Sunday, March 27, 2016

"You didn't make our egg hunt hard enough, Grandma!"

Disclaimer...this post has absolutely nothing to do with a flipped classroom, I just thought it was super awesome & I wanted to share...

"You didn't make our egg hunt hard enough, Grandma!"

Those were the words that my son said to my mother after our Easter egg hunt last year.  My mom does an awesome job making our Easter egg hunt into a scavenger hunt each year.  The kids love it, but obviously they were getting a little used to her normal hiding places.

Fast forward to this mom is battling cancer like a boss, but she just didn't feel up to the challenge of an Easter egg scavenger hunt this year, she also didn't want to disappoint the grandkids, sooooooo.  Enter my super techie/outdoorsy/nerdy brother-in-law Rex, who decided to take on the challenge, and holy cow did he do a good job!

Rather than do a normal scavenger hunt with clues, he decided that kids needed to work for their eggs.  He planned out 4 different courses that all required the kids to use a compass, and measure their footsteps.

The kids started by figuring out how many of their steps equaled 100 feet.  After that, he taught them how to read an orienteering compass.

They had to line the compass up to their "heading" degree, then align the compass so it faced north.

After that it was as simple as following the arrow the required number of feet to find their egg.  I got to follow my 11 year old around, and it was so fun!! He got pretty good at lining himself up, and realized that it was really helpful to look for a target in the distance before starting to walk.

My daughter and her cousin worked together (they are the youngest), while the older 3 all worked solo.  The final stop...grandma :)

All in all I'd say it's going to be hard to top this experience next year!!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Learning Labs (aka my new favorite PD)

Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to attend a learning lab.  If you don't know what a learning lab is, I'll try to give a brief explanation.  A teacher agrees to "host" a lab in their classroom.  This means they will create a lesson (with the guidance of an instructional coach) and teach it in front of a bunch of other teachers (we had 7).  Then everyone (including the host teacher) would reflect on the lesson with some noticings and wonderings.  So here's what happened...

We all met after lunch for about 30 minutes to learn about our host teacher's lesson.  What she was hoping for when she planned it, where her kids are academically, the make up of her class, what she's worried about, etc.  We also set some norms for when we actually observed her lesson, like where to sit, if we're allowed to move to hear students better, should we talk to them at all, etc.

After that we spent about 55 minutes watching her teach her lesson...and it was awesome!

Her lesson was essentially teaching her 4th graders about the concept of inverse operations, which is typically a pretty dull topic.  In our pre-observation meeting she told us that she was trying to focus on purposeful talk, and utilizing the Guided Release of Responsibility lesson planning model during her lesson.  She also admitted that she personally has a hard time letting the kids talk as much as they should because she LOVES to teach, and she had in her head that teaching meant direct instruction.  That's probably an exaggeration, because I've seen her teach, and I know she does a lot of things that aren't just direct instruction.  At any rate, she acknowledges that she needs to be very intentional about letting kids work together and learn from each other more.

She started her lesson with a really fun hook, pretending to be a math magician (when in reality she was just using inverse operations to figure out a students starting number).  The kids bought it, it was awesome!  Then she let them struggle with how she did it.  They worked in pairs that had been set up & were guided to use some "purposeful talk" cards that they have to help with their discussion.  Eventually she stopped them and they worked through some of their ideas...still no one had it quite yet.  Instead of just giving them the answer, she turned it back to the kids after they had a class discussion.  I think she was noticing that a few were on the verge of figuring it out...they knew she worked backwards, but weren't getting the inverse operations yet.  After turning it back to the kids, several of them figured it out.  Then she moved them into groups to figure out her starting number.  They worked together, and tried to practice their purposeful talk.  Purposeful talk is really hard to do, but they were making an effort to talk math and help each other.   After that, they gathered together again & she showed a visual with cubes of adding/subtracting fact families (knowledge they had from 1st-3rd grade).  She had them write the "inverse" operations with a very simple example 3 + 4 =7.  They got it...then she challenged them to moving it into 4th grade math and gave them a much harder problem...I don't remember the exact problem, but it was something like 643 + 395 = 1,038.  Then she challenged them to show the inverse operations.  All tried, many succeeded.  Then she ended up doing some direct instruction with solving it, and visually connected the parts of the original problem to the parts in the inverse, proving she was right, it was like 28 little light bulbs went on at the same time.  At that point we had to leave, and she sent the kiddos back to their seat to do some independent practice.  We missed her wrap up, and I'm pretty bummed about it.  Apparently she asked the kids why she taught them that...why in the world should they know how to do inverse operations.  One little girl raised her hand and said, "because then we can always check to see if our answer is right."  Whoa...they got it!

After the lesson was done, we all met together to debrief, talk about what we noticed, and often follow up with a wondering of our own.  The discussion we had was so powerful.  It reinforced something I've known for a long time, but tend to forget...reflection is powerful.  I thought back and realized I started this blog to give myself a place to reflect on my teaching, specifically about my flipped classroom.  In the past few years I haven't been very consistent about blogging because I wasn't sure what else I had to share.  I started to think too much about my audience, and not enough about why I started writing in the first place.

SO, I plan to start weekly reflections again.  Only this time it won't be about just my flipped classroom, I'm going to reflect on my teaching as a whole.

My next post will be about all the things I want to try now that I've experienced a learning lab ;)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Holy Changes Batman!!!

There have been a LOT of changes in my district this year...I mean a ton.

  • We are moving to a mastery system.  
  • We are implementing a new ELA program.  
  • We have a new instructional model.  
  • We are starting learning labs. 
  • We have mandated running records on every child.  
  • We have a new spelling program that blows my mind (I'm not sure if it's in a good way or not)
  • Not to mention that I'm constantly revising & improving my math flipclass.  

All that being said, I am really enjoying this year.  Part of that may be that I am connecting really well with the majority of my class.  Part of it may be that I am being hyper vigilant about being productive.  But if I'm being honest, the biggest part of it is that I have a student teacher this semester.  I LOVE having student teachers.  I love learning from them, and helping guide them into becoming great teachers.  I cannot speak enough to the fact that having 2 bodies in the classroom helps me reach double the students!!!  It probably helps that I don't view having a student teacher as an opportunity to not be with my students, and hang out in the lounge.  I view having a student teacher as an opportunity to double student contact.  Thus far it's been fabulous!

Of course there are always things that aren't going so well...lots of little piddly things, but my big one is that I can't find enough time in the day to fit in everything I need to fit in.  When I break down my mandated time to teach the core subject areas, my specials, my lunch, and my intervention time, I literally have 5 minutes to spare...and that doesn't include a time for Words Their Way, which is a totally new method of teaching's what I know about it so far - it takes more than 5 minutes a day (okay, I know more than that, but I'm struggling to fit it in).  It would be easy for me to quit/give-up/throw-in-the-towel/etc.  Instead, I keep trying to tweak things just a little to make things run more smoothly.  I haven't found the perfect schedule yet, but I'm confident that at some point I'll manage to get everything squeezed in that I need to...right?!? There's got to be a way!

Monday, September 14, 2015

If money & time were no perfect PLC?

If I could create a perfect PLC, what would it look like?  I can honestly say I haven't really thought about it that much, which must mean my PLC runs pretty well.  I probably should start with how we set it up.  My grade level partner and I have common planning 3 days a week.  Once every couple weeks we have a "formal" PLC, and talk about kids.  We don't teach any of the same subjects (except reading), so our conversations revolve around that.  We have "informal" PLC's pretty much every day when we run across the hall to share what we're doing that went well (or didn't go well).

Every month we have a half day where all the 5th grade teachers in the district get together.  We have a plan for what we're supposed to accomplish, and there is never enough time.

I guess if I could live in a perfect world, I would have grade level buildings, so we could meet as a large PLC more frequently.  I would also LOVE to get a chance to spend a day in each and every 5th grade classroom in my district, I know I could learn an absolute ton from them.

Monday, April 20, 2015

I Wish My Students Knew

After my enlightening #IWishMyTeacherKnew lesson, it got me thinking, there are so many things that I wish my students knew about them.  Things like:

* I wish my students knew that I dislike standardized tests just as much as they do.

* I wish my students knew that their score means nothing about the kind of person they are.

* I wish my students knew that they are not alone.

* I wish my students knew just how often I think of them when I'm not at school.

* I wish my students knew how much better they could be doing if they stopped talking so much.

* I wish my students knew that just because their parents didn't go to college doesn't mean they can't.

* I wish my students knew that there are so many of them I wish I could bring home with me.

I could go on and on and on, but I want to hear what you have to say...tweet it #iwishmystudentsknew or comment below.

I Wish My Teacher Knew...

Recently, I read an article about simply getting to know your students.  I've always considered my ability to build relationships with my students one of my strengths as a teacher.  The article I read revolves around #iwishmyteacherknew.  If you haven't heard of it, here is one of many versions of the article.

My daughter's 2nd grade class did this activity, and I asked her if she'd be willing to tell me what she wrote.  She said she wrote two things:

#1 I wish my teacher knew that my mom is home sick today.  I happened to have a sinus infection and was home for the day.

#2 I wish my teacher knew that I sometimes I still confuse my b and my d and that's why I write in capitals sometimes. How interesting...I talked to her teacher about it that weekend (she's a friend of mine), and she said it was good information to get because several of her students will write in capitals, when they know they shouldn't.

I decided to try it out with my students...I would like to say that their answers shocked me, but they didn't.  It did become clear that my class has a lot of father figure issues, amongst other things.

I wish my teacher knew...

"that my friends don't respect me for who I am."

"that my dad left me when I was 2 and I struggle because I miss him & I wish he could be with me."

"that my dad is in the Coast Guard and had to move to Washington."

"that I haven't seen my dad in 2 years, and he hasn't come to any daddy/daughter dances because he chose to live in DC with his wife instead of here with my & my sisters."

"that I barely see my dad & I wish he could get a new, better job so I could see him more often."

"that I never finish my lunch."

"that my mom sometimes argues with me about my homework because she won't help me with it."

"that I haven't seen my brother in 5 months."

"that I don't take my coat off because I'm always cold."

"that I'm afraid to go to Middle School."

"that I'm afraid I'm not going to pass 5th grade."

"that sometimes I feel left out by my own friends because I tried to talk to them but they ignored me, which made me sad."

and my most insightful post was...

"I wish my teacher knew that I goof off in class because I don't get a lot of attention at home."


If you haven't done this with your class I'd highly recommend it.

For Part 2 of this post please go here.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Genius Hour...Passion Projects...Being Innovative

What does it mean to be innovative? To me, it means being willing to try new things, even if you don't know if they'll work or not.  It also means being able to reevaluate and tweak things on a moments notice.

One thing I do that I consider innovative is my passion projects.  I don't consider it innovative because it's a new idea.  I consider it innovative because each time we do it, it looks different and unique, depending on my kids.

My students have done 3 different projects so far.  I've found that my kids need to start with a little more structure in order for them to be successful with less structure (did that even make sense?).

For our first project my students all chose a dream job to research.  They were totally into it, and loved sharing what they learned.   For that project they didn't really have to make anything, rather write up their information and share it with the class.

For our second project the kids all chose a famous person or place.  After writing their research report they had to choose the 3 most important facts they learned to share.  Then (and here is where the innovative part comes in), I decided to bring in a giant tub of Lego's from home.  I set them around the room and told the kids to impress me.  They had to make something that represented their project.  While they may not look like much, the kids had a blast and could explain in detail the creations.

Tony Hawk

Abraham Lincoln

Muhammad Ali

For our most recent project the students had to learn how to do something.  This has been the most interesting so far.  I had students learn to do soccer tricks, frost cakes, fold origami, code computer games, do a fishtail braid, and even make these crazy intricate bracelets.  I was SUPER impressed by their work.  The funniest thing was, my project (what I wanted to learn how to do) was an epic failure.  I desperately want to learn how to whistle with 2 know that loud shrilling whistle that some people can do? After weeks of trying, all I ended up doing was successfully spit all over the place!  What was really cool was that my kids taught me some new tricks on how to make my normal whistle louder :)

Soccer Tricks

Learning how to bake cupcakes

Teaching the class how to make origami fingers

Making donut cats

They tasted amazing!