Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Classroom Backchannels

I recently began to use a backchannel while reading aloud to my students. This has given me the opportunity to interact with them in a new way that is beneficial to them as well as myself.

TodaysMeet is a great tool to use as a backchannel in the classroom. I appreciate TodaysMeet's definition of a backchannel - “The backchannel is everything going on in the room that isn’t coming from the presenter.” Why would we not want to know what our students are thinking, wondering, and processing as we read or share with the class?

Today, I asked students to use TodaysMeet to share predictions, questions, thoughts, and observations as I read Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor aloud to them in class. I explained that comments must be related to the story and that students must show that they are listening and comprehending the story through the comments that are being shared on the backchannel.

As I read, students were allowed to randomly post comments on the backchannel, but I also paused several times and asked students to make purposeful comments. For example, I would ask them to predict what was going to happen next in the story.

I also asked them to share how they were feeling at different times during the story.

Many of my students that do not like to share in front of the group feel very comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas on the backchannel. This also gives everyone an opportunity to share as the students that are always the first to answer or are often the loudest are sharing quietly on the backchannel just like the rest of the class. I have noticed the the backchannel gives them the opportunity to be more reflective and thoughtful with their answers.

TodaysMeet only allows a comment to be 140 characters. This means students are not able to ramble or go off topic. They are forced to keep their thoughts clear and concise. They must find ways to get their ideas across in a way that will reflect their intent for their peers to read and understand.

In order to use TodaysMeet, you simply visit the website and set up a room. Students then go to that room using the specific link and join. They are then able to “talk” and “listen” by typing in their comments and reading the comments of others on the backchannel.

Backchanneling can be used in so many ways in the classroom. I recently used it with students as we Skyped with Angela Moses's 2nd grade classroom. I wrote a guest blog post about this experience on the STAAR Techers website. My friend, Terri Eichholz, wrote about using Socrative as a backchannel for Genius Hour. This is such a great idea and something that I hope to try soon. I recently read a wonderful post on Langwitches Blog titled Backchanneling with Elementary Students. I also found this wonderful graphic on their website as well.

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Finally, you can find everything you might want to know about using a backchannel on Cybraryman’s Backchannel page. He has listed a wealth of resources about backchanneling, what it is, how it can be used, and why it is beneficial.

If you are using a backchannel in an interesting way in your classroom, please feel free to comment and share your ideas. I am new to using a backchannel and would love to learn more from those that have been using it as well.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Curious Classrooms

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. ~ Walt Disney

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. ~ Albert Einstein

Every Tuesday, I visit the first and second grade classrooms to introduce thinking strategies and encourage creative thinking. I recently decided to begin introducing the habitudes that I read about in the book, Classroom Habitudes written by Angela Maiers.

I began by asking the students for their definition of curiosity. We talked about what it is, how it is helpful, and how we can use it to become better thinkers. We looked at a picture from 101 Questions, which is a wonderful website that encourages questioning. I love this website because not only were we able to practice questioning, but inferencing as well. As we looked at the picture, we came up with several questions. After we had finished coming up with our questions, I asked students to infer based on what they could see in the picture.

Based on this picture, students asked things such as:

"Why is he jumping off of the cliff?"
"Is the water deep?"
"Is he jumping into the ocean?"
"Is he crazy?"

I then asked them to infer the following based on what they could see in the picture:

What time of day is it?
Who is with him?
Do you think he has done this before?
How deep is the water?

As we made inferences, we explained our answers and gave evidence from the picture of why or why not we thought they were correct.

After this activity, I explained to the students that we were going to go outside and collect one object each from nature. I explained that they could choose a rock, flower, grass, or anything else that they found as we took a quick walk. We went outside and I gave them about five minutes to search for their object and come back together as a group. The beautiful weather made this part of the assignment even more fun.

Students returned one by one with their objects. They were excited and very proud of what they had chosen. They couldn't wait to show me their objects and wanted to know what we were going to do with them. When we returned to the classroom, I gave each student a notecard. I asked them to put their name on one side and on the other side, they were to write down five questions about the object that they had collected.

This part of the lesson was a great opportunity to discuss sentence structure. We discussed starting our questions with a capital letter and ending each sentence with a question mark. We also talked about using a variety of question words like where, when, how, and why.

I then gave them time to observe their item and think about their five questions. I was so impressed with their questions and their level of engagement. They were discussing, sharing, and focusing on their objects. As they finished, I snapped a few pictures of their finished products.

This was such a fun activity and a great way to introduce curiosity to young students. As a teacher, I want my students to open new doors and do new things because they are curious. Curiosity encourages learning and creates learners that seek out problems to solve. As educators, we should strive to create a curious classroom in which students question, discuss, share ideas, and ultimately find answers and solutions to those questions.

Friday, February 14, 2014

QR Code Scavenger Hunt - A Fun Way to Assess Learning

Assessment comes in many forms and definitely has a place in education.  However, that does not mean that it always has to be formal, standardized, and boring.  Assessing is simply evaluating the ability of our students to master specific concepts.
Last week, our fourth grade math teacher, Mrs. Cummings, asked me to help her find some creative ways to assess and review geometry with her students.  After discussing, we decided that there would be three parts to this activity.
The first part of the assignment required students to find a real world example of a specific geometry term.  She gave each student a different term and then asked them to take a picture and email it to her.  Before allowing them to begin, she explained that their examples could not be obvious or expected.  For example, the student that received octagon could not take a picture of a stop sign and a student with sphere couldn’t take a picture of a ball.  They had to be creative and think outside of the box.

We were so impressed with the pictures that the students brought back.  They were very creative and took pictures of everyday examples of geometry. Below are some examples of my favorites.

The second part of the assignment was the true assessment.  Mrs. Cummings wanted to find out if her students really knew the vocabulary terms and which ones were still giving them difficulty.  We wanted the assessment to be fun but also meaningful and engaging.
After discussing several thoughts and ideas, we decided to put together a QR Scavenger Hunt.  First, we made up ten riddles (example: You've scanned your first QR code and now you are hooked, go the place where you check out a book). Next, we created a website on Weebly and created the QR codes using The QR Code Generator.  This morning I placed the clues in the correct locations and downloaded ScanLife on all of the tablets that we were using.

The students scanned the code and went to the location that was described by the clue. They found 3 numbered definitions at each place. They had a list of words and were asked to put the correct number by the correct term. 

This was our first attempt at a QR code scavenger hunt so I was a little nervous.  I wanted it to be successful so others would see how effective this type of learning and assessment can be if used correctly.  And I’m happy to report that it was a huge success!
While the students were searching for clues, I heard them saying things like, “This is so fun” and “I love this”.  They were also engaged in meaningful discussions about the terms and why they felt the answer that they had chosen was correct.  As I listened to them, I realized that Mrs. Cummings would be gaining the same information she would have gained on a formal assessment.  It would be obvious which students had mastered the content and which students needed to be retaught.

After the activity was over, I walked into Mrs. Cummings's room and heard one student ask, “Can we work on this during recess?”  Success!  Then I went into the teacher’s lounge and a teacher asked me what we had done and what something like this might look like for younger students.  Be still my heart!  The teacher had noticed how engaged and excited the students were while they were learning.  You couldn’t help but want to know what they were doing and more importantly, what they were learning.
Next week, Mrs. Cummings’s students will be blogging about their experience today.  This is an important piece to the learning because it gives them a way to reflect and find meaning in what they have learned.
I wanted to write about this activity because I feel like it is a true example of how we can be creative when teaching and assessing our students.  Meeting them where they are and providing meaningful activities provide the opportunities for real learning to take place.
I am so thankful that Mrs. Cummings thought outside of the box and wanted to do something creative with her students.  The learning that took place today was engaging, meaningful, and inspiring.
Finally, I would just like to encourage you to step outside your comfort zone as an educator.  Try something new and don’t be afraid to fail.  Your students deserve to learn in a way that is meaningful to THEM.  So step out on that limb knowing that even if it breaks, you will just climb back up the tree and try again!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Realizing the Power of My PLN

So, I've been a connected educator for a few months now.  I follow so many wonderful people on Twitter that it would be impossible to name them all.  It has changed the way that I teach and has given me the passion for education that I had lost somewhere along the way.

This week I was reminded of the power of my PLN - my personal learning network.  I chat with these guys every week, learn from their tweets, and share ideas.  When I have one of those days, I find encouragement and inspiration.  On my good days, I try to be the encouragement and inspiration.  This is how it works... teachers helping teachers be their very best every day.  We work together to give our students what they need to be their very best every day.  

Yesterday, I was able to visit the exhibits at TCEA.  I was so excited to see the latest and greatest with other educators from my district.  I was also very excited about meeting some of my PLN, my tweeps, my friends.  I couldn't wait to put a face the with the encouragement and a voice with the inspiration.  So right before I had to head out,  I was able to meet with Daisy Marino, Angela Moses, and Terri Eichholz.  We were only able to visit for a short time but it was just like meeting up with friends that I had known forever. We chatted about education, the weather, and of course the wonderful sessions that they had attended at TCEA. It was a great opportunity to connect and realize how blessed I am to learn from each one of them each and every day.  

I also feel like I am able to depend on my PLN to provide meaningful interactions for my students.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, Don Wettrick has been such a great mentor.  He has helped me learn so much about innovation in the classroom and giving my students an opportunity to try and fail.  He recently gave me the opportunity to share my story on his BAM Radio Network channel, InnovatED.   I am so thankful for his willingness to Skype with my students or share ideas when I have none.  I am so thankful that I listened to the Two Guys Show that night and decided to ask questions about Innovations and what that would look like in my classroom.  My teaching will never be the same!

Today, I was able to call on another amazing member of my PLN to provide a meaningful learning experience for my students. They are learning about technology in the classroom for their innovations project.  This includes the different tools and ideas being used in classrooms and then sharing those things with the teachers in our district.  They recently discovered augmented reality and wanted to know more about what it was and how it works.  I instantly thought of Brad Waid and wondered if he would mind sharing his passion for augmented reality with my students.  I sent him a quick tweet and he said he would be more than happy to help us out.  

Brad did such a great job sharing augmented reality and giving them examples of how it can be used in the classroom as well as the real world.  His excitement and passion for augmented reality created an authentic learning experience for my students that they will not soon forget.  As my students "hung out" with Brad today, I couldn't help but realize the power of Twitter and the amazing opportunities it has given my students as well as myself.

These are just a few of the amazing opportunities that I have encountered since becoming a connected educator.  Twitter allows me to have meaningful encounters with other educators that are passionate about the work at hand.  I cannot say enough about the importance of building and connecting with a PLN.  I am just starting to realize the power of my PLN and the role that they play in my classroom.  I can't wait to learn more and share more as I continue on my exciting journey as a connected educator!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Lesson About Google or Googol?

Just need to reflect on today's lesson because I still can't believe how well it went and it had absolutely nothing to do with me but everything to do with the students.

Today was a day that I sometimes find difficult because I have first grade gifted students.  I often find myself scratching my head after my time with them and wondering if I am challenging them at all.  My previous experiences have always been with older students and working with younger students can be challenging to say the least.

But today was different. I have been reading a blog called Seeds for Learning written by Kimberly Hurd Horst.  On her blog she shares about Genius Hour with first grade students and how she has made this work.  I was in awe of her as I read about Genius Hour as well as a 1st grade EdCamp.  I had been using Genius Hour with my older students but was intimidated by the thought of allowing my first graders to tackle such an open ended project. I had introduced the idea but was hesitant to jump in.  However, the more I read, the more I realized that it was realistic to believe that my first graders could not only do this but they could do it well.

So today, I had two goals - introduce the Wonderwall to my students and show them the basics of using Google.  I had read about the Wonderwall at Seeds for Learning .  I read about how she allowed students to post wonders and then chose one to research together. And that's exactly what we did.  My students came up with wonders, we wrote them on sticky notes, and stuck them on the board.  I closed by eyes and chose one of the wonders.

The wonder:  When do numbers stop?

Our next step was to use Google to search for our answer.  We talked about the basics of searching and then I let them go for it.  Before long, we had found a website that they thought would be most helpful.  The website was about infinity and introduced another funny word - googol.  If you don't know (like me), a googol is a 1 with 100 zeros behind it.  Don't ask me how we were lucky enough to stumble across this but remember I didn't plan this at all. This was a random wonder written by a student.

We noticed that googol sounded a lot like Google but weren't sure of the connection until we visited a wonder on Wonderopolis and watched the video.  The wonder was titled How Many is a Googol but the video actually explained how Google was created.  It also explained how Google got its name and you guessed it, googol was their inspiration.  We were so excited to learn about how the words were connected.  I was excited that the random wonder that we had chosen tied in beautifully with the lesson and gave me an opportunity to talk about math and technology in a way that was meaningful for the students.

I feel like I am rambling on and this might not make any sense at all but I wanted to share because letting go of the reigns and allowing the students to lead the way, led us to a great learning experience today.  I no longer doubt that my first grade students can handle Genius Hour. We will move slowly and it will require patience but we can do this. I hope to share lots of exciting projects soon!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Happy Classroom

As I watched this student share about his school experience, I couldn't help but wonder why we can't give every student the opportunity to be happy in the traditional school environment.  I asked myself why we aren't teaching students to be happy and healthy and what I as a teacher can do to ensure that my students are receiving the opportunity to be creative.

If you have read any of my blog posts, you know that we recently started Genius Hour in my classroom.  I honestly feel like this has given my students the opportunity to find what makes them happy and use creativity to explore their passions.  I am so thankful for my PLN because without them, I still would not know about Genius Hour and the impact that it has on learning.

Since allowing my students to be creative, I have noticed major changes in their ability to share, reflect, and create.  Just today, one of my students shared her one word for 2014 on her blog.  In reading her words, I realized that they have a desire to make a difference.  They long to change their world in ways that we can't even imagine.

I have spent the last few weeks taking in all that I can about finding ways to encourage this type of learning in my classroom.  I have been forever changed as a teacher as I have read the amazing things that people are using in their classrooms to give their students the best learning experience possible in spite of testing expectations and other challenges that are present in the traditional classroom.

I recently stumbled upon the 7 Habits of Healthy Kids.  I know these have been around for awhile and I had seen them before, but for the first time was compelled to use them in my classroom.  I think it was because of my new ensure that my students are happy and exploring their passions in creative ways.

If you haven't seen these before, you can check them out here.  I printed out posters and posted them in our classroom so that we would see them every day.  We will be focusing on one habit each week and learning how to put that habit into practice.  If you would like a copy of the 7 Habits posters for your wall, I found a freebie on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Check it out HERE.

I also read Classroom Habitudes by Angela Maiers and was inspired to implement these into our classroom as well.  Reading this book had a huge impact on my desire to change the way that I was teaching.  The book addresses habits/attitudes that give students the skills they need to be 21st century learners.  Understanding the importance of these skills has also given me the the tools that I need to ensure that students are happy and exploring their passions in creative ways.

I think I will always refer to this part of my teaching career as my awakening.  While I always knew that I needed to be doing more and giving more to my students, it wasn't until now that I realized how I wanted to do that.  I am still learning every day and definitely have days when it's hard and I want to throw in the towel.  However, reading blog posts like the one above reminds me that what I am doing is what my students need.  Watching them work on their Genius Hour projects with passion and drive gives me the boost I need to carry on and stay the course.  I can't wait to see what is still to come!

When was your awakening as an educator?  Have you had that moment yet when you realize what it is that you REALLY want for your students and how you are going to go about sharing it with them?  If you haven't, I would encourage you to take some time to do just that.  Happy students make for a happy teacher which in turn creates a happy classroom.  What will you do to create your happy classroom?
Thursday, January 2, 2014

One Word...Change

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Change - this is my one word for 2014.  As I read several of the #oneword tweets yesterday, I was inspired to come up with a word for myself. I thought about it all day yesterday and slept on it.  As soon as I opened my eyes this morning, I knew my one word had to be change.  

I recently read a blog post written by Jimmy Casas on his blog, Passion...Purpose...Pride, titled Leaders Strive to be Tomorrow...Today. As I read his post, I realized that I have spent much of my educational career worrying about what others think and I have given others the authority to take away my passion. I have hesitated to do anything outside of what is expected for fear of being thought of as different or eccentric.  I have wavered in my resolve to share things like Twitter and my PLN because I knew that there would be those that would say I spend too much time working or I was trying too hard.  When in reality, it's not's learning.  It's taking time to make myself better by learning from others...learning from some of the best in the world.  

Like Mr. Casas, another educator's comment helped me put things into perspective.  A couple of weeks ago, a past superintendent sent me a message on Facebook that redirected my thinking. Mrs. Kucera told me that I had "a passion for the work that lies ahead."  I immediately thought of what I had been teaching my students lately about finding their passions and how important it was to engage in activities that were meaningful to them.  Had I been hypocritical in asking them to do so when I wasn't even doing this myself?  How could I tell them to step out there and become innovators when I was too scared to do so?  Mrs. Kucera was right...I do have a passion for what lies ahead. So, why in the world have I been afraid to share that passion with others?  

So back to my one word...change. The definition of change is "to make or become different."  So, starting today, I will spend my career trying to make things different. Our education system needs to change.  Our students deserve change.  It's up to us to cause that change and make education different for students in our classrooms today.

In reading Jimmy Casas's blog, I was also reminded of Gandhi's words - "Be the change you wish to see in the world."  Being the change means not being afraid to think outside the box.  It means not being afraid to try new things and share them with others.  And most importantly, it means being yourself and taking back the authority to be excellent.    

Right before the break, I joined Twitter and began building my PLN.  I have learned so much from people like @donwettrick, @techbradwaid, @techminock, @techninjatodd, @daisyray215, @kleinerin, @joykirr, @paulsolarz, @terrieichholz, @venspired, and many more. While I have only learned from these wonderful people virtually by reading their blog posts and tweets, they have all played a role in my desire to change the way I teach as well the way that my students learn. They have inspired me to become different, to make things change.

Thank you for taking time to read about my one word.  What is your one word for 2014?  Please feel free to comment below and share your word.  I would also love for you to follow my blog and/or follow me on Twitter.

Happy New Year!