Posts by toddsblog

I am a 5th grade teacher at Barringer Academic Center in Charlotte, NC

Establishing a Baseline for Technology Resources

group hand fist bump

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Recording a Planning Session

As the technology facilitator for a middle school and also a member of the school leadership team, I get to work closely with administration and help implement any plans they have regarding technology or tech resources. One plan the administrative team had was to make videos of one planning session on each grade level. This video would serve as an exemplar for the other staff to watch and use as a model for their sessions. I was responsible for recording the entire session, then editing it and looking for the most important parts to cut and make into a shorter video –  about 5 or 6 minutes. This was quite a challenge, but I made an interesting observation about technology resources while reviewing one session.

A Baseline for Technology Resources

As I was editing one grade level’s video, I observed how consistent they were with their use of resources. They had a great rapport with each other and seemed to all be on the same page in terms of content, standards, schedule, and what tech resources they were using. They seemed to have come to an agreement in terms of what they would use as teachers and with the students. They were consistent with posting all the materials for students on Google Classroom and they had their shared resources on Google Drive that were quick and easy to find. They also used other resources like the Commons section in Canvas and Discovery Education to find lessons, videos, and assessments. They all used the exact same resources when it came to specific parts of their planning and established this as a baseline. It was something that I had not seen in the other planning sessions and something I had never experienced as a teacher. So often, everybody finds their own  apps or sites they like to use and when they get together to plan everybody is pulling from different resources.

I think this is something to consider when trying to establish norms in a planning session. There is so much out there that it can be very overwhelming.  It can also take up valuable planning time trying to sort through and decide who is doing what each time you meet. The idea of having a specific shared folder(s), a specific LMS for the students, and specific place(s) to pull resources from will make planning much more efficient and productive.

One Access

Digital Resources for Charlotte Mecklenburg Teachers

This post is going to be specifically for teachers in the Charlotte Mecklenburg School District. One Access is a resource that I thought I knew about until I attended a professional development session last spring. I thought it was just a way for students to access the Charlotte Mecklenburg library with their student ID. I was amazed to find out what resources are available for teachers and students, and also how these resources can be used on a personal level, as well.

The videos below explain how to log on to One Access. This is followed by an explanation of three resources that I use quite a bit, both personally and professionally.

Freegal music is a great resource for music teachers or if you are a teacher that likes to play music in the classroom while students are working or doing activities. It has a wide selection of artists in a variety of genres – classical, pop, R&B, jazz. As a music major in college with a concentration in jazz, I was amazed at the selection. Some of the albums listed on here I have never seen in stores (back when there were record and CD stores – remember Tower Records?). Some of the albums on here I discovered were recorded overseas and never even released in the States. The only negative to this resource is that the streaming is limited to only 5 hours a day. It’s free, so it’s hard to complain about the time limit.

The next resource is Lynda.com. This is a site for software, business, or creative design. There are video lessons on various topics ranging from video editing to JavaScript programming. I use this site mostly for professional use with my job as a technology facilitator. I am currently working on JavaScript and Google Apps Script. There are some great lessons on this site that cover these topics. The other things to note about accessing this site through One Access is that there is no trial and then a paid subscription. When you go through One Access, it is completely free.

The last resource I cover is Mango Languages. Like the name states, it is a site where you can work on languages. It does require you to set up an account with either your work or personal email. Students will also need to create an account, but after some research into their MOU it is acceptable for students. I would suggest that they continue to use their CMS student ID as their username to keep consistent with what is already on file with the Charlotte Mecklenburg library. One way I used this in class was to connect with a novel study we did. We were reading the novel, The Fighting Ground by Avi. There are Hessian soldiers in the story who speak German in parts of the book. The students also researched that France sent soldiers to help the colonist in the war. After reading the novel, the students could choose between working on German or French, or both. They had to do one complete lesson, though many of them continued throughout the rest of the year or found another language to study. On a personal note, my wife’s native language is Russian and we are trying to keep our daughter fluent with the language. I have been using Mango Languages to learn the language and encourage my daughter to do the same. Like Lynda.com, this site is also completely free when accessed through the One Access.

I hope you find the videos below useful. Please comment on this blog if you find another valuable resource on this site.

Logging on to One Access

Accessing Freegal Music

Accessing Lynda.com

Accessing Mango Languages and Other Resources

Making the Calendar

Calendar Image

I am really trying to stick to writing a post a month and have been struggling for the past week with a topic. The idea finally occurred to me after staring at it every day since May 1st.

The image above is from a calendar we have at home on the refrigerator. One of my daughter’s chores is to change the dates at the start of each month. She makes note of any important dates we need to remember throughout the month – family birthdays, doctors appointments, or school functions. However, when I got home from school on May 1st and saw the updated calendar, I was surprised at something my daughter thought important enough to go on the calendar.

I covered the name to respect their privacy, but you can see that on May 2nd a birthday is marked. This is my daughter’s teacher, and along with making her an elaborately decorated pop up card, she also added her birthday to our refrigerator calendar.

After helping my daughter get her things ready for school the next day and make sure the card was packed safely in her book bag, I decided to take a picture of the calendar and email it to her teacher. I figured she would appreciate knowing that one of her students placed her on the family calendar. She quickly responded with, “Oh my gosh! I feel so important! Thank you :)”.

For the past week,  I’ve been thinking about the positive impact we can have on students. An impact strong enough that they not only remember our birthday, but think it important enough to put it on a family calendar.  For me, school and birthday never go together because mine is August 11.  I do not expect any of my former, or future students, to think of this during the final days of their summer break. I have been wondering, though, about other ways they might remember me and how I might have an impact on them.

I don’t mean to sound like I am looking for acknowledgement from my students or parents. I think the only reason I emailed a picture of it was because I am a teacher and I know how much a little gesture like that from a student can mean. The image above and this blog is more about having a reminder of the importance we might have on our students and never know about it. And the importance of passing something like this on to a teacher, especially when it is Teacher Appreciation Week. To get an email like this can do wonders to inspire a teacher, or give them the motivation to get through a rough day, week, etc. I also have this image printed out on my desk now to remind me that maybe I am on someone’s calendar. Maybe I made an impact on a student like this. It’s enough to change my mood and get me back into a more positive frame of mind. Making the calendar – a small, but very significant achievement.

 

Discussion Posts and Lessons Learned

After returning from winter break in January, I decided to introduce my students to discussion posts on Canvas. One of my goals for this year has been to move away from the traditional weekly reading log and give students more alternatives to document their individual reading. My students have been using Canvas all year, but this feature was one I had yet to use with them.

I created two posts for them. One post was for a book of their choice that they read during the 3rd quarter. The other was a post about a novel study they did with their class book club. I set up the discussions in January at the start of the 3rd quarter and after about a month I started receiving notifications that things were being posted. Along with posting about their book, they also had to reply to at least two of their classmates regarding their posts. This is where the flaws in my plan and my lack of lessons and modeling caught up with me.

Digital Citizenship

Our school district has put a lot of effort into educating students about digital citizenship and being safe, responsible, and respectful online. The district has created courses for K-12 students to go through during the year and have also provided several opportunities for students and teachers to continue this discussion once the courses are completed. I went through these courses at the beginning of the year and would consistently address various digital citizenship issues afterwards, as well. When January came, I assumed the students would be able to handle posting and replying in an online setting.

Issues with Posts and Replies

The initial posts were fine with the exception of a few students who chose to just copy and paste a summary from a site such as Scholastic or Goodreads and pass it off as their own. This was a small problem and addressed on an individual basis.

What became a big problem was with the replies students were posting to each other. I did give them some guidelines as to what they should include in their response and also reminded them of how to act in an online setting. What I forgot to address was what they should not do, or include in their replies. Some students took it upon themselves to become the teacher and pick out every spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistake in posts by others, as well as, harshly critique the content of the post. This then lead to retaliation by the other student who in turn did the same and others also joined the replies to defend their classmates. I was amazed at how quickly this spread and got out of hand.

Lessons Learned

A year or two ago, I would have probably closed the discussion and stopped doing it entirely for the remainder of the year. I chose to go the other way and make it a learning experience for all of us. We quickly had a class meeting to discuss what had happened and how it made everybody feel. This was a great learning experience for all of us. The students realized how important it is to be aware of the differences between an online response and talking face to face. They have done peer editing with each other, but it was done as a spoken activity and not online. They were able to use facial expressions and tone of voice to get their meaning across without sounding too critical. This is something they can’t do online and they realized that even though they did not mean to sound so critical in their replies this is how it was perceived. I also learned their perspective on social media and how they think you should react to others online. I was surprised at how they felt they needed to fight back and retaliate if someone attacked their posts. The idea of ignoring the post, unfollowing, or blocking the person was not even considered.

Following our discussion, I taught and modeled how to reply in a respectful manner to other people’s posts and also used some images that colleagues created to teach this concept. I wanted to post this to share how we can use the various LMS platforms out there to give students an opportunity to communicate and interact online. We all make mistakes as we learn something new. For my students, taking part in online scholarly discussions was something new and something that will require some time and several opportunities for them to get it right.

 

 

 

 

Student-Led Literature Circles

I hosted my first Twitter chat this week on the subject of Literature Circles and Book Clubs. Over the past year, I have been taking part in a lot of chats on various topics in education, but to host one was a completely different experience. I never realized how fast an hour can go by. The chat was under the hashtag – #5thchat.

The topic of literature circles is something I have been working on this year in my class. I’ve done them before but with very little success. This past summer I read Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz and Literature Circles – Voice and Choice in Book Clubs & Reading Groups by Harvey Daniels. These two books provided me with a lot of ideas and information on how to set up circles and do them consistently throughout the year. It’s January, and I have done literature circles three times this year and I hope to continue at this pace for the remainder of the year.

The #5thchat is a popular hashtag and finding the chat in its entirety by now will be quite difficult. This is a link to Storify where I saved it immediately following the chat. One thing I noticed about the responses was that there was a range of experiences when working with circles in the classroom. For some teachers, it was new and something they were looking to start, for others they had done it in the past, but it lost momentum and stopped. For others, it was something they did regularly and they offered a variety of options and ideas for how to run circles in a classroom.

I didn’t really get to comment too much during the chat since I was keeping track of time and when to tweet the next question. I wanted to use this post to explain how literature circles have progressed in my class since September. I also hope to return to this post in June with more insight about the process and how it worked with my class.

Starting Small

Creating a student-led atmosphere in the class requires giving up control that teachers might have a hard time doing. The first literature circle I did introduced the idea of student choice of a novel. I only offered two novels to choose from, but the students felt it was better than all reading the same novel chosen by the teacher. The two novels I offered were Hatchet and The Island of the Blue Dolphins. I deliberately picked these two novels because they centered around the themes of survival and isolation for the main characters. We were able to compare and contrast several passages in each novel where the main character ….. As far as using roles in literature circles, I used four roles (Passage Picker, Questioner, Artist, and Connector) and introduced individually and worked as a whole class at the start of the novel. For the rest of the novel, groups only worked on one role at a time, but they chose which one to do for that day.

More Novels, More Choice

I did literature circles about a month later. This time the students had a choice of 5 novels to choose from and I added the role of Word Wizard to the roles. The five novels I chose were:

  • A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
  • Superfudge by Judy Bloom
  • Fudge-a-Mania by Judy Bloom
  • Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
  • Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath

Most novels had four to six students, however, Tuck Everlasting only had two students. This was too small for a circle and in the future I will set a minimum number of four to a group. I also gave the students more choice when it came to the roles. Every other time we met in circles, I allowed students to choose whatever role they wanted. The other times I assigned them a specific role. This was not so much a control issue for me, but I wanted to make sure that each student had enough practice with each role.

We are currently doing a class novel study with The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt. There is no student choice in the novel we are doing, but they are able to choose whatever role they want for when we meet in our discussion groups. They also have the option of just keeping notes in their journals or with post-it notes. This enables them to not be confined to just one role while they are reading.

What’s Next

The next set of smaller literature circles I plan on doing will be in February. The novels will all be by the author, Christopher Paul Curtis. The novels they can choose from are:

  • Elijah of Buxton
  • The Mighty Miss Malone
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham

Following this, I plan on doing one more set of literature circles before May and our end-of-grade tests. I hope to return to a larger selection of novels, maybe 5 or 6. The novels I have in mind for this are:

  • Fever, 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
  • Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
  • Chasing Redbird by Sharon Creech

Students will be able to choose any one of these three novels and they will have a choice over the roles they do or the notes they keep. I am hoping that the practice we have had up to this point will make these literature circles completely student-led.

Welsh – A New Year, A New Language

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It’s three weeks into the new year and this is my first post in a long time. I thought about making a resolution about blogging more, but I know that might not last very long. I try to blog about things I do in the classroom and with education in general, but I thought I would go a different route with this blog to start off the year.

Since the winter break in December, I have been reading a lot of blogs and tweets about taking better care of ourselves in order to avoid teacher burnout. There’s also the common phrase among educators about being lifelong learners and a constant pursuit of perfecting what we do in the classroom. I could relate to a lot of what I read and began to do some reflecting on my own life.

I realized that I have been doing a lot of one-sided learning. Most of it leaning towards the professional part of my life and very little on the personal side. I hope to change this in 2018. I hope to find a balance.

I have always wanted to learn a language and have tried several times with several languages. In high school, I studied Spanish for four years and tried to continue in college, but wasn’t successful. I taught English for two years in Taiwan and studied Chinese quite seriously while I was there. I even continued to study when I returned to the States, but found it harder and harder to find time and people to practice speaking the language. From 2011 – 2014, I lived in Astana, Kazakhstan where I taught at an international school and tried to learn Russian while I was there. I even met my wife over there who speaks Russian, and I still have had a hard time learning the language. Three languages that all ended with me losing interest and giving up. It’s been really frustrating, but thanks to Netflix and an app called, Duolingo, I think I finally found a language I enjoy and one I can make a hobby, not a requirement.

One of the types of series I like to watch on Netflix are the British dramas, particularly the mysteries. It started with Midsomer Murders, followed by Foyle’s War, Luther, George Gently, Sherlock Holmes, and then finally a suggestion by Netflix for the series, Hinterland (Y Gwyll in Welsh). This series blew me away and had me hooked from the start. The stories can be a little dark and heavy, but the scenery of Wales is beautiful and the acting is really good. I was also fascinated how the titles of the opening credits were in both English and Welsh. It was such a strange looking language with double consonants and very few vowels in such long words.

I was watching Hinterland late at night on January 4th, 2018 while trying to get my eight month old son back to sleep. I decided to check the Duolingo app on my phone for the Welsh language. If you are unfamiliar with Duolingo, it is a really great app for learning the basics of a language.  I think it does a good job of introducing basic vocabulary and simple, useful sentences. Welsh was one of the languages they offered, so I immediately open it up and began learning the language. I have been on a 13 day learning streak ever since.

Duolingo13days

For me, the other languages I tried to study just didn’t work out. Looking back on all these experiences, I realized that I took the enjoyment out of learning the language and made it feel more like a requirement, not a hobby.  I should/need to study Spanish or Chinese because it could mean good job opportunities. I should/need to study Russian because my wife and her family speak Russian (some of them also speak English). I don’t feel like this with Welsh and I hope I don’t end up making the same mistake. I really have no reason to study this language other than the fact that I saw it on a Netflix series and became curious. Of course, I have already had the usual questions from friends and family like, “Why are you studying that language?”, “Does anybody even speak Welsh anymore?”, “Isn’t that a dead language, a waste of time?” There was a brief moment when I heard these questions that I thought maybe I am wasting my time and should be learning a language that could possibly better my career chances and possibly earn more money. This line of thinking just puts me back in the vicious circle and defeats the point of having a hobby.

No, I am sticking with it because it is a language I WANT to learn.  I have enough to do that is required and essential for me to be a better teacher and do the best for my students. For me, it’s not just about being a lifelong learner, but about being a balanced lifelong learner. I need something in my life that will challenge me and give me a new perspective, but also allow me to enjoy myself and take a break from all the things I have to/should/need to do.

If you had a million dollars…? Starting The Year With Project-Based Learning

As the new school year quickly approaches I am planning on picking up where I left off last year with a project that can be found at Hoonuit. This project focuses on math and technology integration.

The project is called, The Million Dollar Classroom and students are given a million dollars to design the classroom of their dreams. They must also design a spreadsheet and graph to display how they distributed the money. The math in this project mostly deals with whole number or decimal operations. The students do little of the math since they enter formulas into the spreadsheet and the calculations are done for them. However, what the students are exposed to is working with large amounts of money and determining the best way to spend it. This is something that is new to many of them and I heard many of them say repeatedly that they had money left over and didn’t know what to do with it. I laughed to myself at this because as a teacher I could have easily spent any remaining money they had in a matter of minutes. 

It might seem like a big task to take on a project like this in the beginning of the year, but my experience from last year showed me that this will help me establish the kind of atmosphere I want in my class. I want to establish a student-led classroom where they make choices about the work they do and how they do it. I also want to bring more communication and collaboration to the class by having them work on projects like this in groups.

I chose this project towards the end of the year as a way to provide some variety to the usual nonstop review we do before the end of grade tests. While the students were working, I took notes on what issues they had, how we solved them, and what I would do differently the next time. Below is an overview of what I did last year and what I plan on doing this year.


Million Dollar Classroom

Last Year

Individual – Students each did their own individual project

I chose to do it this way, so I could do math review with individual students or small groups. By having them each do individual projects, the review would not interfere they way it would if they did the project in groups.

Classroom Location – The classroom must be built in North Carolina.

Classroom Purchase – The classroom can be rented, bought, or built.

Teacher Salary – Teachers’ Salaries were based on North Carolina state averages. Students could chose to have more than one teacher or assistant to a class.

Class Size – Class sizes can be based on the North Carolina state averages or can be up to the discretion of the students. Many chose to make the class size well below the state average (8-10 students).

Final Presentations – Presentations were given in front of the class and school administration.

This Year

Group Work – Students will work in groups of 4 or 5

I want students to discuss and debate how they think the money should be spent. I think this will provide a real world aspect into how school budgets are discussed, debated, and voted for or against.

Classroom Location – Same as last year

Classroom Purchase – Same as last year

Teacher Salary – Same as last year

Class Size – Class sizes must be similar to the state average with only a difference of 2 students more or less than the average.

Final Presentations – In addition to their classmates and school administration, my principal and I have invited several city council members to speak to the students at the start of the project to give their insight on budgeting, voting, and how money is spent. We also plan on inviting them back to see some of the finished project presentations. As of today, August 8th, we have one council member that will be coming to speak in early September.

As I stated earlier, I hope this project will help to establish a more student-led classroom with a collaborative and respectful atmosphere.  I am very excited about bringing the community into the classroom by inviting members of city council and the board of education. I think this will provide the students with a real world connection and a greater understanding of the big picture when it comes to classrooms, schools, and school districts.