Friday, July 4, 2014

Big Time Blogging Challenge: Favorites

Today's Big Time Blogging Challenge prompt by Big Time Literacy is about favorite subjects and lessons to teach, here goes:

When people asked me about my favorites as a child, I could carry on forever talking about the reason I had multiple favorites of something.  Eyes would glaze over, or a look of regret for asking would creep across the face.  Never did it hinder me from espousing my list of favorites!

As an adult, I can't say that I've changed too much.  I have had very few moments in my classrooms that I haven't enjoyed.  I've taught a lot of lessons, and guided in a lot of inquiry that made my heart sing.  However, looking back over my eight years in education, I've picked one lesson that I've really enjoyed every time I've taught it.  I hope they are something you can be inspired by!

Martin's Big Words

I've always loved the I Have a Dream speech by MLK, Jr.  His passion is palpable as you listen to this words.  I've used the speech when talking about delivering speeches with my students.  I've used it when thinking about how they picture an improved society.  I've used it for one of my favorite lessons, big words.

When I teach the big words lesson, I always read Martin's Big Words by Doreen Rappaport (check out her other gorgeous books).  It tells the story of MLK in an accessible way, that is also engaging in upper grades.  This book introduces the concept of big words.  The students and I always have a discussion about what the author means by big words.  Does she mean length of a word?  No.  What does she mean?  She means the strength of the word, the size of the idea.  My kids have had some amazing ways to describe big words.

After this discussion, we listen to his speech.  Throughout the speech, students are listening for and writing down the big words/ideas that MLK uses as he addresses his audience.  This has been cause for some really engaged listening.  Once we've listened through, we discuss what he was saying.  What he wanted for the future.  Another amazing discussion!

We then use the words to make a word cloud.  I have the students look at their list, reflect on the speech, and choose the five biggest ideas they think he was conveying in his speech.  The students read their words aloud while I (or another student) plug the words into a world cloud generator.  I've used Wordle and Tagxedo in the past to make my clouds.  Once we've added our words and generate the cloud, we have a cloud where the big words that stuck out to the students the most are the largest.  They usually gasp with excitement when it finally shows up.  Here is an example of what we created two years ago:

Their excitement and their contemplation in this lesson are thrilling.  I usually display the word cloud on a bulletin board after I have students illustrate portions of the speech that they feel are a great visual.  

Overall it's a very powerful lesson, and I absolutely love it!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Big Time Blogging Challenge: My Family

I'm back for my second day of the Big Time Blogging Challenge from Big Time Literacy.  Today's prompt asks me to share a post about my family, so here goes:

The family I come home to every night is my sweet husband, Jonathan.  We have been married for a year on the 13th, and have been together for more than six years.  He is my biggest supporter.  He's helped me move my classroom six times (not including all of the times he's had to move it to storage units in between classrooms).  He spends hours in my classroom helping me get it ready each year.  He's even been my room mother when I haven't had any volunteers.  He's more than I could have ever hoped for.  I'm so incredibly lucky.

Skating at a 5th grade party
Leaving our Wedding
Peterhof Palace, St. Petersburg, Russia on our honeymoon

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Big Time Blogging Challenge: Educational Experience

I'm back!  Well, I hope to be back.  I'm taking on the Big Time Blogging Challenge from Big Time Literacy.  I'm hoping that it will help me get into the groove of blogging.  I still read A LOT of blogs, but I never feel like I have much to contribute.  Hopefully some of her prompts will help me to feel like I'm writing some worthwhile posts.

Anyway, today is July 2, so the prompt is: "How long and in what capacities have you been in education?"  I've addressed this before, but for those who have never been to my blog here goes:

2014-2015 will mark my 9th year as a teacher.  I began my career in a rural school district teaching 1st-8th grade classes for gifted students.  I loved my small school, and the family I had created with my students, but after three years I felt like it was time to move to something bigger.

Over the last five years, I've been in a large (for Southwest Missouri) school district.  I've been through a lot in this district.  I was first hired to be a 3rd & 4th grade gifted teacher, but got RIFed when the program had some grade levels eliminated (darned budget cuts).

Next, I taught 5th grade for a year in an extreme poverty school.  I think this is where I learned the most, it really opened my eyes to the poverty in my town, and the needs of students in poverty. Unfortunately, that school was destroyed by an EF-5 tornado, scattering the already very transient student population to the wind.

Due to this disaster, there were not enough students to have two 5th grade teachers at the temporary location, so I was moved to a bigger elementary in the district.  I taught there for two years.  I had great teaching partners, great colleagues, and great students.

However, I decided to leave to pursue one of my passions: technology.  The district created an instructional coaching position with a focus in technology integration with 8th grade teachers and students as they implemented 1:1 iPads.  That is where I spent the last year.  Working with adults challenged me in ways that I have never been challenged before.  I loved it, but missed having my own group of students SO much.

2014-2015 will see me back in the classroom.  I will be teaching 8th grade reading and writing in a 1:1 iPad classroom.  I will be across the hall from one of my dear friends, and be on the same team as a great group of people I coached last year.  I'm looking forward to it so very much.

Well, that's my educational experience.  I hope that my background and experience can add to the blogging community.  We shall see!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tried it Tuesday (Prezi)

I'm really in to the link ups lately!  It's a great way to find some really awesome stuff.  Thank you to all of you that take the time to come up with the ideas and host them!  Today's link up is going to be with Fourth Grade Flipper's Tried it Tuesday.

Read more about Tried it Tuesday by clicking the button above.

**Disclaimer** I must admit that this isn't the first time I've tried Prezi, but it was the first time I actually completed a project and used it in a presentation.

Anyway, on to the story.  Since the first time I saw someone give a presentation using Prezi a few years ago, I've been fascinated with it.  The moving around and zooming in and out.  I signed up right away for an account and started playing around.  However, I quickly realized I am more of a linear thinker, and Prezi just gives you this wide open space and says "have at it!"  Eek!  I was very quick to put Prezi on a list of cool stuff to try later.

Fast forward to last year, my students were really stuck in a rut when it came to presentations.  They continually wanted to create simple PowerPoints or even posters.  While I am still okay with PowerPoints and posters, it kind of gets old sitting through what feels like the same thing over and over again as my kiddos presented.  Enter...the tech kids!  I had kids that were so willing and eager to try anything that one day I just said, "Hey guys, I know about this website, but I have no idea how to use it.  Would you like try?"  I logged them into my account and they ran with it.  They were zooming in and out and flying all over the page during their presentation, and I feel like they worked harder to make the content more meaningful.  I didn't have to stand over them and say well here's how you do this and that.  They just played and figured it out on their own.

Anywho... seeing that it just took playing around, I was once again inspired to use it.  However, I never got around to fully making a presentation last summer or during this school year either.  My students always had the option of making a Prezi when we did presentations this year, but few of them chose to try.

As the end of school rolled around, so did a tech conference that I had agreed to present at.  Now, I'm great in front of kids, but TERRIBLE in front of adults.  I get so panicky and my voice trembles.  People claim they can't tell, but I know otherwise.  Well, I had agreed to present about the flipped classroom.  I knew I wanted a presentation that could help distract from my poor speaking skills, so I thought, hey Prezi is visually appealing, lets give it a try.  So I sat down and got to work, and you know what?  I actually created a Prezi!  Since the last time I gave it a go, they have created some really great templates to use as a base for your presentation, and they've simplified the controls (no more wheel).

All kinds of templates for building your Prezi!
Easier controls!

I would say that I am still not expert, but I can definitely continue to recommend this tool to students and teachers.  With my job next year, I will be working with 1:1 iPads for 8th graders, I know I will be suggesting that Prezi get added to all of the iPads.  Students can create and view presentations right on the iPad.  So, if you have any presentations coming up, give Prezi a try!

BTW, here's my presentation!


Monday, June 3, 2013

Must Have Monday: Utility Tote

I'm linking up with Teaching with a Touch of Twang's Must Have Mondays.  I've thought for awhile about what I really MUST have, and there are just so many things.  I think what I'll feature today is my Thirty-One Large Utility Tote.  I must preface this by saying that I DO NOT sell Thirty-One products, and I don't really enjoy those parties where you friends ask you to come spend money and throw parties so you can expect other people to spend money, but I do love my tote!!

I carry A LOT of stuff back and forth between home and school.  I've gone through several different bag options (I even went with the horrid wheeled cart).  Most of the time, my bag ends up too full and handles breaks or I just can't lift it to get it in and out of my car.  However, when I went to my first 31 party, I decided to give one those puppies a try.  I am SO glad I did.  It can hold so much stuff.  So, if you happen to have those friends that invite you to parties, you might want to hit a Thirty-One party and get a large utility tote.  I noticed through a friend that sells them that they're even on sale this month for $10 (rather than $35) if you buy $35 worth of stuff (which is easy to do... I also have a lunch box and an organizing tote).

Head over to Teaching with a Touch of Twang and see what else people must have this Monday!


Sunday, June 2, 2013

How to Create a Google Form

To go along with my previous post, I created a screencast about creating a Google Form for your classroom library.  It shows how to create a form, how to create the subsequent spreadsheet, and how to access or edit both.  I hope this helps anyone who is interested in using Google for your classroom library.  Once you create this form, you can easily use forms to create all kinds of tools for your classroom.  Good luck.  Just let me know if you have any questions!

**Note**  My personal Google Drive account has a more updated version of Forms than my Google Apps for Education account through the school.  If your form creating tool seems a little different, it should be fairly similar.  Let me know if I can help! :-)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Optimum Organization: Book Checkout

I'm joining up with the Optimum Organization linky.  I use tips and suggestions I get from blogs ALL OF THE TIME, so I definitely hope to return the favor.  If you decide to link up, be sure to click the link to see all of the guidelines for this linky!

Over the years I've struggled with perfecting the checkout system for my classroom library. I have about a thousand books available to my students, so management can be a bit hairy. I've attempted the "just trust them" system, the old-school card checkout system, and the write it down on a sheet of paper system. None of these worked for me. A lot of my books would disappear. It was frustrating to lose books, because I LOVE my books.  My kids promised that they tried to keep track of my books, but sometimes they just *disappeared*.  I wanted to continue to offer this service to my kiddos, but I needed to find some kind of solution.

Last summer, I decided to go the high-tech route.  I knew I could do it because of the sheer amount of technology I had available in my classroom.  I just had to decide what I wanted to use-- computer, iPad, iPods.  I read all summer about great websites and apps that could be used to monitor your library, but none of them seemed to be something I thought I would stick to.  Finally, I decided why not just use something I already access everyday-- Google!  I've been in love with Google and all of its products for years (I'm still a little bitter about having to say goodbye to Reader though). I've been using Google Drive's Forms in my classroom for 4 years now. If you don't use forms-- you should! This year I decided that I should use Forms for my classroom checkout system.  I didn't have to decide what platform to use this on, because my form would be available on all devices that could access the web.

So, I used Google Forms to create this:

I then set this as one of the links on our homepage (I use Tizmos as the homepage on my computer because it allows for students to quickly access the websites we use most often).  Every time a student wanted to check out a book, they would go to the nearest device and check out their book.  Once the students enter their information on the form, it is all transferred by Google to a spreadsheet that looks like this:

When the students returned book, the placed them in a big purple bucket.  I then trained my classroom librarian to access the form and check books back in from the bucket before placing them back in their genre bucket in the library.  The job got to be quite big, so my librarian chose an assistant and trained her on how to use the form as well.  Every week or two they would take a few minutes to ask students who had books out if they knew the whereabouts of the book.  It made book check out and return so much easier this year!  I didn't really have to do anything, and I lost VERY few books.  If I were remaining in the classroom, this is definitely what I would continue using.

I hope that you can use something like this in your classroom.  Comment if you have any questions!