Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Geography (and so much more) Using GeoGuessr

I have always loved Geoguessr and knew it could be used to practice so many different skills.  It has been a while since I've used it in my classroom.  However, this six weeks our Focus Topic is Geography and I wanted to get my students pumped about learning about the world.  Geoguessr instantly came to mind!

For those that aren't sure what Geoguessr is or how it works, it is a website that provides an image taken somewhere in the world.  Players must look around and use clues to decide where on the map they think the image can be found.  They make a guess and then they are provided with a map showing their guess as well as the actual location.

Before we started, I modeled using the website and explained the process to my students. Using my teacher computer and the projector, we visited Geoguessr together and looked at the image that was randomly provided.  I explained how they needed to use inferencing to make their best guess about where in the world the photograph was taken.  We talked about the clues that we could use to make our inference.  We decided that we could focus on the road signs, the side of the road that the cars were driving on, the climate, and whether the area was rural or urban.  Then, we made our guess.  

The great thing about Geoguessr is that it provides feedback telling the students how far their guess was from the actual location in miles and kilometers.  They also receive points for their guess depending on the distance.

Using this information, students can practice so many different skills.  During this lesson, I asked my students to play 5 rounds.  They kept track of their guesses and the distance between it and the actual location (in miles).  After 5 rounds, they found the average (or mean) of all five guesses.  Then they compared their averages as a table.  The person with the lowest average was the winner!

As I walked around the room, I realized that every single student was engaged and completely focused on the activity.  They were discussing their inferences, justifying their choices, and collaborating to become better at the game.  It became very obvious that my students were making connections...mission accomplished!

I love that Geoguessr provides students with a map.  Students are required to know where the continents are and use important skills to make their best guess.  I feel like geography is sometimes put on the back burner because other standards take priority due to standardized testing.  This activity gives students to practice those other skills while learning about where things are in the world.  
There are so many ways teachers can use this tool in their classroom other than the obvious geography benefits.  In completing this one activity, my students practiced finding the mean (average), adding decimals, rounding decimals, comparing decimals, division, inferencing, and geography.  Not to mention the collaboration, critical thinking, and reflection that my students were using as they worked in groups to complete the assignment.  

Below is a short video that I took while walking around.  My students were so engaged that they didn't even realize what I was doing.   Take a look and notice the level of engagement, collaboration, and excitement as they worked on the assignment.  It was so fun to hear their conversations and realize the connections that they were making.

Geoguessr is completely free and very easy to use.  I would so much rather have a noisy, active, and engaged classroom than a room of students sitting in rows completing a worksheet.  This was such a meaningful experience for my students and they didn't want to leave because they were having so much fun.  Check it out and feel free to share any comments about how you use this tool or plan to use it in your classroom.  
Thursday, March 3, 2016

Classroom Power Tool - Photo Prompts

Starting this week, I will be sharing a new Classroom Power Tool each week.  These will be tools that I use in my own classroom to help my students make connections.  I believe that technology used just for the sake of using technology is a waste of time but when used to make the learning more meaningful, can be extremely powerful.

Photo Prompts are such a great way to engage students at the beginning of class.  They are so easy to use and encourage critical thinking as well as creativity.  These photo prompts are a simple way to encourage writing in your classroom.

Photo Prompts are great for any age group.  They are simple images with very few words.  Writing Prompts are appropriate for middle school and high school students as they ask for more detail and are often about more sensitive topics.

Please LIKE my Facebook Page for more Classroom Power Tools and fun teaching ideas.  
Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Help Wanted!

So, I have spent most of my week chatting with my students and my Voxer buddies about how to best find outside experts for our Genius Hour projects.  As an elementary teacher, it is very time consuming to search for an outside expert for every single project.   Outside of school, it is next to impossible for me to spend my time calling, emailing, and tweeting people that may or may not respond to our requests.

As I have talked with others and played around with different ideas, I think I finally stumbled across what will work for me and my students.  Today I created a Padlet board titled Help Wanted.  We made it look like a bulletin board and posted our requests.  I did not include student names, just project titles and descriptions of what they needed in an outside expert.

After we wrote the posting, I created a Google Form for our experts to fill out.  They simply click the project that they are interested in and fill out the form.  I used notification rules in Google Forms to set it up to email me each time the form is completed.  This way, I don't have to remember to always go check for responses (because I won't).  As experts make a connection and submit the form, I will just receive a notification in my email inbox.  How awesome is that?!

I then clicked Modify This Padlet and Address.  I changed the address to one that would be easy to remember and share out on social media.  After doing so, I shared on Twitter, Remind, Google +, and even emailed the link to our entire district.

I immediately began to hear back from people in our district that knew someone that could fill some of these roles.  As the board continues to be shared on Twitter and Google +, I expect to hear back from several experts that are willing to help.

As a community, we have several parents and community members that are always willing to help.  I plan to create QR codes that link to our Padlet board and place them around the school and maybe even local businesses.  This way, community members will have easy access to the projects and may be inspired to serve as an outside expert for my students.

I am so excited about our Help Wanted board and hope it helps us find the experts we need to make meaningful connections to our learning.  I know it will save me so much time to have a central location and single response form for the experts that are interested in helping us out.
Sunday, February 7, 2016

Classroom Conversations

I've been thinking a lot lately about my students and what I can do to help them realize their worth, their capabilities, and their strengths.  I want them to leave my classroom knowing that I thought that they could tackle any problem.  When they leave elementary, I want it to be with the courage to do amazing things because they have been encouraged to see themselves as nothing less than amazing.

As an educator, I definitely have days when this is not the case.  I get frustrated, tired, and even discouraged at times.  I wonder if they understand why we do the things we do.  I wonder if they grasp the reality of the impact that they can potentially make.

This morning, our pastor was sharing about the impact we have on others and spoke about something that he does every year.  He said that he makes two list titled "What Others Think About Me" and "What I Want Them to Think About Me".  He then looks at the differences and spends time thinking about those differences on the lists.  He responds by writing how he can change their perception.  What can he do for them to make an impact, help them see him for who he wants to be, and really make a difference?  

This afternoon, I began to think about my students and how such an activity could help me become a better teacher and have a greater impact on my students.  In doing so, I realized that making this list would be a wonderful start.   So, this week, I will ask my students, "What do you think about our class and how things are going?"  I will listen and reflect as they share.  I don't want to respond with excuses or justification with the things that they think I should change.  I just want to hear them.  

After I have reflected on their responses, I will make a list of "What I Want My Students to Think About Our Class".  Then I will compare the two lists and determine how I can make changes to ensure that my students are seeing the me that I want them to see.  I don't want to assume that I am doing what I need to do to help them succeed, I want to hear it from them.

In an effort to give our students control of their learning, it is so important that we, as teachers, are willing to learn from them.  We need to take time to really listen to their voices and then react with intention and purpose.  We may not be able to take every suggestion and make every single change that they suggest but if they see the classroom as "ours" instead of "mine", they will begin to take ownership of their learning.  

So, if anyone wants to join me in having this conversation this week in the classroom, please do!  I will write again before the end of the week to share my lists and the changes that I will make as a result of the conversations that we have.  I will use the simple chart below to document our conversation.  

Feel free to do the same and share with me on Twitter.  I would love to see how both teachers and students respond to the conversation.

Have a wonderful week and be the teacher that your students deserve!  

Friday, February 5, 2016

TCEA Reflection

Wow!  TCEA was such a great experience and I am still reeling from all of the wonderful things that I learned and the wonderful people that I met this week.

This year, I was able to attend TCEA on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I went with one of our amazing science/social teachers, Desiree Toombs. While I would have loved to stay all week, this was just enough time to attend several sessions and meet lots of new people.

On Tuesday, I was able to present with an amazing group of girls including Jaime Donally, Fran Siracusa, Kari Espin, Lisa Monthie, Cassie Reeder, and Deb Atchison.  I was so surprised to find out that Fran was calling in from Clearwater to share during the session as I had met her at LaunchMe with Brad Waid back in October.  It was so fun to realize that connection and be able to say hello again.  I also had a blast sharing laughs (as usual) with Kari and Lisa. Jaime did an amazing job sharing Live Video Streaming and we played a fun game with puzzle pieces that gave everyone a chance to experience the different tools that we were sharing.

I also stopped by the TCEA Radio Booth to say hello to my sweet friend Christy Cate who was amazing all week.  She did such a great job keeping us updated and interviewing so many people throughout the conference.  She is one of the sweetest, friendliest people that I know and I can't wait to hang out with her when I visit Region 14 in Abilene this summer!

Wednesday morning, I was lucky enough to present Genius Hour with Don Wettrick.  Don has played such a huge role in changing my mindset.  After meeting him and learning from him over the last two years, my mindset and reasons for teaching have completely changed.  I no longer see my classroom as my own but instead see it as a space for my students innovate, create, and learn based on their passions.  I understand that my students deserve time in their school day to make connections and learn about things that are important to them.  Presenting with Don was such an awesome experience and one that I will remember for a very long time.  

Then it was lunch time with one my favorite GT educators, Terri Eichholz.  I love her blog, Engage Their Minds, and I learn so much from her on Twitter!  We were able to catch up, share some laughs, and hang out.  Her passion for doing what is best for students is so contagious and I absolutely love chatting with her every chance that I get.

After several great sessions that afternoon, it was time for some relaxation with great friends.  I am such a fan of so many of the educators from Weatherford ISD.  I absolutely adore Amanda Rogers, Shelly Stout, Jacqueline Rose, and the rest of their crew! They are so passionate about giving their students opportunities to be innovative and creative.  It seems they always have something new to share and contribute.  We chatted over dinner and came up with some amazing ways for our students to collaborate and connect.  The AMAZING Jaime Donally joined us and kept us laughing.  She is so full of energy, passion, and ideas.  I am so thankful that we connected as I learn so much from her every time we are together.

Wednesday evening, we joined the #gueri11aed and #txeduchat for a Tweetup.   All I can say that is Region 11 rocks!  How could it not with amazing people like Charles Cooper, Tom Kilgore, and Tracie Cain?  They are doing amazing things and I am so excited for Elementary Con in June!  I feel like I already knew Tom Kilgore but we were able to meet face to face and share more about what we do in education.  Such a great time connecting and collaborating with some of the very best!   Cassie Reeder and I chatted about Genius Hour and I can't wait to hear the amazing things that happen as she introduces it to her students.

I started Thursday morning with the hilarious Laura Kile.  I met her when I presented in Midland last summer and we became fast friends.  She always makes me laugh and has such an amazing personality.  Being able to run into her and then spend time catching up was such a treat!

After my presentation on Thursday, it was time to say goodbye.  I had made so many connections and was reminded of why my PLN is so important to me.  They are the ones that keep me going, encourage me to do things that are WAY outside of my comfort zone, and give me the courage that I need to be real about what is best for my students.  I don't know that they will ever know the impact that they have on my classroom each day but I am better because of their awesomeness!

So, until next year...
Sunday, December 27, 2015

Making a Difference in 2016

Is it really already 2016?  2015 has come and gone and it seems like it went by so quickly.  I like to start the new year by setting new goals for my classroom and this year is no different.  So here we educational priorities for 2016 are (drum roll please) boldness, passion, and conversation.

Boldness - I want this for myself as well as my students.  I want all of us to be bold enough to use our voices. As an educator, I want to speak up for what I know is best for my students.  I also want my students to speak up for themselves.  I want them to know that their voices are powerful, that they can make a difference.  More than anything, I want them to follow the paths that will lead to the lives that they've always imagined.  I don't want them to allow others to choose their paths for them. Instead, I hope to inspire them to realize that they have the opportunity to do amazing things by being bold and leading the way for the change.

Passion - As most of you know, I am a huge fan of passion projects, Genius Hour, and other activities in the classroom that give students opportunities to pursue their interests.  I believe that passion is the key to unlocking many problems in education today.  When students are interested, they are engaged. One size fits all classrooms will not work anymore.  It's time to realize that these students are different and they have different skill sets.  Because of this, we as teachers must play a different role and be okay with that.  Allowing our students to pursue their passions gives them the opportunity to learn by doing.   I've seen the impact of this type of learning in my own classroom and it changes everything.  Passion makes learning real and meaningful.  And, honestly, if it's not, why are we teaching it anyway?

Conversation - I want to start conversations in 2016 that matter.  I want to be a part of the conversations that are changing education.  I believe that conversation trumps everything.  In my classroom, conversation comes before grades, worksheets, and assignments.  I understand that through conversation, I will really know my students.  I will understand what works for them and what doesn't.  In having conversations with my colleagues, I am able to inspire and be inspired.  I want my students to understand that they can start conversations that ignite change.  Understanding the power of conversation is so important in education today and will definitely be a priority for us in 2016.

So that's it!  Boldness, passion, and conversation are my priorities this year.  I want to be bold enough to do what is best and passionate enough to start conversations that will make a difference.  These are the same things that I wish for my students.  I can't wait to see what this year holds.  I wish all of you a wonderful New Year and hope that you find ways to make it amazing! Let's rock 2016 and make it a year that we will remember for a long time!

Monday, November 9, 2015

A Mystery Skype to Remember

I'm a little late on writing this post but wanted to share because it was such a fun day for our students and gave them an opportunity to see themselves as teachers as well as students.

We were recently given the opportunity to participate in a Mystery Skype with teachers at a session at the Microsoft campus in North Dakota.  Kelly Rexine had contacted me to ask if we would be willing to participate and we were more than willing.  We were so excited!  Our third grade students absolutely love to Mystery Skype and I thought it would be a great opportunity for them to share their expertise and excitement about the topic with teachers that were wanting to learn.  

I want to begin by saying that our third grade teacher, Mrs. Battistella, is amazing at making each Mystery Skype a success.  She does a great job of explaining the roles, asking for feedback, and ensuring that it is a learning opportunity for everyone that is involved.  The first time that I observed her class participating in a Mystery Skype, I realized right away that every student was engaged, willingly engaged. 

We began the session by taking time to let Mrs. Battistella explain how a Mystery Skype works.  She shared the roles of each group and explained why each of them are important to the process.  After this, we turned it over to the students and let them work their magic.  

When the students correctly concluded that the audience was in North Dakota, they were so excited! As closure,  Kelly asked his audience if they had any questions for the students.  One teacher asked what it was about Mystery Skype that the students liked.  In response, several students shared that they liked learning about new places and liked that they were learning by having fun and meeting new people.  They absolutely loved answering the questions and being the experts as they shared with the teachers.

It was so fun watching them find ways to share their learning and express their feelings about the activity.  I was so impressed with their willingness to speak up and give their perspective.

As we wrapped up, Mrs. Battistella asked her class to reflect on the event.  She has a wonderful reflection sheet for each Mystery Skype and so she gave one to each student.  Below are a few of their responses. 

I love that almost every student was surprised to learn that they could teach teachers. They were in awe of the fact that they had spent their afternoon showing teachers how to do something well.  

It was such a fun day!  The students were given an opportunity to teach and they did.  Sometimes learning from students is more engaging and has more of an impact than learning from our peers.  I love nothing more than to hear from student panels and see students doing whatever it is that I am learning about.  I am so thankful that Kelly was willing to ask our students to teach educators about Mystery Skype and share their perspective.

If you haven't considered trying a Mystery Skype in your classroom, you should.  It is such a wonderful way to encourage critical thinking while using geography skills.   And even better, it's a lot of fun!