Check-In with Flipgrid

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Last week I went back to Michigan due to a family emergency. I didn’t think I was going to be out of the classroom, but as it turned out I was. I was out for an entire week. The week AFTER Spring Break. Not great timing especially since I was out the two days before Spring Break. I knew I had to tone set with my students. Some would be thrown off by my absence.

Ms. N's Message on FlipgridThe question became: How am I going to communicate with my students? At first, I thought about doing videos on YouTube. Easy enough. I could record on my phone and upload. Then, after talking to a friend, I decided that Flipgrid was a better option. I could keep it private AND use the students’ names. I wanted to remind O to clean up, remind A to do work and not surf the web, and give shout outs to those who I was sure were doing the right thing. This worked out well. I was in contact with the sub and could customize my message each day. The kids really enjoyed it and LOVED hearing their names in the morning.

How fortunate that we live in this time where we can connect with our students from thousands of miles away.

What the Tests Don’t Show

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.

pexels-photo-733856.jpegYes, 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.

Back To School Night

Last night was Back to School Night. We have it the night before school starts. I like it this way. It helps to alleviate a lot of anxiety for both teachers and students – and I’d suspect some parents too.

Facetime Back to SchoolI’m no stranger to Back to School Night. I’ve done them for over 20 years. However, last night I had a first. And the nerd in me was so excited! A mom came to me with her phone explaining that the father couldn’t be there but wanted to participate. She had him on Facetime! We were able to introduce ourselves, talk for a bit, and have a ‘regular’ Back to School Night!

It’s the little things that make us happy. Being able to stay connected to parents is so important. I’m glad dad was able to ‘attend’. It make everyone’s night!

Google Classroom – Personal Accounts

So I received this today in my inbox!

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 5.49.59 PM A few days ago I wrote about Google Classroom and Personal Accounts. I applied for early access and was granted it today! The nerd in me is super geeked.

This is a game changer for me. First of all, I enjoy sharing my knowledge of Google Classroom with the masses. Secondly, a friend and I thought about created classes that people could take to become more proficient in technology use in the classroom. THIS is the perfect tool to get that going.

I can’t wait to see what uses others come up with.

Working WITH Technology

This school year has had its ups and downs. One of the ‘Ups’ were my students’ State Reports. We used Google Maps to accomplish the same task that use to take 10 type written pages. I still maintain, no one wants to read a 10 page report – let alone 47? Yeah, much happier with the Maps idea. As we went through it, I saw ways to improve; and will implement those changes next year.

Then there were the ‘Downs’. Yeah, some of those made me want to pound my head against a brick wall. My ‘Road To the Revolution’ project. I thought I was soooo brilliant. Not so much! I will attempt it again next year, but will make several changes. Then, there are the downers that I have little to no control over. One that popped up throughout the year, were the ones where teachers and/admin wanted to block/ban sites. (This is where my head hangs low, before I hit a wall) Banning/blocking is NOT the answer. As with anything, education is. We not only need to educate our students, but we need to educate the teachers.

The answer is to teach our teachers HOW to work with technology. We need to show teachers and students what it means to integrate technology. When students are doing research; provide a list of acceptable sites,create a custom search engine via Google, and teach students HOW to search. Typing ‘What is the state flower of Maine?’ is not an efficient search. These are tools that students, and teachers, need. It is a district’s responsibility to provide the training so that quality instruction can occur. Far too often, a district thinks that giving a classroom a set of computers will be the answer, but it’s not. What ends up happening – more often than I care to think about – is that the computer becomes a babysitter, time filler, or dust collector.

I understand the need to block certain sites – like the super bad ones (remember: I’m coming from an elementary perspective). But in general, I am an advocate of keeping the sites open. Yes, students will push the limits. Yes, they will try to find inappropriate pictures, videos, whatever. But it’s our job to guide them along the path.

Teachers need to work WITH technology. We need to use the inappropriate searches as teachable moments. We need to monitor, walk around, give students the tools to be successful. Will we catch everything? No. But my teachers didn’t catch all the notes and things I tried to get away with, and I came out fine – mostly.

Fractions and Recipes

Students WorkingCombining a fractions lesson and recipes is a natural combination. It connects the real world with a student’s learning. For the past month or so, my students have been learning about fractions: what they are, adding, subtracting, and multiplying them. Combine that with a teacher who is easily board with the norm, and you get a FANTASTIC lesson. One in which students ASK, “Can we work on our Recipe Project now?” Yes, students wanting to learn and were engaged.

What did we do? Well, we found some recipes. Okay, actually I found them in a cookbook that I had, from when I was a kid. They definitely weren’t the most healthy, but they were kids’ cookbooks, and worked well. I went through and found several recipes that involved fractions. Some had 2 fractions, others had 5 or more and included mixed numbers. Our student teacher handed out the recipes. Because there were various difficulties with the recipes, this allows the teacher to differentiate based on a student’s ability. The students were allowed to work together, but must hand in his/her own paper. The students had to: list the original ingredients, double the original recipe, cut the original recipe in half, and then make exactly 28 servings – one for each student, the student teacher, and myself. This took a few days. Fortunately, I do have a student teacher in my room so we were both able to filter around and help struggling students. Once they were done with the math portion, they had to create a presentation to show off to the class – and put in their ePortfolios.

We worked on this project for 3 or 4 days, including polishing the presentations. Each day the students would ask, “Can we work on our Recipe Project now?” Even the most reluctant, insecure math student was completely engaged. There were students strewn throughout the classroom at desks, under desks, and sprawled out on the floor. One group of boys worked outside to create a cardboard oven for their presentation. Other students chose to use Animoto and Google Presentation. They projected their ‘work in progress’ presentations on a big screen TV to get input from others. The room was so engaged and buzzing with creativity and learning, I HAD to call my principal down to see. He was impressed, and began asking the students questions about fractions, their algorithms, and gave suggestions for their presentations. The lesson was such a hit, my students told the other 5th grade teacher that she HAD to do it with her class, because it was so much fun. My students were happy to hear that her students had begun the project too.

Presentations will be next week. I admit, this was so much fun and worthwhile, that I am on the hunt for more lessons like this. Anything I can do to engage my students, I will. THIS is what Common Core is about: the four C’s. And this lesson had them all! Here is the lesson: Adjust a Recipe

This group will be incorporating an Animoto video into their presentation. Last week, they were practicing what they were going to say along with their video.

Yes, I found the lesson online. It is my belief that there is a plethora of information, lessons, and ideas out there. I do not need to reinvent the wheel. I am thankful to all who FREELY share. In turn, I FREELY share what I have found, my knowledge, and lessons I create. We are all here to help one another, and to help our students learn.

It’s Beyond Me

Photo on 3-25-13 at 2.53 PMThat’s a phrase I often hear when I am talking to other teachers about technology in the classroom. As much as I want to help others, I can’t help but feel that many are intimidated by my knowledge. When I begin to share information or ideas, many of my teacher friends seem to automatically assume that they cannot do it, and that technology is only for those who have the “know-how’. I assure you, this is NOT the case! Everyone can, and most likely does, integrate technology in the classroom.

Today I was speaking with a friend, and urging him to attend a CUE RockStar event in the area that is coming up. I was telling him about the great presenters (of which I am one), opportunities, and benefits that will come with attending. His immediate response was, “Well if _______ (another presenter and mutual friend) is there, then it’ll be above my head.” I assured him that that would not be the case for my session (I cannot speak to other presentations). He said he’d check it out, but I am still worried at the perception we techie educators are giving off.

I know that none of us intentionally tries to intimidate others with our passion, but I fear that this is happening and is keeping those who feel less comfortable with technology at bay. What can we do to help newbies feel more comfortable? What can we do so that others see that the technology is within their scope? This same person expressed slight frustration when describing a time when he asked for help. He said that he felt that the person who was helping him BEGAN above his head. How many of us have done that? Without meaning to? Maybe we need to stop assuming what someone already knows, and begin at the beginning. I know it sounds silly or obvious, but I bet I have assumed someone knew more than they really did. And I most likely made them feel uncomfortable, for which I am sorry.

And as much as I understand about technology, there is a TON I don’t know or understand. I am a dolt when it comes to spreadsheets. There have been many instances where I felt way out of my league in some tech conversation. So rest assured, you are not the only one who has felt that something is beyond you. My advice? Ask questions, a lot of them! When you attend a conference or PD, find one thing that you can bring back to your classroom. Focus on one or two things. It is easy to become overwhelmed and feel lost, so by focusing on one or two key points, you will feel successful and will WANT to learn more. After all, that is the goal — amassing information.

And this I promise to you…I will not assume you know more than you do. If I do, PLEASE stop me and remind me of my promise. We’re all in this together.