Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bammy Nomination - What It's Really About

So last week, I was completely surprised when I learned on Twitter that I had been nominated for a Bammy Award by Don Wettrick.  It was such an honor to read the nomination. I was so excited, so thankful,  and couldn't wait to share the good news. But then it happened...fear set in.  I worried that others would think I was boasting if I shared and so I shared with a very limited few.

As I thought about the nomination this weekend, I began to realize that this is not about me but it's about my students, my supportive administration, and my amazing PLN that has given me back my passion for teaching.

In 2013, I became a connected educator and began learning from others on Twitter.  I took in as much as I could and began blogging often to reflect on my learning.  It wasn't long after this that I saw Don Wettrick on Two Guys and Some iPads.  I listened as he talked about Innovations and the amazing things that his students were doing in his classroom.  After hearing him share, I wondered what this would look like in an elementary classroom and began to ask questions.  Shortly after this, Don Skyped with my students and the rest is history.

Innovations and Genius Hour has changed the way that I see my role in the classroom.  Instead of considering myself the expert, we look beyond the four walls of our classroom and find the real experts.  My students create their own learning experiences and share their learning with the world.

Just like that, I found my passion for teaching again.  I began to realize that this is what I wanted for my students.  I wanted them to learn in ways that were meaningful for them.  I wanted to design learning experiences instead of write lesson plans. I wanted them to learn from outside experts that could teach them more than I ever could.  I didn't want to lecture but instead wanted to learn with my students.

I began to connect with other Genius Hour teachers including Joy Kirr, Paul Solarz, and Terri Eichholz.  I learned so much from them and still learn from them almost every day.  Without their resources and blog posts, I would be lost.

My students have found that Genius Hour helps them find purpose.  Their work is relevant and meaningful.  Because of this, they want to be in my classroom.  They look forward to class and enjoy sharing their projects with anyone that will listen.  Their desire to learn new things was the fuel that ignited this fire and their willingness to continue to learn has kept it burning.

I remember the day that I went in to tell my principal about Genius Hour and that I planned on just letting the students learn what they wanted, how they wanted.  Instead of resisting and making it difficult, she simply said that she trusted me and told me to go for it.  Without her support, none of the things that we are doing right now would be possible.

Finally, the parents of my students have been patient, understanding, and gracious as we have implemented this program over the last couple of years.  We have learned together how to be flexible and creative as we make the dreams of the students come true.  It's not always easy and it doesn't always work out, but together we do all that we can to make each project as successful as possible.

So all of that to say that I will not be afraid to share my Bammy Nomination.  Instead, I will be thankful.  I will be proud of the work that my students have done and the amazing connections that I have made along the way. It's not about me or what I am doing.  It's about my students that I am learning from each and every day.  It's about the amazing administrators that trust me enough to allow me to take risks.  It's about the parents giving their children the opportunity to do amazing things.  It's about my incredible PLN that has made me the teacher that I always wanted to be...a teacher that takes risks, trusts her students, and looks forward to coming to work each day.  Most importantly, it's about being able to share the positive things that are going on in education and realizing that we all play a role.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Using Technology to Help Struggling Writers

Yesterday, I was collaborating with one of our teachers to find ways to help improve her students' ability to write.  She had several students that were struggling with understanding the prompts and writing while staying on topic.  After looking at a couple of options, we decided to try Write About This and Tell About This as a tool to give students a visual aid and make connections as they started their stories.

Tell About This is an app that provides students with a picture and prompt.  The prompt is read aloud and students press the microphone in order to record their voices as they respond to the prompt.  This give students a place to start.  They feel comfortable sharing what they see because it is what it is. They can't be judged on simply stating what is there.  After the recording, the video can be saved to the camera roll and shared on YouTube or other outlets.

In this case, the student was having trouble describing and sharing how a thunderstorm might make her feel.  The teacher explained to me that she was off topic and that she wasn't sure that the student was understanding what she was being asked to write about.  With that information, we decided to provide the student with a picture of a thunderstorm and asked her to share the details that she saw. As you can see the original prompt was to tell how she might feel but we quickly realized that we were going to have to start with details.  I talked with her about details and asked her to just tell me what she saw when she looked at the picture of the thunderstorm.

After that, we recorded again and I asked her to tell me how she would feel if she was in this thunderstorm.  We talked about different feelings and then asked her to record again sharing her thoughts.  

After recording her thoughts using Tell About This, I then showed her the same picture in the Write About This app.  I asked her to think about what she said when we recorded. We talked about the details that she shared and the feelings that we talked about.  I then explained that writing is a lot like speaking on paper.  I told her to use her pencil or the keyboard instead of her voice to share her thoughts.  She seemed to understand and was ready to write.  This is what she wrote when we finished the details portion of the activity.  We plan on going back and adding the feelings portion to this to put together a complete paragraph. 

This student went from having difficulty understanding how to describe a thunderstorm to being to able to make a connection because of an image.  She used her voice to document what she saw and then created several sentences using that information.  

These apps helped me understand how useful it is to help students understand that writing is simply speaking on paper. As this student progresses and continues to use these tools, I hope that she will find her voice and begin to write independently.  However, until she feels comfortable, using these apps together will serve as her training wheels.  Instead of saying "I don't know what to write" or "I can't think of anything" she will have a tool to serve as a launchpad for her writing assignments.

Write About This is a great tool to use for whole group writing as well.  You can simply project the prompt onto your wall and ask students to journal.  Sometimes a picture is motivating and can serve as a visual aid for those students that need a starting place.  

Here is another place to find wonderful photo prompts.  These prompts require some critical thinking and encourage students to use their imagination.  My students love to blog using these photos and I often use them as a way to start our class time.  

How are you using technology to encourage writing? Please comment below to share new ideas or how you are using these same apps to engage your students.