Coming Soon to a Classroom Near You…

In the very near future students in my class will be allowed to bring their own technology to school.  I am really looking forward to learning with them as we chart this new territory together.  I have visions of QR codes dancing in my head. Student created videos trot across my subconscious and thoughts of student lead research make my heart swell.  The possibilities are endless.  

We will be talking about this in class tomorrow.  I can’t wait to hear what the students have to say.  

Tell me how your students use their technology that they bring from home.  

A Fresh Week

I can still recall the excitement that I felt when my supervising teacher handed me the lesson plan book for the first time 20 years ago. The weeks that had passed were filled out with all of the crazy arrows, notes, things added in, things crossed out….but, the new week was blank and pristine and beautiful. A blank week with endless possibilities. I remember sitting down with my sharp pencil and realizing that I held the power of the world in my hands. I was going to decide what those students were going to learn and how they were going to learn it. Such power. Oh, how I loved filling those first weeks.

After a while, I realized that those weeks never went the way they were supposed to according to my beautiful plans. The plans that were color-coded by ability, by learning style, by level of Blooms. (I’ve done it all) I learned that the teachable moments must be seized and that students may learn something faster than I anticipated and often times slower than I hoped. I learned that lesson plans are not a blueprint.

They are a guide. They are a wish list. They are the best case scenario.

That being said…a fresh week is still a good thing. It is even better if you remember to be flexible and expect the unexpected.

Have a great fresh week.

Does Thinking Hurt Their Heads?

I was recently introduced to Thinking at Every Desk by Dr. Derek Cabrera and Dr. Laura Colosi.  When I say, recently…I mean REALLY recently.  You know…as in the day before yesterday.  The theory behind this movement is that we MUST teach thinking skills in classrooms across America in addition to the content curriculum in order to prepare students for higher learning, the work force, and the world.  It seems like that should be obvious.

I don’t think that teachers disagree.  I don’t think that teachers are sitting at their kitchen tables planning instruction trying to make sure that they don’t include thinking.  I don’t think that teachers are hoping to produce students that are not ready for the next level.  I think teachers agree that there is a problem.  I think teachers are trying to fix the problem.  I think most teachers don’t know HOW to fix the problem.

According to the video that I watched there are four thinking skills that will help us develop the six most important types of thinking.  If we can teach students to recognize Distinctions, Systems, Relationships, and Perspectives then they will be better able to think critically, creatively, scientifically, emotionally, across disciplines, and systematically.  If we can teach these four skills on a daily basis then we can really make a difference.   In the video Dr. Cabrera was saying that students are excellent at “doing school” but, that when it comes to solving real-life, open ended questions they simply didn’t know how to proceed.  Here is the video if you would like to watch for yourself.

I’ve had great intentions.  I thought I was teaching them how to THINK.  But, perhaps I was just teaching them to KNOW.  Perhaps I was teaching them the conclusions that I have drawn about Distinctions, Systems, Relationships, and Perspectives instead of teaching them how to recognize them for themselves.

I don’t know about you, but I plan on THINKING about this some more.  My first step will be to get my hands on the book.   I do feel a sense of relief that I am already flipping my  math class….because I think the two are a natural fit.

 

 

Flipping Math On Its Head

This year I decided to turn my math instruction upside down by “flipping” my 5th grade class and it is by far the best thing I have ever done for students.   Flipping refers to the relatively new practice of delivering instruction outside of class time through the use of videos and using class time for guided groups and practice.  I first heard about this practice about a year ago and was cautiously intrigued.  I say cautiously because I didn’t want to jump on some educational bandwagon just for the sake of jumping.  I wanted to make sure that this approach would benefit my students.  I researched and read.  I lurked on blogs written by teachers who were already flipping.  I followed the twitter hashtags:  #flipclass and #flippedclass.  I talked to friends of mine who had children and asked them what they would think if their child was in a class that was flipped.  I hemmed, I hawed, and I decided to go for it because the benefits far outweighed the risks.

 

You might be wondering…what benefits?  The most obvious benefit is that children are never practicing incorrectly.  If you send a child home with ten problems and they don’t do them correctly, not only have they not learned how to do them the correct way, they have learned it the wrong way.  As a teacher you then have to spend time clearing up misconceptions that should have never happened. When a child goes home and watches a video that is between 7-13 minutes and then comes to school and gets to practice with the teacher’s support it is a win-win for everyone involved.  Parents also have the benefit of hearing how concepts are explained.

 

Once I made my decision I had a lot of other choices.  Should I use other people’s videos or make my own? It turns out that I felt pretty strongly about this.  It was imperative to me that the students hear my explanations in my own voice.  So, making my own videos was the only way to go.  I then had to investigate the different options out there for making videos. I knew that it had to be simple or it would be really hard to follow through.  I decided that I didn’t personally want to appear in the videos, because I wanted to be able to make them in my pajamas, or with messy hair, or whenever the mood struck.  At some point during my blog lurking someone mentioned using their iPad and a free app called Educreations.  Educreations is a “personal recordable whiteboard.”  I was amazed at how easy it was to use.  My only complaint when recording is that there is no option to erase and re-record.  You either start from scratch if you make a mistake or feel comfortable enough with yourself to just correct your mistake.  I opted for the latter.  All of my videos are one-take videos.  My biggest challenge with making my videos is wrestling with my children for time on the iPad.

 

Math is such an enjoyable time in my class now.  We are able to jump right into our guided groups each day.  I love watching the students make the connections from the video that they watched the previous night. As a result, we are able to spend more time in higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy in the classroom because the groundwork has already been laid. All of my students have computer access, but if they ever experience technical difficulties they know to come in and watch the video on a classroom computer first thing in the morning.

 

I was initially worried about how parents would perceive the flipped classroom model.  I explained the process in my introduction letter and answered questions at curriculum night.  All of the parents have been incredibly supportive. I’ve had positive parent feedback that I gathered using Survey Monkey such as:

  • “She seems more confident with her math skills going into the next day.”
  • “My daughter enjoys doing her “math homework”. Watching a video is quick, easy & non-intimidating.”
  • “I think it has been beneficial as there aren’t as many distractions at home and the students can get the information into their heads to think about.”
  • “My child actually is liking Math. He is excited to watch the videos as he likes working on the computer, he can watch the concept a few times and then when he goes to Math he is much more confident in himself and what he knows.”
  • “Giving my student a chance to be introduced to material before class in a way that she learns from very well is great. She feels more prepared and looks forward to class knowing she has idea of what is going on.”

 

I knew I had made the right decision the other day when I overheard this conversation between two students who historically have struggled in math.  I really think it says it all.

Child 1:  “I made a 91 on the test, and I didn’t even study!”

Child 2:  “Me either.  I made a 94.  All I did was watch the videos.”

Child 1:  “Yeah.  Me too.”

Flipping my math class has been a great experience so far.  I did indeed jump on the bandwagon, and I have no intention of jumping off.

 

 

To Flip or Not to Flip

A Flipped classroom is a bit like Opposite Day on steroids.  In a traditional classroom, students spend most of their classroom time listening to the teacher lecture or explain, some of the time applying, and the majority of their practice happens at home.  In a flipped classroom, the students view a video of their teacher’s lecture or explanation at home and come to school ready to practice, understand misconceptions, and work in groups or with the teacher to apply their new knowledge.

I’ve been contemplating “The Flip” for a while now.  I have done research.  I’ve read the book Flip Your Classroom:  Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams. I’ve read some awesome blogs from teachers who have  flipped their classrooms and who love it.  One of my favorites that I just read this morning is by Carolyn Durley who has blogged about her first full year of flipping at http://flipperteach.com.

Like all good researchers I decided that I wanted to take a look at what critics of the flipped classroom had to say.  The biggest issues that seemed to pop up over and over from the critics included the following:

  • Access to technology for students
  • We shouldn’t be giving students homework

What I found interesting however, was that none of the critics had TRIED flipping their classroom.  People are certainly allowed and even encouraged to have their own opinion about educational pedagogy.  However, I felt that some of these critics saw certain things as mountains instead of speed bumps.

I am fortunate because the first speed bump is a non-issue for me.  I currently teach in an affluent school and all of my students have access to technology.  Many have ipads or an ereader of some sort, most have an ipod-touch, and all of them have computer access at home.  I realize that this is not the reality for everyone.  The majority of my teaching career has been spent in Title I schools.  If technology access is a stumbling block, then I would consider writing grants for necessary technology.  If technology access was a problem for only a few students then I would make my classroom computers available to my students before and after school.

I agree that we shouldn’t be giving students homework that requires them to practice and apply skills on their own before they are ready.  I can’t imagine there is a teacher anywhere who wants their students to practice incorrectly.  However, I see nothing wrong with requiring students to watch a 10-15 minute video.  Dare I say that it could teach students how to manage their time?  My students are definitely victims of overscheduling.  They have dance, basketball, football, soccer, gymnastics, music lessons, art lessons, and the list continues.  I believe it is safe to say that if you are reading this blog…that you are an adult with a lot on your plate.  Yet, you chose to take a few minutes to read this.  Perhaps the students will be required to make a choice to watch a video on a math concept, as opposed to looking for a youtube video that is on its way to becoming a viral hit. No one is going to have to give up a sport because they have a 15-minute video to watch, a few notes to take, and a question to generate.

I HAVE decided to take the plunge, assuming I can get permission from my principal to flip math.  Honestly, it won’t be a huge difference in my day-to-day math class.  I have been doing guided math groups for years, so I’m not worried about figuring out what to do with the additional class time I will gain.  I am instead excited about the extra class time I will gain to engage with students in meaningful discussions about their understandings.

This journey will be interesting, and I am sure I will encounter some speed bumps.  I’ll just back up a little bit, and get a running jump.

Please let me know your thoughts.

What I Won’t LIKE Teaching Next Year-but MUST.

I love teaching.  I love fresh school supplies-boxes of new crayons, freshly sharpened pencils, writer’s notebooks.  I love the laptop cart-fully charged and ready to go.  I love my kids-celebrating their successes and working hard to create new successes.  I love technology in the classroom and being innovative (as long as it promotes learning). I simply love teaching.  

Well, except for one thing.  You see, there is this one thing that I just hate teaching.  I hated learning it when I was in junior high.  I’m pretty sure that I hated it even more when I was in high school.  When I got to college I accepted it as a necessary evil, but that did not mean that I liked it.  I still don’t like it.  I think I might even like it less now that we have the internet at our fingertips.  

What on earth could create such angst in a teacher that has 18 years under her belt? Citing Sources.  I know! It isn’t a hard thing… it isn’t really difficult at all.  Maybe tedious.  Maybe monotonous. Maybe boring.  Totally necessary.  I get it.  It isn’t that I don’t want to give credit where credit is due.  It isn’t that I want to steal someone else’s work.  It’s just that it sometimes interferes with my creative juices.  I want to be typing away, inserting images, gathering great ideas, sparking new ideas which is how I work best.  I get carried away…I’ll admit it, and then I will suddenly remember about citing sources.  Bummer…backtracking to where I have been, what I have looked at, following my own circuitous path to gather all of the information I need to properly cite.

Well, let me tell you this.  Kids today have even more problems with this than I do.  I was born in the 70s.  I was writing reports in black or blue ink in my best cursive.  I had my trusty encyclopedia and a few books that I had checked out from the library.  Citing sources was not hard.  Today’s kids are used to having a wealth of information at their fingertips.  My daughter is constantly pulling cute animal pictures off of Google to be her ipod touch cover photo.  She was playing with educreations with her friends earlier today and they made a cute presentation about their favorite animals.  They literally pulled 40 pictures off the web.  They literally have no idea that they need to create a works cited page.  

I am going to have to be deliberate in my teaching of this next year.  Direct instruction, mini-lessons, practice provided.  It can’t go like this…”Oh, wait.  We have to cite our sources!”  I need to teach this until it becomes second nature, until they become obsessed with citing their sources.  Perhaps it will be like the year I taught an awesome health lesson to first graders about germs with a puppet as my sidekick.  For weeks afterwards kids could be heard saying things like this, “I just don’t think I can do the monkey bars today.  I have no way of knowing if other kids washed their hands first.”

What I am hoping to hear is this, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly use that picture on my report without making sure I cite it.”  Quit laughing.  It could happen. 

How can we BEST recognize students?

Student recognition has been on my mind a lot lately.  I’m certain I don’t have all of the answers.  I’m certain I don’t even have MOST of the answers.  What I am certain of is that certain things don’t work.  They simply don’t.  I’ve done a lot of reading on this topic lately and some have made me think harder than others.  Chris Wejr wrote two of the blogs that got my thinking started.

http://chriswejr.com/2010/06/02/death-of-an-awards-ceremony/

http://chriswejr.com/2012/06/16/starting-the-conversation-on-rethinking-awards-ceremonies/

After reading these blogs I came across another blog that made my heart hurt for students at award ceremonies all over the world.

http://www.northtomom.blogspot.com/2011/07/grade-6-graduation-ceremony-awkward.html

I have never liked Awards Ceremonies-not as a child, not as a parent, and not as a teacher.

Perhaps you’re thinking…”Poor thing…must never have gotten any awards.”  Actually, that is far from the truth.  I was of those kids that was “good at school.” (At least in elementary school) I worked hard and I did well.  I was the annoying kid that frantically raises their hand to answer.  I always got awards.  I got more than my fair share of awards.  I remember being actually embarrassed by the number of times that I was called up to the stage.  Was I proud?  Probably.  So, what was the problem?  I had friends that were not “good at school” and I was aware, even then that this just wasn’t fair.

Remember my caveat above…at least in elementary school? I was still a good student in high school, but by that point in time it was obvious that science was not my “thing.” My junior year I started out in chemistry and let’s just say that things were not going swimmingly.  After several months I was able to get transferred to a general science class.  Oh, the shame.  I had never been in a general class of any kind and I have to admit I was humiliated.  Picture an award ceremony with the entire junior class present.  Picture me getting an award for being the best student in general science.  I literally remember wishing that the floor would open up and swallow me.  It didn’t.

As a teacher I have never liked them.  I have tried to undo the damage of huge awards assemblies by having a private award assembly in my classroom afterward where I focus on other things.  Where I ensure that everyone receives an award.  I try and recognize students as great things happen and call home, send positive emails, write cute notes.  But, I’m not sure that anything I do can undo what has already happened.

I hadn’t really thought much about awards ceremonies as a parent until recently.  I have two children.  Brooke is 9, “good at school,” and just finished the fourth grade.  Drew is 6 and just completed kindergarten…the jury is still out on the “good at school” part.  They attend school in the same district that I teach in…but, do not attend my school.  On the last day of school, Brooke came home with six fairly crumpled awards.  From what I am able to gather (because I swear I need to work on story telling with this child) all of fourth grade gathered together for an awards ceremony but there were no parents present.  Awards were given for different clubs which accounted for three or four of Brooke’s awards, perfect attendance, “almost-perfect attendance,” and a couple of other categories that I can’t recall.  She seemed proud of herself, but one of the first things out of her mouth was that she felt bad for “A” and “C” who both only received one or two awards.  Drew piped up and said, “That’s sad.”

That is sad.

My current school doesn’t have an awards ceremony.  But, guess what?  We have a committee.  Yep, a committee that was formed recently to talk about student recognition.  They are thinking we need to have Award Ceremonies to celebrate student achievement.  I plan on stepping forward and speaking up.  I can’t sit back and watch this happen to another generation of students.  Ultimately, I won’t get to make the final decision for the whole school which is another reason that I have decided to pursue my Masters in Administration.  But, I can do what I know is right for my class…at least while we are in our classroom.

This year I am going to consistently take photos of student accomplishments in class, and I am going to ask parents to send me photos and details of accomplishments outside of class and I am going to make an Educreations video for each child.  We will watch them in class and I will send links to parents.  Parents can then share them with Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, etc…and my students will KNOW that I am proud of them and all of their accomplishments.  I have made a very lame example of an educreations presentation below about Brooke as if I were her teacher just to show you what I am talking about.   Please click on her picture.

I would be very interested to hear other’s thoughts.

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Tweet-da-leet-a-leet, Tweet-da-leet-a-leet

I forgot to mention that I am officially a tweeter now.  You know, on twitter.  I am making wonderful connections with all kinds of “edtech” people and am honestly loving it.  Now…I guess in all honesty I must admit that I have been a tweeter for a year…but, it isn’t quite the same.  You see, I have been tweeting as a Garden Gnome.  

Are you done laughing yet?  I was being PAID.  However, I recently realized that I wanted to tweet as me.  As an educator with a passion for technology.  As a mother of two children.  As a cook who likes to experiment with recipes.  The possibilities are endless. I am currently having a twitter conversation with two administrators about student recognition.  (Like, really currently….because it is open in another window)  So, now I tweet as me.  I hung up my gnome hat and am happily tweeting as ME, @JenRobertstweet.  

Follow me.  Tweet at me.  Join me on this journey.  I dare you. 

 

World’s Worst Blogger

So, let’s get the obvious out of the way first.  I am the worst blogger ever.  I have great intentions…but my follow-through is definitely lacking.  However, I think I am going to give this another shot. 

We are still in Omaha and we still love it here.  I was quite pleased recently when Omaha was rated by Kiplinger as the #1 place to raise kids.  That made me feel like a successful mother.  I felt even more successful because Suwanee, GA was the #3 place.  See, I have made great decisions concerning the locations that I have chosen to raise my kids…it has absolutely nothing to do with Dave’s job.  (O-Kay…well, maybe a little bit)

Two months ago…I would have told you that I had one more year of teaching in me.  That it was time to retire. There have been some growing pains that come with switching school districts.  I know this is normal….believe me…I have done it enough.  It was just extremely painful this time.  I’m older.  However, I have recently become “reenergized.”  I am ready to go back to school and get my Masters degree in Administration and I have a brain that is SWIMMING with ideas that I want to use in my classroom next year.  

I am currently researching QR codes and Twitter in education.  Summer came at just the right time.  

Luck O’ the Irish

What a busy week this has been!  We had our home inspection on Tuesday and it went very well.  Just a couple of minor fixes are required.  I enjoy getting to see the house, so I was happy to meet the inspector for a walk-through.  While I was there I took a couple of pictures.  I took a picture of the most beautiful tree in the world.  I am certain that when you look at the tree you will find it quite ordinary.  I find it extraordinary because it will be MY tree, in MY yard, in Omaha, Nebraska.  If you had told me a year ago that we would be living in Omaha AND loving it…I would have laughed.  A lot.  The other picture is a close up of the “argyle” in the “argyle room.”  I hope to never see it again.  The sellers are having it professionally painted. I also took a picture of the fireplace…no reason…just struck my fancy.

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Today is St. Patrick’s Day.  Admittedly, this holiday now makes my list of “top 10 days that I would rather go to the dentist than teach”….but, it is a great day to take cute pictures of my kids.

 

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