Tuesday, September 30, 2014


I was at basketball camp tonight for K-5th graders at one of the elementary schools in our district. It was the end of the day and we ended with a game of knockout.

One of the high school players, "had his money" on a certain player to win the game. The kid standing next to the kid who was "spoken for" had a frowny look on his face. One that said, "I'm not good enough." "Why didn't you pick me?" and "I'm not wanted."

I quickly told that kid that if I had a lot of money, I'd put it on him. The kid's eyes lit up. He had a sense of purpose and a sense of urgency. He now mattered. He now was a kid determined to do something great, not just simply, a kid.

I have this notion that students had the same fantastical upbringing that I had. The one where your parents are always there to help you with everything. The one where your mom stays home. The one where your dad is your coach at whatever sport you play. The one where your mom cuts up your waffles because they taste better when she does. Yes, that type of upbringing. It sometimes gets the best me.

His face. His attitude. His level of intensity. All of them increased because I told him that I was in his corner rooting him on.  His attitude went from boring and uninterested into the camp/day being something that he couldn't miss. It was all because I took them time to cheer him on individually. It made his day.

Deep down, each person just wants someone to root for them. Someone to have their back. Someone to say, "I believe in you." Someone to be there for you when you think that you can't accomplish something.

I've had a lot of these types of people in my life. I truly am blessed.

Who are you rooting for?
What ways can you show you're rooting for others?
How does cultivating relationships improve your students' overall school experience?


Saturday, September 13, 2014

30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 5: Our Classroom

I'm going to try and do the 30-Day blogging challenge from TeachThoughtDay 5: Post a picture of your classroom, and describe what you see–and what you don’t see that you’d like to.

What I see: A learning environment where students feel safe and are able to collaborate with others. I see splashes of color. I see learning "centers" that help bring students together. I really like my "Kid Cart" along the blue wall. It houses all the things that students need: pencil sharpeners, turn in trays, art supplies, kleenex, missing work, etc. I have an extensive collection of gnomes. Why? I'm not sure. I think they are a little creepy. You know the story how someone gives  you something and then others continue it. That's how it started and now I keep continuing the collection as we go along this journey.

What I don't see: I don't see the Chromebooks that we will get later this year. I don't see posters that deal specifically with my content. (I hope to change that soon.) I don't see any student work. (It's up there now.) I don't see my Finish Early Poster. (It's up now and it was created by the students.) I would like to eventually build somewhat of a stage, or platform to put at the front of the room. I need to do something with my blue wall. It's not very accessible, so it will need to be something that can stay up for a while. I need a new welcome mat. I've had the same one for 5 years. It's worn out. I should put something on the ceiling tiles.

 View from the the corner. 
 The back wall which includes the projector screen.
 The lounge where students can work on assignments together. I'd like to get a coffee table sometime. The Unheard Word Heard is the Vocab wall. 
 From the door. 
 The Bridge aka my desk area. And The Bridge's First Mate. :)
 The blue wall. Kid Cart with all the student supplies. 
 Futon again. 
 Book case. Students can check them out. My amazing collection of gnomes. I have around 40ish gnomes in the room. 
 Looking a the door. 
 Looking at the front board from the middle of the room. 
 Circular View
 Panoramic view. 

Thoughts on my room? Things you like? Questions you have? 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 4: Best

I'm going to try and do the 30-Day blogging challenge from TeachThought. Day 4: What do you love the most about teaching?

I have always thought that the best part of teaching is when a student comes back to just simply say, "Hi." When students still want you to know what they are up to later in life, you have made a difference. That is the ultimate best thing about teaching. It's never the lessons. Never the tests. Never the projects. It's about the learner and if you cared about them as more than just a student. There has never been a student tell me, "Thanks for helping me on that standardized test."


30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 3: Observation Improvements

I'm going to try and do the 30-Day blogging challenge from TeachThought. Day 3: Discuss one “observation” area that you would like to improve on for your teacher evaluation.

This year, I would like to improve the higher-order thinking strategies/questions that I institute during a class period. I tend to ask questions back to the students who ask questions. It's my way of guiding them to the correct answer without me telling them. Answer a question with a question. It works wonders.

I will go about thinking about my deep thought questions by making a conscious effort to incorporate them into the lesson and reflecting in my lesson plans about ways to get them deeper into the content.

30 Day Blogging Challenge: Day 2: Technology

I'm going to try and do the 30-Day blogging challenge from TeachThought. Day 2: Write about one piece of technology that you would like to try this year, and why. You might also write about what you’re hoping to see out of this edtech integration.

This one is pretty easy for me. All of the students will be getting Chromebooks in about a month. I look for this to change the landscape of learning in my classroom. I've been thinking about how this is going to work alongside my interactive notebooks. What needs to change? How I am going to integrate the Chromebook into what I'm already doing? How quickly I can change from paper/pencil to more of an all-digital class?

I think the impact on learning is going to be huge. No more scheduling computer labs. No more students who don't have a device. No more making different lesson plans for students who have a computer and for those who don't. (Not that that is an issue, just that it's one thing I don't have to do.) 

Along the lines of technology, I would really like for our students to be able to freely access the internet. YouTube is blocked on all the student devices. I fully understand the risks of what can happen if there is no filter, but I also see the benefit of learning that is possible. I feel there has to be a way to monitor those students who are looking at inappropriate things. 
Sidenote - I Google-searched the obituary of someone in my family a couple weeks ago. His name was Richard. He went by the word that rhymes with Slick. I typed his name in as it would be on the obituary: Richard "Slick" Lastname. My principal got an alert of what I was searching. If they can monitor me, I feel they can monitor the students' searches. 
I think if we are going to put a device in the hands of 6th graders, we need to give them the responsibility to handle it appropriately. Teaching of proper use, acceptable use, and digital citizenship will be a premium. There must be circumstances if students are not able to handle the freedom and responsibility, but we need to fully let them explore.

I'd love to hear other's takes on this. If your school district has restricted/unrestricted students' devices what are your thoughts? Is it a good thing to restrict them? 

30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 1: Goals

I'm going to try and do the 30-Day blogging challenge from TeachThought. Day 1: Write your goals for the school year. Be as specific or abstract as you’d like to be!

My student goals that the students gave to me as a teacher this year is to make the class:
Wordle: 5WordGPS5

My personal 5 Word GPS to guide myself is:
Real - LCLs
Fun - Want to Come
Empowering - Through Choice and Content Creation
Awe - Class is Filled with a Sense of Wonder

Sure-Fire - Students are setup for Success

These are the words that I want my students to say about my class at the end of the year. Easier said than done, of course, but you need to know where you are going before you can go there.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

New Position & Collaboration Thoughts

To begin, I accepted a new position, at a different school, over the summer. Actually, I accepted the position the same day that my daughter was born. It was an interesting day to say the least. I'm not sure too many people accept a new job just hours after their daughter was born, but I guess I'm in that statistic. I went from teaching 2 sections of reading, 1 language arts, and 2 sections of social studies (my partner taught math and science), to now teaching 5 sections of social studies and 1 current events class. I'm also giving up one day of SS a week to teach a Google Literacy class to all the 6th graders. It's a day a week to get the students accustomed to all of the Google Apps. The 7th and 8th graders in the building are already pretty versed through the work that was done the year before.

I am missing a lot of the companionship and familyness from my old position. I spent three years with mostly the same group of teachers and I consider them all more than just coworkers. We spent a lot of time together, both school related and life related. It was probably one of the hardest decisions that I have had to make in my 30 years (Holy smokes! I turned 30 this summer! I think it's just now hitting me!) of walking this Earth. I miss them dearly.  I will be forever grateful for what they have done for me and my family! I love my new fellow 6th grade teachers as well. It's a different setup for me since it's departmentalized and we each teach our respective subjects individually. I had 4 other people who were teaching the same thing I was, so it was pretty easy to bounce ideas off of each other and improve each lesson to make it better since we had multiple perspectives. Now, I'm the only person teaching 6th grade SS so I kind of feel like I'm on an island.

After a month teaching, I'm finally getting into the swing of things. I really love what I'm teaching. We're going 1:1 with Chromebooks in a little over a month, and I'm super-pumped for the possibilities and creation tools that the students will be able to access all day long.

As I reflect on the first month of school, I can't help but think about my classroom procedures and how in some classes they have figured out how to collaboratively work together in a quiet voice and how I've had to have some classes work by themselves because they can't handle the freedom presented by my teaching style. It's getting frustrating to me. I think I need to be a little more direct with some students. I feel like I need to remove some of them from the ability to work with others so that the classroom functions in a way that is beneficial to all of the students. I've never really been one to not allowing talking and discussing among peers, but I think some of them have taken it a little too far. I need to look at it from the perspective that I am here to educate all the learners and I need to make decisions to make all students successful. When I look back on when I was a student, I was typically a rule-follower and quite quiet in the classroom. I got upset internally when others were being disruptive just to be disruptive. I need to open my eyes a little to those quiet learners and see from their perspectives.

I asked on twitter for some blog topics and Michelle Stein came to the rescue...
...so I thought I'd share what I believe about a collaborative classroom. I will say that it has been a little harder this year to develop my collaborative classroom environment because I'm used to having my classes, classes as in I'm used to having 2 separate classes that I meet with twice a day. It's a lot easier when you're with them for more time during the day than 45 minutes. (Wait, this sounds I'm making an excuse. I don't let my students make excuses...) I need to do a better job.

When I think of a collaborative classroom -

  • I see 
    • students working together on assignments. Not cheating, but bouncing ideas off of each other. I don't like having students work individually. It is necessary at times, and I typically test individually, but I think one of the most beneficial 21st century skills is the ability to work collaborative with others. The trick is that it is a skill that must be taught. I haven't done a great job of teaching this skill so far this year. One of my classes is basically running itself from a management standpoint. They could probably do the whole class with just a couple of instructions from me. One of the classes is really struggling as a whole with this concept. They are lacking an overall strong work ethic and without that, a lot of the other things don't fall in place. I know, I know, a student shouldn't have to have a strong work ethic because I'm supposed to create irresistible lessons that fully engage students. Yes, I get that, but there is also a personal responsibility for students to try. 
    • I see students asking questions that go beyond the questions asked. I see students take some info and then look up things on their own and then share that with the class. I think Google Classroom is going to help with that once we go 1:1.  I see students who when they are finished, they have something already set up to do. I see students displaying their learning in non-traditional ways. 
  • I hear
    • I hear a buzz in the room. Not an annoying buzz, like the stock market floor, but a healthy little hum. This is usually conversations that students are having about their work. They might stray off to a personal conversation, but they get back on track shortly and press on. I hear students asking for help from other students. I try to be the 3rd person they go to if they have a question. One, so I don't have to answer all the questions, and two, because I imagine that someone near them already has the answer and they don't have to get up and walk all over the room to find me. 
  • I feel 
    • I feel safe and relaxed. My personality is very relaxed. That doesn't mean I'm not driven, I'm just very chill.  I've been in those classrooms where students don't talk. They have this eerie feeling about them. I top down approach. I try to get to the point that just because I'm the teacher doesn't mean I'm higher than the students. It might take a while to get that understanding from some students because they are used to that model, but I want students to know that I probably learn more during a day, then they do. 
  • The setup
    • I think this year is where I dropped the ball in some of the setup. I don't think I modeled what was expected enough and long enough. Where I really struggle is that 2 months ago, my classes were doing it perfectly. Then, I get a whole new class, and start the process over. My brain tells me that they can handle the collaboration, but what my eyes see is different. They have to be taught through talking and modeling. Anything worthwhile building, takes a lot while. I tend to forget that. I need to backtrack and talk about expectations and then hold them accountable. I struggle with this as well. 
  • The long haul
    • It takes a while to build the classroom that you want, but the benefits are tremendous. Collaborating is worthwhile. It must be taught. 

What are some things that you do to build a collaborative classroom?
How do you set your room up to build collaborative spaces?
What are your benefits to collaboration?
What do you do about the students who like working alone?
Where do you go to help foster relationships that lead to collaboration?