It’s summer and I”m doing what most teachers do; reflecting, researching, and preparing for the upcoming school year. Yeah, I know it’s still June, it’s what I do. Recently, I joined a teacher Facebook group. It’s great. Teachers are asking questions, looking for ideas, gathering resources, and the like. Then there was a run on teachers asking about classroom themes and names. This got me thinking.
You see, I don’t ‘pimp out’ my room with a theme or a cutesy name. I never have. I’d like to say that it’s because of some philosophical reason but sadly, it boils down to sheer laziness. I mean, that’s a lot of extra work. I”m am definitely NOT the type of person who is all on board with creating more work for myself. And so seeing all these teachers being enthusiastic about themes and names (i.e. Ms. N’s RockStars) had me reevaluating my thoughts on the subject.
I came to the conclusion that I’m STILL not going to do that. Why? a lot of the same reasons: I don’t create extra work for myself. But looking at it deeper, why would I want to? Personally, I like to focus my creativity on lessons. I rarely do the same lesson twice. I don’t reinvent the wheel each year, I tweak or change up lessons based on latest research, tools, and needs of my students.
I’m not creating a ‘Pinterest Classroom’; it doesn’t help my students. It might make me feel good to have a cutesy room and others might look at it and think it’s cute too, but that’s not my job. My goal is to help my students learn and succeed. That’s not to say that I don’t try to create an organized classroom; I do. I try to create a safe, calming, relaxing, and a caring classroom. So if your looking for a cute ‘Pinterest’ classroom with a fun name; my classroom isn’t for you. If you’re looking for innovative lessons with successes and failures; look no further.
At the beginning of this school year, I had GRAND plans for sketchnoting. And I failed. My plan was to have 49 Mystery Hangouts where students would learn about the states and keep a journal where they sketchnoted their information. Yeah, that didn’t go as planned.
But sketchnoting is still on my mind. As the year ends it’s a great time to try new things. Experiment. We all do it. That’s when I decided to introduce my students to podcasts. I have a plan to have my students podcast next year, but in order to do that, they have to know what a podcast is. While they won’t get to start a podcast this year, it will help me work out some of the kinks for next year.
I went on a search for an engaging podcast: something fun. After listening to Check This Out podcast with Brian Briggs and Ryan O’Donnell talk about podcasts for kids and tweens, I ‘checked out’ (see what I did there?) Kids Listen. Kids Listen lists great podcasts for kids. The subjects include science, history, stories, and creativity. I settled on The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. This podcast is an adventure story about Mars Patel and his friends, some of whom mysteriously go missing and the adults don’t seem to be worried. After listening to one episode, the students were hooked!
This is where I brought in sketchnoting. One complaint I hear over and over from teachers in my school/district is that the kids just don’t listen. I agree. The CELDT scores would also concur. By drawing the story, what they envision, they are forced to use different parts of their brain and listen. At first, a few students liked it but wanted to watch the episode. I explained that there wasn’t anything TO watch. They were not fans of this. However, by the end of the second episode, I didn’t hear any complaints. Some students had no problem drawing. Others listed the events in a note-taking style without any drawings. Others listed events and placed the notes in bubbles.
This has been a great activity. They come in each day asking if we are going to listen to Mars Patel. I have to beg them not to listen on their own and go ahead. Others have settled on finding other podcasts they can listen to. I am thrilled, and excited, by their response and the possibilities. Next year, I plan to incorporate podcasts into my lessons more often.
Things I learn from my students: custom gradient backgrounds. Today my students were giving homework presentations. One student had an interesting background: a rainbow bullseye. I had seen him working on his presentation and knew that he created that background, but wasn’t sure how. So today, I asked him after he was done. He said that it was a custom background. Then I asked him to show the class. And now it’s all the rage!
Some are a bit easier on the eyes than others, but the effect is still pretty cool. So how’d he do it?
When in Google Slides, click on a slide from the left. Then, select Background.
From here, a pop-out window appears. Choose color then gradient and finally custom.
From here we have several options. The one that really blew my mind was the + gradient stops.
Clicking the + allows you to add points where you can add colors using the paint can.
Pretty cool. So, I thank my student for sharing his discovery with the class.
Warning: this is going to be a bit ranty.
I am a teacher. Maybe you have seen in the news lately that many fellow educators across the nation are protesting. One item on the protest list is a living wage. Ya know, pay us what we are actually worth. Treat us like the professionals that we are – that would be another item on the list. And this is where I’m going to focus: treat me like a professional. Stop allowing merchants to peddle their product during my workday.
To the merchants – be they insurance, savings plans, ‘bookman’, or whoever – STOP PEDDLING YOUR PRODUCTS TO ME! Now, some of them I can choose to ignore. If I don’t want the cutesy items the ‘bookman’ is selling I don’t buy it. If the insurance man is in my lounge, I don’t have to engage in conversations with him. However, I ask do you go to doctors’ offices and ask to sit in their break room to sell life insurance? Do you go to other local businesses to talk about the great supplemental insurance you can provide? Look, I get it. You need to make a living. You share your knowledge with us and that’s fine, but there must be a better way than exploiting a teacher’s kind nature.
To the districts – STOP ALLOWING THESE PEOPLE TO PEDDLE THEIR PRODUCT ON ME DURING SCHOOL HOURS! This was never more apparent than this past week. Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week. For the most part, it was awesome! Our PTO treated us like RockStars! Thank you, PTO! Then there was our mandatory staff meeting. The one with an insurance person trying to sell me supplemental insurance. Yes, you read that right, during Teacher Appreciation Week I had a MANDATORY sales pitch to attend. Really? Okay, there was one moment worth remembering the sales pitch. That moment where the person openly stated that he/she has your back. If your doctor won’t write that doctor’s note for your insurance, no problem “I will…”.
Yeah, I’m still a little irked by the whole situation. But knowing that someone is willing to write fake doctor’s notes for me made it a little bit better.
The end of the school year is upon us. Today someone pointed out that we only have four more weeks of school. That’s not a lot of time. I know many teachers, and students, are in full ‘countdown mode’. Meaning, they are counting down the days until summer. I can’t fault them. The idea of a long vacation sounds wonderful. Time to do all the things that I’ve been putting off: steam cleaning the carpets, revamping lessons, relaxing, training ‘bat dog’ (aka Goldilocks, the 4-month-old puppy). Except, I don’t countdown. I used to, but I don’t anymore.
A few years ago I read a post (I can’t remember who wrote it) that changed my viewpoint. Basically, counting down sends the wrong message to the kids: learning isn’t that important. Learning is exciting and we should want it to continue. I am paraphrasing, but that was the message. I originally agreed, but have since changed my thoughts slightly.
While counting down and sending the message, “I can’t wait to get out of here” is what got me to change my thinking it’s not how I think now. For me, this time of year is bittersweet. I know what makes my kids tick. I know what will set them off. I know what to look for in others. I KNOW my kids. We are a family. We operate like a well-oiled machine. And now, I have to say good-bye. I don’t want to. I want to continue learning and growing with them.
Today I had a student upset about a personal problem. The student confided in another student. It warmed my heart to see the other student being compassionate and a good friend. We are a family and our family will be splitting up in a month.
It took us a long time to get to this point: us being a family. This is why I don’t do countdowns. I want to give it my all until the last day. I want to keep our family moving forward.
And next year I will start fresh. I will cultivate a new family. I will reflect on my new family in one year. I will be sad that we will soon go in different directions, but I will also marvel at their growth.
I have a student this year that I am in awe of. I want to be like her when I grow up. She is a true testament to growth-mindset. She is my go-to person for most tech questions. She is the rare 5th-grader who uses technology in meaningful ways in her spare time. My student, L, is a role model to both students and adults.
Yes, I realize I’m waxing on about L and here’s why. L has run our school’s daily news all year – which is a news broadcast. She films, edits, and most recently, been in front of the camera. When I’m having issues with a computer/tablet she’s the first person I consult and she usually has the solution. She uses her phone as if it were a mini computer: downloading Google Classroom, working on assignments at home, using Raz-Kids, and other programs to help her succeed. She has helped her family to download and set up educational apps (on their phones) to help them be connected to Class Dojo and learn a new language. She ‘texts’ me via Google Hangouts (her school account) to ask school-related questions or just tell me that she’ll be out the next day.
I’m sure you’re thinking that’s impressive for a 5th-grader, but not swoon-worthy. THIS is where her story begins to show how amazing she is. If we only look at her statistics – test scores, socioeconomic status, home language, etc – we would miss everything!
L is a second (maybe third) language learner. Her family speaks a dialect from the Oaxaca region in Mexico and Spanish. She qualifies for free/reduced lunch. She was hit by a car last year while riding her bike (no helmet) and still suffers from some brain swelling which has impacted her memory, vision (not drastically), and headaches. She continues to go to the doctor for her injuries. L has an IEP for learning differences. The IEP was in place before the accident. See, you’re impressed now, aren’t you?
So, while some tests can help guide us, they don’t measure the most important things about our students. They don’t tell their stories and it’s those stories that truly help us connect with our students and serve their needs. Without the personal relationships we build with our students, how could we ever build them up? How could we see their potential and set them on a path to success? How could we do our jobs? If only the test-crazy people would understand that a child is so much more than a silly test.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend an Energizer event for Google Innovators. And it was energizing!
Roughly 60 innovators were welcomed to the Google Campus to learn, grow, and become energized! Most importantly, we were able to connect with colleagues we haven’t seen in a while, have only met online, or connect for the first time here. I’ve talked about how I need my tribe. These are my people. They all do amazing things in their classrooms/districts.
I’m still processing all that happened and reflecting on how fortunate I am to be apart of this amazing group. Thank you to Google and Innovators for a great time!