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Showing posts from 2016

Snow Day? Shovel Your Way Out

It is 5:30 AM on a weekday during the winter and the phone rings. That can only mean one thing, SNOW DAY! I have to admit, at that moment, I do not feel like the 15 year veteran, sixth grade teacher I am, but rather, I feel like one of my sixth grade students. I roll back over in bed and fall back asleep, only to get woken up by my wife as she gets up to get ready for work (seems like she is extra loud getting ready on snow days...nah, she wouldn't do that, would she?). I tell her to, "Keep it down. I'm trying to sleep. I've got a snow day." That goes over about as well as getting a snowball in the face. Living in Pennsylvania, snow days are part of the school year and one of the great perks about being a teacher, unless you end up having too many of them. Then you have to make them up in the summer. Then they quickly become an inconvenience. They can also become an inconvenience with what you had planned for class those days. Inspired by Matt Miller's Ditch…

What I Learned from the Elf on the Shelf

There I was at 7:00 AM, bleeding, blood all over my hands, kneeling over our family's beloved Elf on the Shelf, Oliver, in the dining room, and my six-year-old daughter waking up and coming down the steps. It was my worst case scenario. My little girl was going to come downstairs and see me covered in blood with our Elf on the Shelf laying on the floor and think that I did something terrible to Oliver.  Why was I covered in blood and bleeding at 7:00 AM in the dining room with Oliver laying on the floor next me? Because I was trying to make the Elf on the Shelf experience better for my daughters. The night before, I moved Oliver to a spot in our house that was just okay. I knew it was just okay at the time, but I thought it would do. The next morning I woke up, and decided I could do a better job with my placement of our elf. As I was moving him around in the dining room, so he would be hanging upside down like Batman, (much cooler than my first placement), I bumped a glass that …

Road Rules on the Blended Learning Highway

Remember when you were pestering your parents to teach or rather let you drive? You were sure you knew how to drive, as you had had extensive training starting from a very early age. Part of that training included sitting on your parent's lap while they were in the driver's seat and they "let you" drive the car into the garage, sitting on your parent's lap again as they again, "let you" drive the lawn tractor around the yard, then gradually building up to driving the lawn tractor around the yard by yourself, and of course driving the go-karts at the local go-kart track during the summer. With all that training, you were certain you could drive and drive fast. Then when your parents finally gave you the car, you realized the power and potential speed of that car, and that you really didn't know how to drive well, let alone safely.  Learning to drive takes time, and as much as we want to get in that car and go fast, we soon realize we need to hit the…

Turns Out Teachers Are Mind Readers (Thanks to Recap)

Imagine if you could hear every single student's thinking, thoughts, and ideas on a topic, and respond to each and every one of them without finding time to schedule individual student conferences. Imagine if your students could let you know how well they understood the topics covered during the week. Imagine how much insight you could get, and how you could adjust your teaching to meet the needs of individual students.   Well, a few weeks ago I came across Recap, a free student video response and reflection app, on my Twitter feed. It allows me to hear every single student's thinking, thoughts, and ideas, allows me to respond to each and every one of them. I checked out the site and immediately put it into action in my class calling the Recap assignments, #flashbackfridays. For 6th graders, not much is cooler than the hashtag.  My 6th grade students instantly took to it. Every one of my students are able to share their insights through a reflective process in a way that is r…

Survey Says...

Throughout all of my 15 years of teaching, there has been one word that has caused me, my students, and my students' families to shudder. If you are in education, and even if you are not, I am guessing you can figure out the word. The word is homework. Didn't take you long to shudder, did it? The word homework causes many to shudder much like the word shot does for my six-year-old daughter when she has to go to the doctor. Not even the promise of the lollipop at the doctor's office can get her to stop her fussing over going. She dreads going days before and, of course, tries to talk her way out of it all the way up until we get called back from the waiting room. She clams up immediately when the doctor comes in, and then the tears, crying, and wailing comes as soon as she sees the shot. What should take only seconds, ends up taking emotionally draining (for everyone) minutes and minutes to complete. Obviously shots are different than homework, but some of the emotions our…

So What's the Difference?

This is my 15th year of teaching, and this is by far and away my favorite year to date. It is not that I haven't enjoyed my other years, but this year is standing out already as a special year. I have been thinking a lot of what is making this year my favorite year, and what is making it different than my other years. So these are the ideas I believe are the difference makers for me this year. Communication This year I started using the Remind app to better connect with parents and students. It allows me to connect with parents in real-time using my smartphone or computer. In years past, I would send out emails or send home a daily report book or sorts. However, what I was failing to do those previous years is not only meet the parents where they are, but also where I am. Nearly everyone has a smartphone and nearly everyone never puts it down for more than five minutes at a time. So not only are parents getting notifications about assignments, but Remind also allows me to send pic…

Did You Send Out the Invites

Do you send out invites to your parties, or do you just hope people hear about them through word of mouth and just show up? Unless you still live at a college frat house, chances are you send out invites. The invitations are an important part to any successful party. Without them, people don't know when, where, or even if there is a party. And it could be the best party ever, but no one would know without the invitations.  Earlier this year,  few of my colleagues and I went to a Breakout EDU workshop. It was something we all had a strong interest in, and something that we were excited to try when we got back to school. But then, something terrible happened. We all went back to work the next day, closed our doors, and started teaching in our own self-induced, solitary confinement classrooms. What we were so excited and energized about doing (and something that required communication and collaboration), faded away as quickly as the next day came. A few weeks went by, and I kept loo…

Screencasts in Google Classroom

This year I have been creating my own screencasts using Screencastify, the free Chrome extension available on the Chrome Web Store. Unfortunately, my screencasts would not play for me or my students in Google Classroom, until today.  How to Have a Screencast Play in Google Classroom: 1. Record and name your screencast 2. Create a new Google Doc 3. Insert an image in your Google Doc 4. Locate your screencast in your Google Drive 5. Get a shareable link for your screencast (make sure link sharing is on) 6. Go back to the Google Doc you created that you inserted an image in 7. Click on image 8. Hit Control + K to create a hyperlink 9. Hit Control + V to paste your link 10. Insert your Google Doc into your Google Classroom Screencasts can be used to flip a lesson, become part of your blended learning classroom, have students share their thinking, or anything else you can think of. And now they can be viewed in Google Classroom. This year I have been creating my own screencasts using Screen…

What Is a Ghost's Favorite Pair of Pants?

What is a ghost's favorite pair of pants?  This is the riddle I asked my 6th grade math class on a recent 3-part, Google Classroom assignment about dividing mixed numbers. The first part of this assignment was to model dividing fractions using Google Drawings. After that, they began attempting to solve the riddle. However the only way they could figure out the answer to the riddle was to successfully complete a quiz with Google Forms. With every answer, right or wrong, students were given a message. The message was either, "Try again," or a letter of the alphabet. The students were directed to record the letters of the alphabet they got after submitting their answers to each question, and they were directed to show their work and thinking on the problems they solved. Once students successfully answered all eight questions, they then had to open a Google Doc, unscramble the letters they received from the Google Form quiz to answer the riddle, and insert an image of their…

Terrible Two's? Year Two of a Blended Learning Classroom

Last year was a humbling year for me. After teaching 13 very successful years (at least successful as determined by standardized testing), I decided to I needed to try a new approach to my teaching. I could not and still cannot shake the idea that the way most of our students are learning today are the same ways in which students were taught 20, 30, 40 years ago. I felt like my students deserved more from me. I felt like my teaching needed to be more student-centered and more about their future, rather than mine. I felt like they deserved more of a purpose in their education. So, I attempted to run a blended learning classroom in my 6th grade math and science classrooms. I spent last year blogging about my experiences and the ups and downs I had with a blended learning classroom. With all of the ups and downs, it did felt like being a first year teacher again. I took a risk, a big, year-long risk. It made me feel uncomfortable and unsure of myself. It took me out of my comfort zone. …

A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

Teacher: No, no, no, no. Like this. Student: I got it. I got it. Teacher: No, not like that. Like this. Now do you have it? Student: Yeah, I got it now. Teacher: No, no, no, no, no. Look, like this. Got it? Student: Oh yeah. Now I get it. Teacher: Good. Now try it again. Let me see it. Student: See, I got it. Right? Teacher: Ugh. No, not like that. Like this. Now try again. Well, you know what, never-mind. It looks good. Student: OK. Whatever.   How many times do you see students and teachers frustrated because they do not understand what the other really wants? How many times do you hear frustrated teachers in the faculty room because their students do not understand how their work is supposed to look? How many times do you hear students mumbling underneath their breath that they don't understand what in the heck the teacher wants? And how many times have you been that student growing up or even that teacher when you have 29 other students you want to check on? (So much for the communicat…

Surf's Up: First Year Blended Learning Mistakes & Ways to Correct Them

As the 2016-2017 school year quickly approaches like the annual tidal wave it is, I think about how last year I started running my first blended learning classroom, with what felt like, without a surfboard. For the longest time I felt like I was getting tossed around in the waves, not knowing which way was up. I made mistakes last year in my 6th grade math and science blended learning classes, but this year will be different because I have a whole year of mistakes to reflect back on. So here are my mistakes, and how I intend to correct them for this year, in no particular order. Mistake #1: Putting the cart before the horse When I found out I got the go-ahead to run a blended learning classroom, the first in my district, I was thrilled. However, I immediately started putting the cart before the horse. I started envisioning this perfect blended learning classroom running smoothly with three stations: independent, collaborative, and direct instruction. I thought of having engaged studen…

15 Years of What Not To Do: My Top Ten Mistakes

This will mark my 15th of year of teaching, and during that time I have made my share of mistakes. Seeing how I am close to the half way point of my career, I thought I would reflect on my top ten mistakes (the ones I can remember anyway) in hopes of others avoiding them. Mistake #1: Burning bridges Everyone knows everyone. It's a small world, and getting even smaller with PLN's. No matter what the situation is, always take the high road. Build bridges, don't burn them. Your older, wiser self will thank you. Mistake #2: Losing that fun connection with my students I had my first year I remember playing kickball and other various recess activities with my students my first couple of years. Then I remember getting bad advice just about every young teacher gets from an older teacher, "You shouldn't play with the students at recess, because they won't respect and listen to you in class." Unfortunately I took that advice and found that that destroyed my relation…

You Should Read It

How many times have you finished a fantastic book full of so many ideas, and then struggled to tell people about it? You know the book is full of ideas you think would not only benefit you and your students but other teachers and their students. However the best you can muster up in a conversation is, "It was a great book,"  "You should read it," or "You would really like to read it." Not glowing reviews, even by Amazon's standards.  If you are like me, chances are this has happened to you many times. I feel foolish I cannot articulate anything better than, "You should read it." (Makes me wonder how I can articulate enough to write my blogs.) And even worse, even though I know however great the book was I just read, I end up forgetting a lot of it. Sure I underlined or highlighted and made comments in the book, but those books ultimately end up on my shelf waiting for some company from the elf the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas eve.…

Save Ferris: The Power of a PLN

This will be my 15th year of teaching coming up, and I have learned so much the past three years compared to all of my previous years of teaching. The difference? Building and engaging a professional learning network (PLN). Connecting with fellow educators from around the world via Twitter, Google+, Voxer, Pinterest, and attending conferences (on my list for this coming year is to attend at least one edcamp) has not only given me new ideas and a much deeper knowledge base, but it has also deepened my passion for teaching and learning.  Building my PLN has been the single best thing I have done in my career so far for me and my students. After participating in Twitter chats like #paedchat, #personalizedpd, and a few others, I went into work excited every day this year past year, and I cannot wait for the next school year to begin. There was not one day I did not feel like not going in. There was not one "mental health day" I felt I needed to take. There was not one question …

Packets & Puzzles

Last week was the end of the school year, and I had mixed emotions as many educators do. I felt a sense of accomplishment and pride with all my 6th grade students achieved, a sense of sadness with seeing my students leave, and yes, a sense of relief, and joy that summer was finally here and I would be getting to spend time with my own children. However as the year was coming to an end, I kept trying new things with my students. I did not want to end their time with me on packets and puzzles. I wanted to end the year as I began the year, being a meaningful, student-centered classroom. We all want our students to find their education and the lessons we design for them meaningful, but honestly, can we define what is meaningful to our students when we are no longer students of that age? How do we know when something is meaningful to them and when it is not? I have discussed this year being meaningful to my students numerous times in previous blog posts, but I don't think I could real…

Putting My Left Arm in First

As a right-handed person, I have always put my right arm in first to my jackets. However this past school year, it has felt more like I have been trying to put my left arm in first to my jackets. If you have never tried this "simple" task, I suggest you try it. It feels awkward, cumbersome, confusing, and you might just look at little foolish, when at first you thought it would be a fun challenge that you would quickly master. I would like to say after a few attempts, it becomes easier and natural, but that is not the case. It takes many repeated attempts for it become easier (not easy) and for it to feel somewhat natural. For me, this is how I felt when after 13 years of teaching, I decided to try something completely different to me, teaching a blended learning classroom. While I was getting effective results from my students year after year, I knew how I was teaching them was out of date with the demands of today's world. I wanted to put them, not me, at the center o…