Monday, November 25, 2013

Genius Hour - Take 1

Today we had our first day of presentations for our first genius hour of the year.  For the first attempt at genius hour I told the students to try to research something that connected to Social Studies...some of the projects were a bit of a stretch, but when it came down to it, the students were researching and loving learning, and that is what I really wanted to have happen.

On day 1 we had the following presentations:

We started the presentations off with a first student researched the Beatles.  He then shocked us all when he got out his guitar and played "Love Me Do".  Not only did he play, but he also sang.  Holy braveness Batman!

 My next student researched vegetarians & even interviewed our principal and head of food service about getting vegetarian options on the menu.  She brought in some tasty "Vegetarian Hummus Chicken"...which is not actually chicken (in case you didn't figure that out).

 This next stuent researched the history behind banana splits & taught us how to make them...then every student got an opportunity to build one of their own...yum!

We also learned about Hernando Cortes from one of his distant relatives.

We took a trip to ancient Egypt after that.

We also learned about how to make different types of traps if we were to be stuck in the woods and had to survive.

Animal cruelty took center stage after that and we learned about how to treat our animals with love.

Then we took a journey into the arts where we learned about different types of music, Michael Jackson & Elvis Presley.

We then got to meet Pablo Picaso and see some of his famous pieces of art.

Next up we learned about the Mexican culture.

Then we got a crash course in dinosaurs.

After that we learned about Native American art.

Finally, we had a student create an anti-bullying video.  We worked together using Camtasia to create this beauty :)

I can't wait until tomorrow when we have day 2 of presentations...One thing I really love is how excited my students are, and how much they are already looking forward to our next project.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

My dirty little secret...sometimes I don't know what I'm doing!

This summer I had an opportunity to attend a leadership training called the Leadership Blueprint.  At the end of the training we were instructed to email a survey to 6 people who work with us professionally.  The survey was about 300 adjectives & the person taking it simply clicked all the parts that applied to me.  After everyone completed the survey, the company that did our training had a coaching call with all of us...and I had mine last week.

I'm going to focus this post on my constraints, because they have been weighing on my mind. My constraints are:
High self-esteem

The thing is, I don't necessarily see myself as an extremely confident person.  When it comes to using technology I am confident...I feel like I just get that, and I love learning about it.  But there are many other areas of my teaching I am much less confident in.

This is not the first time I've had someone say that I am confident in myself, but this is the first time I've heard it on the cusp of having gotten some negative feedback about my teaching, and for some reason it really bothers me.

Total side very cautious about feedback you give people because it can take a LONG time for negative feedback to go away.  Especially when you're dealing with someone who puts their heart & soul into their work...words hurt.  Ok, off my soapbox now.

Lately, whether I've asked for it or not, I've been in the public eye a bit.  I wrote a chapter that is going to be published in an upcoming book, and I was just interviewed by Scholastic Parent & Child Magazine.  Not to mention I have various teachers around my district who are interested in coming and observing my flipped classroom.  Don't get me wrong, I could talk flipclass all day long and love every second of it, but all of these things are making me seem like an "expert" on elementary flipped classrooms, and that makes me really uncomfortable.

To be clear, I'm NOT an expert.  I'm someone who's in the trenches, trying it out, and constantly changing/tweaking what I do because I'm still not entirely happy with what I'm doing.  To be completely honest, sometimes I don't feel like I don't know what I'm doing at all!

I don't know that I really have a point to all this, I guess I just feel the need to get that off my chest.  So there you have it, my dirty little secret has been exposed to the world...For some reason I don't think I'm alone in this.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

How My Flipclass Room Runs...Until I Change It Again!

It seems like some of the most beneficial posts I've written are the posts where I share how I'm making the flipped classroom work in my 5th grade room.  Since this is the beginning of a new year, I figured it would be a good time to share exactly how I'm running flipclass this year.

For the first unit (which we just finished last week), we did most of the videos together, so my students could see exactly what I was looking for in their WSQ's.  Not sure what a WSQ is? Here's the video my cohort & I put together explaining it.

So here's the gist of how my math block runs:

Before Class
Watch assigned video & complete WSQ

In Class
5 minutes
Them: Set a goal for what they want to accomplish during the math session
Me: Check in with everyone

15 minutes
Them:  Discussion of assigned problems from videos and guiding discussions follow the "math circles" discussions I talked about here.
Me:  Monitor discussions and check in once groups are ready to go over the guiding question.  Once they finish their discussion I mark the date on my handy-dandy WSQ spreadsheet (basically it has their names down the side, & the learning goal across the top)

20-30 minutes
Them:  Complete assigned practice problems (these are the old "homework" problems) and check answers with the answer key.
Me:  Meet with students that need help.  During this time I am constantly moving around the classroom.

10 minutes
Them:  Take a quiz on the topic
Me:  Quickly grade quizzes so students get immediate feedback.  When they pass their quizzes I highlight next to their name on my WSQ sheet in green.  If they don't pass their quiz, I highlight in pink.  The students who don't pass their quiz the first time go back to the practice problems & work through some more of the ones I hadn't assigned.

Last 15 minutes
Them: Work on Xtramath, followed by short inquiry via iPad apps
Me: Monitor Xtramath & assist with inquiries

A couple of notes:
- If students have not watched the video from the night before, that is the first thing they must do when they get to class.
- Math Discussions take some time to set up & get running smoothly
- Although grading quizzes seems like it would take a lot of time, I find it is also a great time to do some trouble shooting if a child is getting some wrong
- When I say that I am constantly moving during math, I'm not kidding!  I should wear a pedometer some time & see how much I move.
- Many students work faster than the pace I have posted here, that allows them time to get a head start on the next night's video
- YES, I have a 75 minute chunk of time for math...that is because at the end of every unit the students do a multi-week writing project to go along with every unit.  We (my grade level partner & I) are not teaching writing as a stand alone subject anymore, instead their writing is being graded during math, reading, science and social studies...I should probably post more about that later.
- My students use Xtramath everyday for 5 minutes to improve math facts fluency
- I'm still working on the inquiry piece of my day.  My goal is that for the last 10 minutes the students get to explore some hands-on, or virtual applications of the upcoming learning goal.  I read an article this summer (and for the life of me I can't find it) that shows that having an inquiry BEFORE learning the material improves comprehension once the material is learned.  That's become one of my goals, finding inquiries that will go with the different learning goals of the's an on-going process.

So there you have it, my math block in a nutshell.  Hopefully this has been beneficial for those of you just starting out on your flipped classroom journey.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A teacher coping with disability

I've been contemplating this post for quite some time, but it's been difficult for me to put into words.  I've decided to give it a shot, in hopes that maybe somewhere out there, my story might impact somebody, and possibly give me some closure to what has been one of the biggest challenges of my life.

So flash back 4 years to May of 2009.  It's a normal Saturday, like any other, except I woke up and couldn't hear anything.  I shouldn't say I couldn't hear anything at all, it was more like all I could hear was fuzz and ringing.  I'd had some tinnitus in my left ear since college, but this was tinnitus times 1000.  To put it into perspective, my husband had to put his mouth right up to my ear for me to hear him, and even then it was very garbled.

I went to several ENT's and had more hearing tests than I can count...basically, no one knows why this happened, and no one was sure if it'd ever get better.  That was a huge gut check.  I'm a teacher, how in the world am I going to teach if I can't hear what my students are saying? The doctors were optimistic that my hearing would get better, but they weren't sure how much.  My official diagnosis (and I'm not making this up) is Sudden Hearing Loss...yes, that's really the name.

As if all that wasn't enough, this happened exactly 1 week prior to the River Bank Run...a 25K I had been training for since January (over 300 miles logged), and my ENT told me that because of all the steroids I was on my immune system was really low and that I should probably sit it out.  He may not have realized what a big deal it was for me to not run, but it was a big deal.  I had never run anything remotely that long, ever, and I was a charity runner for the Kent County Girls on the Run.  Talk about pouring salt on a wound.

As it stands now, I can hear low tones pretty well, but I can't hear high tones well at all...things like microwave beeps, annoying reminders on your phone, and high pitched voices are beyond my range.  I have to wear hearing aids when I'm at school to help me better understand what the students are saying, but even with them, students often have to repeat themselves.

As you can probably imagine, it is incredibly frustrating for me and the students...I've gotten in the habit of repeating the student's comments to make sure I'm right, and often the students look at me like I'm nuts.  That's a pretty clear sign that I didn't hear them correctly.  That is probably the most frustrating part because I don't want people to think I don't know what I'm doing, or that I'm not an intelligent person.

While I try to stay optimistic, it is hard...really hard sometimes.  I hate that I can't hear my students the first time.  I hate that I miss side comments that I really should be able to hear.  I hate that I miss the point of a joke & have to have someone rephrase...I always feel like I'm 10 seconds behind the punchline, and by the time I laugh it's not funny anymore.  I hate that I can't always hear my kids (imagine driving somewhere with kids in the backseat that you can't hear talking to you).  I hate that I avoid phone conversations purely because I'm afraid I won't be able to understand them.  I hate that I am nervous telling people about my hearing loss because I'm afraid they'll judge or avoid me.  I could probably go on and on, but it's easy to get into a "poor me" mentality, and that's not who I want to be.

So how do I cope? For starters, my family is wonderful.  My husband is extremely patient with me if I need something repeated, and my kids are finally of ages where they understand that I'm not being mean when I don't respond to them, I just don't hear them.  My friends are also incredible.  I used to get nervous when going out with the girls because I missed a lot of the conversation.  I found myself just nodding my head.  I don't want to burden people, so I took the easy way out.  They finally caught on and had a mini-intervention with me.  Basically it took them saying, "Damn it! Would you just say something if you don't hear us? We miss you being a part of the conversation."  So now I do.  I don't know if I have formally thanked them, but it meant a lot. So thank-you Wendy, Julie and ladies are fantastic.

But probably the hardest thing to cope with is my teaching.  How do you handle a class of 30 students when lots of noise is a major issue for you? Do you require them to be silent...please, like that's even possible!  I've found that simple honesty is the best policy.  I tend to not mention my hearing loss until I develop a relationship with my kids.  If I could pick a graphic for how most students respond it would probably be a little guy shrugging his shoulders and saying "ok, no big deal".  And that's a huge me.  They do little things for me now that they wouldn't before.  Like answering the phone because they know I don't even hear it ring.  Or looking at me before they speak so I can read their lips as well as hear their voices.  Do some students take advantage of it? the other kids think it's funny when they do? Not at all.

I'm writing this in an effort to get it all off my chest, find some closure, etc.  In addition to finally getting this out there, I'm also going to sign up for the River Bank Run.  It's been 4 years since this happened, and I still haven't tried to run it.  Call it a mental block, emotional block, or whatever you want, but I associate my hearing loss with the River Bank Run and I haven't wanted to try again.  This year I've been inspired by a lot of people doing amazing things, and I'm ready to give it a go.  I also found a running buddy to do it with me, so that's exciting as well (now you can't back out Megan!).

This year I was introduced to a company called Fellow Flowers.  To me, they're a place to find encouragement, motivation and inspiration.  Their company basically sells flowers (the cute ones that go in your hair), but each one has a different meaning to it.  I'd been wanting one for awhile, but I wasn't sure which to choose.  I finally decided upon Red:  Love, Passion, Commitment and Spirit.  Caring for the world around you.  Bringing it - every damn day.  It takes strength to do what you love.

I think red seems appropriate.

---------- Guess what? I accomplished my Riverbank Run goal! You can read about it here. -----------

You mean PD can be meaningful?

This summer I attended 2 professional development opportunities through my district.  While they both relate to each other, I'm having a hard time meshing them.  In the past, I've found that once I begin writing, often times I'll figure out a solution...therefore I give you what is potentially going to be a very rambling blog post.

Training #1 - Leadership Blueprint
The first training I attended was about developing leaders in the district...or so I thought.  We did, in fact, develop some strategies for being leaders, but most of those revolved around learning how to build relationships.  The power of having relationships with whomever you're working with (students, parents, teachers, principals, etc.) is HUGE.  I should also preface this part of the post by giving kudos to everyone in my district who attended.  There was a room of 32 adults, and they consisted of: the superintendent, curriculum director, all principals and assistant principals, director of technology, head of maintenance, many teachers AND a school board member.  Throughout the duration of the 3 day training everyone was engaged & one was checking emails, texts, was a beautiful thing.

One catch phrase that kept coming up was "My goal is your success."  The goal of a leader isn't their success, it's the success of those they work with.  The biggie here, is you have to mean it.  You can't say something like that, then never DO anything to back it up (aka - walk the talk).  I also had a bit of a light-bulb moment during the training.  I am used to teachers being given feedback by administrators to help us grow.  What I hadn't ever thought about was giving feedback to my administrator.  I never thought of it as my responsibility to help my administrators grow, but I'm realizing that if the people working for them can't give them honest feedback, then they will never change.  This year I intend to be honest with my administrator, and hopefully we can help each other be successful.

Affirmation also became a big topic of discussion.  I have a very hard time receiving affirmations with a simple "thank-you".  I always feel like I need to justify what I did.  This is a goal of mine, to simply say "thank you" when someone says something kind.  I also want to give more meaningful affirmations.  Two things I'm going to take back to my classroom from that portion of training are affirmation bags and classroom "good things".  Once I've developed a relationship with my kiddos we'll start affirmation bags with each other...basically anonymous notes filled with affirmations.  One thing I'll start day 1 is our classroom good things.  Each morning, while we have breakfast, I plan on just calling out 5 people for good things...good things at home, good things at school, whatever.  Being the obnoxiously optimistic person that I am, I want the day to start in a positive way.

Another part of our training that I will definitely be doing with my class is a social contract.  A social contract is an agreement of behavior.  As of now I have an empty bulletin board that says "Social's how we treat each other".  We'll be filling it in as a class.  I've done similar things in the past, but this year I'm going to change something...I'm going to remember to actually go back to it & even change it, if necessary.  Along with the social contract came 3 hand symbols that I LOVE.  Thumb up is a reminder to a neighbor who isn't paying attention (I got to use this on my principal...he, he, he), Time out is a reminder to the group as a whole if there is side chatter, and Foul (one hand up, one hand out) is if you hear someone give a put down (to themselves or others).  If a foul is called, then whoever said it must immediately say sorry & give a put up.

Training #2 - Curriculum Design & Development
My district is in the very early stages of being the first school district in Michigan to go to a completely mastery based system of grades.  We voted, as a district, last year, and 81% of voters supported this move.  With it comes a HUGE shift in thinking about how you run your classroom, how you teach, and how you think about your students.  I just finished 3 days of introductory training on the RISC (Re Inventing Schools Coalition), and it was good...I hesitate to say it was great, only because there was a lot of talking at us.  I also realize that there needs to be a certain amount of knowledge being passed down to us, especially when we're beginning.

The most beneficial part of the training was the work time.  We got a chance to work in buildings and grade levels on some of the changes we need to begin making.  In grade levels we began unpacking standards, turning them into kid-friendly language, and thinking about rubrics that show mastery...we have LOT yet to do.

As a building we got a lot of time to solidify our building wide procedures, expectations, vision, etc.  We used to have a very wordy vision for our one really knew what it said (even though we all had input on it), and we needed a change.  I'm really excited about what we came up with:

Alpine: Be the Best You

We then took the word BEST from our vision and turned it into our expectations.
Be a leader

We even have a building song (thank the lord for musically gifted teachers, because our Kinder teacher came up with it in less than 5 minutes).

We also got a lot of work done on the building wide procedures.  One of our issues is that we have procedures, but they're different in every room.  We came up with simple, kid friendly procedures that everyone will use.

I think the most powerful part of it all was that our principal wasn't the one directing us to do all this work.  We, the teachers, recognized the issue.  I know it was probably extremely difficult for him, but he managed to sit back & let us take control of all of it.  The only time he stepped in was when we needed to share what we did with each other.

When I spoke at the beginning of this blog about having a hard time meshing the trainings, it was mostly my desire for wanting to do a social contract, but also stay consistent with the other teachers within the building.  Like I expected, I've sort of worked it out now that I'm done typing.  I'm realizing the social contract is the behaviors within my class, the relationships I build with my students.  The procedures and vision expectations are the common language throughout the building.

I'm excited for the year and developing a community within my classroom, and I'm even looking forward to getting more time to work more on our grade level unpacking.

So bring it on kids, let's get this party started!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Writing in my MATH flipped classroom!

Those of you that follow my blog know that I teach in an elementary school.  I swap classes with 1 other teacher.  We both teach our own ELA, but I've always taught the math to both sections, and she has always taught all the science/social studies.  We both get frustrated when it comes to teaching writing.  We want to make writing authentic, we want it to be purposeful, and we want it woven into all content areas.  We don't want it to be a stand alone subject, taught in isolation.  Unfortunately what we want and what actually happens are two very different things.

With the Common Core coming, my grade level partner & I decided to try to make some changes in the upcoming year revolving around writing.  The Common Core has 4 basics types of writing that are required in 5th grade:
- writing to persuade
- writing to teach
- writing to tell a story
- writing about research

With this in mind, we've both decided to eliminate writing from our day...I don't mean we won't be teaching writing, I mean we won't be teaching writing by itself.  Beginning next year we will be teaching writing in all the other content areas.

Here is how we're going to break it down:

During math, my students will be doing the usual flipped classroom requirements (which, by the way, involve a lot of writing when they do their WSQ's).  However, the change is going to come at the end of the unit.  At the end of each unit the students always do some sort of performance based assessment...I guarantee you that each child will have to WRITE a lot of explanations on it.  In addition to their performance based assessments, my students also blog.  They will be required to write a blog entry at the end of each unit that teaches someone else about one of the learning goals from their unit.  Last year we blogged with a few other 5th grade classes, but this year I want to kick it up a notch.  I want to try to connect with another 5th grade class (hopefully John Fritzky's class will be on board again)...but I also want to connect with a High School or Middle School class...I want my student's writing to have an audience.  So I'm hoping that somewhere out there I can find a Middle School or High School teacher who wants to blog with a group of 5th graders.  I don't even care if it's a math class.  Quite frankly, I hope it's not.  I think it would be great if a group of 9th grade biology students wanted to blog with us.  It would probably do wonders towards getting my kids to love science, who knows?!?  Sorry, that got a bit wordy, I tend to do that when I get excited!

Persuasive writing is going to be covered in science and social studies.  I don't know exactly how, because it's not my thing, but I am certain it will be :)

I dabbled in having a genius hour with my class last year, and it was A-MA-ZING!  Research goes hand-in-hand with genius hour.  That being said, the students will also be doing small research projects during our RtI time, as well as in science/social studies.

Our final writing topic is writing to tell a story...that seems like a no brainer to weave into our reading block.

The only way this whole plan is going to actually work, is if we extend our normal math/science/ss time.  We used to meet 50 minutes each day.  If our schedule works out the way we are hoping, our switch time will be bumped up to 75 minutes each day...I'm SO excited about the potential of extra time, now I just need to make sure I don't get carried away with the math & forget the writing :)

I'm also really excited about some of the new technology heading my way this year.  We'll have a classroom set of iPads for my grade level partner & I to share, and we're going to put them to good use with all this writing!

I'd love to hear some feedback on what you think about our plan for next year. Has anyone out there tried this, and how'd it go.  Also, are there any other classes that want to join me in my blogging adventure?

Setting Goals

I've been thinking a lot about next year, and what goals I'm going to set for myself.  In  we are either "on" or "off" schedule.  If you are "on schedule", then you have to set 1 goal & be observed 3 times.  If you are "off schedule", then you set 3 goals and are observed 1 time.  Our goals also have to be SMART goals.  These goals, along with our observation and proof of student growth, are combined together at the end of the year to form our evaluation.

Last year, when I sat down with my principal to set my goals, it was an extremely difficult process.  I had several things I wanted to improve on personally, but wasn't allowed to have as my goal because I'm already "good" at them.  Examples: being a leader in the building and improving how I utilize technology in the classroom.

Therefore, I had to set new goals, on top of the goals I actually wanted to do, and the whole thing became a lot to manage.  Please don't misunderstand, I truly believe that teachers should be setting goals for themselves, and reflecting on those goals throughout the year.  The difficult part for me is that I already do that...maybe it's because I'm a reflective person, maybe it's because I intentionally blog about it, I don't know, but to me, having to write additional goals when I already had goals of my own was a bit excessive.

At the end of the year I started to think about what I want this year's goals to be...I didn't want to sit down in my principals office again & have the same experience.  So here's what I came up with:

1) I want to improve parent communication via our classroom website, blog (which the students will be writing at the end of each day).

2) I want to incorporate writing into all content areas, rather than have it as a stand alone subject.

3) I want to incorporate smaller inquires at the beginning of a lesson, rather than at the end.

I plan on blogging more about each of these goals in the near future, but that is what I'm shooting for next year...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Unrealistic Summer Plans

Below is a list of things I want to accomplish this summer...I'm thinking I may have bit off more than I can chew.

1)  Determine which math videos I have still work with the CCSS, then create the videos I need to fill in the gaps.  I'd LOVE it if I could start school and have all the videos made for the first 3-4 units.

2)  Teach my son how to play Rummy.  I love playing cards with the family :)

3)  Create/Find explorations to go with as many CCSS as possible.  I'm going to need some help here, and I plan on relying heavily on my tweeps (@lisahighfill, help a girl out!)

4)  Sit by the pool...and read random Juvenile Fiction books, b/c that's how I roll.

5)  Plan a "Celebration of Learning" that makes cross-curricular learning a priority.  I'm basing this off an idea from Todd Nesloney about a "Math Fair" instead of a "Science Fair".

6)  Read Teach Like a Pirate and Energy Bus.  TLaP has been recommended by lots of people I respect, and EB was recently recommended by a good friend (thanks Julie Hughes)...I need to mix in some educational reading along with my not-so educational reading.

7)  Think about/plan/organize a Flipped Classroom Writing Project.  This idea arose from last night's #flipclass chat.  A lot of people were talking about their students blogging, which isn't uncommon.  What I found most intriguing was that most of the teachers were NOT English teachers.  Science, math, etc. were the norm.  I got to thinking, wouldn't it been cool if we could connect classes of different content areas and different grade levels...Wouldn't that be an authentic audience?  I still have lots of ideas in my head about this one...stay tuned!

8)  Play with my kids.  Even though this is number 8 on my list, it's number 1 in priority...I've gotta play with my kids more, while they still want to play with me!

9)  Figure out exactly how I'm going to weave writing into math on a more consistent grade level partner and I are expanding our math & sci/ss time to include our writing and I want to make sure I use it effectively.  This might tie into #7 on my list.

10)  Pick up my tennis racquet again and actually get out and play (it's been too long).

I'm fairly certain I left something (or somethings) out, and I'll probably end up coming back to this list as the summer gets rolling, but I wanted to write it all down so I don't forget about all the ideas I never have time to do during the school year, but just might have time to do in the know, when teacher's are on "vacation" and don't do any work.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Genius Hour (part 2)

After deciding on topics for Genius Hour, it was time to start getting down to the nitty gritty.  As I mentioned before, I decided to attempt Genius Hour in May...not normally a time you'd want to try something new, but I am so glad I did.  My students spent the first couple weeks researching and planning out what they wanted to do.  They were so engaged!  I think I might have had to redirect 1 or 2 students...that's it!

From there we spent the next few weeks prepping for our presentations.  Most of the students presentations were simply showing off their knowledge.  Here is where I ran into my first couple if issues...

Issue #1 - Be very clear about your expectations with your students.  If they aren't supposed to be walking around the school asking other teachers for supplies (which seems common sense, right), then be sure to tell them.  Learned that the hard way.  Your kids are going to be excited...really excited...but not all the adults in the building want to hear about it, especially if they're interrupting their teaching.

Issue #2 - If your student's want to build something that might be considered a weapon, you should probably get the principal's permission...oops.  I didn't think a pen bow & arrow would be a problem, but I guess I was wrong.

Issue #3 - Genius Hour is messy, so be prepared to need 10 minutes at the end for clean up, otherwise you might get an email from your administrator wondering what you're doing, and why it's such a mess.  Yup, learned that one the hard way too.

I've worked through all these issues, and NONE of them would stop me from doing it again.  My recommendation is to be prepared...really prepared...and prep anyone and everyone who your students might be in contact with about Genius Hour & what it's all about.

And now for the exciting post...the results.  My next post will be all about how the presentations/projects turned out.  You can find it here.

Genius Hour (Part 1)

A few months ago one of my twitter buddies Karl Lindgren-Streicher (@LS_Karl) had an Innovation Day at his school.  The sheer excitement from his tweets was infectious and I knew I wanted to try it out.  If you want to read more about how he ran his Innovation Day, check it out here.  Innovation Day, in a nutshell, is a day where the kids come to school, but don't go to any of their regularly scheduled classes.  Instead they come to school knowing that throughout the course of the day they will be learning, creating and sharing something that THEY want to learn about.  Unfortunately, I didn't catch wind of this until May, and that there was NO WAY I could get something like Innovation Day together before the end of the year.

So I decided to do a little research and I came across Genius Hour.  Genius Hour (at least to me) is like a mini-version of Innovation Day.  The students get a small chunk of time each week to learn about something they want to learn about.  Seeing as I had finished my writing curriculum, I thought that might be a good fit for our writing time for the last month of school...and boy was I right!

I started Genius Hour by showing the YouTube Video "A Pep Talk from Kid President".  After that I put up Angela Maiers quote, "You are a genius, and the world needs your contribution."  We discussed what it meant, and how passion plays a role in their education.  I could see the kids doubting me already...

Then I put up 4 giant pieces of paper with the headings:
- I want to learn about how to...
- I want to learn about why....
- I want to learn to...
- I want to learn to solve...

Then the kids put up sticky notes under each one.  Already I could tell this was going to be quite an experience because they were coming up with some amazing ideas.  I was also a little nervous because I knew I couldn't help them with a lot of their ideas...I certainly couldn't teach someone how to create a mod on the computer.  But that was part of the excitement...they had to figure it out on their own!

The next step was picking one thing they wanted to spend the next 4 weeks learning about.  Below I have some of the topics:

- I want to learn to play the guitar
- I want to learn how to sew a blanket
- I want to learn how to build a dollhouse
- I want to learn how to make a mod on Minecraft
- I want to learn how to bake a chocolate cake
- I want to learn more about the history of the Bengals
- I want to learn how to build a pen bow & arrow
- I want to learn about prehistoric sea creatures
- I want to learn how to make crayon art
- I want to learn how to whittle wood
- I want to learn how to make a volcano
- I want to learn how to air brush
- I want to learn how to make a pineapple upside down cake
- I want to learn how to become a better catcher

There were more, but that is a pretty good list of what my kids came up my next post I'll talk about everything that happened between the introduction and the actual presentations.  You can find my next post here.

Genius Hour (part 3)

I'm simply going to say that our Genius Hour presentations were incredible.  The students were extremely proud of their work.  Below are some shots from our presentations.  In hindsight, I will probably rework our presentation rotations, I felt like they didn't run as smoothly as I had hoped.  But that was my problem, not my students.

Crayon Art

Sea Animals

Making a "Mod" on Minecraft

How to Build a Dollhouse

How to Whittle Wood

Drills to be a Better Catcher (she made a whole video on it)

How to Make a Blanket

How to Make a Pen Arrow 

Origami Master

History of the Cincinnati Bengals

How to Bake a Chocolate Cake

How to Play the Guitar

How to Make a Catapult

Different Forms of Art

How to Make a Volcano

I tried to compile a bunch of the projects.  Here are all the ones I could photograph :)

This was one of the most meaningful things my students accomplished this year.  They worked hard, and were very proud.  This is definitely a keeper!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Spreading the Flipclass Love!

It seems like recently I've been asked to participate in a lot of flipped classroom trainings.  I don't want to lose track of the different activities I've participated in, so I wanted to write it down.  I also haven't had a chance to talk much about them, so I'm going to dedicate this posting to spreading the love (of flipclass, that is).  Already this year I've participated in the following trainings:

Flipped Classroom Podcast - Troy Cockrum hosts podcasts on the Flipped Learning Network, and I had the privilege of being his "guest" on the 15th episode.  You can listen to it here.  You might have to search for my name, or episode 15.

MiFlip - This was the first flipped learning conference for teachers in Michigan.  I helped plan this conference with some well known flipped classroom masters: Dan Spencer (@runfardvs), David Prindle (@dprindle), Karl Lindgren-Streicher (@LS_Karl), Doug Ragan (@dragan39), David Fouch (@davidfouch) and Anne Thorp (@athorp).  In addition to planning the conference, I also presented a session with Brian Bennett on Flip 101 and a session on Elementary Flipping.  I wrote about my take-aways here.

Fire Up - This conference is for student teachers within the Grand Rapids area.  Teachers, principals, etc. present at this conference on a variety of topics.  I spoke about Flipclass (obviously), to two full sessions.  If you are interested in the information I presented during that time, there is a link to it all on the upper right corner of my blog.

Monday night #flipclass chat - I participate in the Monday night #flipclass chat on twitter as often as I an (usually 2-3 times a month).  Last week we tried something a little bit different.  Rather than the normal chat, we had google hangouts that were broadcast live that were based on content.  People could either join us in our Google hangout, or watch the live feed.  I got to help run the elementary session, with the help of Todd Nesloney (@techninjatodd) and Lisa Highfill (@lhighfill).  I have no idea how many people were actually watching the live feed, but it was really nice to get a chance to talk to Lisa & Todd about what they're doing and and how #flipclass works in their classroom.  If you missed the chat, the links to ALL subject areas are posted here.

I have the following trainings coming up, yet this year.

Flipped Learning Network Podcast - I will be part of the team who is doing the "elementary flipping" webinar from the series "The Many Faces of Flipped Learning".  We are the last of the series, but all other webinars are archived for your viewing pleasure :) Go here and you will be able to sign up for any content that interests you.  I will be one of the hosts, along with Lisa Highfill and Amber Mueller.  Our webinar will be hel on May 8th at 4:00 EST.

Flipped Learning Workshop - I was asked to be a member of a panel of educators who will be presenting to a group of administrators on #flipclass.  This training will be on May 8th (the same day as my FLN podcast !?!).  As far as I can tell it is already sold out, which is a beautiful thing!  I look forward to talking to them about how it's working in my classroom, as well as how it has made me a better teacher.

Looking back, I'm pretty amazed at how many opportunities I've had to share what I do.  It makes me proud to be a part of something that is so important.  Flipclass is so successful because it is a movement started by teachers...not administrators.  Administrators are crucial to making it successful by being supportive of something new and innovative, but the power of the flipped classroom comes from the teachers.  So I end with this, please share what you're doing in your rooms, we can all learn from each other.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Math update

So I started our math circles with my class yesterday and I was really excited about how it went.  If you missed that post, click here.  The kids were engaged when we were talking about the different jobs, and they liked that they all got to pick their jobs.  We also got an opportunity to begin the night's homework, so everyone had a head start.  I was nervously anticipating the next day when we would be able to put our math circles into action.

Today was that day.  We did a very guided type of math circle, where the students all did their responsibilities in their group, but I led them through the discussion steps.

I wanted to share a few really cool things that happened during this time:

1) All students (even the ones who quizzed out of this learning goal) participated in the discussions.
2) Almost all students did their homework.
3) Many of the students had to step up and become a leader, or their group went down the drain...and they did (become leaders, I mean).
4) After the discussions were done, the students got a chance to work on their practice problems.

Here's where things got really interesting.  I had a large amount of students who didn't need to do the practice problems because they already quizzed out of the next unit.  I know students do best when you give them choices, so they had a whole bunch of choices.
  • Do the back side of the practice problems (review problems)...surprisingly, I did have a few that wanted to do this.
  • Make a short example video of how to solve problems that are the same as our learning goal

  • Work out of the 6th grade book (similar topic, slightly harder).

  • Help other students if they were stuck.

I was pleasantly surprised by how many different students chose different things.  I will continue to keep you updated on all this as I learn...

On a final note, I also had a student who was absent today.  Her group attempted to record their entire discussion because they didn't want her to miss out...unfortunately, they hit stop, not record, and the lesson didn't work :(  However, I love the idea, and I'll work with the next group with an absent kid so that we don't have that problem again.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Math Circles...Discussion Groups...Collaboration...You get the idea

UPDATE (4/9/13): For an update to my math circles, click here.

As you can see by the title of this post I am a bit conflicted on what I want to title my new math project...for now I'm going with Math Circles because the idea stemmed from Literature Circles.

So here was/is my dilemma.  I spend the majority of my time during math class having discussions about the videos the students watched the previous night.  I do think this is valuable, but I want my students to take more ownership in this part of their learning.  That being said, if I just told my 5th graders to go off & start sharing, they would either:
A - look at me like I'm nuts
B - head off to discuss many things (very few being math related)

Since I want neither of those things, I needed to find a way to make their group work both meaningful and spelled out for them.

What I came up with was Math Circles.  I have had success in the past using Literature Circles in my classroom.  Each student had a job, and they held each other accountable.  That is exactly what I want for my math kiddos as well, so why not take the idea of Lit. Circles and mold it into something that works for math.  After talking to my co-teacher, we came up with the following "jobs" for our math groups:

Discussion Director - Leads the discussion and keeps everyone on track.

Calculator - Makes sure that the groups answers to the questions from the video are actually correct.

Spokesperson - Is the voice of the group.  This person summarizes the groups guiding questions (HOT question at the end of the video) and shares them with the teacher.

Task Master - Keeps track of who did/didn't come prepared, and how often people within their group share.

I have a list of procedures spelled out for the groups.

I plan on beginning this after spring break with the students.  I hope they get as excited as I am (although that's unlikely because I'm pretty dang excited about it).

I'm not one to pimp my own stuff, but if you'd like a copy of my Math Circles information, you can get it here.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Reflection brings about change

Last week I spent some time reflecting on how the year has been going, and some of the data I've gotten.  This week I want to talk about some changes I'd like to make.

I've been struggling with a couple things in my classroom, & I think it'll be easiest to just list them out here:

  • Students who aren't meeting with me during a discussion have a tendency to not work very efficiently (that's a nice way of saying they tend to mess around).
  • Students are finishing up their "practice problems" before I get a chance to see how they did.  I'm finding that most of the students who get some wrong (as shown on the quizzes) had just marked their practice problems wrong & then tried the quiz.  They missed that important step where they had to actually seek out why they got the answers wrong.
  • While I love meeting with students and talking math with them, I wish I had more time to help them with their application problems.
  • Once students finish up their practice problems, and they quiz on the assigned lesson, I don't feel like I have something really good for them to work on.  They have a few choices, but the only one I really like is student made videos.
So what am I going to do about it?  I'll take these one at a time & work through always, I would love to hear any recommendations you have.

Students who aren't meeting with me during a discussion have a tendency to not work very efficiently (that's a nice way of saying they tend to mess around).

I have literature circles in my reading class that requires each student to have a "job" in their group.  I would like to start putting students into groups that I assign (until they get a little bit better at choosing their own groups), and assigning them jobs.  I think I'll open up the discussion of jobs to the class & see what type of jobs they come up with.  I'm thinking groups will have 3-4 students in them.  

You know what, I might just share this whole problem with the class & see what they come up with.  I can always recommend the assigned groups idea if no else comes up with it.

Students are finishing up their "practice problems" before I get a chance to see how they did.  I'm finding that most of the students who get some wrong (as shown on the quizzes) had just marked their practice problems wrong & then tried the quiz.  They missed that important step where they had to actually seek out why they got the answers wrong.

I think that if I end up putting the students into groups, this might help alleviate this issue.  On the flip side, it might breed another issue (students just copying their group's papers).  Perhaps a contract of some sort might help.  Something along the lines of "I swear to help everyone in my group understand the questions and answers."  In my dream world, I would love it if everyone in the group took it upon themselves to make sure that everyone understood the math.  Since the students have to pass one quiz to move on to another, maybe the group can't move on until everyone understands.  I think that could go 1 of 2 ways: First, students hate it because they can't move ahead when they know what they're doing.  Second, students become great collaborators & see the value in helping others.

While I love meeting with students and talking math with them, I wish I had more time to help them with their application problems.

Perhaps taking a step back from the discussions & letting the students lead them would help here...but I do find that I can easily help troubleshoot issues before they become issues when I'm there for discussions.  To be continued, I guess, I'd love some feedback on this.

Once students finish up their practice problems, and they quiz on the assigned lesson, I don't feel like I have something really good for them to work on.  They have a few choices, but the only one I really like is student made videos.

As of now, here are the options when my students finish their work...
  • start the next lesson - this works out really well for students who hate having homework, or for students who don't have access at home
  • play some on-line math games - my honest opinion on this is, meh (imagine with a shoulder shrug) does allow students to get some additional practice, but it's usually practice on what they already know
  • create videos using Educreations - I actually really like this one, but I need to do a better job teaching students what must be included in their videos...some get a little sidetracked trying to make them funny & entertaining, and lose the math along the way
I need/want more meaningful activities that are going to make the kids WANT to finish early.  Say what?!? Yup, I want the kids to want to finish early because the extra activities are THAT awesome.  An idea I have now become just a tiny bit obsessed with is Video Story Problems.  I haven't done anything with Video Story Problems yet, and I really really really want to try.  Has anyone out there tried these with their class?  If so, please let me know how it went, what you did, etc.  I found a really informative video by Ben Rimes that explains Video Story Problems better than I could...check it out if you're interested.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Where do I go from here?

It has been a year and a half since I flipped my classroom, and I feel like I'm in need of some time to reflect.

2010-2011 School Year (my first year teaching 5th grade)
Number of students: 22
Style: Traditional
Beginning of the year RIT: 202.3
End of the year RIT: 212.5
Growth: 10.2
Average on in class assignments: 82.92%

2011-2012 School Year

Number of students: 28
Style: Flipped 101
Beginning of the year RIT: 208.1
End of the year RIT: 215.2
Growth: 7.1
Average on in class assignments: 84.55%

2012-2013 School Year (thus far)
Number of students: 30
Style: Flipped Mastery (sort of...self paced within the unit)
Beginning of the year RIT: 203.8
Middle of the year RIT: 210.9
Growth so far: 7.1
Average on in class assignments: 86.67%

So what do I notice when I look at the numbers?
#1 My class keeps getting bigger!
#2 The average on in-class assessments continues to improve.
#3 My students did not show as much growth on the MAP test in my first year of flipping as they did the year I taught traditional...interesting...I need to come back to that one.
#4 This year is looking really positive, as they have already met the growth (mid-way through the year) that my class made last year as a whole.

I want to go back to #3 on the list above.  I was quite surprised to see that the growth for those students was lower than my traditional group.  Besides the flipped classroom, what was the difference?  Well, there were far fewer students, for starters.  In addition, my flipclass group started higher, which makes it more difficult to show as much growth.  It's not an excuse, just one possible factor.  Another factor might be behavior.  The class in my first flipped group had a video a night...but it also had a large group that didn't do their homework.  That led to some of the changes I made for this year.  But looking back at the numbers, I feel like I might have let my high kids down a little by making them follow my pace.  I look at this year's class and I see my high students being able to skip lessons they already know and given a chance to stretch their knowledge.  I also have implemented math inquiry projects at the beginning/end of each unit.  The students absolutely love these projects.  This year's class also has to do a lot of writing within math.

So where do I go from here?
I definitely want to develop more inquiry projects, and more time to do real-world & hands on activities in the classroom.  I think the issue I'm having is trying to figure out the most useful way to handle in-class time.  Keep in mind, I flip math, so one of the things I want my students to be able to do is during class is practice solving math problems.  The issue I'm running into is that I spend most of my in class time doing discussions in small groups on the board, which leaves me with very little time monitoring the students who are working.

I think next year I might begin having somewhat assigned groups, where each student has a "role", so-to-speak, that way they can get their discussion started, and I can come over when it's time to try some problems.

So what else?  I'd love to have all my quizzes on the computer, but until our county updates to the newest version of Moodle, and I get some training in it, I won't be able to do that either.

Finally...and most important (in my opinion), are the inquiry projects.  I'd like to integrate these throughout my different lessons, rather than just the end, just the beginning, or both.  Honestly, I'm running into a bit of a wall trying to come up with them.  This is where my #pln needs to help me out.  As I mentioned in a previous post, John Fritszky & I created a google doc that has all the ccss for 5th grade math in it.  We are trying to compile good inquiries to go with all the standards.  This is a massive undertaking, but you know what they say, we're better together, so please, if you teach 5th grade, or know someone who teaches 5th grade, share this document.  Ask (or beg if you must) for them to share what the math projects they have done.  We need to stop working in isolation and sharing out what we know is good teaching.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Some things are starting to come together

This week was a good week...looking back on some recent posts, I've noticed they were a touch on the negative side, and I need to make up for that.  So here's the skinny on some really excellent things that were happening in my class this week.

On Monday I got to speak at the "Fired Up" Conference for local student teachers.  I love talking to educators about #flipclass.  Especially excited, energetic student teachers who want to soak it all in!  If you're interested in any of the information/resources I shared, please check out this document.

Monday night I joined the #flipclass twitter chat, which I've been missing lately due to life/kids/work/kids/exercise/ get the point.  I'm so glad I was able to join in because I got to connect with @JohnFritzky.  Independently, we've both been trying to come up with math investigations that are more than solving problems.  We're talking real world application where the kids have to do the thinking.  Rather than try to do it all on our own, John put together a google doc with all the 5th grade ccss on it, & we're slowly filling it in with projects.  So far we have projects involving Bungee Jumping Barbies and Strawberry Shortcake recipe disasters.  If you want have any projects you can add...or you just want to check out what we've got, go here.

My students took their fractions test...I'm not going to lie, I was afraid...very afraid.  One kind of cool thing I did on this unit was have the students write story problems before the test.  I picked a few, and made them our extra credit problems.  The students LOVED this (especially when theirs got chosen).

So I took the tests home, and low-and-behold, the two classes combined to average a 92%...I'll say it again 92% ON A FRACTIONS TEST!!  Whoop, whoop!  I was so ridiculously proud of them that I did a happy dance for all to see.  One of my students mentioned that he'd rather see my breakdancing than happy dance.  I told him they'd have to something even more amazing for me to breakdance ;)

Students worked on an inquiry project applying their newly acquired knowledge of fractions.  The overview of the activity was the students were to make strawberry shortcake with a given recipe, but their dog ate all the measuring cups they were going to use & they had to recreate the recipe with the ones they had left.  Then they had to advertise the grand opening of their bakery.

Earlier in the week I had a few of my students ask me about our next inquiry (they're really starting to like the projects), and I told them the truth...I don't have it done yet.  Then they asked me if they could make it.  Ummm, let me think about it...YES!  I gave them the learning goals for the next unit, very little instruction and said, "Good luck!"  Our next unit is on volume, standard & metric measurements & converting those measurements.  They came back to me with a project that would require the students to measure the volume of given buildings (which they created on the computer).  They also worked in problems the builders were having that would require the students to use standard and metric measurements.  Wow.  That's all I can say about that.

During math the students all got to present their advertisements.  I had students who don't normally have an opportunity to shine, get up and blow the rest of the class away with a full on commercial.  I had a pair of students actually bring in strawberry shortcake.  I had yet another set of students create a webpage to go with their advertisement.  I was impressed.

It may seem like I talk a lot about math, because that is the subject I flip.  That being said, I work in an elementary school, so I also teach reading and writing (my partner teaches science/social studies).  In reading we are finishing up a study of the fantasy genre.  Friday I took the kids to the lab, gave them a rubric of what they needed to have on their fantasy projects & said, "Have fun."  As of now, I have the following projects in the works: keynotes, websites, posters, video book reviews and dioramas.  But the most exciting thing of the whole week happened when I was searching around the computer and found an application I forgot we had, called "Comic Life".  Basically, it allows you to make comics using pics you have.  I mentioned it to the class & I had a few students say they wanted to try.  In this group of students included one child who shows very little motivation in class.  He gets very little work done, and his work isn't always his personal best.  He latched on to this comic strip with a passion that I haven't seen in him all year.  He even asked if he could work through recess (his most cherished time of the day).  While our projects aren't done yet, I am really looking forward to what I find next week.

So, like I said, this week was a good week, and it's important to remember that things like this happen every day.  The important thing is to not let the bad things trump the good.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What's the real issue?

Yesterday was a day like any other day.  I went to school fully expecting some of my students would not have watched their video from the weekend.  As always, my students came into class, and got their WSQ out on their desk.  It amazes me, still, how many students look at me with wide eyed terror

There was a video last night?  

Yes.  It has been 2 days since our last video (longer than normal, but the last learning goal was particularly difficult).  We also wrote it in our planner.

We did?


So the same 6 students of my 30 spent the beginning of their day calling home.  We have a little sticky note next to the phone with a script of what they need to say.

"Hi Mom/Dad, I'm calling because I didn't do my homework last night.  I realize that completing my homework is essential to my success.  Please help me remember to do my homework tonight.  I'm sorry for interrupting your day with my bad choice."

This is actually a pretty normal start to the day.  Then I went to the other class to check on their WSQ's.  This is when I lost it.  6...yes, that's right, 6 total students did their work over the weekend.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME!

After taking some deep breaths and finding my happy place, I realized that there were 3 absent that day, and 5 who had been absent the day before, bringing our grand total up to 14 completed assignments.  That means a whopping 50% of the other 5th grade class did their work.

I don't get it.

I consider myself a fairly empathetic person.  It is easy for me to relate to my students and their situations, but this I just don't get.  How a student can just not do their work...ever.  It got me to thinking about what the real issue is.

Do we have accessibility issues in my school?  For sure.  Do we work around them? Yes!  I burn DVD's for anyone who doesn't have a computer.  This should be a non-issue.

Do my students come from unstable homes with little parental guidance once they get home.  YES!  What do I do for those students?  I've talked to them about setting up a schedule for when they get home.  We have after school tutoring that I've recommended.  I'm here before school and they know they can come in and work.  The labs are always open during lunch and 2nd recess.  And the icing on the cake...if the students actually used their math time effectively they would never have homework!  Let me repeat, if the students actually used their math time effectively they would never have homework!  The thing is, the math is not too difficult.  Every single student in my class can do this math if they tried.  But they don't.  They spend more time and energy avoiding their work than it would take them to actually complete it.

So what is the deal?  Honestly, this is one of those posts where I don't have the answers, and I'm hoping that you do.

I know that motivation is a factor, but I am having a really hard time motivating some of these kids.  They'd rather go home and play video games than do their work.  They don't see the relevance, even though I make a huge effort to help them see why math is important.

I know that organization is a factor.  I have many students who watch the videos multiple times because they lose their work.  They get frustrated, I get frustrated, but at the same time, they need to realize that they are being held accountable for the same work as everyone.

What more can I/should I do?  I do truly believe that the students need to start taking some responsibility here.  But what about when they don't?  Do they just fail?  It goes against my core beliefs to let a kid fail because they won't put in the effort.  But the amount of time and energy I put in to getting them caught up is exhausting.  And is it even fair to them.  Maybe it's better to let them fail early so they will succeed later.

This is why good teachers get burnt out.

Again, I don't have the answers...Do you?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How Collaboration Has Changed Me

Collaboration...what does that make you think of?  I've recently had a bit of a revelation about collaboration and I want to share my insight with you.  

The word has been around, but my definition of it has changed dramatically.  That being said, I'd like to take you on a little journey through my inner dialogue as the word collaboration has come up in the past.

High School - I get to collaborate on a project...sweet, that means I get to hang out with my friends to "work" on a project.  Really we'll spend about 2 1/2 hours of gossiping and 30 minutes of working.  I love collaboration.

College - I have to collaborate on a project...really, ugh.  Now I'm going to have to do all the work on my own because I don't trust my group mates to do it right.  I hate collaboration.

Graduate School - I have to collaborate on a project...thank the lord, I am so busy I am barely going to have time to do my own share of the work.  My group better know what they're doing.  I love collaboration.

First 10 years of teaching - You want me to collaborate with other teachers in my building...okay, but when?  I have lesson plans to complete and curriculum to learn (because lord knows I haven't taught the same grade level for more than 3 years in a row).  I'd love to collaborate, but I don't know what I have to offer.  I am still a rookie, here.  What if they don't like my ideas?  What if I say something stupid?  I'll collaborate, but I think I'll mostly listen.  I'm afraid of collaboration.

Last 2 years (aka - since I started my love affair with Twitter) - problem.  I have developed and excellent PLN that I can go to with questions, ideas, etc. and I KNOW they can help.  Want to know how I know?  Because they are amazing, intelligent, passionate people.  Collaboration...can't live without it!

Are you ready for my revelation about collaboration?  For you to collaborate, you don't have to be in the same room with someone...heck, you don't even have to be in the same country!  The world we live in right now is full of opportunities to connect with people all over the world, and you know what?  They have incredibly insightful things to offer...who knew!?!

So I throw this out there to you all.  Get connected.  Find people with common interests, teaching methods, and educational beliefs as you.  If you are a flipped teacher, fill out the "connection forms" here and start meeting people.  Believe me, it will change you.