Monday, November 16, 2015

A Thankful November

It is November and all around we see the change of scenery and the "Thankful Challenges" on social media. It is certainly a time to reflect and be thankful.

This year I am thankful for falling into situations.

As I was going to college to get my credential, my dream had always been to teach elementary school. More specifically, second grade. I was even lucky enough to student teach in two lower grades: second and kindergarten! Once my credential was completed, I got a job teaching kindergarten in my dream district. It was a temporary position as it was an overflow class, but I was living the dream! 

Then the year ended. 

And I was jobless. 

Like everyone else at the time, new teachers were looking and applying for jobs. I was hoping to continue my elementary career! I thought I gained amazing experience. I knew how to run a kindergarten class. I was feeling pretty confident. So much so, that I applied only for elementary positions. Why wouldn't I? That is where all my experience came from. 

June came and went. As did July. August was beginning to creep in and I was beginning to panic. So much so that I went back to being a server at a restaurant. 

Needless to say, I was devastated. I was depressed and felt hopeless. I had to open my search to English language arts (ELA) through ninth grade. Thinking, of course, that no one would want a teacher with ZERO upper grade experience. 

Little did I know my whole outlook on teaching and upper grades would change with a simple phone call.

I got a call in August for an interview for a seventh grade ELA position in Oakdale. I thought Sure! I will interview. They won't want me. 

I went to the interview. I was first on their list. Other prospective teachers were there in the waiting room and I looked at them knowing they were better qualified than I was. I literally went into the interview without a care as I knew they wouldn't find what they needed in an ELA teacher.

2:25 came around and my phone rang. It was the principal of Oakdale Junior High (OJHS). The moment I said "Hello" the principal said I was hired and how excited she was that I was joining the OJHS team. She talked about a new hire workshop, when my first day would be, and again, how excited she was I was joining the team. 

I don't remember saying yes to the job.

Without her confidence in me and her excitement, I think I would have collapsed that first year. I actually cried the first two weeks teaching that first year. I truly hated my job. I was miserable. But I didn't quit. I didn't leave after the first year. I felt I had something to prove within myself.

My second year as a seventh grade ELA teacher brought challenges, but day by day I truly fell in love with English and the age group! I understood the curriculum better. I had colleagues I could collaborate and share with. But most of all, I truly adored my students. They were fun, creative, silly, and bright! 

Since that year, I have been driven to get better and mix it up each year. I have broadened my education and knowledge and shown what I had learned with students and colleagues alike. I became a SMART Exemplary Educator and a Google Certified Teacher (now Google Certified Innovator) and Teacher of the Year in my county. I don't know if that would have happened had I stayed elementary. I would like to think so, but who knows!

Falling into situations continue to benefit me. I fell into teaching eighth grade. I fell into the educational side of Twitter. And I hope that more "falling" continues. 

As they say: 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

2015-New year, new Experiences

This school year has been a whirlwind! I am a new mom, starting a new class, and haven't blogged in what seems like forever!

Time to get back to it!

This year is nuts! I have been teaching for fifteen years now, but this year feels brand new. I was given a new section of eighth grade English students. I have never wanted to teach eighth graders. Never. As much as I have always liked my former students to visit as eighth graders, I have known how "high and mighty" they feel on top of the junior high totem pole. However, the numbers needed it.

In my new class, I only have five students that were in my class as seventh graders. Keeping this in mind, I wanted to keep some of the same aspects that I have in seventh: rules, flexibility, choice, technology integration, etc. But I also wanted to make my eighth grade class like no other. How would I do that without truly knowing the curriculum?

As we all know, teachers set the tone the very first day of school. So I wanted to do something special, something different with my eighth graders. I have been successful with a first day scavenger hunt with my seventh graders, but since the eighth graders knew the campus well, I needed to up my game.

Enter the "Instagram Scavenger Hunt".

Because my students knew the school and knew who I was (even though I didn't know them!) they were comfortable and ready to explore. As students entered, I played Weird Al's "Word Crimes" and welcomed them to the Duck Pond. 

Once the bell rang, I introduced myself and told them we were now going to go on a scavenger hunt. They were floored! They were ready for the challenge.

Even the staff on campus were excited and involved! Here is our principal, Mr. Webb with students taking a "groupie".

A student example of one of the challenges of making "OJHS" in nature.

Students had a great time and loved using their phones and Instagram accounts or the classrooms. Definitely worth doing again!

Now my challenge is creating a photo challenge that is content oriented OR have my students create one!

What could you create as a photo scavenger hunt? I would love to hear!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Teach Small = BIG Rewards

Next week, like many educators, I begin the journey to a new year. I am prepping new lessons for a new class I have never taught and revamping curriculum for my regular classes. Doing this, for me, always brings a grand reflection of the past year. And this past year was incredibly special.It was my first year going 1:1 with Chromebooks, using GAFE through our school domain, and revamping myself and my teaching.

Plus, I became a mom. Becoming a mom through adoption has been quite the journey, and it was one I shared with my students. 

Each of these BIG things that was happening in the classroom included many small teachable moments. It is these small moments that make the biggest impact on learning and, more importantly, my students.

When you hear "teaching small," you may think of small lessons, or less impactful ones. I did, too. However, think about how the small moments truly make up your classroom. The small moments are the ones that last and create memories that are not soon forgotten.

Each year, I have my students create a sort of yearbook for me. Each student gets to create pages on themselves and their year in the Duck Pond. They don’t write about lessons in grammar or even using Chromebooks each day. They write about those moments that mattered to them. The moments that made them laugh or say "Awwww" or "Did that just happen?" 

One of my favorite #teachsmall moments happened when we were reviewing conjunctions and I mentioned the "big ol' but," which always gets a laugh. Then, when students were practicing identifying and using conjunctions, one student, Maddie, stood up and yelled “BUT” when she saw the word on the screen! Everyone passed that review and giggled or yelled "but" all year whenever they stumbled upon the word.

Another moment was the first time I did a picture walk for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. This novel is already powerful enough, but in a small town in California, many of my students didn't realize that prejudice and racism still existed, so we took the time to study prejudice in history and the present day. Before we even mentioned the novel, students took out sticky notes and checked out five different posters about the culture of 1934. The posters had quotes and pictures depicting the nation, the world, the cost of living, and how people lived. Because most of my students had never encountered such hate, their minds ran with thoughts and questions that they jotted down and posted. Discussions like these are so valuable and memorable, and they open students' minds to how they treat one other.
Finally, each year I get to teach one of my own favorite subjects, the Titanic. We dive into the personal stories of those who were on the ship, and each student takes on a persona of an actual Titanic passenger. Students love to hear "their" names come up in texts, videos, and research. This year, I added a little "STEAM" to the unit. We took a Titanic walk to get a true feel of the length and size of the great ship by counting the steps we took. Then, in the process of each student's research and discovery of their person, they had the opportunity to design and build their own "unsinkable ship." We weighed each ship to see if it would float and tested which could hold the most marbles. We even checked out the MythBusters episode on Jack and Rose from the movie. 

Which leads us, of course, to the movie. What is a Titanic unit without the Titanic movie?! Watching the movie is great because many students haven't seen it, but more importantly, they could point out the movie's flaws and shortcomings. All this is fun, but what makes it memorable to me is how students go beyond the learning in class and discover cool tidbits about the Titanic and her people.

In each of these moments, it wasn't the lesson or the text or even the technology that mattered. What mattered were the connections I made with students and the connections students made to the content. I could have the best lesson, material, or most awesome technology, and none of that would matter if my students or I didn't care.

Students need to know that you care: about them, about learning, about what is going on in the classroom. And I do care about my students, about their sports games, videos, pets, siblings, friends, and hobbies. And they care about me. This past year, each time my phone would ring, my students held their breaths hoping it was the call for our baby. The moment the call did come in...I don't think there was a dry eye in the room!

When we connect, we can learn. It is these #teachsmall moments that matter the most. Learning doesn't come from a textbook; learning happens in the the small moments.

For even more #teachsmall moments, check out Remind HQ's site here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Starting Off on the Right Foot: Success in the Classroom

All around the country, school is beginning for students and educators. We are buying supplies, prepping classrooms, and gearing up for a great year. 

Teachers plan and plan for the first day. Over the years, my first day activities have evolved to less talking, more student action.

The Early Years
When I first began teaching, the first day of school was my day of talk. A day the focused solely on me, who I am, my class expectations, and more. It wasn't until day two that I would ask about my students. 

This, of course, was boring. It told my students that this class was boring. That I was boring. I am anything, but boring! Beginning the first couple days on paperwork and procedures was not setting up my students or my class for success. It didn't show how much I care about them. And it certainly didn't showcase what our learning environment was about: THEM. 

Since connecting to other teachers through Twitter, I have changed my stance on the first days of school. The first days of school need to be about welcoming students. Teachers need to make students feel safe and cared for. We need to be creating a community of students and staff. 

How did I begin?

I first read Teach Like a Pirate (TLAP). This was a needed read for me at the time of test scores, an implementation of Common Core, and feeling lost and redundant at my site. This book reminded me of the kind of teacher I wanted to be and what my students needed. So, I changed how I started school. I began with a QR code scavenger hunt for my seventh graders to get to know the campus and to learn how to work in teams. Secondly, I did the TLAP Island Activity. This, of course, intrigued my students, but elicited conversations and dynamics between students that helped me learn who they were. I still do these activities today. Read more about it here.

OJHS found in nature!
This year, I have a class of eighth graders. I can't do the same things! Thus, I created an Instagram Challenge. I don't think I've seen students so excited! Doing this challenge inspired me to continue using technology that students are already using and to make it interesting to students. I got to learn so much about who they are through the pictures they took and the comments they shared. Feedback from my students were so positive that I will have to create more.

In addition to these activities, I am pushing back starting curriculum an entire week so that I can do what Jon Corippo calls "Smart Start". For students to achieve academically, they need a place that is truly caring and welcoming. This is where Smart Start begins. In both my seventh and eighth grade classes, we (yes, including me!) are doing a series of activities to A. Get to know each other, and B. Use and get to know the technologies, including SMART amp, that we will be using throughout the year. Win win! Students have the opportunity to be creative through different technologies and to get to know one another through different topics given. It's fun, fast paced, and builds a caring community.

What I have learned
I have learned so much through my many years of teaching and being a connected educator. One of the best is tossing the traditional talk and paperwork start of the school year. Students need connections. They need it and crave it. 

By cultivating those connections and a safe environment, students will not be afraid to fail, make mistakes, and thus learn even more. Students will give you all they can and succeed because YOU believe they can. It's those little things that make a HUGE difference.

Just remember: 

Be that teacher.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Connect Parents to your Class with Class Story!

It's the time of year...

The Back-to-School commercials and sales are here. Parents are taking their children to the mall for new clothes and supplies, while teachers prepare their room, syllabi, and lessons. Schools are having their Round-ups with students checking out the campus, seeing their classrooms, and getting their books.

Even I have been in my classroom prepping for the year. Organizing desks, updating my blog and website, and generally getting PUMPED for the year.

Who else is getting pumped? ClassDoj!

love ClassDojo! ClassDojo is a great way to encourage students, engage parents, and, importantly, save time! Students of all ages love it! Trust me, my seventh grade students even love it! The love the "ping", the rewards, and the instant feedback they receive. Okay, and they can customize their monster avatars too! Parents love it for the same reasons!

But ClassDojo has ANOTHER new feature for us educators! First it was groups, now it is.....DRUM ROLL PLEASE....

A Class Story!!

Yes, you heard correctly, now parents and guardians can feel like they are in the action of your classroom!


Now you can share with parents all that is #EduAWESOME in your classroom with text and picture updates! Unlike other social media sites, ClassDojo only shares with those parents and guardians that are connected to you and your classroom. Plus, YOU can see when parents see your wall as they can "like" your posts.

Have an idea for Class Story? AWESOME! ClassDojo will be asking YOU for what features you would like to see for Class Story, including video and audio notes.

LOVE what you are reading? Starting August 5th, you can sign up to be a beta tester of ClassDojo Class Story. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

New ClassDojo Features! Just in time for Back-To-School!

It's the time of year...

The Back-to-School commercials and sales are here. Parents are taking their children to the mall for new clothes and supplies, while teachers prepare their room, syllabi, and lessons. 

What better time to rethink your classroom methods and tools? This goes for teachers and edusoftware companies, like ClassDojo

I love ClassDojo! ClassDojo is a way to encourage students, engage parents, and save time! Students of all ages love it! Trust me, my seventh grade students love it! The love the "ping", the rewards, and the instant feedback they receive. Okay, and they can customize their monster avatars too! Parents love it for the same reasons!

But ClassDojo has something new on the horizon. New and AWESOME. The have THREE new features coming out! First up.....


Yes, you heard correctly, CLASSDOJO GROUPS! 

Teachers have always built their classrooms around collaboration, so why not encourage and around our students in ClassDojo in the same way? 

Now you can! 

Today you can organize students into groups into tables or into project groups. You'll still be able to reward points, but not you can encourage the whole group for any skill and keep a running total for all points given. Plus, parents can see the group points too!

The ideas are FLOODING in! I have students arranged in groups in class. Now they can create their own group flag and identity that I can give points to throughout each quarter. Then I can give group points for #GeniusHour as they work toward their project goals. 

How about using groups when working on global collaboration? Writing projects? Digital Storytelling? Endless possibilities!

Look for the new and improved ClassDojo TODAY!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Flipclass Flash blog-Finding Community

Tonight's Flipclass Twitter chat is on the importance of an educational community. 

Community can be found in many places. Before I found Twitter, my educational community were those I have worked with or friends that became teachers. 

This is fine and dandy, but once I discovered Twitter....the educational community excited me. It light a fire within me that I hadn't felt in some time. There were new ideas, books, thought, and pedagogy out there!

Educators need community. We need to have our ideas valued and heard. But more than that, we need to grow as educators. If you are standing still as a teacher or administrator, I honestly feel like there is something wrong there. We, as educators, need to continue the learning. We need to model life long learning to our students. The best way I have found is through community, or Personal Learning Networks and/or Communities (PLN/PLC) . 

For me, community comes in many forms: real life on campus, Twitter, Voxer, and Google +. Each have their own merits and I use each of them differently. 

My real life PLCs on campus know me in and out of the classroom and my current situations. They are with me day to day with the struggles of the curriculum, students, crazy schedule days, etc. They are the ones I can be open about the ins and outs of the day.

Twitter is my professional development I can get anywhere at anytime. I love my Twitter peeps! I can ask questions, share stories, get ideas, and discover the new and up in coming in education. Twitter has pushed me to be a better educator in ways I didn't know existed! Twitter opened my mind to the world! There are so many that I admire, and I hope I inspire a couple like I have been! Without Twitter, I wouldn't have applied to be a Google Certified Teacher (and got in!!) in 2009. I wouldn't have discovered the WEALTH of knowledge through Edcamps and conferences, which I was encouraged to apply to present. I wouldn't have discovered Teach Like a Pirate, flipping the classroom, EduMatch, EduPuppets, and so so much more!! I have made a wealth of edu-friends that are as near and dear to me as my day to day friends. 

Voxer is the way to actually talk and chat with mini communities. Granted some of those communities are large, but it feels small. Here is were conversations with educators spark new ideas, create projects, and even chats on the spot! It has reinvigorated me to take those Twitter conversations and make them deeper and even more meaningful-which I didn't think is was possible! 

So long story short....get out there and connect! ANY community is better than zero community! A connected educator is a better educator! We are better together! Teachers do NOT need to be an island any longer! We are a community of passionate educators who care about our students and staff and what we bring to our profession! 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

SemiColon EDU

I had heard about the Semicolon Project about a year ago. It moved me then and still does. 

This year, educators have joined in the discussion and awareness. Many educators joined the conversation on social media through #SemicolonEDU. Many shared their own stories. Many even got tattoos. 

I have always been passionate about awareness of depression and suicide prevention. 

Because, I too, have been there.

I have had some ups and downs in my life: my birth mom died when I was eight months with no father to account for and I lost my mom (my adoptive grandma) at twenty-three. Both completely devastating and earth shattering. But neither prepared me for the devastation that would envelop me.

My husband, my partner of almost eight years had an affair. 

His mistress was pregnant.

We were, at the time, trying to have a baby. Or so I thought...

Being a cutter in the past had seemingly helped me through previous bouts of depression, but it wasn't enough this time. Here I thought loosing my mom so early in my life was tough, but this was worse. Much worse. His affair made me question everything. Who I was. The way I saw the world, myself, and others. I thought we were happy. I thought all was right in the world. 

And yet I felt this was my fault. I had done something. Said something. Not done something. 

And because it was my fault, perhaps I was broken. Something within me that couldn't be fixed or loved. I felt worthless. Loveless. Useless. I didn't have a family; he took that away with his infidelity. I was alone. My world was inside out and upside-down. So why stick around?

I begged. I cried. I wrote. I prayed to be taken from this world. To make the hurt and pain stop. No one would miss me. I didn't have anyone that would notice I was gone. I was in a hole and I only saw one way out.

But my story was not over.

What got me out of that hole wasn't some big moment or realization. It was a few little things. The one thing I remember was my friend, Lori, who had left a twelve pack of Cherry Pepsi on my doorstep. She was the only one in my world who knew a minuscule inkling of what was going on. The only one who knew when to call or when to leave Cherry Pepsi. 

This little gesture of kindness gave me hope. 

Climbing out of the hole wasn't instant or immediate. It took months before I gained the courage to call a therapist. A year later to build the confidence and love within myself to actually leave the relationship. Even longer to tell my friends and my dad. But I am here. And I am happy. And healthy. 

Like others, I have moments of doubt and darkness creep in, but they are moments. Fewer and farther in-between. Now I have an amazing family full of incredible friends, a loving husband, and this tiny bundle of joy I can't get enough of! Each day is a gift. It may not always be perfect, and sure, there is sadness, but there is always blessings if I look for it. Blessings that remind me of who I am and where I have been. Lessons that made me who I am today. Stronger, smarter, and my story continues.