Thursday, March 31, 2016

Should I Tech This Lesson? Guiding Questions

Teachers who do not know me well often know me as the techie teacher.  I don't really have a problem with this, except when it sends the message that I use technology in my classroom solely because I like technology.  In a previous post, I gave some examples of "Why I Tech" from a teacher planning standpoint.  I acknowledge that my entire thought process happens in my head and it can sometimes be viewed as flippant decision rather than an intentional, calculated choice.  Today, I'd like to give some more details on what goes through me head when I make decisions regarding technology use with students in the classroom.

Guiding questions when considering technology technology use in your classroom:

1. Are you prepared to effectively manage technology use during this lesson?
No: Don't use it, seek out resources for properly managing student use
Yes: Proceed to next question

2. Can the lesson be taught without the use of technology?
No: Not really a choice, gotta use it
Yes: Proceed to next question

3. Will using technology improve the quality of learning for this lesson?
No: Possible overuse, consider next question
Yes: Go for it

4. Will using technology improve positive student engagement in this lesson?
No: Likely overuse
Yes: Don't forget to have students engage each other and not just the technology.

My definition:
Overuse: Using tech for the sake of using tech. It should benefit the lesson not just replace a pencil or paper.

The language I use here suggests likeliness of overuse, not certainty.  If there's anything I know, it's that every situation is different.  You are the master of your classroom.  Never let someone's list tell you any different.  This is just what I consider.  Take it or leave it.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The only "No" I fear is the "No" I tell myself

Sometimes I just write in the notes app on my phone.  A line gets stuck in my head and I have to keep it.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the advice I give my students.  I tell them often, "If you don't ask, it's an automatic 'No.'"  I encourage my students not to give up on themselves.  I challenge them not to let others decide how they feel about themselves.  Even as some of them turn 18, my students are still children after all.  Nothing wrong with that, but they have so much left to live, so much yet to grow.  They have so much yet to learn.  Both about the world and their potential.

So here is my advice, do with it as you wish:

The only 'No' I fear is the 'No' I tell myself. 
So I'll keep asking, but not for permission*.
I'll keep dreaming, but not of chances I didn't take.
I'll keep wishing on shooting stars, but not because I don't have the power to make wishes come true.

*[Permission is philosophical here, to further your knowledge and decide your destiny.  Students, you still have to ask before leaving the classroom.]

Don't forget to follow your own advice.  What will you accomplish when you stop telling yourself "No"?

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Two questions I haven't heard in my classroom this year.

I may have fooled my students into thinking I was a better teacher this year...

Short story:

1. Is this for a grade?
2. Why are we doing this?

Two questions I haven't heard in my classroom this year.


Not-so-short story:

Do you ever just stand in your classroom in awe that your students have done as you instructed?  Sometimes I think to myself: "They have free-will and have still chosen to follow my instructions."  It's kind of amazing.  My goal isn't to have a classroom full of quiet compliance, but the sound of my students individually problem-solving is music to my ears.  When I first started at my school four years ago, it was a struggle to get students involved in the lesson and trying.  I actually did an in-flip classroom and had students on individualized learning tracks.  It was easy to make it through a walk-through.  When my principal came to observe, she was just happy my students were engaged and doing math.  Sometimes I have to remind myself just how far my students have already come.

I'd like to think it's because all my lessons are that engaging.  (I wish.) I'm sure it's at least partly because I mix technology and student choice and take preferences to learning styles into account when lesson planning.  (Probably a big part of this).

I have a feeling it's mostly because I make a promise to my students at the beginning of the year to not give them work just for the sake of work.  Busy work is not my thing.  When we begin units, and lessons, and activities, I explain the why along with the what, so they aren't left wondering.

That relationship, that rapport, the trust.  That's what makes my classroom a better classroom this year, but this is not the first year I have noticed it.  This is the first year I have given myself the credit for building that kind of classroom.

Is there a place in the teacher evaluation process that celebrates and encourages that?  There needs to be more of that.

What is something you rocked this school year?  Give yourself credit for your hard work and dedication.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

3/18/16 Friday PD: ACT Aspire data, IPI + SAMR

This week, we spent Friday PD as a large group.  We went over ACT Aspire data and the results from our latest IPI-T data collection (Instructional Practices Inventory-Technology*) as well as comparing this to our previous data collection in September.  Then we were given a brief overview of the SAMR model* guiding tech use in the classroom.  (For those who do not know its Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition).  I can go into more detail on these, but even though I've been through trainings on both, I'm not an expert on either of these, just because it wasn't anything I didn't know already, but most of our staff had little to no experience with this before.

*Note: If you are viewing this and you don't know what IPI and SAMR are, you should look them up (it's ok, you're already on the Internet).  I don't claim to be an expert in this post and Google keyword searches are allowed in the real world.*

After all of this, we were put into groups and given roles, an IPI level, a SAMR level, and a random topic (ours was fruit snacks, others included donuts, coffee, reality tv).  We were tasked with creating a lesson to fit our given IPI and SAMR levels.  It was nice to work with a cross-curricular group and come up with something entirely off the wall.  It was refreshing to see a group of educators who usually exclusively sits for PD, up on their feet talking and sharing.

All-in-all, it good PD.  We learned some information and then did an activity to show our understanding.

Here are my take-aways:

1. Of a 60-minute PD, ten minutes of this was spent at a level 5 for IPI (student learning conversations). But this not being "new" material to many of us, this also could be argued as a level 3 (student work, teacher supervised), but err on the side of the higher score.  So as a PD, we spent 10 min/60 min = 1/6 = approx 16.7% at a level 5.  Which means...

2. Of a 60-minute PD, we spent 50 minutes at a level 4 (teacher-led instruction). So as a PD, we spent 50 min/60 min = 5/6 = approx 83.3% at a level 4.

3. If conducting IPI collections during PD at the same rate as classrooms, it is likely we wouldn't have scored our PD as "higher level thinking", but rather teacher-led instruction.

4. Remember, and I cannot say it enough:  Jerry Valentine stresses that there is need and room for all of the levels except  one (1 complete disengagement).  "3s and 4s are ok" is basically a direct quote from the man, who did my training last year.  We shouldn't feel like kids need to always be at 5s and 6s, we just want to try to get them there often.

Here are some take-away a from PD that I'm not sure were intended:

5. With reflection, I just took our PD to a 6! (Also using SAMR level Modofication because I am able to collaborate with others through the blog and build on these ideas, which could cross over into Redefinition of following up on a Twitter chat or Voxer group)...I know, I know, I just geeked out on you.  Sorry.

5. In ten minutes working with our peers, we came up with the start of an amazing lesson that is cool, but doesn't have any practicality in our respective classrooms right now (i.e., Except for a few select classes, we can't go in on Monday and use that lesson). BUT, imagine what we could do if we had all 60 minutes to make something that we could use in our own classroom.

In summary:
If the desired result is higher-level lessons in our classrooms, we need to spend more time in higher level professional development.

What's Your Warning Label?

I require a warning label.

I recently had a discussion with a friend about warning labels on foods and household products which eventually led to us pondering the warning labels that would help us better understand our students.

"I didn't sleep last night (so I'm sorry I put my head down during independent work today)"

"I don't know where my next meal is coming from (so I'm sorry if don't have a pencil when I arrived in class)"

"Someone sold my meds (so I'm sorry I can't focus today and the next month until I can get a refill)"

"My dad got arrested last night (so I'm sorry your assignment wasn't my first priority)"

"I stay home to take care of my siblings (so I'm sorry I miss school a lot)"

There are some more complicated ones than that, but, unfortunately, they are all too similar.  The point I want to make is there are things below the surface that we don't experience, that we don't see or know about unless our students trust us and open up.  Some of my students I would know right away, others I can only guess.

Teachers have warning labels too.  We wear many hats, so ours are big labels.  Here's mine, both as a teacher and a person.

"I understand I'm not always the easiest person to deal with.  I set high expectations for myself and those around me because I want to be the best version of myself.  I'm stubborn and I talk too much.  My impatience could occasionally be described as self-destructive.  I sometimes dig too deep in my quest to understand nuances in daily life.  Just because I don't shout my daily successes from the rooftops doesn't mean I'm not happy.  I stand by my friends through thick and thin.  I offer help to strangers stranded on the side of the road.  I play the role of "parent" to many of my students, even when carrying their stories and burdens threatens to break me emotionally.  My good qualities far outweigh the bad.  I'll still be willing to help you, friend or not, student or not, on your worst day, but I'll understand if you're not there for me on mine.

I require a warning label, but only because I care too much instead of not enough."

 And at its core, the same can be said about most of my students.  They just have different ways of showing it.

What's your warning label?  How are you a different teacher because of it?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

That One Teacher (who changed my life forever)

We all have that one teacher.  The teacher who changed our lives forever.  It is impossible to know that moment when it happens, but there is one teacher in particular who made an impression at a time I needed it most.  There is no telling how my life would be different were it not for my 6th grade teacher, Brian Clyne.  When I read Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess, I actually wondered if Mr. Clyne had just changed his name.

Several years ago, I went through a very trying year.  I was in my second year of teaching and stuck between a rock and a hard place professionally.  I had an inaccessible mentor and an administrator who had differing opinions on what I should be doing in the classroom.  I was new at this and worked tirelessly to please both of them, to no avail.  I learned the hard way that trying to please two people is like having two #1 goals--you have to pick one or lose at both.  Maybe I'll write more about that another time.  Maybe I won't.  The good news is that I landed on my feet the next year in a much better place.

Once I had my footing, I really began to appreciate all the amazing teachers I had learned from.  The things I learned from them often pop up when I least expect it and usually have nothing to do with the lesson itself.  Every once in a while, I see a glimpse of my younger self sitting in my classroom and remember the power that goes along with my position.

It was after one of those days when I finally found Mr. Clyne to thank him personally for all he had done for me.

"I have been trying to find you for some time, to let you know how much your teaching meant to me. In writing this, I wonder if you will remember me. I wonder if you remember me as the girl with so much potential, if she didn't feel so invisible. You came into my life at such a tumultuous time. My parents had divorced, my mother was in the midst of reliving her youth with the man who would become her 2nd ex-husband. I always liked school, but hadn't cared about it for over a year by the time I arrived in your sixth grade classroom at Auburn Elementary in 1995. You were exactly the kind of teacher I needed at that point in my life. You taught me that my voice mattered, even if the only person I wrote to was myself. Most importantly, you never belittled me for trying to control the few things in my life I had influence over, which, unfortunately, resulted in me not being at school very much or completing much schoolwork. In the years following, my sisters turned to boys and bad habits. I turned to writing and I began to believe in myself. I graduated from high school in the top 10% of my class and set off to KU to major in education.

Now, I am working as a Special Education Math teacher at a realatively small high school in Missouri (about an hour outside St. Louis). I tell my students stories of how I learned about probability through Blackjack and how to add and subtract fractions using the Stock Market. I'm still trying to figure out how to work Marsville [quite possibly the coolest project ever] into my math curriculum, but I've got plastic sheeting and duct tape in my cabinet for when the moment strikes.

The other day, one of my students had his head down on the desk. I walked over, and instead of lecturing him on getting back to work, I knelt down and asked him "How are you doing today?" Turns out, his mother was in the hospital and he hadn't slept at all. So I told him he could put his head back down for as long as he needed. Those are the things they don't teach you in education classes, so I count myself lucky that I had a few amazing teachers to learn from. Teachers who were mentoring a person, rather than preparing for a test score. In the last 3 years in the classroom, I have found being a great teacher is not always valued by other staff and administration, which makes me appreciate it even more.

Sorry it has taken so long for me to tell you all of this. I'm just glad I am finally able to share it with you."

There are several of these teachers.  I need to make sure they know the difference they made too.  In the meantime--Thank you.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

What Makes Me Tech

Any given day, I have more devices in my bag than I probably need.  The right tool for the job, I suppose.  Chromebook, laptop, iPad, iPad mini, iPhone, Kindle...a combination of school-provided and personal investments.  No wonder my bag is always so heavy!  

Most teachers in my building probably think I use technology so extensively because I have all kinds of time on my hands.  Admittedly, I don't have children, so I'm sure that results in much more "free time" outside of school than the average teacher.

The truth is, I use tech because I don't have time NOT to use it.  In addition to teaching six different classes, I also have the paperwork, meetings, mentoring, and parent contacts involved with having a Special Education caseload.  If I'm not careful, all of this can take over my life outside of school just to keep up.  Early on in my career, I decided to work smarter, not harder.  This is why I tech.

If I record a lesson, it is there for future use.  If I create a digital activity (even one that can be printed), I can have one student or 40 students use it each year.  When technology automatically differentiates student math homework, the students benefit and I spend less time grading individual assignments.  I don't have to worry about which device I carry home because all of my files will still be at my fingertips.  This is why I tech.

When my classroom computer slowed down and became unreliable, I purchased a 25-foot HDMI cable and bypassed it altogether.  If there's anything I don't have time for, it's wasted time when something doesn't work properly.  With the HDMI cable, I am able to connect either my laptop or chromebook to my projector and even have an ipevo document camera (connected via either device) for the times I need to show something on the board that I don't have available digitally.  For example) Last week, I dislocated my wrist and was not able to write on the board.  I had a graphic organizer and card sort activity prepared, but I was able to project from my document camera using my activity keys (uncovering sections as we went).  This is why I tech.

My Sub Plans are in a Google document.   I keep it updated as my rosters change and also post a message in Google Classroom to create consistency for my students.  Of course, I haven't used a single sick day this school year, but this has also come in handy when missing for PD.  Next time I'm sick, instead of agonizing over plans while not feeling well, I can send my plans to the high school workroom copier from the comfort of my home with just a few clicks.  These plans as well as my Emergency Sub Plans are shared with key staff and team teachers so any one of them can access and edit if for some reason I am not able to.  This is why I tech.

For me, technology is an important tool in my toolbox.  Do I use it every day?  Yes, but sometimes only for attendance, email, grades.  Do my students use it every day in my class?  No.  And that's more than ok.  

I enjoy learning new ways to use technology in the classroom.  It's part of what makes me who I am.  This is what makes me tick.  This is what makes me tech.

This post is my semi-continuation/follow-up to the #satchatwc conversation on Time today hosted by Grant Lichtman (@GrantLichtman). Join #satchatwc Saturday Chat West Coast (and CST peeps who like to sleep in) Saturdays at 7:30AM PST moderated by Shelley Burgess @burgess_shelley