Friday, October 18, 2013

End of (Hypothetical) Quarter One Reflection, Passion Projects, Parent-Teacher Conferences, Some new Techy stuff.

We have semesters at our school, but if we had quarters, this would be the end of quarter one. It's been a while since I have blogged about school, so I thought I would sit down on fall break and hash out some reflections.

Let's start out with how my year is going so far. I am enjoying this year more than last year. My homeroom students have this "just-chillin"
mantra about them which I love. They work hard. They get their things done. They typically do it quietly without bothering others. Most importantly, I love how they embrace my weird humor. I find myself thanking them for their attitude, workmanship, cooperation, and like-ability in general.

My other class is the exact same, but with one glaring difference: They are noisy talkers. I love to have my students communicate with each other. Shoot, must things they do are with a partner or group. I have a two-heads-are-better-than-one mantra. But they are really struggling with an appropriate noise level when there are 31 of them in there. So I've been working on my management.

One of the biggest differences is that I have a new female partner-teacher. My former partner and I had been together for two years and were both guys. I wasn't too excited about the principal breaking us up after I heard about it at the end of the last year, since he is one of my best friends. It was out of my control so I guess I just got over it quickly. My new partner thinks I'm the weirdest person ever, but at the same time we really like working together. Every time our kids switch classes we have a great laugh-a-thon in the hallway.

All in all, I am loving this year. My personal attitude is high. I love coming to school each day. It's fun.

Going from this year to last year ...

Reality Slam -

My kids from last year did not test well on the ISTEP+ test. Why?  I'm not sure. I felt comfortable going into the test. I felt comfortable with what had been predicted. We had a LOT of internet/testing glitches from the testing company. Just google search ISTEP and Indiana DOE and you'll find a plethora of wonderful (sarcasm) stories. So anyway, I guess it is what it is and I can't change anything so I guess I must press on.

Which leads me into....

Parent-Teacher Conferences -

Every year, I have this hate, then love relationship with P/T conferences. The two weeks before hand I always get this sort of imaginary cloud over myself because of all the scheduling and rescheduling and the taking of my own personal family time. Then, I have the conferences. I don't do anything really special. I show them all their data (this will come into play later) and then we basically go over their own student self-evaluation and then just chat about things the student does well, things they need to work on and some strategies for attaining their goal. Nothing fancy, but I usually walk away feeling really well about them. I get to meet their parents/guardians, they tell me more in-depth about who they really are and it's truly enlightening to me. Anyway, I truly enjoyed talking to all my parents. Some of them, I get challenged by to do better. Some, I get patted on the back. Some, give me great information. Some, show me how tough life is for their sons/daughters and how school might not be the biggest concern for them at the moment because there are health concerns in their family at home. I think it's a matter of perspective.

Anyway, from the last paragraph, I mentioned that data was going to come into play. Well, here goes. During one of the conferences I had this exchange with a parent. (this isn't word for word, but it's somewhat of what I remember.)

Me: Here's Johnny's ISTEP scores from last year. (I go over them. He didn't do so well)
Mom: So what does this mean?
Me: Basically, in a simple manner, it means that he is not at what the state determines as 5th grade level in reading, math, or SS. Our goal is for Johnny to pass those tests at the end of this year although he'll be taking Science instead of SS.
Mom: So, even though he didn't pass the year before, he'll need to pass this year?
Me: That's the plan.
Mom: Why is it such a big deal?
Me: Our goal is for every student to be at grade level when they leave 6th grade.
Mom: Doesn't his score affect some of your things as well?
Me: Well, in all honestly, and the reality of it is, that it's a big deal to me because your son's performance on it affects my future evaluations and pay.
Mom: So my son has power over your pay.
Me: Yes. I have a class goal that I must attain and another goal that must be met as well. His score also plays into every other teacher's goal in the building because we get a building score as well.
Mom: And based off of this test is what a lot of funding and money from the state comes?
Me: Correct.
Mom: So, basically, everything is hanging on this ONE test for the principals, teachers, and everyone here?
Me: You got it.
Mom: So, there isn't much else that really matters in the long run and my kids are basically learning to take a test?
Me: (I shake my head in a way to acknowledge that her statement is correct.)
Mom: So, most of your teaching is geared toward passing ISTEP?
Me: I do my best to teach students in a way that is beneficial to them and so they get a more well-rounded, holistic education that doesn't center on the test, but the reality of it is that...
Mom: (cuts in) You would be dumb not to specifically teach to the test because so much is riding on it.
Me: (I shake my head in a way to acknowledge that her statement is correct.) Like I said earlier, my aim is to not teach to the test, but for my students to learn to love learning, not to necessarily learn to take a test.
Mom: Maybe I should look into homeschooling them.

We got off the subject of the testing after that and we talked about how she can now receive my class text messages through Remind101.

Parents aren't as dumb as the DoE thinks they are.

Moving on before I get a temper -

Passion Projects aka Genius Hour. 

It was developed based off of the Google Company's 20% time. It's a time they give their employees to work on new projects, whatever they want, as long as they are benefiting the company.

Layman's terms = a chance to investigate/research anything you deem worthy. You then must share your learning in one way or another. is one of the best informational sites. Especially the video on the homepage and the hourlong taped one from a conference. is the catch-all wiki for all things geniushour. Very informational.

#geniushour on twitter will lead to a bunch of links.

I'm doing the high-ability RTI group this year and wanted to try it out with them. Where I think they are going to learn more is on the reflection piece that I'm going to tie into it eventually.

This is what I made to introduce it to them using Powtoon. Pretty nifty little app/program.

This is an animoto video I made of them working the other day. 100% engaged and they are in charge of everything on their own. They decided their topic and the way they are going to research it and then present it.

I did a quick feedback survey yesterday (on paper, and I wish I did a Google Form). There is nothing that the students don't like. What they like most is the ability to investigate whatever interests them and isn't teacher picked. They are honest with their feedback with me. Some of the depth of their research and thinking is truly unbelievable and so thoughtful. Their discussions about things are "real" learning not some cookie cutter "ISTEPy" type regurgitation.  It made me feel like I was in the board room of some high rise building in NY while the students were hashing out what would make a good topic to investigate. I can't believe how well this has gone over. I love having the students take control of their learning. What I noticed was the hardest for them was the fact that they got to investigate anything they wanted. It was like they had this freedom, but didn't know what to do with it because they had never had anything like it before. Some of them were at a loss because it wasn't teacher-driven where teachers tell them things are either right or wrong. They have really made it their own and I can't wait to see their final products that they just share with the class. They will finish up by reflecting on their learning and how they can make it better the second time and applying their learning to the state standards (you know because cool learning has to have standards and all or it's not real learning. hehe)

New Techy Stuff I've Used This Year

Animoto - slideshows that rock. Example I made
Powtoon - Mini-animated videos. Example I made
Remind101 - Safe Texting service I use to send out news and homework recaps nightly.
Phoster - Phoster - you can make nice modern posters. See my last couple of posts for examples.
Instagram - My class one. I have begun using Instagram to communicate with students after school. I'll put up a song that I play with my guitar. A quick video. Something funny. I think it helps to bridge that gap between those students who don't see teachers as people, but only as teachers who don't leave the building. (I have a futon in my room and some have asked if I stay the night sometimes. Yeesh! Right?) Young middle school kids haven't gotten to facebook/twitter yet and this is their social media.
Twitter - My class one. I post homework to this daily through remind101. I also link up my instagram to it as well. Because most of my students don't have a twitter yet, it doesn't get much action.

Things I need to improve - 

Reading conferences with my kids. I said this was going to be one of my main goals and I'm not doing well with it yet. Time to step it up.
Differentiating some of my things for my high ability kiddos. They need more challenging things that makes them think over just more work.

That's it. Would love some thoughts, please.