Thursday, August 28, 2014

Blogging with My Daughter!

This summer my 12 year old daughter Gigi started a blog to reflect on her summer adventures (  It has been such an amazing experience that I was compelled to let others know about the benefits I have seen. As a parent and an educator it has warmed my heart to have deep conversations about writing, reflecting, and questioning to spark her creative juices! I am able to model it to her as I blog and share my thoughts with her.

Her blogging started with simply keeping a journal. I just asked her to reflect in a way that would speak to others. My mom and I helped her structure her writing through showing her examples and reviewing other blogs. At first she wasn't sure what she would write about or how to focus her writing. We guided her through questioning. What was your favorite thing that happened today? Who was there that made it special? How did it make you feel when that happened?  She would get frustrated with me at times and say things like, " Just tell me what to write about!!" This would just lead to more conversation and encouragement. Sometimes I would just tell her to write what ever she was thinking right then, (even if it was blah bla blah) eventually it would turn into something. 

There are many platforms that can be used for blogging such as Blogger, Weebly, Wixx, Kidblog, and Edmodo to name a few. I would encourage you to explore several options with your child to decide which format will suite them the best. 

Encouraging my daughter to blog was something I felt would benefit her. It was a way to keep her writing skills in tact over the summer and help her see the value of writing outside of the classroom. It has been wonderful as a parent to see life through the lense of my child. Over the school year she is going to try and post 1 entry every 2 weeks. I am excited to see all the wonderful things she will share with the world! 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Accepting Change to Reignite your Passion in the Classroom

Teaching is a profession that transcends all others, carrying the responsibility of preparing students for every career path possible. Like the expectations we have for students, built with the end in mind, we must have the same accountability for ourselves. Our end goal must always be student success in learning and guidance towards realizing their true potential. With this great accountability, we owe it to our students to stay current on educational research and facilitate class everyday full of passion for the content we teach. This can only be accomplished with an open mind to new ideas, meaningful professional development and a deeply connected PLN.
In my career I have been presented with many opportunities for growth and blessed with mentors who encouraged and challenged me to be better for my students. Several years ago I was working in a district that adopted a new vision challenging the very core of how I viewed the classroom model. This new vision pushed teachers to reevaluate their idea of true student centered instruction. It was supported through professional development that encouraged innovative teaching strategies and  risk taking to meet the diverse needs of the students in our classrooms. Strategies such as Project Based Learning, Flipped Classroom, and Blended Learning opportunities were encouraged. I knew that I needed to be open to the change and allow my mind to embrace an idea that would empower my students. I finally decided to jump in, what I experienced changed the way I facilitated my classroom and viewed my role as the teacher. I understood learning in a whole new way. Students learned their objectives through real world projects that they created. They were given the expected outcomes on day one and we would work together to find the best way to meet their goals. Though it was an amazing experience,  it was not an easy transition. Students and teachers  both questioned the change. I knew then, it was my duty to advocate for the great things I was seeing in my room. My typically low performing students, were coming out of their shells and showing potential I hadn't seen in my old classroom setting. My AP students were forced to step out of their comfort zone that resulted in them using the information to solve real world problems instead of simply memorizing. This prompted me to open my classroom to any teachers who were interested and speak out to encourage others to join the coalition for change. Reminding myself when I was uncomfortable and felt like a fish out of water, it was what was best for kids; not what was best for me. 
A fire  was ignited that year  that has driven me to help others reclaim their passion for teaching and growing students. This was made much easier through the power of my PLN on Twitter.  I have learned to "Teach Like a Pirate", redesign learning spaces with inspiration from Stanford D. School, edchat with some of the most brilliant minds in education,  and discovered the potential for proffesional growth at an EdCamp. These are just a few of the great things I have learned as a connected educator. All of these things have helped me make deeper connections with students and facilitate learning experiences for them that I would have otherwise not been able to. 
The profession of teaching will continue to evolve. It is our job to be accountable to our students through constant self-evaluation, commitment to life long learning, and teaching with passion everyday. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

11 Ways to Include Students in Planning Their Learning Experience

 Project Based Learning, Flipped Classroom, and Gamification are just a few of the strategies teachers are using to facilitate student centered instruction. As an educator I have dabbled in all of these areas and have found one component that is crucial; including your students in the planning process. 
As simple as this might sound, we are not utilizing students in our schools as much as we should. Educators stress and plan over new ideas that will ultimately effect students. Why not ask them what they think? There are many ways to go about this, the following are only a few ideas that may work for you. 

As a Classroom Teacher: 
  • Student Advisory Committee for Planning Projects, Creating Videos for Flipped Classroom, and Creating Relevant Game Components to Support Gamification: This can be as simple as opening your classroom during lunch ocasionally for students to give input on an upcoming project. 
  • Student Created Tutorial Committee: Encourage your students to create resources for other students that focus on the content they are learning. 
  • Classroom Design TeamChallenge students to redesign the physical environment in the classroom to support their learning styles. 
  • Class Social Media Team: Students can plan class blog posts, provide content for class Twitter and Facebook Page, ect...
  • Students as the Teachers: Enlist and train your students to tutor and assist their peers. If your students are given guidance, they can be a great resource for RTI intervention groups. 
  • Student Feedback on Lessons: Encourage your students to reflect on the Lesson after it is over. Encourage them to discuss how deep they were able to dig, what did they like, what would they do differently? (Make sure that some of their suggestions are reflected in future lessons and activities.) 
As a Campus Administrator:
  •  Student Technology Team: Help teachers and their peers with new Apps and Tech Tools.
  •  Campus Advisory Team: Bring issues and solutions to the table that Administrators and Teachers may not see. 
  •  Student Design Team: Students can brainstorm and design spaces throughout the school that reflect the personalities and learning styles within the schools. 
  • Student PD Team: Students can lead PD opportunities for teachers on the campus. You will get a higher level of engagement in your after school meetings if a student is doing the talking. This is also a platform for your students to become better public speakers. 
  • Student Public Relation Team: Selected students go out and send out updates on school happenings, sports, events, and celebrations for the campus. 

There are many ways that educators can include students in planning their learning. I challenge all educators looking to create a more authentic learning experience to ask the experts on their class roster! 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Tech Geek or Teaching Geek?

I recently came across a blog post that has me reflecting on my own reputation as a “tech geek.” The Tempered Radical by Bill Ferriter highlighted the top five tweets to come out of ISTE 2014. In the post, he reflected on those tweets and why they were important to him. It lead me to do a little personal reflecting of my own.

The title of “techie” or “tech geek” is not a true representation of what I stand for, but I've been called it none the less. Like Ferriter stated, I would like to be known as a “teaching geek.” I will admit, I am an active member on Twitter, an EdCamp Junkie, I followed every tweet coming out of ISTE 2014, and am always giddy when TCEA is approaching. I have even gone so far as to have a “Twargument,” (Twitter argument) with a fellow teacher leader about the value of the free professional development associated with social media. That aside, I consider myself to be a “teaching geek,” not a “tech geek." I am involved with these activities because I want to give the students and teachers I work with the best learning experiences out there.  Ferriter tweeted, ” I don't look for technology that motivates kids. I look for learning opportunities that motivate kids. That's not the same thing. #ISTE2014.”

I have been considered a campus leader and a “go to” for technology integration ideas. When I bring up tech in the classroom, I believe that it must correlate with engaging instruction, not games and fluff. Teachers have to be comfortable with relinquishing some of the power. Step away from the role of "smartest person in the room," and replace it with the possibility of blowing the ceiling off how far students can dive into the content. Bringing ideas to the table that add value to a teacher’s lesson and not just “fluff,” is key.

Watching students become experts is empowering. Through the use of digital learning tools, the possibilities for exploration and creative delivery are endless. I’ve had a student with a strong connection to math present a project that displays concepts of the universe entirely through statistics, a natural born writer compose a collection of poetry that addresses the standards associated with the phases of the moon, an artist create an interactive abstract painting that combines technology and art to describe the effects of the moon on the tides, and a bilingual student create a web based resource for other students in their native language over the content we are covering. All of these student projects involved the same standards. As a teacher, I could not have differentiated my instruction to that degree without access to unlimited information and resources. A project or a lesson can be greatly enhanced by connecting students with global contacts and virtual field trips that will enrich the student’s experience.

Seeing my students connect to the content like never before is why I became passionate about naturally extending and taking risks with technology. The title of “techie” is not a true representation of what I stand for, "teaching geek" is what I would prefer to answer to from now on.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Rethinking Space to Support Collaborative Learning!

    As the push towards collaborative learning grows, so does the importance of reinvisioning learning spaces within our schools to support it. This does not have to mean new construction, or changes to the integrity of the school building. Through thoughtful redesign of every space in a school we can better support innovative instructional practices like: increasing small group purposeful talk, teaching in the power zone (Sean Cain's Fundamental Five) , and the rigor of the task students are engaged in to higher level Blooms.

    Our district uses the Fundamental Five to measure quality instruction and facilitate a common language for teachers and administrators. There is a large focus on teachers facilitating meaningful student talk and working in the "power zone." For this to be done properly, the idea of desks in rows and teachers dominating the learning can't happen. To support this initiative and other instructional practices that encourage student centered learning, I felt compelled to look at every aspect of the learning environment. I became increasingly interested in how physical classroom space supported all of this.  

 I worked closely with a group of educators from my current campus  ( @MR_HUTCHINGS , @HansenArtClass@AltomSarah ) to rethink spaces to support the type of instruction we expected to see. We used the book Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration  as a reference   to look at several open and unused hallway areas to support collaborative learning in our building.  Our hope was to use the model presented in this book to create spaces throughout the building that would increase productivity and creative thinking. 

   We called our first space the "Collaboration Station". With no funds, we had to be simple about what we used to create the space. We took unused desks and put them together as student work areas. We then used old furniture from the library and set up little meeting area for our students. We encouraged students to use the windows for brainstorming with sticky notes and dry erase markers. Teachers started using the space for projects and Administration used the area for our "Grilling for Great Teachers" luncheons. We were able to take an unused hallway space and turn it into an area for learning and camaraderie through simply branding the area as everyone’s space.

   This year we worked on establishing the space, planting seeds for others to rethink their classroom design , and using what we had available. I am happy to report that when the doors of Weatherford Ninth Grade Center open next year we will have made several more improvements to this space. It is movable so that everything can be arranged to fit the needs of the students and teachers using the space that day. Mini collaboration areas will include: a small whiteboard, a small desk area, group seating, and access to a technology piece at each center. Teachers will reserve the space and have access to the “Collaboration Station” which will include the following: Strategically designed collaboration areas for each student group, a brainstorm tool kit (w/ sticky notes, pens, markers, highlighters, and dry erase markers), and one iPad 2 per collaboration group. In this space we would focus on students learning the art of effective feedback, brainstorming, critiquing, and communication. Our inspiration for the final product comes from the pictures below provided on the Stanford D. School website.

   Our hope is for teachers and students to view this space as a home for creative work and collaboration opportunities. Creating space that supports design thinking will support students and teachers in fostering meaningful small group discussions and project/ task outcomes that reflect the strengths of all of the students in a classroom.

   The "Collaboration Station," is only the beginning to the redesign of space on the Ninth Grade Campus. Our librarian, Sarah Altom, has transformed the library into a hub for student's collaborating, reading, learning, and relaxing. She has written and received a grant to completely makeover an unused library room into an interactive media space. There are many more plans being discussed to fully take advantage of the amazing spaces throughout the entire building. 

   I challenge all educators to think about the spaces in your schools. Does it support future ready learning? Does your school create an atmosphere to learn everywhere? Can you make simple changes that will support learning and connectivity in more areas? If so, share your ideas and support the shift!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Scared to Try Something New? Let your Students be Your Guide!

 In today's classroom, teachers may often feel overwhelmed with the expectation to keep up with new technology opportunities. It is hard to find the time to learn how to use new tools effectively in instruction. Every school has different initiatives to encourage teachers to try these new tools and take risks in their classrooms. It may be tech meetings after school, teacher play days to explore thorough experimentation, encouraging teachers to attend relevant pd, or instructional technology teams that work one on one with teachers in the classroom. Sometimes this is not enough, and not everyone is lucky enough to have access to this kind of support. But, have no fear, there is another way that may be even more effective, let your students be your guide!
 To many teachers, the idea of walking into a classroom and not fully understanding how to work every aspect of what you are assigning is terrifying! In 2011 I worked in a district that sent me to extensive PD on Project Based Learning. In order to take this concept back to the classroom and implement it, I had to incorporate a wide range of tech tools to allow my students to connect with experts and share their ideas. There were an exorbitant amount of tools we could use and I had NO idea how to use any of them. That is when an assistant principal on my campus suggested I just let the students figure it out. At first I didn't know what she meant. "But I need to teach them to use the tools," I argued. She assured me they would figure it out and they would even teach me.
I decided to take her advice and let go of the the need for control.  I included students in the planning process and tasked them to find out the best tools for the project we were working on. They jumped on the chance to have a say and came back within days well versed in several different tools that could be used to support the project. Those students became the experts and were available to teach not only me but their peers. The project went smoother than I could have imagined and all of my students  had more choices because they had the help of their peers.
From that experience I began enlisting students regularly to figuring out the new up and coming tech tools. We worked together to develop an understanding of what was actually creating a better experience and not just fluffing up an assignment. 
So next time you have the urge to try something new, look no further than the students in your classroom. They have grown up with technology providing instant information at the push of a button. Including them in your planning and empowering them to contribute and teach their peers will create a buy in to the project and the content. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Blogging as a Tool to Support Better Writing

I was inspired to address this topic after a comment from my daughter about posting on Instagram. She said, "Mom, why does it take you so long to write a post? It takes me 30 seconds to write something and post it!" Not by any means is this reflection written flawlessly, but I am mindful of what I am putting out to the world to read! Our students and children are writing (or posting) more often than we can keep up with through the unlimited social media outlets available to them. They post freely, many times unaware of how their writing skills represent them. Our job as educators and parents has evolved with this easy access to publishing work with no filter. Teaching students to edit and revise their posts before "publishing" is not a new concept but one that has become more complex and immediate. It is important that students find their voice and learn the fundamentals of writing, but the stakes seem to be higher with the reality of our digital footprint. Teachers and parents should look at this not as an obstacle but an opportunity to bring relevancy to writing with our young digital natives. Whether it is finding out how blogging can work for you in the classroom or encouraging your own child to journal their experiences and share with family, it is an outlet for writing we should model and encourage to support the world they live in.

Blogging has become a staple in many classrooms. The same rules and structure can apply to a well written blog post as an expository essay, making it a great alternative in the classroom. Students have the opportunity to chronicle their experiences, reflect on assignments, and create their own content that can be shared and critiqued by their peers. Teachers can connect with student anytime which facilitates learning everywhere. This is not to say traditional writing assignments are dead, but a new branch of writing exists and should be taught. With this in mind, why not lead students to proper writing through great blogging!

In my experience with classroom blogging, we used Edmodo to host chats over books, homework tutorials, pre-teach lessons, offer alternative assignments, support PBL through a flipped classroom, and encourage critical thinking and reflection. My students knew they had access to help and safe educational connectivity at anytime. We talked about proper on line etiquette and the importance of taking ownership of what they were posting. We redefined our classroom together and seamlessly connected 21st century skills with critical thinking and high Blooms lessons.

As a parent, I have encouraged my daughter Gracie to keep a blog of her summer activities. Three years ago she used Posterous (no longer available), to document her travels around the United States with my mother. She took pictures on the beach in Connecticut for the 4th, with a card-board cut out of Justin Beiber in Times Square, and waiting in lines for rides at Disney in Orlando to use in her posts. She included a full page reflection for every leg of her journey. I wasn't with her, but was able to follow her experiences and thoughts through the whole trip. encouraging her through the process opened up the conversation of not only what good writing should look like, but what is appropriate.

In closing, blogging is a tool that teachers and parents can use to encourage reflective writing, online etiquette, and proper writing structure. It brings relevancy to writing for our young digital natives. We should teach our students to share their experiences and thoughts in a way that displays them in a positive light. It may be the outlet for your child or student to become a passionate writer and reflective thinker!