Posts by toddsblog

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

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

2000px-flag_of_wales_2-svg

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.

Ideas for End of the Year Review

It’s spring break this week and I am trying to relax a little, catch up on some blogging, and do some lesson plans. On the topic of lesson plans, it’s that time of the year where it seems everything stops and lesson plans become dominated by EOG review. I was actually able to get a jump on this before the break and started doing some activities in my class that led me to the ideas for this post. In the past, I’ve always thought about what I can do to help the students review, but this year I decided to put it more of it on the students.  

I am letting them create posters, activities, word walls, and anything thing else they can think of to help review standards before the tests in May. I am also having them work on projects over the next few weeks in order to differentiate the review and add some variety to the lessons.

Bulletin Boards

Decorating classroom and hallway bulletin boards has always been a source of frustration for me. I don’t feel very creative in this way, so it is always a struggle to put something together that looks good. It’s gotten even harder for me to get motivated about bulletin boards since so we do so much more work with Google and other apps, and students display their work with eProtfolios.

About two weeks before spring break, I was looking around the room thinking about how I was going to post various topics for review in reading, math, and science. I realized that I had several students that loved to draw and decorate. It occurred to me that they should be the ones decorating the classroom with relevant topics for review.

I decided to set up a discussion post with a few ideas and ask them to make posters displaying concepts or vocabulary. I started with science and math and posted a few ideas of the main standards and topics we covered throughout the year. By the end of our AM work time, the students responded and were already starting their posters. I never imagined they would react this enthusiastically.  Some chose weather, others worked on Newton’s Laws of Motion, and others were busy drawing food chains and food webs. The day before spring break they started asking me when they were going to put them up around the room. Some already had ideas about how to divide the room up into sections for each subject. This is where we will pick up when we get back.

In all my years preparing for EOG review, I always felt like it was all on me. By turning some of this responsibility and decision making over to the students, it  gave them a say in the process. It also gave me an idea of what they really knew about the topic. We studied weather back in September and October and as I looked over some of their posters I realized some things were forgotten, or maybe never fully understood. I noticed immediately some gaps in their understanding when it come to things like warm/cold fronts and and high/low pressure. I realize that analyzing data from assessments is important, but it was so much easier to see their misconceptions this way than from an assessment.

As for the bulletin board in the hallway, I set this up myself and will let the students finish it and maintain it. The idea behind the hallway bulletin board is to make it a daily weather map where the students can track the weather on a calendar, as well as, a map of the United States. I cut the blue border into triangles to represent a cold front and the red border could be used as a warm front. I also plan on having the students create a word wall around the bulletin board with essential vocabulary from the weather unit.

Here is an image of the board so far:

File_000 (8)

 

Project-Based Learning

Another issue that comes up with EOG review is how to differentiate the students and the content that needs to be reviewed. Each student requires different degrees of review depending on the subject.  By using Project-Based Learning, I think I will be able to keep all of the students engaged whether they are working on review concepts or working on a project.

This was something I started about three weeks before spring break. Atomic Learning has two great modules for Project-Based Learning (Project-Based Learning Lesson Framework: Endangered Species and Project-Based Learning Framework: Million Dollar Classroom). I highly recommend checking these two out if you have access to Atomic Learning. We are about halfway through the endangered species PBL in my class and the students are really enjoying it. I have a separate page on this site with my reflections on the endangered species PBL.

One thing I discovered as they are working on this project is that they were so engaged I was able to pull some students into small groups and start reviewing. I plan on starting the Million Dollar Classroom PBL during math class after the break. The other important point about these projects is that they are interdisciplinary, so I can have students working on them in any of the three major subjects for review (math, reading, and science). 

It is my hope that these activities and projects will provide some variety to what can be a stressful time for some of my students.  I hope it also gives them a better sense of ownership over the work they have done this year. 

 

 

Teacher Talks – CMS Foundation

Adobe Spark.jpg

I attended a Teacher Talks series at the McGlohon Theater in Uptown Charlotte on Wednesday, March 15. It was an evening of inspirational talks by six teachers in the Charlotte Mecklenburg School district. The background for each teacher varied both in their teaching position and in their life/teaching experience. They ranged from elementary to high school teachers and from Science to Physical Education teachers. Some were teachers straight out of college and others worked in the corporate world for a while before moving into the education field.

For me, these various backgrounds were what made these talks so interesting. I loved hearing about what these teachers did, or were doing, in the classroom, but I am equally as fascinated with how they arrived in the position they are today.

The quote at the top of the page is from the last speaker, however, I am not sure it is entirely hers. I think she said it might have come from her principal. She went on to explain how the heart work is why she teaches. I hope I am not misquoting, but it was a great line that stuck with me throughout her speech.

Adobe Spark.jpg

Katie Weed shared her personal story and her topic of Grit: Passion and Perseverance. The line above was something she said towards the end. She proposed the idea of bringing our passion into our planning meetings and not just the test data we have on our students. She urged us to follow our passion or find our passion.  It gave me a lot to think about what I bring to the classroom and to each of my lessons.

The next speaker was Mary Soliman and I do not have a quote from her. I hope this does not appear as a lack of interest on my part. All of the speakers were equally captivating, and at times I was more involved with listening, than trying to save a quote on my phone. She spoke about creating independent learners in the classroom, as opposed to spoon feeding them the information. She said that teachers should illuminate the way for students, like a candle.

Peter Panico was the next speaker and accompanied his talk with some great videos and images of the work he was doing in the classroom with his students. I was particularly impressed with the cardboard roller coasters he had the students create to teach force and motion. He also spoke about “finding your tribe” or a group of people that you relate to and relate to you. The establishment of strong, positive relationships is stressed by so many educators and I don’t think it can be stressed enough. If you are going to teach with passion and do the “heart work”, you can’t do it alone. You need that strong, positive support.

Doug Smith led the next talk and started off by getting us up and moving.  He had us stand and do some quick activities that got our bodies moving after sitting for about 30 minutes. This was the introduction to his talk about active and healthy schools. He stated that “sitting is the new smoking” in terms of how damaging it can be for our bodies and minds. How active are we? How much time do we spend sitting – at school, in the car to and from school, at home? How are we bringing movement into our classroom and giving our students a chance to be active and healthy in order to do their best work? He mentioned some pretty shocking statistics, but he also recommended some simple activities we can do throughout the day to help get kids moving and stay focused. He also mentioned two books in his talk:

Brain Rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school – by John Medina

Spark: the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain – by John J. Ratey with Eric Hagerman

 

Adobe Spark.jpg

Melissa Ligh was the next speaker and used the term “screenagers” to describe the students of today. She brought a positive view to the use of technology in the classroom. I could relate to so much of what she was saying, although I don’t think I have the same level of interest for online shopping as she does. The quote above was another one that stood out to me and put into words the reason why I started a blog. Since starting this blog three weeks ago, I feel it has had a major impact on how I reflect on my experiences in the classroom.

Jordan Todd rounded out the evening. Her talk was filled with passion as she explained why she was a teacher and why she did the heart work. I decided to start off this post with her quote because it seems to describe all of the teachers who spoke. They all do the heart work and it was clear in the way they spoke that night and the work they were doing in the classroom.

The evening also featured an introduction by a student from Northwest School of the Arts and musical performances from West Charlotte High School and Myers Park High School.

I realize this post does not do justice to the inspiration and motivation that these speakers provided.  I think a video of this teacher talk will soon be available through the CMS Foundation.  If this is the case, I highly recommend taking the time to listen to what these six educators have to say. It will be time well spent.