year. With her help, some green table cloth, and the amazing app DoInk I was able to record and create some amazing green screen videos.

Students Planning their Commercials

My coworker honestly started it all. She purchased some inexpensive green table cloth from Walmart and purchase the DoInk app ( ) for the price of $2.99. I personally don't like paying for apps, but to me this is a simple investment and helps my class to create memorable and exciting videos to show off their learning. What is nice about this app is that they have a tutorial video, a walk through on the website, and overall it is fairly easy to use. I know from experience because I one of those people that plays around with something until I get it to work...who needs directions! lol All I did was import the videos and import photos from Google images to place in the background. I put the videos and pictures in a sequence I wanted and viola!

Screen Shot of a Commercial

This year I used the green screen for a formal assessment after my reading groups completed their literature circle books. I decided to have my students create a news broadcast in their groups. They had to tell the news (Summary of their book), create a commercial (having to do with something in their book), have a weather forecast (describe the setting of the story), and have either a sports segment or interview with a character. The two books my students read were The Hero Two Doors Down written by Sharon Robinson and The Watsons go to Birmingham-1963 written by Christopher Paul Curtis. This was a new concept for me as I have never had my students do a book report this way, but I thought it would be neat to try. Honestly I would do it again in a heart beat! It took about a week to complete, including filming, because it was the end of the year and there was a lot of things going on. It was worth the time truth be told. The students worked in their groups efficiently, dealt with issues diplomatically, and really got into creating their broadcasts. When it came time to film they dressed up, using some of the props and costumes I had in my classroom closet they put on a great show. If we had more time I might have had them film or at least play it back and decide what to edit or revise. I put in the backgrounds that I found via a Google image search and DoInk made it easy to apply more than one as well as put together multiple video clips. The students could not wait to see their newscasts and after uploading it to Google Drive I played them for all to see. They LOVED it and so did I!

What did I learn from this experience?

  1. Don't doubt your students. They will always surprise you and when something new is involved 9/10 times they will jump at the opportunity and really shine. 
  2. Don't doubt yourself. You might think something is too hard, involves too much time, or might be too complicated to put together, but you never know if you don't try. Give something new a chance and ask for help if you need it. Make it a goal to at least to try one new thing each year. Teaching is a profession where you have to remain aware to stay relevant. We have to be willing to expand our lessons for our students and model risk taking as well as reflection. Go For It!
  3. Don't expect perfection. I think part of my fear for trying this new tool is that I wouldn't be able to do it right or I didn't have the right equipment. Sometimes the best laid plans go awry and that's ok, it doesn't mean you stop trying new things. We can't expect our students to be perfect nor ourselves. If you try something new let your students know you are learning together. It's ok to admit you don't know it all it actually is a teachable moment for your students. As for the materials, my father taught me that its ok to not have everything, but you can make what you need (redneck ingenuity). My school has always been low income and almost everything in my room came out of my own pocket. I know the value of saving money and not having much to spend, but there are always ways to make the impossible possible in a classroom. 

Have you used Green Screen? What is something you want to try, but your nervous about?
Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @teaching_power or on Facebook

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Hype Training 101: How to hype students up for any lesson

We all know the classroom can be a place some students dread. Why? I have asked students and always get the same answer: "It's sooooooo boring!" How do we change their mindset that learning is boring? We make learning an experience.  Something students truly look forward to and it starts with us!

After having many different students over the years I have worked on creating lessons that are challenging, but creative and engaging. I want students to see learning as an experience, a journey that can be frustrating, challenging, fun, and exciting. I realized quickly with 5th graders it's all about how you sell it. Have you ever been a party with a DJ? If you have you know that the DJ makes the party great. They are the ones who decide which songs to play and hypes up the crowd making them excited to be there and dance the night away. You have to be that DJ. That hype-woman(man) that makes your classroom the place to be. We have to know which assignments to give and when. We also have to make those assignments applicable or exciting to the students to have them tune in. There are some simple and more elaborate things I use to engage my students. I like to change it up because just like a DJ, you can't play the same song 3 times in a row. The crowd or in this case the students are going to get bored of it. Here are a few ideas that you can use to hype up any lesson to get students excited about what they are learning.

Add Drums
Recently I have started to add drums to my math lessons. I had the idea from something I saw when I went to the Ron Clark Academy (RCA) a few years ago. While I was there I observed the use of drums in classrooms to keep students on track. They would choose students, especially those who needed help focusing and give them the honor of using the drums during class. They would play them when students gave correct answers, gave good points, or in celebratory moments. I thought it was cool at the time, but I didn't know when or how to use it in my own classroom. I went to Marshalls several months later and came upon a drum that I just had to buy for my room. I realized if I was going to ever use it I might need more than one what did I do? I bought 20, just kidding. I ended up asking my community for empty oatmeal containers. I covered them with fun painted paper and they became my "drums". I never really took them out until one math lesson. We were working on multi-step fraction problems and I could tell I was losing student interest. Inspired by RCA, I took out my original drum and hit it every time my students chimed in with the next correct step. The students woke up and wanted to participate. After one problem, I started a band and they have been excited ever since.

Cheer It Up
I have never been a cheerleader, but I love music and dance. I try to include both in my classroom the best I can. Over the past few years, I have personally developed some cheers to promote learning in my class and create a team atmosphere. If you love music or are just a spirited cheerleader in your own right consider creating some cheers. Cheers to help your students or have them make some on their own. I have had students create group cheers, class cheers, and even academic cheers using important vocabulary or concepts to help them remember crucial information.

Go Somewhere
Anytime you make learning real to students and take them somewhere it can truly excite and connect students with the material. I grew up in the Chicago Suburbs so I had the privilege of attending all the Chicago area museums and zoos to really connect to the material. When I moved to a rural area I realized quickly that these experiences would be a little more challenging to obtain but not impossible. I get to take my students yearly to Heritage Days, a historical based weekend event that happens in our time. This event has many artisans and replicates a rendezvous of traders from a period of time. These traders represent various time periods that are taught in our 5th grade curriculum. It is an experience that student can't get in a classroom. They step back in time and we reflect it on it all year. I have seen teachers take their students to the courthouse for fairy tale trials, to a nearby college to learn about a particular subject or work with amazing tools. A teacher could take to a local store or a mall to practice math skills. The possibilities are endless! You can make learning tangible, but also make those community connections. Now with digital media expanding places are closer than ever. They are only a phone/tablet/computer away. I have used Virtual Reality apps to take my students places and give them experiences I physically can't. This year alone I used the NBC app to allow my students to experience what it is like to ski during the Winter Olympics. All this took was my iPhone and a $10 VR Headset from Walmart.

Heritage Days: Showing off my archery skills

Give them a Job
Students love experiences and putting them in a role. By giving them a job they will definitely play the part and the learning will become important to their reality. I try to make the material we are learning applicable to the lives of my students. That is why during our ancient Greek lessons I "take my students to a Greek restaurant." I flip my room into a restaurant! Complete with tablecloths, menus, music and I play the waiter. They are given the job of spending so much money and making sure everyone in their family gets something to eat. My students practice adding and subtracting decimals while putting them in a scenario that many of them have been a part of before. We practice figuring out the tip and writing checks as well. I have also put my students in the role of an editor and chief of a magazine where they have to make corrections to articles. Students have also been detectives looking for the stolen Constitution or trying to track down Carmen Sandiego and the Main-I-Deer Statue. We have even been crazy bakers who have to figure out the Author's Purpose and double recipes for catering requests.  I am constantly trying to find ways to integrate real-world jobs or applications in our curriculum. If students have a goal or feel as though they have a job during a lesson they are more invested and excited to play their part. The same goes for readers theater and literature circles. When given a role of value many students will rise to the occasion.

Connect Them With the World
Along with making real-world experiences for my students, I have been using technology in my class to connect them with the world. When we are researching people, learning about an event, or just excited to share certain skills, I have my students tweet different people, groups, or companies and see if we get a response. It was amazing to get responses from Team Canada during our whole school Olympics and to hear from Mr.Owl during our science lab. It is not guaranteed, but it can be a great way for your students to get excited about a lesson. You can also partner with another classroom and share what you are learning or discuss via twitter or Flipgrid.  I have seen classroom connections with other classrooms and connections with experts on Skype (something I am still working on). If your school has access to technology why not use it to connect your students with the world around them. Connect them to what they are learning or pose a question to the world and see what they get in return. It's a great way to have students get excited about what their learning and share it with others. Technology isn't the only way to connect students with the world, consider connecting with local experts, classrooms, or businesses. This helps not only the community but allows students to feel more connected to what is local to them.

With all of these ideas, the main thing to take away is to be excited! As the teacher, it is all about how you sell it. If you apologize and say it is going to be a boring day today they will never buy into it. Instead, you have to believe in your lessons, if you don't love the lesson consider adding something to it to make it something you are proud of. Smile and be excited! If you are excited and play your role the students will get into it and be excited to learn. It starts with us! We have to believe in the magic and make our lessons joyful for our students to get excited about learning. Bring your all and hype up the crowd. I promise you will grab their attention.

How do you hype up your students? How do you engage them in your lessons? Have you used some of the techniques I listed or do you have some different ones?
Share your thoughts with me on Twitter! #teachingpower        @teaching_power

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Plate Spinning by the Ringmaster

I remember my first year teaching 5th grade feeling completely lost. It was scary moving from 3rd to 5th grade. I did not what I was teaching or even how to deal with 5th-grade students. I was making it up as I went. I recall looking through the material and wondering how am I gonna get through all of this, keep my class together, help the students who are struggling, push the students who need the challenge, make everyone happy, and keep myself from losing it.

Some people say teaching is an art. Other people think it is one of the easiest professions know to man. "You're a teacher? That must be nice. Summers off and all you have to do is read out of books to kids." I wish people could truly understand the struggle that teachers face daily. I remember my first year correlating it to being a plate spinner. The goal is to spin each plate and keep them spinning so that none of them fall. You are always on your toes and constantly looking for the plate that might fall so you can prevent it from doing just that. It's exhausting mentally, physically, and at times emotionally because when that plate falls we take it to heart.

My first year, don't let the smile fool you I was exhausted

A teacher's job is this and so much more because our plates have names, faces, backgrounds, and dreams. We have to keep everything in our classroom moving in a rhythm that is beneficial for our students and for the expectations set upon us. If you ask a teacher what our true job, many would say to teach our kids. Notice how I stated that "teach OUR KIDS." Yes, standards are important and I do believe that students need to know or at least be exposed to some things before they progress to the next grade. However, I'm not just teaching subjects. I am teaching the whole student. I am teaching a student that they can do things and be successful or that it is ok to make mistakes. I am allowing students the chance to share whats on their mind and leading discussions on how to deal with friendship drama. I am going to student games and events to show that I care about who they are and their true interests inside and outside of the classroom. I always say to my students it's about trying your hardest, making mistakes, and learning from them. You won't get things right 100% of the time but it's important to grow, learn, and be better than when you first arrived. That is what teachers take pride in. The moment at the end of the year when your exhausted from spinning all the plates and you look at your class and reflect on how much they have grown. At that moment it is all worth it.

I say all this for all the teachers reading this.... you are not alone. It is okay to feel exhausted and drained. You are human, we all are. Sometimes it feels like our job is never ending like we are Stretch Armstrong being pulled in so many different directions. It is okay to breathe and takes those moments for yourself and for your students. Go out and do a lesson outside for no other reason than it is nice out. It is okay to spend a little time playing a game with your students if for no other reason then to bring a little laughter to their day. I get it trust me I do. I know how much time we put into our lesson plans, how much effort we put forth to teach students. We also know our students. We know when they need a break or they need a smile. Our students are dealing with so much and are aware of everything in their bubble. They might forget that lesson on adding fractions (we hope not), but they won't forget that time you took a moment to talk to them about their parents' divorce or any other issue that they may have.

The key is to remember that we need to pace ourselves and take the time we need too. Our job can feel overwhelming and almost selfish in a way. It takes so much from us and we can feel as though we are supposed to take it all on our own. Things I have learned from my years teaching:

1. It's ok to say NO!

Don't feel like you have to take everything on. For the first few years, I felt like if I wanted people to take me seriously and know who I am I had to volunteer for everything. Volunteer for every after-school activity, event, and be apart of every decision-making group. I never felt like I could say no especially if I felt I was letting down my students. It took a few years of being exhausted and an amazing classroom aide looking at me and telling me "Say No!" I got the message. It is okay to say no. I can't do this event or I'm unavailable at that time. I still love taking on tasks and events for students, but I realized for my own health I can't do it all. Everyone has to pitch in to make the school work and it is not up to just one person. It's okay to do this and not feel bad about it especially if your health is involved.

When your exhausted its ok to nap too!

2. Don't be afraid to have fun.

Fun seems like such a crazy concept to me now after 5 years of teaching. I got into this profession to help students learn and make a difference. I wanted students to enjoy learning as much as I did and find their voice. Yet after being in the field, I have seen teachers lose sight of the fun. I can't blame those who have lost that light and passion. I had some doubts this past year. Our jobs have become overwhelming with standards (though important are mounding), expectations (often unrealistic it feels), and immense pressure to complete everything in one school year. That along with growing class sizes and dwindling budgets it can be tough to enjoy moments with your class. However, we must. You must enjoy what you do. Do things you enjoy! That is what keeps you from burning out, but more importantly, that is when students learn the most. If you are enjoying yourself and excited about the material then your students will too. I remember being overwhelmed with everything my first year of teaching 5th grade. There were so many standards and content I didn't know yet as a 2nd-year teacher. Frustration and fear at an all-time high I decided to teach something I enjoy, Greek Mythology, and connect it to the standards. It was the best decision I ever made! I got to do something I loved and inspire my students to love it too. Every year I add to that lesson and make it bigger, better, and more fun!

3. Think outside the box.

Don't be afraid to be different. Try a new lesson! Get messy! Wear a costume and decorate your classroom! Try a new tech tool! Go out on a limb and try something new! I know that change can be hard. One thing is true, change teaches you something. It forces us to evolve and grow and what better way to teach our students this than to model it for them. Thinking outside the box is both challenging and worth it. When we choose to try something new or push ourselves outside the norm we are evolving as teachers. As students change we have to keep up. We have to find something we want to learn, be good at or try. Things are constantly changing in our field and we have to be open to it. Creativity and development is key. The more we push ourselves the better our lessons and ultimately our students will be. Reflecting on my classroom I will always remember looking at those around me during my earlier years of teaching. No one was doing what I wanted to do. I felt like I had to fit the mold and I shouldn't shake things up. After meeting teachers similar teachers with the same outlook as me and attending RCA (Ron Clark Academy) I felt more confident in my "unorthodox methods." I felt a freedom to be creative and try some different things such as a math labyrinth, transforming my classroom into a crazy bakery, or even taking my students on a quest to find Carmen Sandiego. I felt pride in my teaching. Also, my students gained so much from these experiences and loved going along for the ride.

Trying a new lesson involving a Crazy Bakery

4....but also don't be afraid to keep it simple.

With all that being said, don't overdo it. It is important to change, innovate, and be creative but you can only do so much. In the words of an amazing friend, "Pick one thing!" Choose one thing you want to do or try and do it. Don't feel like you have to do it all or be pressured to do it all. There are so many different education tools, techniques, and programs it is ok to try just one. Find something you want to grow in and do something about it. Find something that might help you grow. If it works for you use it, try it some more in some different lessons. If it doesn't try something else. Also, don't feel like you have to reinvent the wheel. We have lives and it is okay to not want to spend an entire day at school. Look for a variety of materials, use things you already have, or borrow from those around you. I constantly use books and Teachers Pay Teachers resources to make the lesson I intend to teach. I look at my lessons as "semi-homemade". I can't see doing it any other way. I make those lessons my own and tweak them to fit my lesson, my students, and my teaching style. I choose what would be best for my students and supplement as needed. We have to prioritize our time so it is okay to keep it simple.

5. Be yourself and reflect on your why.

You have to be the teacher you wanted to be when you started. These years go by and we forget why we are here. It makes sense. I stated earlier we have so much going on and so many pressures that we get bogged down. We need to be true to ourselves and remember our why. Why did we get into this profession? Why have we remained? We have to remind ourselves from time to time why we are here. I post pictures of my students around my desk and call it my Hall of Fame. I try to update it when I see students years later. My why is that I want to shape the future.Sometimes, I don't always see that happening in my classroom, but just looking at those photos, renews my enthusiasm. I love seeing my kids grow, and reading their emails reminds me I have made an impact. In the bleakest moments or most frustrating, we have to recall our why and who we are. Not everyone could do what we do day after day. We work with students from all over with a variety of attitudes.bad We try to give them hope. We are teaching the future and trying to help them uncover their potential. It starts with believing in them.

My Why

Let me know if you have any tips for a plate spinning teacher.
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Sunday, March 25, 2018

Promoting Reading School Wide!

Reading is fundamental to learning. This year I decided to push my students to have FUN with reading and develop a love of different authors and texts. This came after I read two amazing books this past summer: Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and Kids Deserve It by Todd Nelsoney and Adam Welcome.

These books have really opened my eyes to a number of possibilities when it comes to student growth in reading. Something that I personally wanted to improve in this summer. After spending part of my summer running my father to his knee surgery and then to all of his physical therapy appointments, I had a lot of time to read. I dived into these two books and just marked them up. I found so many ideas that I wanted to tweak and make my own. I got so excited in fact that I was sending my colleagues screenshots of ideas and notes of all the thoughts that had my head spinning. I even started typing plans for my first few weeks to promote reading in my classroom.

My notes from Reading in the Wild

I'm not gonna lie, every year I finish teaching there is a moment of true tiredness. I feel burnt out and wonder if I will feel that spark again, but within a few weeks of break, I spring back. I dive into a book for inspiration or do something that makes me truly happy and allows me to get the energy to start again. It's all about finding moments of rejuvenation and places of inspiration.

Reading those books inspired me not only to ramp up reading in my classroom but to create something to inspire reading school-wide. So with big dreams and crazy ideas, I began sketching out a school-wide reading challenge. I decided to create a challenge that was different than previous years. Prior to this year, we had a district-wide challenge that required 4th and 5th-grade students to pick 12 books off a list of 24 books and read them in order to attend a fun activity at the high school.  The books for the 5th-grade list were great books, but most of them were too high for my students to read and understand independently. I wanted the reading challenge to expose students to more books, but not restrict them so much that they feel they can never complete the challenge.

I decided to set a basic goal of 20 books to be read by April for all students. I wanted to create rewards for students when they met the goals of 5, 10, 15, and finally 20 books. This was to let them experience success and encourage them to keep going. After meeting with my colleagues we came up with some simple rewards to encourage students and that didn't break the bank.

  • For 5 books students got a piece of candy and a bookmark. 
  • For  10 books students had to reach this by a certain date in order to attend a hot cocoa party. After that date, they got a Pizza Hut coupon (Book-It)
  • For 15 books students once again had to reach a certain date to receive the opportunity to eat school breakfast in the cafeteria while listening to music. After that date, they got a rice crispy treat.
  • For 20 books they got to meet the Wizards basketball team when they came to our school to promote our district fundraiser game. They also got an outdoor lunch and extra recess time.
I can't express enough how important it was to have everyone involved.  This idea was a great starting point, but after hearing from my K-1 colleagues I knew that it would have to be tweaked to work for the younger grades. We ended up doubling the number of books that needed to be read for those students. This was due to their books being shorter. Later on, we also created a raffle for the students who read beyond the end goal of 20 or 40 books to keep the strong readers still amped up and encouraged to read. 

My colleagues came up with so many ideas and promoted the challenge in their classrooms in different ways to make it a true success. Some teachers created classroom charts, fun bulletin boards, or even celebrated the readers in their class in special ways. We also decided to create a school-wide bulletin board that took up a large chunk of the hallway. Student's names were added to the board after they completed each goal. They were also announced on the morning announcements to congratulate them school-wide.

Our School Wide Bulletin Board

As I started to develop this reading challenge I wanted to make sure the 4th and 5th grade students were able to read their choice of literature, but also encourage them to try different series and authors that they may not try otherwise. I thought about books that were available in our library, that had a variety of levels for our students and that helped them improve their reading. So with all of that in mind, I created a list of authors and series with the help from some 4th grade teachers. I wanted to use authors and series instead of books because it gave students more flexibility and choice. I choose 13 different authors and 4 series :

4th & 5th Grade Student Book List

In the end, I chose to encourage the older students to read 10 books of their choice and read 10 from our list. My hope was for students to try some books from different authors and series that might get them hooked on reading. This worked GREAT! Students would tell me how much they loved certain books and even encouraged their classmates to read them. I loved seeing my students try new books and enjoy them fully. It brought so much joy when they would proudly tell me that they passed the AR test and how much they loved reading the book.

My classroom bulletin board to promote reading

I know AR is one of those polarizing things. Some people love it and others hate it. In case you didn't know AR stands for Accelerated Reader. It is an online book testing site. It has a number of books that students can take multiple choice comprehension tests on. We use it at our school to test students understanding of the books they read.

  • The cons of using this tool are that it costs money, some of the questions are difficult or tricky, and students can guess because of the multiple choice aspect. 
  • Some pros of using this are that the students can do it at any time, its quick, it grades itself, and teachers can access it to keep track of information in regards to how the students are doing on the tests. 
I went to an elementary school that used AR. As a student, I didn't like it because when my school used it I  could not take tests on the books I was reading. I didn't want students to feel as discouraged as I did. So if a student wanted to read a book that wasn't found on AR they could write a Fab 5 Summary of the book or do a FlipGrid explaining their book and how they would rate it. There are so many ways one could check student understanding. What I think is important is that in some way we are checking for student understanding to better help students in the classroom. One way of helping them is showing them how to choose books that are a good fit. 

Long story short (too late...whoops lol) I have really enjoyed taking this once crazy idea and bringing it to life this year. Things lined up great to really allow my big dream to take flight and I truly feel like it has made a difference in our school. When you hear students say things like, "I have read so much more this year!" Or, "I loved these books and I can't wait to read more after the challenge." You can't help but smile. The ultimate goal was to promote reading and allow students to foster the love of reading. I would say it was a success! My hope is to continue this challenge and to adapt it, change it, and make it something our school is proud of!

Let me know what you do to encourage readers of all ages?
Tweet me at @teaching_power