Continue Your Summer Learning

I am thrilled to be doing 2 webinars for SimpleK12 this summer.  if you are unfamiliar with these webinars I can tell you they are pretty amazing.  First of all, they are free (!) and you get to ask the presenter as many questions as you want within the time limit.  I have taken part in several of these and love the 30 minute format, as well as how easy it is.

I get to discuss two things that are very near to my heart; no homework and student-led conferences.

To Homework or Not to Homework
An ongoing debate rages among many educators over whether or not homework is truly necessary in today’s classrooms. In this webinar, Pernille Ripp discusses her own journey away from homework the ups and downs of helping parents understand, as well as how to still promote time-management, responsibility, and practice. This webinar is meant for teachers who want to move away from homework or who are curious about the journey, as well as for parents who would like to support their student in their quest to be homework free.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013 @ 11:00:00 AM EDT

To sign up for this one, go here 

Promote Student Ownership of Goals and Learning with Student-led Conferences
How would you like your students to take ownership of their goals, their paths, and their learning? You can help them to accomplish this by doing student-led conferences. While it may sound scary to turn over ownership of this important time to students the results are in – student-led conferences promote ownership and lead to deeper learning conversations. In this webinar, join Pernille Ripp as she discusses why student-led conferences are beneficial and provides suggestions and tips for how to conduct them. Forms will be shared to help students prepare for them, and various modifications to their format will be discussed.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013 @ 10:00:00 AM EDT

To sign up for this one, go here

Can’t wait to see you there!
being me, learning, PD

So You Say You Don’t Have the Time – PD for Busy People

image from icanread

One thing I know we all face in this multi-tasking world is the concept of not having enough time.  Even when we save time, there still isn’t enough left over for us to feel like we are caught up, like we relaxed, like we actually had time to spare.  We just add more things to our day and then hope that by the end of the day we will feel fulfilled, we will feel in satisfied, we will feel time balanced.

When I speak to people about Twitter and having a PLN, they never get where I find the time.  Besides the fact that I make both of those things a priority, I am always trying to explain that being part of both actually save me time in the long run.  Time I then get to spend somewhere else, while still growing as an educator.

So when someone says they don’t have the time to get inspired or that PD is too time consuming, how about trying this…

  • Set up a reader with people that inspire you.  I access my reader in the morning when I have my cup of tea.  I read those that I feel like, share others that inspire me, and sometimes even leave a comment.  It all depends on how much time I want to spend.  And sometimes I just mark all as read because I just didn’t get to them and that’s ok too.
  • Take 5 minutes on Twitter.  I don’t spend a whole lot of time on Twitter interacting, it is hard for me to focus on it with a 3 year old at home but every day I tune in for at least just 5 minutes and try to reach out to someone, to have a human connection, rather than just share my ideas.  
  • Listen to a Ted talk.  I know people think they have to watch all videos, but the truth is I find it much easier to just listen to most of the.  that way, while I am cleaning or playing, I at least can hear some of the great things being said by others much smarter than me.
  • Subscribe to the most emailed stories on NPR.  I love this podcast and listen to it in the car.  we run a lot of errands in the summer and the radio drives me nuts after a while.  NPR continues to be my favorite for staying on top of news, but how about subscribing to other podcasts.  NerdyCast is another favorite of mine or even Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me.
  • Ask someone a question.  I have learned so much about myself as a teacher or even my teaching style from asking my husband questions abut his experience as a student.  When I was just in the hospital many of the nurses told me about their children’s schools, their own schooling, and their expectations.  The point is, ask someone about school and you will probably learn something, I know I do.
  • Read something non-educational, like a really great book, a magazine, or whatever floats your boat.  I just finished The Strain trilogy and found myself wanting to blog about several sections in it even though those vampire books have nothing to do with education.  That’s the beauty of inspiration, it doesn’t have to come from somewhere scholarly but just from somewhere.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings.  Do you know how often I come up with a blog post from reading a sign, seeing a bumper-sticker or even overhearing a snippet of conversation?  When we pay attention to the world around us, we can learn a lot.
assumptions, authentic learning, discussion, kids, learning, Student-centered, students

Do You Dare Ask for Student Feedback?

Yesterday, in a quiet moment of inspiration, as my students were presenting their super hero projects and getting a little droopy eyed, I stopped them and asked for feedback.  And not just great postive statements, but things I should change, things I should keep, things thats hould be removed altogether.  We started with the positives; they loved how I didn’t make them write a comic book but rather focused it on character and setting.  They loved the creative aspect, the shared writing, and all of the exmples.  And then I asked what they would change.  After one brave student raised their hand and gave me a suggestion of more partner share, then many joined in and added their suggestions.  These suggestions were better than my original ideas!  I sat there 10 minutes of listening and writing, dumbfounded that I hadn’t done this for every single project.

When we decide to ask students how they really feel we run the risk of being told that we suck, to use a favorite 5th grade word.  We run the risk of being told we are boring, that the project was uninspired, and that they would never do it to another student.  (You know a project is bad when it is “done” to you).  But we also run the risk of getting better ideas, constructive criticism, and valid points that propel our projects further into student-directed learning, further into deeper knowledge acquisition.  My students took ownership of the project as well as their criticism.  They didn’t feel the need to apologize for what they were about to say but  phrased it specifically and unemotionally.  They knew that I knew it wasn’t an attack on me.

So do we dare to ask the students for feedback on all their learning?  Do we dare take 10 minutes of our day to ask for suggestions, even if just one in a while?  Do we dare to actually do something with those suggestions because any fool can listen but it takes courage and dedication to do.  My students showed me yesterday that they trust me enough to share their opinions, they know I will take their words to heart and I will actually change what I did.  They know this because I have proved to them what my intentions are.  What a huge success in a 5th grade classroom.  So ask yourself; have I involved my students?  Have I asked for their feedback and opinion? Those that the learning affect the most?  Or am I too scared to do it? 

learning, students, technology, tools

The Tools We Use (and Those We Don’t)

                    Photo courtesy of I Can Read

As I get ready to write my second set of report cards, I realize 2/3’s of the year has passed and I have some very technology savvy 4th graders.  And by savvy I mean critical, knowledgeable, and demanding tech users.  So what has stood the test of time in our classroom and what has died a silent death:

Some Favorites:

  • Kidblog – hands down the most useful tool we have integrated this year.  Through this blogging platform we have reached out to more than 20 countries around the world, have had an intimate view of the revolution in Egypt and created an ongoing writing portfolio.  I cannot believe something like this is free.
  • Animoto – a tool favored by my students to present video or still pictures as a way to give an inside view of our days and of our doings.
  • Flip Camera’s – Our fantastic PTO donated 8 new cameras to our school through the Digital Wish buy 1 get 1 fee program and we have one permanently on loan in our room.  Students have created grammar videos, learning snapshots and just documented really cool things.  
  • Glogster – some of my students have the glogster bug, begging to create projects using this medium, and one even created his own glog Christmas contest.  They have gotten more creative, and better at citing through this site.
  • Google Suite – well duh, most might say, but my students have become very savvy Google users, taking initiative to search for life cycle of the crayfish when our crayfish exhibited some peculiar behaviors, as well as creating Google maps of students they speak to, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.  
  • Skype – oh yes, we skype and as the year progresses we do it more and more often.  From a quick check in with my husband (just to see what he is doing, they say) to classrooms around the world, we are bringing the world into our room.  Interested in skyping with us – let me know!
  • Wordle – ahh, yes we love our word cloud generator.  This tool has been used from everything to research, overused words, to poems about parents.  This free tool is pretty amazing.
  • Twitter – while my students are not on Twitter, this social phenomenon colors much of our every day learning.  From finding out about World Math Day to the Global Read Aloud Project, what I gain from Twitter is invaluable.
And some that seemed fun and then not so much:
  • Edmodo – this very cool social interaction site took off like wild fire and then died out with my students.  At first, they loved speaking to each other through the site from home and then they simply got bored.  Now, I think our last update was 2 weeks ago.
  • VoiceThread – I know of many educators that successfully implement this in their curriculum, but in my classroom, it wasn’t wort  it.  Perhaps it was because we didn’t have a paid for account and so it was rather limited usage or perhaps I didn’t give it enough of a chance, whatever the case, it has been months since we used it.
  • Voki – yes I know there is a Voki for education as well, and while my students loved creating avatars of their friends, saving and uploading them was cumbersome and time consuming.
  • ToonDoo – again, I do not have an educator account for this, which means I cannot provide the safe environment that I need for my students, however, students did do a test run and while some loved it, most found it ineffective and that they could do the same work by hand much easier.
What am I missing out on?  What do you love in your classroom?  What did you give up on?  Share, share, share.
being a teacher, learning, students, titles, word choice

The Many Titles We Bestow

Today I told my students they were geologists.  We started studying earth material in science and so my students now become budding geologists along with the other titles we have earned in 4th grade.  When I pointed out that we were no longer astacologists (someone who studies crayfish) they correctly informed me that they were still that but now were just adding another title to themselves.  I stood blissfully corrected.

So why this title endorsement.  Last week I read a book called Choice Words by Peter H. Johnston, in it he discusses the importance of our language when we speak to our students.  He details how we as teachers should not indicate to beginning readers that they must strive to emulate great readers, but rather tell them that they are readers and that all readers do certain things.  This really hit a chord with me.  I often have used the language of what “great writers” or “strong readers” do and have never realized that perhaps I am then boxing students in.  If I do place them outside of the category of being a strong reader through seemingly innocuous language use, then what stigma am I attaching to their reading skills?

So I have consciously broken free of my language.  Yes, it will take time and yes, I will slip up.  But it is worth it.  After all, we all know firsthand how incredible words can be when attached to our persona.  After all, how many of you got chills the first time you were called a teacher (or the 1,000th time for that matter)?  So think of the language with which we address our students.  Think of the power that we can invest in them just through better or more thoughtful word choices.

My students are no longer striving to be “like geologists,” they are geologists.  In fact, as they pointed out to me; they are many things.  My students are writers, poets, readers and illustrators.  They are filmmakers, commentators, scientists, and social study professors.  They are experts, they are learners, and they are teachers.  And there will be many more titles to come for them.

learning, plans, week

What’s in Store this Week

With this wonderful day to just reflect on the world, I ended up reflecting on all of the great projects happening in my classroom this week, so why not share it.

In science, we continue with our crayfish studies, however, the kids decided that it would be more fun to create a crayfish documentary rather than just a research paper.  So we are busy researching the questions they have come up with, then writing scripts and finally filming the scenes.  I cannot wait to see the end result!

In social studies, we will finally get to work on our Early Explorers of Wisconsin Fake Facebook Pages.  Thank you to all of those who submitted templates to me.  Students have only been told the backstory of exploration in Wisconsin but have no clue what project they will work on yet.  They are so excited that they begged to do social studies on Friday, we didn’t have time though.

In reading, students are working on their chosen author studies.  I am doing my own alongside them on Neil Gaiman, so I have to decide how to present my information.  It has been great to see the varied approaches to how to do this project and once again, students are showing their excitement by continuously asking whether we will be doing the project or not.

Writing is exciting this week as students finish their Why Tales (excellent writing here) and we start on our next project.  The kids have been really into “whodunit’s” lately, so I am toying with the idea of turning our picture book project into a “whodunit” instead.  The main goal is transition words and voice, which can be accomplished through many methods.  I think in the end, I will let the students decide.

Math is a mixed bag of assessments.  We have weird pile of tests we need to get through such as the mid-year assessment, but after speaking to my students about it they didn’t seem too worried.  They told me that they knew what the purpose of these were; “To help them learn better.”  We also discussed that they could do the tests in whichever order they choose, they can jump around between tests, and I will bring in lots of bubblegum.   Plenty of math game breaks will be provided for those who want them and we will get through it as we usually do.

There will be plenty of little extra’s added in, such as music/poetry Tuesday where we will be discussing the great song “Pride in The Name of Love” by U2.  Op.Ed. Friday’s topic has not been chosen yet, and we have a geography bee to go to on Thursday.  School is a magical place indeed.