Monday, June 24, 2019

Reflect: WITcon 2019

Another year in the books for the best Western Illinois educator conference! #WITcon19

First, if you haven't heard of WITcon (Whatever It Takes Conference) you need to stop what you're doing, yes stop reading, and look it up. It is an amazing conference all about the latest techniques in teaching and education technology. I have attended or presented every year since it has been established. Therefore, I can attest it is a must-attend event! So spread the word and consider attending next year. I know I would love to meet you!

People
So I know your anxiously waiting to hear about what happened at this years WITcon and it didn't disappoint. I mainly attended Day 2 and Day 3 of the conference. To open day two the amazing, strong education advocate Adam Welcome was the keynote. It was completely engrossing and for that hour you could hear a pin drop. He left me, with such a strong impression that made me feel confident in my craft. He had such a strong point of view that I admire, but I related to so many things he said. One in particular that spoke to so many people was, "You can teach for 25 years, but don't teach the same year 25 times." As educators, we need to change up our teaching. We have to adapt and learn the languages of our children. Sometimes that is stepping out of your comfort zone or putting students in charge, but regardless of what it we need to teach for this generation.
Adam Welcome giving his keynote

I had the pleasure of talking with Adam a few days before the conference on a Google HangOut. Honestly, it was complete luck. I saw him request some educators to brainstorm with and I just responded. It was such a great chat, I got to meet some other amazing educators and got to hear some words I needed to hear. Adam listened to my tale and left me with a great piece of knowledge. I know that as an educator we want to be liked, but do we truly need to be liked to do what is best for our kids? We want to support our students and we should do that by any means necessary. Other teachers may not like us rocking the boat, they may even be jealous, but we need to find our PLN and rock our classroom! It's funny because Adam spoke not only to teaching for me but for my life. Let me tell you a secret, I'm not perfect. I have issues like we all do and more often than not I doubt myself more than most. I have anxiety and sometimes I let the voice in my head take over. I worry what other people think of me far too much. Often times I'm my own worse critic. Yet, there is something truly amazing that we all do, we make relationships with students, we show up for them and in my case, I do it in crazy, wacky ways. I can't let others define me, nor should any of us allow others to bring us down. If Twitter and my digital PLN have taught me anything it's to be your true self and know there are people out there who will support you! Now I'm still a work in progress like we all are, but I'm going to live brave for me and for my students.
Adam and I meeting! 

Another major gain for me was meeting Monica Burns and having a chance to listen to her keynote on Day 3. She really pushed for Tasks Before Apps (She has even written a book on that concept, which I totally bought). Truth be told I know I really need to think about the end goal more and not just the apps I want to use or try out. We need to use tech, but it is truly important to sitting down and analyzing what your true goal is for the students. Apps are great and can make so many amazing things happen for our students, but we need to decide on the goal and standards first. Apps come later to make things achievable we couldn't before or allow our students to connect with an authentic audience they couldn't before. I had the amazing chance to attend two of her sessions and ask her for some advice on podcasting. She is very kind and gave me some great advice. If you haven't checked her out you really should and check out her podcast too!
Monica Burns and I after her keynote

Lastly, I got to meet an old friend who is doing amazing things. Rae Hughart graduated and started working in the district the same time I did. We even met while filling out paperwork. I could tell right away she was strong, determined, and would do anything to support her students. She ended up moving after a year after getting her dream job and has not looked back. She not only works as a junior high math teacher, but she is head of Training and Developing for the amazing professional development company Teach Better. They have so many different digital webinars and courses to help teachers #teachbetter. I was really intrigued with the Grid Method model and have always admired Rae's classroom internships in her Teach Further Model so I went to her session. After attending I knew two things:
1) The Grid Method is not as scary as I thought. It definitely will take time, but I love how it will force me to focus on the standards, ending objectives right away (Sometimes I get caught up in the pressure to teach it all that I don't take the time to plan out how I will know the student has mastered it. Knowing the problem is half the battle). I also love how students get to have more independence.
2) I was going to try out the Grid Method this year. I plan to blog about my experience and my courses so stay tuned to hear more!

Rae in her old classroom sharing the Grid Method

Now let's get to all the cool Apps!

Apps
One app I learned more about was BookCreator. I had heard about it but never really used it before. It is so easy and truth be told I was wondering why I hadn't used it before. There is so much you could do with this app and it definitely would help with students creating comic book endings to books we read in class or writing their own stories. It even can be used to create graphic organizers for students.
A Page from my Goal Journal I created on BookCreator

I got a chance to play with Padlet, Back Channel Chat, and Nearpod. I had heard of all of these, but like many things in edtech, there is so much out there that you rarely use it all or know the best way to use it. All three of these have some amazing uses. Padlet you can use for KWL Charts, T-Charts, and any other collaborative resource you want to use it for. Speaking of collaborating I loved the Back Channel Chat as a means for students to real-time chat about anything you choose. It allows students to share their thoughts with others and allows the teacher to get real-time data. Nearpod, on the other hand, reminded me of Peardeck, but it has a few different features like 360 field trips that you can add into the slides you make. Monica Burns really outdid herself with these awesome resources!
Another Great Quote from Adam Welcome's Keynote

On Day 3 I learned a lot of different tools to use with Chromebooks in my classroom. One tool I have avoided, because of fear, is Screencastify. I realize I do a lot of similar things using Flipgrid and I need to let go of my fear. This year since I want to cut down on lecture and empower my students to lead. I plan on truly using Screencastify more. I know I'm late to this awesome train, but sometimes you need to see that it's not as hard as it may seem to really let go and try something new.

On top of that, I also got a chance to play with Tour Builder, Jamboard, hyperdocs, and Animoto. All of these amazing tools have great purposes and I'm excited to play with them more. I for one have always been intrigued by hyperdocs so learning all the amazing ways to use them really thrilled me. Keep an eye on my blog to see reviews of these apps and creations I make as I go. Won't be perfect, but I know I'm definitely going to try them out and see what works for my tasks.
When you win an epic prize!

And it's signed by an amazing educator!


Reflection
When it's all said and done I walked away from WITcon19 with more apps to use in my class and the spirit I need to get back up and start a new year. More importantly, I got the chance to be brave. Be open enough to introduce myself to some amazing educators, not fear attending sessions alone, and playing the confident teacher I know I can be. It's about losing the fear of trying a new app and being confident. Even if you fail, remember failure is just part of the process. It will take time but I will get there, Whatever it takes after all!

Thoughts
Did you attend WITcon19? How are you planning to Be Brave this school year?

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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Before you attend an Ed Conference...

Tis the season for teacher learning! There is something about teachers that even when summer comes we relax, but we make time to learn, grow, and make plans for the coming years. I have attended and presented at quite a few education conferences (Witcon, ISTE, and RCA). I would be willing to say that they all are unique in their own ways, but have quite a bit in common. There are some basic things that you need to keep in mind if you plan to attend any conferences this summer. So here is my list of MUSTS for attending Ed conferences!


  1. Bring your Technology! - This goes really without saying, since many of these conferences have gone digital, but bring your favorite piece of technology. For me, that's my laptop and my phone which allows me to take notes, use websites, and download new apps if I need to. Also, don't forget to stay charged. I always charge the day or night before and bring a phone charger or battery pack with me if I plan on being out all day. Tweeting about all the amazing things you learn can really drain your battery! 
  2. Have an open mind! - Walking in with a positive attitude and open mind is important. You want to be open to anything new because you never know what you might uncover. You want to try things and go to sessions that pique your interest. Be willing to interact with others and share your experiences you never know what you will be able to use. 
  3. Use your time wisely - Plan out your day ahead of time. With conferences like ISTE there is so much going on that you really want to plan ahead. Pick the main sessions you want to attend but give yourself time to stumble across a new adventure in the play, poster, and exhibit areas. For a conference like Witcon use your time in those sessions to find out what you want to learn more about and take advantage of the conference website and lunch to make connections. 
  4. Do things you enjoy! - Choose sessions that speak to you. It's ok to go to things that focus on your strengths, weaknesses, or even things you're curious about. I would say from personal experiences push yourself to find those sessions you know you are going to learn a lot in. You can try a new app on your own and you can meet with your teacher bestie later to talk about their session, go to the ones that you only got one chance at. 

  5. Be Brave! - This one sometimes can be the hardest, Be Brave! This means to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Be willing to go up and talk to the speaker if you really connected with what they said. Volunteer, answer questions, be the audience we crave from our students. The more you give the more you will get. Don't be afraid to make conversations with those around you. Last year at ISTE I even went to a book launch party. I was nervous as all get out, but it was great to meet some amazing people. Now looking back I should have been even braver, spoke to more people, shared more things, made more connections. Learn with no regrets!


Are you attending any ed conferences this summer? Where to? What is your advice?
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Friday, June 14, 2019

Relationships: School Wide Theme

Summer is coming and school is wrapping up. It might be a little soon to look into the future and make plans for my next class. Yet as exhausting as this year has been I have big plans and a part of me is very excited to start again. There are many students who feel the same way, but also many who dread walking through those doors and coming back to school. One thing my building has done for a few years now makes that first day a great one! It is kicked off with students parading into the building, music playing, and students in awe of the school being decorated.
Zootopia School Theme

Every year for the past few years our school has come up with a school-wide theme. This theme is often linked to learning or growth in some way. Our first year we had the theme of Zootopia and "Try Everything" was our motto. This past year we took inspiration from Moana and pondered "How far will I Grow?" We typically try to choose themes that will excite the students and draw from movies and music for inspiration.
Vines hang from the ceiling and paw prints on the floor

We had animals all over the school and each pod was a different animal.


With the Zootopia theme, we created a giant waterfall in our lobby. We hung vines through the halls. Each pod in our building chose an animal and used it for inspiration. The K-1 hall was monkies, 2-3 hall was snakes, and 4-5 hall was lions. We hung decals, animal print, lanterns in the hall. We even found quotes to spread throughout along with giant cardboard cutouts of animals. The moment we entered the building that first day to "Try Everything" playing from the speakers in the hall the kids were speechless. They were excited, some confused, and many just wondered what the rest of the year would hold.
Moana Ocean in the Windows

This past year Moana was our inspiration and we truly took our decorations up a notch. We had the entrance as if you were in the ocean using blue cellophane and created amazing looking jellyfish with ribbon and paper lanterns. Once you entered the lobby you had Moana's boat with HeiHei and ocean paper lined some walls as you approached the shore. As you move further into the room there was a giant volcano, palm trees, beach chairs, and umbrellas. We decorate bulletin boards in our hallways. We had blown up fish and a dolphin hanging from the ceiling, teachers decorated with Hawaiian flowers, flip flops, surfboards and more. It was fun to see the students react and get excited to walk through the school again. They were greeted as they entered and given a lei to welcome them into the new school year. Moana soundtrack played as students marched through the corridors as they were led to their new classroom. It's fun to create these amazing experiences and as the school year advances, we still reference the songs and motto throughout the year. It is a nice way to tie the school together and work together as a staff to do something powerful for the students.
Giant Light Up Volcano in the Lobby

I loved that this year the students almost expected it. The 4th graders asked questions and tried to guess what they think the theme will be for the next year. Students get excited and expect their teachers to be silly and do something special for them on the first day. That excitement is special, but also awesome because even after summer students are excited to come back if only for the surprises on the first day.
Moana's boat

This year we personally delivered tickets inviting students to "step right up" on the first day of school. We personally invited all students and mailed them to students who weren't home. It was an amazing experience and I hope it continues. We decided to do a carnival theme decorating the lobby with a rollercoaster, Ferris wheel, merry go round, and a ticket booth. My peers and I decorated our hall with popcorn and circus animals. I even dressed up on the first day in a top hat and a tailed red coat! It was a fair to remember as we paraded in on the first day to "This is Me". The tradition continues and at this time of year, we are looking forward to next year and what theme we might dive into next!

Do you or your school do anything special to ring in the new school year? What theme would you choose if your school had a whole school theme? As we wrap up this school year what are you going to do now to make the next year even better?

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Monday, April 22, 2019

Reflect: Who is Your Mentor?

I was recently listening to Sadie Robertson's podcast "Whoa That's Good." If you haven't listened to it you should. It is a quick 30-minute podcast focused on the question, "What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?" It tends to be faith focused, but it still has amazing relatable discussions no matter your beliefs. In this particular podcast, Sadie was interviewing Chrissy Metz on her best piece of advice. At a certain point, the conversation went on to discuss mentors and who they consider being mentors in their life. This made me reflect this lovely Sunday morning on who I look to as mentors.

I feel like with the invention of social media and YouTube finding realistic expectations of life can be hard. Students and people all over the world post about those epic, best moments in their life....especially food, food is alway epic....but to me if you follow someone for the image they project that is only half knowing. There is so much more under the surface. Not all moments are Instagram worthy and that is ok. Those moments shape and define you. We have great tools at our fingertips, yet we have to be careful to not lose ourselves in them. We have to push progress and not perfection for ourselves and our students. They too see these epic images and lives posted all around, yet they don't know the struggle that comes with getting there. They too have to learn that it will not always be easy, but it will be worth it. There will be times that things are far from perfect, but we learn and grow in those moments to be better versions of ourselves.

Taking all that into account many of my mentors are people I look up to because of their vulnerability. They have shared the highs and lows making them truly human and relatable. I have found in my own life I have mentors all around me and some I have never personally met, but yet their story has touched me and made me want to be better. If I had to categorize my mentors I would put them in three main categories: Life, Teaching, and Family.

Life: Life mentor I believe might be the hardest to put my finger on. I think to narrow down people in my life I aspire to be like or I learn from is difficult. I have been blessed to pull from so many in my life and from people I have known from a distance. I would have to say my dad is a huge life mentor to me. He instilled hard work and the joy of helping others at a young age. I would also say, my boyfriend has pushed me to strive for more and never give up. He has lived a life full of amazing and sometimes hardening situations. Yet, he has grown and learned from all of them.

Other than these two amazing men in my life, I would say Joanna Gains is a life mentor. She started from nothing, grew herself and her business by word of mouth to become an amazing entrepreneur. All throughout she kept her family top priority but never lost herself in it. All my life the only thing I wanted to be was a mom. Over these last few months, I realized that being a mom is a huge joy and gift, but one shouldn't lose who you are in the process. I think Joanna does a great job keeping family first but realizing her own needs too. Chip is a great partner for her because when she needs time for herself or to start something new he supports her no matter what. Life wise they have been through stress, struggle and still were able to come out on top. I have read both their books and took away so many things I want to try and build into my life. The success they have had is great, but the joy they have brought others, the success they have had in their family, and the life they lead and instill in their children is what I am working towards.

Teaching: So many amazing teachers and yet so little time! I have been lucky enough to work with the best even starting with my amazing cooperating teacher. Knowing very little about teaching and starting out I threw every ounce of my being into my job. After a rough and depressing first year of teaching, I wasn't sure about anything. Lucky for me I ended up gaining mentors right when I needed them most. I was blessed to have some amazing mentors at my school especially Mrs Johnson who is never afraid to try something new and push her students to do more. I love how no matter what she is not afraid to put her self out there for the kids and make learning magical. That being said I have many more mentors I have been blessed to meet over the years.

After a trip to RCA (Ron Clark Academy) in my 3rd year of teaching, I was thrilled to learn from Hope King. After spending one class period with her I realized that she is a mentor. She brings magic into her classroom and teaches with high expectations in mind. My favorite quote from her that she said was, "If the kids think your crazy your doing it right." To be honest that night after hearing that quote I cried. My feelings were that of joy. The joy of knowing I'm not crazy in what I do. At that point, I was a very unique teacher in my building. Thus hearing that I wasn't alone, encouraged to keep doing what I am doing, and improve on it took a weight off my shoulders. I have followed Hope and all the amazing things she has done over the years and I feel blessed to have met her.

Another amazing meeting for me was meeting Tara M. Martin! I went to ISTE this past year and was beyond nervous. I felt very new to the edchat game and saw that Tara was launching her book at a beautiful location during ISTE. I knew very little about her or her book, but after some research realized I had to go. I remember being super nervous especially with my anxiety and not knowing anyone there, but Tara was truly kind and had such a bubbly personality. I left thrilled to have taken those big steps in coming in the first place. I walked away with a signed copy of her book. I read off and on this school year, not due to lack of interest. I was drawn in by her vulnerability and willingness to share even the hardest moments of her life. She shared her imperfections and I loved walking with her on her journey. I found a lot of parallels in our goals and experiences. I realized quite quickly that her progression in her career is what I wanted, but didn't realize. I love what I do and love teaching. However, I would love to one day be a curriculum coach and help others bring magic into their classrooms. I want to promote other voices, find new tools, and be a leader in my district especially when it comes to sharing amazing things teachers are doing. Tara and her book Be Real changed me and made me realize my goals for the future.

Family: When it comes to family I am just starting out. I have a loving boyfriend and two precocious dogs who I love like children. I have seen people I look up to and want to use ideas from as I begin the journey to start my own family. For me, one family that comes to mind is The Bucket List Family. They are a traveling family of journalists who have taken their young children all across the world to learn and help others. Now they had the amazing opportunity to do this because of their funds. Selling your company for millions will make the expenses doable. Yet on the surface, they have it made, but learning from them isn't about amazing travel and working hard to make millions. What I have taken from them is the importance of family time. It wasn't always easy to travel especially with little ones but to share in the experiences they made together. To watch them grow and meet new people was the part I loved. I want to raise my kids to enjoy experiences and not just things. I want them to be fearless, make friends without hesitation, and find joy in doing good. If anything I want my family to be built on joy, happiness, and health.

Overall, these are just a few people I consider my mentors. I foresee this changing and adding to this list throughout my life. I will grow and my goals will change. Regardless, having mentors and striving to make yourself better allows you to grow. Never stop looking for more or striving to achieve something that makes your heart beat. Allow opportunities and people to give influence to your life. Take what you need from them and learn from others just as others may learn from you.

With all this being said who do you consider a mentor? Why are they a mentor to you?

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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Dear Student Teachers...

My 1st Plan Book!

In the spring, the local college matches future Student Teachers with their cooperating teacher. The goal is to learn what their classroom expectations are before the fall. It's in these moments I reflect on my first days of school, my year as a student teacher, as well as my 1st year teaching. These experiences were rough and there are many experiences that you only learn from by dealing with them hands on. 

I have experienced many things in my 6 years of teaching and after having a student teacher of my own here is my advice:
  • Student Teachers need to be open to new ideas. They need to be open to risks but realize that they are not always practical with school and state mandates. We only have so much time in the day and we need to make sure we are using it wisely. 
  • Not everything can be a large project. Like I stated before there are so many things we have to teach that large projects might be limited to one or two a quarter and has to cover so many standards to be deemed worth it. Don't be afraid to shoot for those awesome projects, but instead have them cover several standards.
  • Modeling is more than one example. Too many student teachers and practicum students think going over one example is enough modeling. In elementary we need to do something many times and reflect. This is in order for the students to know what we expect and have more practice with a particular skill. 
  • Just because you think they have it doesn't mean they do. Keep practicing it until most show mastery. Asking "Do you get it?" doesn't mean you are going to get a valid or honest answer. Kids want to please so they will say yes even if they have no clue what they are doing. Be willing to find new and different ways for students to show their knowledge.
  • Be honest when you reflect. When the lesson doesn't go well don't immediately write it off as the students weren't focused or that they didn't listen. Ask yourself how can I make that lesson better? How can I get their attention? If the majority of students don't understand something how can I explain it better? What can I do tomorrow to make it easier for them to understand?
  • If help is given don't turn it away. If you have an aide or extra hands in your classroom don't have them run copies or grade. Instead, give them students to work with. Have them work with the kids in your room who need extra help. Come up with a plan for them. Even ask them what they feel is their strength and use it to benefit your students. 
  • Teaching is a workout. An effective teacher rarely sits. You need to be moving around the room when you teach unless you are working with a small group. Your energy and movement will draw students attention to the lesson don't just stand at the front or sit while they are working. You have to monitor, keep them on task, or just mediate situations. Otherwise, pull a group and work with students because sitting at your desk isn't helping anyone grow.
  • Energy is everything! When you walk into a room you need to be able to pull students attention. It's not always about the materials you use but how you sell them. Simple lessons can be fun. You must sell it like its the best thing in the world. If you apologize to the students about the lesson and say that it is boring or lacks movement then they will not enjoy it and neither will you. If you don't like how your lesson is, change it! Don't apologize, do something about it!
  • Don't put things off. If you know you need to make a test or prepare for a lesson don't wait until the last minute. The sooner you get it done the better. Things happen but if you are organized it makes it that much easier when/ if things happen. Now, this is harder said than done when you first start out. That's why it's important to reach out to other educators to help you get started.
  • Use resources, you don't have to reinvent the wheel. Beg, Borrow, Steal, is a teachers' motto. Use resources if you can or are given them. Stockpile things you use or like. Consider contacting Teacher Pay Teacher sellers and see if you can get free or discounted items. Take extra copies from your cooperating teacher to make a binder. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't make sense to spend hours on a worksheet or paper if you can find one just as good online. Teachers have families and lives outside of school. We have to set priorities, staying till 8pm at night to make everything from scratch doesn't make sense. 
  • Try something new. Don't be afraid to try something new you find online, a new app or website you can use in the classroom, or even try something you have seen another teacher do. If it works keep it, add to it, make it better. If it doesn't, move on and try something else. Otherwise, alter it to fit what you need. Trying something new can be scary, but don't let it stop you. It can really make your classroom an exciting place. Plus you want your teaching to develop and change over time.
  • You are not a student's friend. You are an adult and need to be respected. It is ok to play with them at times or teach them a game, but when learning is occurring there has to be mutual respect. A great moment is when a  student calls you mom or dad. You are an elder and should be respected. Part of that respect comes from developing relationships with students, getting to know them, setting boundaries for them, and being able to laugh with them. 
  • Students crave boundaries and they will push until they find that line. Know your line and hold firm to it. Hold everyone to the same expectation of behavior and talk to them about those expectations. Have students reflect on them, create them, and discuss them. It might be tough at first, but if you develop relationships with your students and hold the same expectations for all. They might get upset, but in the end, they will respect you for it. 
This is an amazing student teacher who will set the world on fire!

What were some of your takeaways from your student teaching or your 1st year of teaching? What advice would you give to a student teacher or First Year Teacher?

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Saturday, April 6, 2019

Hat Trick: Three Goals in Teaching

Have you ever been to a hockey game? It's truly an exciting and exhilarating experience. Similar to teaching it's fast-paced keeps you on your toes, and there are amazing goals and misses. What I think is most important about hockey is the teamwork that comes into play. Watching teams like the Blackhawks depend on each other and support each other on and off the ice is inspiring. Like many other team sports, there is this amazing comradery amongst teammates. This is something we need more of in education. We need to support each other and work together for the common good of our students. Part of that means being open and sharing in the process. Share your victories, but also share your failures. We have to be vulnerable with our teammates and we have to support each other along this journey.

I have really been reflecting these last few years of teaching and thinking to myself what does a good teacher make? I can't say I truly know, but if I were to give three pieces for teachers to focus on it would be relationships, risk-taking, and reflection.

Relationships:
People always say relationships are important, especially in regards to our students. I agree! If you plan on teaching a child you need to first know and build a relationship with that child. Every year I try to start the year with fun activities, but also high expectations. I have run into teachers who worry that high expectations early on can negatively impact your relationships with the students. I disagree because high expectations say I expect more because I know you are capable of more.

Students need to know you believe in them and having high expectations helps them realize you do. It's about how you address those expectations. Being positive and encouraging when students arrive and hold those high expectations are important. When they break the rules or don't rise to expectations how do you handle it? For me, it's addressing them at that moment, but also taking time later to discuss with them their choices. Students who are yelled at and never talked to or are given a consequence, but never given any feedback will feel singled out. They start to feel detached and are not invested in the classroom. We need to make sure those students realize why. Why are they being called out? Why is what they did wrong? Often times they know, but being that person who helps them to reflect and understand is part of building those relationships. I can't tell you how many times I have said, " I know you're mad. I know you're mad at me, but I know what you are capable of and you are better than this." You have no idea how many students in your class need to hear that. I know from personal experience many of my students never are told that someone believes in them and that they think they are amazing.

Yet, relationships are not just important for your students. These relationships need to be developed in the community both in the building and outside of it. We need to build relationships with other educators and support one another as a team. We also need to support our community. We need to bring them into our classroom, have them share their experiences, and their knowledge. We also need to show them the impact they make is real and appreciated. Bringing in community members into your classroom and bringing families into our buildings brings life and support to our students. We need to find ways to work together and build these relationships over time.

Risk-Taking:
Risk-taking is a hot topic these days. The world and companies are looking for more people who can collaborate, but also have design thinking skills. People who take risks, but who persevere. Individuals who are constantly willing to reflect, adapt, and test things until they work. We have to encourage the risks in our classrooms. We have to congratulate the risks and the failures. Our education system has for too long been focused on getting the right answer. Even looking back on my own education I recall freaking out if I didn't get something the first time I tried. This idea is crazy to me. The older and wiser I became I realized that rarely happens. Often times the process is long, practice is needed to grow. We need to promote the skill of perseverance over perfection in our classrooms. The reason is perseverance is realistic and a life long skill. We need to model risk-taking to our students. It begins with us! We have to be willing to try new things, refuse to be stagnant. As educators, we need to grow, develop, and learn from those around us. It is our duty to our students and ourselves to constantly take risks and grow from those risks. If anything it makes our jobs exciting and forces us/ our students to be more creative.

Reflection:
If you have made it this far you have already heard reflection be mentioned quite a bit. Reflection to me is the root of everything. All things come back to reflection. Students and educators alike need to reflect on their day. Reflection is important when we do anything. As an educator, I reflect on my lessons, what went well, what didn't. I even have started getting student input on the lessons. It's hard not to take it personally, but we have to remember we are growing as much as our students are. If we can't take suggestions how can we model it for students? They have to take suggestions from us daily. That builds on our relationships with the students. Giving our students opportunities to reflect is a skill that is just as important as any taught in other subjects. We need our students to take those opportunities to reflect on behavior, academics, and growth. Students recognizing what they do know can be empowering. Yet, realizing what they struggle with can be empowering as well because it gives them a focus in their learning.

When all three of these come together or when you grow in these three areas you have scored a "hat-trick" in education. You have effectively scored three goals, grown as a better educator, and grown as a better person.

What would be your hat trick? Do you agree with my three goals or do you have a different three?
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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Carmen Sandiego & the Main I-Deer Mission

So after winter break, I decided to review with my students. I thought reviewing would be the best way to ease them back into the classroom. This will spark some brain cells. I decided to focus on ELA skills such as Main Idea, Inferences, Research, and Text Evidence. I tried to create something that covered these skills but also was an engaging experience. It would make the students excited to be back. So I stumbled across an old favorite in the form of a Christmas Gift, Carmen Sandiego!

I LOVED the old TV show! I remember my dad teaching me how to play the computer game as a kid. I was all about bringing it back and making it a true experience for my students. I got straight to work making tasks that give students clues on the location of Carmen. This included filming my own videos portraying Carmen and Chief. It was so much fun and I loved being so creative. I hoped that when I put it all together that my students would love it too. So I got started right away developing my Google Slides. This consisted of putting my tasks, videos, and printouts in one place. So I never lose it.

Like I said before, I was able to create 3 different tasks for my students to take on to help find Carmen Sandiego.

Task 1:  I found a Main Idea Sentence Strip activity that came with a TPT back I bought. I decided to use four different paragraphs and cut the sentences up and put them into bags. I gave background information for the activity. We found one of the V.I.L.E. agent’s bags at an airport and these shredded documents were inside. As agents, they have to sort the papers into the two separate topics. Such as all the sentences about dogs and all the sentences about the beach. Then they had to read through them and find the sentence that describes the main idea. This was a tricky one for my students so I plan on making sure I explain it better next time. I need to break down what they should be looking for more than letting them run. #reflections

Task 2: Students were given text messages that were intercepted from V.I.L.E. agents. They had to read them then use inference skills to infer what is being discussed. Students did well on this, but I prepared them to work in their groups. Students were expected to read the documents together and discuss the answers before writing it all down. I still had one group who struggled, but I spent more time with them. This was helping them to get started by leading discussion and having them model what I expect.

Task 3: Students were given four “pieces of art” to interpret. They were given four task cards that include a paragraph in each. After reading through a paragraph the teams had to discuss what they felt the Main Idea was. After the discussion, they had to write it in their own words. This was one of the better tasks. The students did a great job discussing and coming up with their own Main Idea.

Between all these tasks, I had video clips or evidence slides that the students would watch/ read. These were needed to write down clues in their detective notebooks. They did a great job and loved solving the mystery. They especially got excited using the clues at the end to research “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”

I will say that this is my second year doing this activity. Last year, I took student feedback to make it better this year. I created my own materials for Task 3. Students felt they should be paragraphs about Greece, the location of Carmen. I also added more slides explaining the tasks and where they came from. Explanations to why these Jr. Agents are working with the shredded paper, text messages, and works of art. Developing the back story was important to tie everything together. This made it a real case to the students. I share this to say that even when I do an activity it is not always perfect. I take the leap and try something new, but there are always things that I reflect on, learn from, and make better.

Needless to say, the students loved this activity! So did I! It was a fun way to review skills after a long break and helped bring joy back to the classroom.

What are some activities that you do in your classroom after a break? Do you review or jump straight into something new?

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Shake Up Your Snow Day!


It's that time of year again where snow days are possible especially in the midwest. There is always seems to be the struggle as a teacher where you are happy that our students don't have to come to school in this dangerous weather. However, you also don't want them to miss learning. So what to do? I know some schools are moving towards digital school days where assignments are online and students complete them from home. Other districts have a folder or packet that students take home and have to complete the work within on Snow Days. I always struggled with both of these because I know my students. Many don't have a computer or internet access. Some won't even open the folder if it is sent home (truth be told do YOU really want to grade a packet of work?...If you do then you are better than me). We have to be creative as teachers and create learning experiences that are engaging even from home. It is possible! There are teachers who are amazing at creating activities or connecting to their students even on a Snow Day. I know you're wondering what are some of these amazing ideas. Don't worry I compiled some amazing ideas that you could try yourself.


  1. Snow Day Challenges: This was an idea I saw a few years ago on Twitter shared by an amazing educator and then reshared by Class Dojo. This teacher created a list of different activities students could do in order to earn Dojo points. I loved this idea and borrowed it! This list consists of so many different activities from helping around the house, spending time with loved ones, to academic websites or activities. I have really enjoyed seeing students doing more than just academic activities. Parents love having homework be something that can help around the house. Also, make sure you ask to share pictures. It is great to see students doing these things. Now this works out great if you use Class Dojo, but you could also print a list of challenge items for students to take home. Parents can initial boxes of challenge items that were completed. I have seen schools where instead of Dojo Points students earn House points, coupon rewards, or just a special reward when they return to school. What you ask the students to do and the rewards you give are really your chance to be creative. 
  2. Snow Day Read Aloud: I will totally admit I saw this over the past few weeks on Facebook and LOVED IT! If you haven't followed Allyson Apsey you should! She is an amazing principal, public speaker and book author of The Path to Serendipity. She has done a read aloud live on Facebook everyday student have had a snow day and its so amazing. Parents and students can log on and watch their teacher or principal reading a book to them. This is fun for all readers. If you have Class Dojo you can record yourself and post it to your classroom or to the school story page. You could even have students log in to their Portfolio page on Class Dojo and record themselves reading their favorite picture book. Such a great way to engage students in reading and share the love of a good book.
  3. Reading Challenge: Speaking of reading, there is nothing wrong with a good reading challenge. I like to create them for my students from time to time and have two going on right now. One I created on a half day last week knowing that we might not be seeing each other for a while due to the snow and cold weather that has taken Illinois by storm. I looked on TPT and found this amazing free resource from More Than Worksheets and tweaked it to work for my Snow Days. I decided to give out Dojo Points as a reward and talked about how students could be creative when trying to accomplish these different challenges. Another challenge I created was where my students are trying to complete 10 books by April 26th. Then they have different options to show what they know like presenting on their book, creating a Flipgrid book commercial, writing/ designing a book report, or taking a test on the book. 


  4. Design You Own Math Adventure: Students don't always love math. They do enjoy a great adventure! This is something I came up with on a whim and I will tell you it does require a little more work. As much as I love reading I wanted to create a math challenge to get students excited to practice skills we have been working on in class. It would also be a chance for students and parents to work together and possibly see where their students are struggling and see what we are working on in school. 
    • (Now before I start explaining this weird, some might say a crazy idea; I need to let you know I have a flair for the dramatics. I love a good costume and Halloween has always been my favorite holiday because I got to be someone I'm not. Teaching is fun in that way because we can be characters and dive into lessons to get students engaged that adults might find strange. Regardless, I know that not everyone is comfortable putting on a costume. Or comfortable being loud and crazy like me. No worries there are still ways to modify it to fit you and your personality!) 
    • So after waking up and eating breakfast, I wrote out a quick script. I wanted there to be two characters, one good, and one evil. The whole goal would be to defeat the evil character, in this case, the Ice Witch from taking over the world with snow and ice. The students were put in the role of the Math Wizards and had to complete 4 challenges in order to get parts of a spell to send the Ice Witch packing. So here is my script: 
      Queen Lilac and the Ice Witch 
       It was nothing too epic, but simple and helped to relay the goal and give a sense of urgency. I then looked through my closet at home to help me find items to wear to make the characters come to life. After I had created my outfits I used my iPhone to film my short videos. The hardest part was listening to them back. To listen to yourself will always be awkward but you want to make sure you can be heard. So alas I listened. In all honesty, they were not going to get me an Oscar but I kept the first take almost everytime because it was the most me. Students want to see you engaged and having fun no matter how strange it might be. If they see your willingness to go all out they will too. 
    • After filming the 5 videos I then used a free app called LIKE. This app allowed me to add digital effects to my videos like ice, snow, and flowers to make them more exciting to watch. After saving them to my phone I was able to upload them to Class Dojo as I pleased throughout the day.
    • As for the 4 challenge I created my own math problems and found free Teachers Pay Teachers resources that I used and modified. 
    • To start with every hour or hour and a half I posted a video and a math challenge to complete on my Class Dojo Story page. This allowed all parents and students to be able to view it. Some students printed the pictures others wrote down the problems. After completing them the parents would send a photo of the work back to me and I would check it. If the student got a problem wrong I would tell them to look it over, give them hints, or even send youtube videos to help. If the student got the math right they would earn a part of the spell to cast the Ice Witch away.
    • The Spell was just a short 4 line rhyme I created and at the end, I asked students or parents to film students casting the spell and send it to my email or record themselves on Class Dojo. I had so many creative videos with expression, dogs, and even wands! 
    • Was this a lot of work? Yes. Did it have me committed to my phone and laptop all day? Yes. Was it worth it to see students learning and having fun? YES!!!
    • If you are willing to take the time to make something like this it can be so worth it, but don't think it has to be just like mine with videos and made up spells.
    • Consider: 
      • You could post challenges on Facebook if you or your school has a Facebook page
      • Post to Twitter, send it through email. or post to Google Classroom
      • Type a Story instead of filming a video with clipart
      • Use gifs and attach them to challenge questions
      • Make a tic tac toe board of math questions
      • Find fun math riddles or puzzles like on Mash Up Math
      • Have students design their own math questions and share them
      • Post challenges and give clues to a keyword or letters instead of giving parts of a spell.
      • *So many ideas, comment or share your own!
  5. Snow Day Project: Have students create, research or design a project of their own choosing or focused on a single theme. Since it's so close to the beginning of 2019 why not have students create their own Vision Boards at home. Set goals for themselves and create action plans to achieve them. It would be an awesome chance for family time and discussion. Also, a great chance for students to present when they return to school!

There are so many ideas to keep students learning and motivated during snow days you just have to think outside of the box!

Share Your Thoughts!
What are some things you do during snow days or your days off to keep students learning?

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