A Time to Reflect

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey

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This year my department rolled out a fully blended learning program for both World and U.S. History. Each member of my department was given an iPad cart to use with our students. We met over the summer to design our courses using Haiku Learning as our learning management system. The conversation flowed as we threw out ideas about how to make learning more student-centered while staying true to our philosophy of providing a rigorous learning environment with student choice. Integrating technology at this level with varying degrees of techxpertise (thanks @MisterCoyle for the nomenclature) was certainly something that kept us on our toes all.year.long. It forced our department to take collaboration to the next level. On a regular basis (i.e., daily, before school, in between classes), we discussed how technology could help our students practice historical thinking, reading, and writing skills. Luckily, we are all veteran teachers who know the value of flexibility and having an open-mind. Because in the end it’s the students who benefit from all of this work…we’re just the care-takers of the process.

Top 10 Things We Learned This Year

  1. BaiBoard is a awesome app for collaboration – to make it easier to follow along (and hold students accountable), have students fill in a Google Form with their BaiBoard name + password; use the desktop app to monitor progress
  2. Google My Maps though it has great potential in the history classroom, the UI on the iPads is still severely lacking – it’s a bummer to have students create slideshows on a pin only to have it show up on some iPads but not others #csuftcs
  3. Padlet is an easy way for students to display their work – to prevent cheating or stealing of ideas, we found that it was better to require students to post their work first in a discussion forum in Haiku Learning to time/date stamp the entry and then post the assignment in Padlet
  4. District’s default password for GAFE accounts needs to be changed right away – birthdays are a big deal at the middle school level…hence it’s pretty easy to figure out the default GAFE password (mmddyyyy) #duh
  5. Haiku Learning is an easy way to create a blended learning environment for students – use a linear format (e.g, Task 1, Task 2) because it helps students know what to do next and they can progress through the tasks at their own pace
  6. Memes are a fun way for students to practice critical thinking skills – students not only used memes for historical writing but also to demonstrate their creative side; middle schoolers speak memes #truestory #funnestprojecttograde
  7. Student choice is one way to personalize the learning process – using a revised version of Marzano’s learning scales, students were able to chose their learning path: Level 3 (describe/define), Level 4 (analysis), Level 5 (synthesis, evaluation) #leveledlearning #studentchoice
  8. Collaboration is key – having an open-mind is just as important
  9. Technology will work when it wants to, not when you want it to #murphyslaw
  10. Middle schoolers are inherently curious and to a large extent fearless – give them a challenge and they will rise to the occasion…how do you think we’ve learned various tips and tricks of the apps that we use?

 

Easing Back into the Fray

Monday morning back from a holiday is just as hard on the teachers as it is on the students.  As a veteran teacher, I know that it’s best to ease back into the routine.  We started a new unit today which was a perfect introduction back into a schedule ruled by bells.  The task for today was for students to analyze a secondary source and compile notes utilizing the Thinking Tools:  details and unanswered questions.  Today’s task focused on giving students the choice to work together or independently (my morning classes were half asleep) as they used their analysis skills and background knowledge to make inferences about life on the manor in feudal Europe.
I usually tweet this…but today I really should have done it…I really should have recorded their conversations because they were so interesting, thought-provoking, and in some cases, downright hysterical.  In analyzing a picture of manor life, most students struggled with an object that looked like an elephant (not likely in Europe), a rock (not a significant factor for describing a place), or a person taking off their clothes (to which they wondered…why is someone taking their clothes off in the middle of the manor?!?!).  Then there was an object in quadrant two…is it a guy doing pull-ups (seriously?), committing suicide (well, we did just finish our study on the Bushido Code), or was someone hanged for a crime (what kind of crime required hanging as a punishment? how long did they leave the guy hanging? what is that hanging thing called?!).  One of these days, I’m going to record their conversations because the pictures on Instagram only told half the story.  When students verbalize their thinking, it is truly something to behold…

Personalized Learning…It’s Possible.

About eight years ago, my district eliminated advanced classes for history.  This meant that gifted students were placed in the general education population which posed a problem because the question now became…how do I differentiate for all the various academic levels in the same class?

[Enter technology]

When I started my master’s program in 2008 little did I know that technology was going to be part of the solution to help differentiate learning in my classroom.  I was creating lessons that utilized a variety of technology tools that I could incorporate into my lessons that would allow me to create a learning environment that was closer to what I defined to as personalized learning.

[Flash forward to 2011]

I was graciously given a class set of iPads by my principal because through our conversations I was able to convince her that technology was going to enable me to provide learning opportunities that would help all levels of students in my mixed ability classes.

It’s a work in progress and it is by no means near completion…

But we’re happy with the results thus far.

[Backstory]

Our district brought in Robert Marzano as a guest speaker.  From there we were encouraged to utilize his idea of learning scales.  My department (true to form) took the idea and ran with it.  We created learning scales for all of our units:  world and US.  That was in 2011.

[Flash forward to today]

Each member in my department now has their own set of iPads.  Our principal purchased licenses for Haiku Learning.  We’ve changed our units so that we are offering our students opportunities to work in a blended learning environment.  With that, we’re able to create tasks that are required and optional.

[Backstory]

Level 3 tasks which fall under the describe/define category of Bloom’s are required.  It’s the bare basic concept attainment for our respective curricular areas.  Level 4 tasks are analysis and Level 5 tasks focus on evaluation and/or creation.  Levels 4 & 5 are optional. Students who complete Level 3 tasks will earn the equivalent of a C for that unit.  Students who complete Level 4 tasks have the potential to earn the equivalent of a B for that unit.  Likewise, students who complete Level 5 tasks have the potential to earn the equivalent of an A for the unit.  Level 4 does not count if students do not demonstrate mastery of Level 3.  Level 5 does not count if students do not demonstrate mastery of Levels 3 and 4.  Students choose their level of learning.  It’s just one part of the personalized learning that occurs in our classes.

[Flash forward to today]

In Haiku Learning, we’re able to create leveled tasks for students.  Not only do they have a choice in their learning level, but they also have a choice in how they want to demonstrate their learning.  Students who are interpersonal can choose to work with a partner.  Students who are artistic can choose to use creation apps like Paper 53 or Notability.  Students who are musically inclined can use Garageband or Songify.  The point being…the integration of technology into our classes has given us the means to offer our students a personalized learning experience.  We can create differentiated lessons and activities, but students also have a choice in their learning.  It’s been a crazy first month of school and I’m totally pooped but it’s been fun.  I love watching my students get excited when looking at the various options that they can choose from.  I don’t think that students often get a choice in how they learn but we’re trying our best to make that happen in our classes.  And for that…we’re super thankful that our administration believes in our vision because we’re not done yet.  =)

Where Learning Matters

Like last summer, I was brought in as part of the technology team to plan, present, and facilitate professional development for teachers in my district.  Because of the size of our team, we were able to host a variety of technology PD for all teachers in our district K12.  However, we were not able to host as many repeat sessions this year because we simply did not have the man-power or space to do so.  In fact, I was told that the sessions quickly filled to capacity when Super Week sign-ups opened at the beginning of June.  This was a good sign.

Last week was the start of Super Week (#superweek2015) for our district.  I’m not sure how other districts run their PD, but in my 20 years we’ve always had PD before school starts.  Some years it’s a full week, last year it was a week and a half (dubbed Super-Duper Week, no hashtag).  But what I really enjoyed about this year’s Super Week was the addition of K6 teachers to the mix.  Prior, we only concentrated on secondary teachers (7-12 Instruction) which made sense since we were all from the secondary level.  But this year we added a few elementary teacher presenters and facilitators which brought new insight into how technology could effectively be integrated into the curriculum.

This year, I presented on a variety of topics:

  • Presentations that Inspire – Slides, Prezi, PowToon, HaikuDeck
  • Advanced Flipped Learning – EdPuzzle, Movenote, Educreations, Camtasia, Screencastomatic
  • SAMRai – UpLeveling the Learning
  • Let’s Get Appy – Web Apps for Everyone
But what I love most about presenting is the learning that occurs on my own end.  I enjoy lively dialogue with teachers about how best to use technology with their students.  It is exciting to see the passion reignited in teachers when they see the power that technology can bring in order to transform the learning process.  But it’s not just on their end.  I always pick up several cool ideas that I could bring back to my own classroom which will not only benefit my students but my department as well.  Learning is a two-way street and delivering PD is one avenue to the process.  

Online PD. Heck Yeah!

This post is a bit late, but that’s what happens when the end of the year is fast approaching and there’s still so much still to cover from the pacing chart.  So I apologize for the delayed post.

I totally concur with the tweet from @mrhousepian.  We were taking one giant leap for #GGUSD…both feet in…wheels up…whatever you want to call it.  And I loved every minute of it.

Here’s the backstory…

One of the TOSAs in our district (@teacherlucero) and I have talked quite frequently about online PD and what that might look like.  He was able to convince our director to give it a shot.  So instead of our Blended Learning group meeting F2F for our last session in June, he scheduled two GHOs and had us sign up via a GoogleForm.

I chose to attend the first online PD.  I was joined by five other colleagues, in addition to @teacherlucero.  As soon as we logged in, we “signed in” using our GAFE accounts via a Google Form as proof that we were in attendance (our district is big on accountability).  The GHO started at 4PM with the intent that we might end up spending the first 20 or so minutes getting everyone online, setting up their lower thirds, playing around with the various Google effects, etc.  We took the entire 30 minutes to play around.  =D

We were patching in from all over…some of us were at home in our office, at the kitchen table, or even outside.  Several teachers joined us from their classroom/office.  I will start off by saying that it was nice to be at home, sitting in my comfy chair…talking tech and reflecting on our year.

At 4:30 @teacherlucero started recording our session.  He had prearranged questions for us to discuss.  The most engaging one being the technology tool that made the biggest impact on our teaching this year.  Everyone shared a different tool…and we started keeping a list of tech tools and websites in the chat window for future reference.  The intent was that this session would be recorded, edited, and posted for other teachers to view if they liked.  Where the view is currently being hosted, I don’t know…probably on @teacherlucero’s YouTube channel.

Will other teachers view our GHO?  Not sure.  But if they do, I’m sure that they’ll find it beneficial.  We all shared our favorite technology tool and how we used it with our students.  We talked about troubleshooting, lessons learned, best practices.  Everyone chimed in on the discussion.  We left links to websites and apps for future reference.  This type of curating of information is not something that happens in a F2F PD.  I mean, I know that people take notes during workshops, but it’s not collaborative and people who are not in attendance do not know what actually happened.

But with our GHO, it was recorded and there’s notes included.  So the impact of this PD has the potential to go beyond just the seven of us.  It’s basically saved for posterity.  😉

I was excited to participate in our first online PD for our district.  What makes this GHO different than others is that because it was recorded and because we signed in, we’ll receive the stipend that is normally only reserved for teachers who physically attend a PD.

Is this the new way to conduct PD?  I think so.  I can totally see this type of PD working in a similar way to EdCamps or an unconference.  We’re all so busy right after school…and most of the time I find myself rushing to the PD.  But when it’s scheduled at 4PM (or even later)…I have time to breathe.  I can relax a bit, eat a snack…and then engage in what I find most exciting…talking tech with like-minded educators.

I hope that our Director likes what she sees and hears about our sessions.  If we can move forward with this type of PD, I think it has the potential to have a larger impact beyond just the teachers in attendance.  Huge leap.  I’m ready for more.

#goodstuff #futureready

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Fun with GHO

So today I met up with my co-presenters for the Think.Create.Share conference.  We were talking about the student work that we planned to include and how best to share that work with attendees considering the fact that we cannot share outside of our GAFE domain.

But as usual, when getting together with passionate teachers…the topic evolved into a share-faire of new technology tools and how we could use those with colleagues and our students.

First up, GHO.

A couple of us have tried using GHO on a school device using the district wifi.  It seemed to work, but the video lagged here and there.

Today?  It worked beautifully.

The three of us (@PrimoHistory @WHistTeacher) joined a GHO using our GAFE accounts.  Now anyone who knows me knows how much I HATE being on video.  I love that I can turn my camera off during a GHO and just have my profile pic on the screen.  But today amongst my friends I learned how to let go of my fear of being on camera.  In fact, there were even some points in the conversation when I even forgot that I was on video.

When we all first joined in…I shared what I learned about GHOs from last summer’s #edcamphome.  I showed my friends how customize their lower third and explained a bit about Google Effects.  I chose to wear the princess crown which went well with the devil horns from @WHistTeacher.

And then we discovered the Draw tool.

I’m not sure how long we played around with that tool on each other’s pictures, but it offered us a much needed respite from testing and end-of-the-year burnout.  In fact, I don’t think that I’ve laughed that hard at work in awhile.  In hindsight, I should have taken a couple of screenshots of our handy work.

Oh well.  Next time.

While we were laughing and playing around with adding features and text to each other’s faces in GHO, we were also brainstorming about how this tool could be used to foster collaboration with peers.

After all, it’s not just fun and games with us.  We actually do look at the practicality of things.

In fact, earlier this week I was talking with another colleague about the possibility of using GHO to replace a face-to-face PD session.  The conservative nature of my district doesn’t allow for teachers to work “at home”…it’s like we have to be physically present in order to earn a stipend or get credit.  But it’s that kind of mind-set that is preventing us from being #FutureReady.  If we’re on video…and “they” can see us…then why do we have to be physically present in a meeting?  Any seasoned teacher knows that students can be physically present in the classroom and not hear one thing that the teacher is saying.  Being physically present does not equate to active participation.  But in a GHO…if a participant is on camera then there’s not much difference where the participant is in a physical sense.

I can see the power and usefulness behind using GHO for PDs and collaboration.  First, it would allow teachers to meet with content area peers who teach at a different school.  No longer should a singleton art teacher have to sit through a collaboration with other singleton subject-area colleagues who each have a different content specialization.  Second, it would allow more opportunities for vertical collaboration.  How easy would it be to set up a 30 minute GHO to share best practices?  Think about the value of the whole process.  We’d be using a new technology tool and unleveling the PD at the same time.

Sounds good, right?

Challenge Accepted

Challenge Accepted – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires.

My friend Jody Green (@peerlessgreen) challenged me to #makeschooldifferent. So I decided created a HaikuDeck to sum up my thoughts on how I plan to make school different.  But let me clarify on my challenge…

#1 Freedom
Give students the freedom to choose their learning journey.  Let them choose the path.  Yes we have standards to cover…but why not give students the freedom to choose how they demonstrate mastery of those standards?  Of course they will need guidance, but we need to step aside and get out of their way.   Don’t be an obstacle to their learning.
#2 Rethink
Technology forces us to rethink how we teach, but it’s easy to become complacent in the tech tools that we use.  Switch it up.  Do some app-smashing.  Collaborate with different peers.  Exchange lesson ideas.  Expand your PLN.  But more importantly, be open to new possibilities…even those that may come from students (see #1).  

#3 Slow Down
Teachers often get caught up in pacing guides, fervently rushing to cram important information down the throats of our students and for what?  A standardized test?  Slow down.  Breathe.  Give students time to explore issues that are relevant to them.

#4 Engagement
Who doesn’t want to have fun?  Life is hard enough.  Let’s give students the opportunity to learn in ways that are creative, fun, and engaging.  Tests aren’t fun.  But tests aren’t going away (at least not any time soon).  So why not make learning fun in the process?

#5 Advocate
If we don’t stand up for what’s best for our students, who will?  We can’t rely on politicians and those outside of academia to decide what needs to go on in the classroom.  Teaching is a craft and those of us in the trenches day in and day out know what’s best for our students.  Stand up.  Speak up. 

I challenge my friends Gregg (@tattedteacher), Chris (@mrhousepian), Sarah (@mrshousepian), and Adrian (@teacherlucero).  How would you like to #makeschooldifferent?