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.