Monday, January 20, 2014

Edmodo: A new way to build connections

As teachers, we often seek to build connections and we want to offer new and varied learning opportunities to our students.

One way I do this is through Edmodo. If I find a cool video, but I already taught the content, I might post it on Edmodo as a review. All the neat things I find, I link through Edmodo. And I find more neat things because other teachers post them on Edmodo.

If you're not familiar with Edmodo, it is like facebook for the classroom. You have a wall to which posts by any community you are a part of appear. You can filter by community; for example I can look at my science class. And you can write a post that goes out to one or multiple communities.

Edmodo also has the ability to create simple digital quizzes that autograde or you can have students turn in assignments online through the site.

It is not a perfect site and has a lot of things I would love to change or fix, but it is free and has increased communication amongst my students (they help each other with homework) and between myself and my students (they send me direct messages).

One of my favorite features is my library and the "backpack." My library is basically a folder where I can post all kinds of materials for my students. I can link certain folders in my library to different class groups where they always have the materials I have provided. I can even link my google drive folders to my library, so things I upload become available to my students and so I can directly post google drive materials to the group walls.

Additionally, students have a backpack which works in a similar way so that they can share work with me. Once they have linked their google drive to their backpack, anything they do in drive can be turned in through edmodo. Since we already used drive, this is an easy step for them to instantly get their work in one place for me to see (rather than the old way where I hunted through shared folders to find the materials).

Here's a great resource to get you started:

Monday, January 6, 2014

One day I realized...I had another educational blog

As I have re-increased my blogging, I was looking through old blogs and realized I had posted about teaching on this blog. There is actually some coolish stuff there, including:

1. An introduction to me
2. two different posts on prepping for back to school
3. The Flipped Classroom (I should do a new one, as I have a lot more ideas!)
4. Bookmarking with Symbaloo
5. One of the back to school entries also hits on some management concerns.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Balance - a necessary target for a successful teacher

I have not had my best teaching year this year. In fact, I have felt more burned out and unsuccessful than ever. Additionally, I have let my stress level and frustration escalate and I often feel emotionally out of control. A concerned coworker recommended I see a doctor - but I know myself well enough to consider some other changes first. As teachers, we all get stressed. If you're getting over-stressed, feel free to join me as I work through my issues and try to improve the quality of my life (and my teaching).

Additionally, if you're interested in the more complete version of my self-help journey: follow me here.

Tomorrow, I go back to work with kids and I want to be ready. To get there, I certainly need to check my plans and be ready to go in that way, but I also want to be emotionally ready for the week and day so I googled some blogs on creating a balanced life. The following one caught my attention and I have taking the nine steps and written my own thoughts.

How to Create a Balanced Life: 9 Tips to Feel Calm and Grounded

 by Jasmin Tenjeloff

 Jasmin's words of wisdom or my thoughts and reflections

1. Acknowledge.

This step is just about taking stock. The following areas are getting way too much negative attention:
  • My body/health
  • My perspective of my husband's body and health
  • Work - particularly my relationships with colleagues
  • Work - my feelings about the curriculum I am using and it's efficacy
  • Work -grading
  • Work - my student teacher (who is great and I shouldn't feel negative about....but apparently I am territorial)
  • Social Life - what on Earth did I do to all my close friendships...and do I have any hobbies anymore?
However, in order to not focus on the negative, here are some things I feel good about:
  • My relationship with my husband
  • My relationship with my students
  •  Science - I love the new integrated curriculum!
  • My dog - yes this is a weird thing to put on the list, but walking the dog and visiting the dog park on too fairly relaxing parts of my life at the moment
  • WCIRA (my local branch of the Colorado Council International Reading Association) - I am feeling good about my role in it and the literacy fair coming up (planned and orchestrated by yours truly)
  • Drama Club - I have an awesome group this year
  • Cross Country - it was great to be a full time coach for the first time ever; I had a much better relationship with the kids

2. Examine.

This step is supposed to be looking at internal (Mind, Heart- Relationships, Body) vs external (Work, Social, Family, Fun) and seeing if the two are balanced and also seeing if your struggle with individual categories. As mentioned, social, work, and body are pretty weak and relationships outside of my marriage are weak. Also, since I am obviously stressed out, I am not doing so good on my mind piece. Balancing mind is basically are you both challenging yourself intellectually and giving yourself time to relax. I am definitely not doing a good job at relaxing my mind, lately. So, knowing this are my issue areas, what next?

3. Set Goals.

  • Work: be ready for each week and accept that things aren't perfect, keep up on grading, take some time to connect with my colleagues both at and outside of work, use the messenger tool to keep in contact with my allies, aka parents (so hopefully my students don't overwhelm me with there awesome powers for incomplete and missing work)
  • Body: work out (not just walking) - maybe even do the half-marathon that Mary (coworker) asked me to join in on, only one cup of coffee (with less creamer), cut out the sweets
  • Invite friends over more often and more friends (whether I think we're close or not)
  • I don't know what category this is: keep the house tidy (use my cleaning list)
  • Fun: go hiking and biking more often (hiking at least once a month, biking at least once a week)
  • Mind: cut out the stupid puzzle games on the i-pad and read a book or meditate

4. Plan Tasks.

  • Work:
    • All grading for the week should be done by Tuesday of the next week --> grade more in class, the kids learn more from it anyways!
    • 3rd period = science plans
    • 7th and after school = social studies
    • *Schedule times to have official chats with Kelsey (student teacher); do not feel like I have to support her at every moment
    • Invite coworkers to FAC at my house at least twice this spring semester
    • Participate at least once a week in the work exercise group
  •  Other - this is an education blog, so I am going to drop that (but just remember to take care of all of you, it makes work less stressful, too)

5. Reflect.

What is the most important thing you’ve accomplished in the past? How did you stay focused toward this goal? How did you handle your fears, doubts, anxieties, worries, and negative self talk? How does it feel to know that you accomplished the goal in spite of these parts of yourself?
  • Just being the best teacher I can be every day is the most important thing I accomplished. I didn't focus on the fears, doubts, anxieties, worries, or negative self talk in the past. Instead, I focused on making changes and doing my best. I used to feel really annoyed with teachers who jumped into the tornado of negativity because I knew it was a mind-set you could accept or reject, so I guess I need to focus on the successes and the power I have to do better in the future and to constantly strive. I also need to remember that I was bored before I became a teacher and that other jobs didn't challenge, excite, or fulfill me as much as teaching does!
  • Always learning! Go to more conferences and learning opportunities. I have been decidedly neglectful of all the extra opportunities I could take to re-excite my teaching!

6. Prepare.

  • I don't feel like grading --> Grade at least one class a day for longer items (do not expect myself to take it home, home is for relaxing), grade it with the kids!, Mondays = grade all day if needed to get things in by Tuesday; sports need this info in a timely manner for eligibility
  • My plans aren't ready, oh well --> hold to my schedule, 3rd hour is always science, etc.
  • Spend one day a week with Jason (the other social studies teacher) and one with Daina (the other science teacher = better relationships with my colleagues and balancing that with enough time on my own
  • Kelsey is an excellent student teacher who is hell-bent on growing. Don't turn passive aggressive when frustrated, just talk to her.

7. Empower.

What do you need to remember in those times? What are things you can say to that self-sabotaging part of yourself? Be kind to yourself. Balance won’t feel good if you’re cruel to yourself in creating it!
  • "Remember the first and second year you - full of vim and vinegar!"
  • "You're happiest when grading is not looming over you!"
  • "Don't think like a 6th grader; the people around you are not out to get you and they don't dislike you."

8. Connect.

Is there a person or a tactic you can use to keep yourself supported, motivated, and focused in those hard times? I highly recommend connecting and sharing your inner process with someone. Find someone who can help you challenge your inner demons, and celebrate your little accomplishments.
  • I have a friend in mind - who tends to be uber-busy. If I can let her know I need her, maybe we can support each other (as we're both teachers and she is working on her masters degree right now).

9. Plan.

Just like accomplishing any goal in life, it takes time and effort to overcome your habitual patterns and create new ones. If you stay on track with this detailed and intentional process for three whole months, then there is a good chance you will create new habits to enjoy a more balanced life going forward!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Tackle Technology: Conquering Teacher Fears

"Do one thing every day that scares you." -Eleanor Roosevelt

"Do not be too squeamish about your actions, all life is an experiment." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

As teachers, we're often pushed to try new things and technology is certainly up there on the list. Recently, I got my hands on an iPad and have been playing with various technologies for teachers. The apps I have tried far exceed what I have included here. Here's a few things I have learned.

1. Lesson Planning Apps: Every teacher has a different expectation for planning apps. There are good ones out there, but your individual needs will ultimately drive your choice.
Planbook Touch
  • Option 1: Planbook Touch. I chose this app after testing the computer version (and various other free planning apps). It is somewhat customizable and you can enter standards into plans (sadly, this feature is "coming soon" to the app and is currently only available on the desktop version - when it comes, the ability to click on a standard to include in my plans will be its predominant feature). There are many other similar planning apps. Many reviewers suggested that this is a poor choice for elementary teachers. $9.99 Update: After some use, I say don't waste your time unless you only plan on your devise or a computer. I want a program that syncs between home and school - it's too expensive to get this software for my iPad, and 2 work computers (not including my home computer if I was so inclined). Also I ran into some scheduling problems with the app that do not exist in the Windows edition. Try iLesson Plans instead for a cheaper, iPad only option.
  • Option 2: Pages and Dropbox. Instead of paying for a planning app use whatever template you currently use on your computer along with Dropbox to share files between your computer(s) and iPad. Unlike an actual planning app, it will not sync with a calendar, which is a downside for many teachers. For me, sharing on Dropbox makes it preferable and I can honestly say that Pages was the best purchase I have made for the iPad. I am astounded at how nice a document I can make with this app and unlike Google Drive, the tables are fully functional, with merge cell capability and other things that  please me. Since my lesson planning template is a fancy table, this was important.
    Pages: $9.99; Dropbox: Free!
  • Pages
  •  Option 3: Evernote. One teacher I read about puts his plans in Evernote, then takes photos of students, their work, and writes a mini-reflection. He puts entire units in one "note" so that the next year he can look directly through his day by day plan with reflections and make the changes he needs to make. It's a great idea for year-to-year planning. Free!

2. Apps for Notes/Meetings: I wanted the iPad to replace the binder I carry with me (the one that gets overfull with information by the end of the year) so I need it to store my notes for the year. I can keep notes from staff meetings, parent meetings, team meetings, committee meetings, trainings, etc.
  • Penultimate: A notebook that allows you to use your finger or a styles to create hand-written notes. If your handwriting is nice enough, it also lets you search your notes. For example, I can search for notes on "Pete" so we can review interventions in place and their results at a later meeting. Also, as a drawing style app, it allows me to use mind-mapping in my notes, unlike a type-based app. Syncs with Evernote so you can see other notes at the same time. Free!
    • Update: This has become one of my favorite apps and several colleagues who have watched me use it have asked about it. I am to go-to-teacher for old notes from meetings because I have them all in one place and they're easy to find (sorted into individual "notebooks" as opposed to all in one binder or hard notebook). I can take photos of documents we look at or use, or a co-workers notes to include in my own. I have also e-mailed pages to colleagues or my boss. This app is a gem.
  • Evernote: A type-based notebook tool. Allows you to take photos that are inserted directly into the note. Has a checkbox tool so you can insert click-able boxes into your notes. Includes all Penultimate notebooks for viewing (not editing). Free!
3. Management Apps: How can we keep track of what our students are doing?
  • Evernote: Sorry to mention this one again, but with Evernote, I can photograph student work or a behavior reflection a student fills out and file it away for a later parent-teacher conference, to share with my peers in an RtI discussion. I don't have to worry about saving the hard copies in my overfull binder. I can even use the checkbox feature and a pre-made RtI checklist and check off interventions we choose for this student. Free!
  • Class Dojo: I have mentioned this before, but Class Dojo works with an internet based program for tracking student behavior (good and bad). I intend to use this to keep better track of off-task behavior, but also to help encourage me to reward great behavior. This is something I am going to use in conjunction with my classroom economy (click to get started on your own). Printable reports, make it useful for sharing at conferences. Free!
  • Teacherkit
  • TeacherKit: Similar to Class Dojo but with more complete classroom features. It syncs with Dropbox and allows you to input seating charts, attendance, behaviors reports (either click a button or type in a customized note), and has a gradebook feature. You can sort students by names and grades and do a few other fancy things. This is more app than I need, but I thought I would share. Free!
4. Calendar Apps:  Any calendar app is a good one. I use CalenMob because I liked how easy it was to sync with other Calendars (like my Google calendar) and I like the "Agenda" feature. This calendar is nothing special. There are probably others that are just as great if not better. Free!

5. Instructional Apps: Some things to make your classroom the best it can be.
  • Voice Dream: Free text-to-voice app. Reads about 30 seconds at a time to students who struggle with reading. I can open documents from my Dropbox in this app and it will read it to students. Free! (The full version does not stop after 30 seconds - but clicking play every few seconds isn't a big deal to me).
  • Dragon: Free voice-to-text app. This app requires a little training because you have to teach kids to add punctuation as they are speaking. It means they have to be very thoughtful as they "write." If students do not stop at the end of a sentence and say "period" they end up with a lot of editing to do when they are done, but you can edit your text using the keyboard after speaking. One colleague and I thought it would be fun to have kids tell a story or explain something to it, then they could print and edit their story to see how important punctuation is in making something clear and understandable.
  • Knomia
  • Knowmia: A free whiteboard app which allows you to make animated lessons. I haven't played with it a lot yet, but I am excited to try.

Know of some great apps that are helpful to a variety of teachers at all levels? Share!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Class Dojo: A Great Classroom Management Tool

Create a Class Dojo account to help keep track of student behaviors or skills long term. This is a great customizable tool for teachers! See the image slideshow below to to see some of it's features.

Slide Overview:
  1. Teacher Login
  2. What is "Class Dojo"?
  3. Create Multiple Classes (or Multiple Assessment Tools)
  4. It's easy to create a class
  5. Add students
  6. Create Behaviors - Positive and Negative
  7. Start class and monitor behaviors
  8. Look at whole class reports
  9. Look at student level reports
  10. Communicate with parents
  11. Create student logins (if desired - students under 13 should not legally be given this privilege)
  12. Be creative!

Teaching Technologies

Today I attended a book club with a group of elementary teachers. I hadn't read the book; I originally showed up as "tech support" for one of the teachers (and returning a computer I was "fixing" for another in attendance). I stayed and had lunch and talked about the book anyway.

Here are a few things that came up today (and that I helped set up for them in the past):

1. Google Drive for "documenting" discussions
  • One teacher in the book club had asked me to create a template for discussions (prior to their meeting last week). She wanted to print it and pass it out. After some thought, I instead set up a Google Document with the categories she wanted. She shared the document with their principal and with the attending teachers. In the document they record the book, discussion questions, and standards they can teach with it and there's no retyping, nor is everyone required to take notes.
  • Today we used the document - but I got to really help them see how a book can teach so much more than just literacy skills (which is part of their goal for meeting). Many of their social studies standards worked very well with the book, but they were focusing on civics concepts. I showed them how to get creative, how one character's decision really showed the economics concept of "opportunity cost" which is written into the 4th grade standards.
2. Class Dojo for tracking student skills/behavior
  • I haven't used this one, but one teacher mentioned using Class Dojo to monitor student behavior. It is a good tracking tool and you can print reports to share with parents or make it competetive by posting points on a screen or interactive board (SmartBoard or Promethean) so students can see where they stand.
3. Symbaloo
  • Keep track of bookmarks across computers (I have a personal computer and 2 classrooms with their own computers). I like symbaloo better than a traditional bookmarking system because it is more visual (Google Chrome keeps track of links - but not like this). One librarian suggested creating grade level pages and putting this on computer stations in her library with the links readily available for kids to click on and go to different resources. All I know is, if I find a cool interactive at home, I add it to my Symbaloo stuff and when I get to school I can access it with the click of the button (this is my home page on all my computers). I also have a link to my school e-mail and gradebook on here for easy access at school and home.
4.  ActivInspire
  • There is a free personal edition that we can all download and use, but if your district uses this software, chances are Promethean has provided your school with an access code that teachers can use to download the full edition for their home computers. Check with a tech savvy colleague or someone from your technology department to get this code. If not, certainly try the personal edition. Powerpoints be gone. One thing this software allows you to do is draw on websites, your desktop, essentially any file you could have open. Highlight, circle, strikethrough - whatever you might want to do. You just use the desktop dashboard tool.
  • I installed this on one teachers home computer today.
5.  Clickers
  • One teacher and I had a discussion about test taking skills and we realized that it would be beneficial to create an ActivInspire quiz for clickers where students read the prompt and solve it on paper. Then have multiple choice answers appear to "match" to their solved answers. I recommended this to a 3rd grade teacher who said students think that they just get to "select an answer" when it is multiple choice and that they love them because "they don't have to solve it," or so they think. She was totally frustrated.
  • She loved the suggestion because it also means one more thing that is instantly graded.
6. My Classroom Economy
  • Teach personal financial literacy and manage your classroom at the same time! 
  • Okay, this isn't actually technology - but it's great:
  • One teacher and I already do this --> but a colleague sent me this link and now I have materials to infinitely improve on my design.
  • Create an online planbook. Great for keeping track of what you did from year to year and for a teacher like me with multiple classrooms - a nice way to keep your plans with you wherever you are
 I'm sure there was more. We had quite the conversation. Just a few ideas to take into next year.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Teacher As Web Designer

Most of us, as teachers, are required to assemble some form of website in order to advertise our school and interface with students and parents digitally. However, most of us also lack the time to do a great job at this as well as the know-how.

That's where Google Sites comes in. As part of the whole slew of Google Apps available, Google Sites allows you to develop a web page with very little effort. I built a site with multiple pages in about an hour. Then I slowly added and updated to make it better. The nice thing is, they have pre-made sites you can use and fill in, or you can make a very simplistic one from scratch. If you're also a user of Google Drive, you can embed documents, presentations, etc. from Drive into your site for some easy to update features.

Here's a few of the basics.
Choose a template.
  1. Go to
  2. Create an account, login with an existing google account, or use a school account linked to google if you have one.
  3. Click the "Create" button.
  4. Select a template. I prefer the blank template and editing on my own, but there are some great pre-made educator templates.
  5. Select your site name.
  6. Click the "Create" button.
  7. Click the "Edit" button (it looks like a pencil) to update the page.
  8. Or click the "New Page" (looks like a page with a plus sign) to create another page.
Sample page with "edit" and "new page" buttons.

 Some advice about your site: This sample site looks beautiful. However, most of us don't want to get locked into updates like "word of the week," "student of the month" or any fancy editing needed to update homework or announcements.

Try to keep your commitments to your webpage low and easy to accomplish. What is the best bang for your buck? What is the most useful to you, your students, and their parents? Depending on what we teach, these things can be different for all of us. You can Google search lists of what to include for a slew of ideas. Here are a few things that I find relevant:
  • Parents struggling with disorganized, non-communicative students can use my website to help keep their kids on track. Here's how I help them:
    • "How can parents help?" page which provides ideas for guiding a student through homework without giving away the answers or needing to know them.
    • "Communication" guidelines suggesting how parents can prompt students to talk to their teachers and how to let me in on it so I can help make sure it happens (and we can secretly make sure they are getting the right information back to their parents).
    • Most important: the "Homework" page updates my homework daily (without me ever entering my website structure).
  •  Resources: What extras do parents or students at your level need?
    • Parents of avid middle school readers struggle to keep up with what their kids are reading, but want to know they are reading safe materials - I have linked the "young adults" section of my Goodreads account to my school website with some embedded gadgets. When I read a book and update my Goodreads account, it automatically updates the information on my website.
    • Websites - textbook access, games, research resources, etc. are all beneficial to include on a website
    • At the elementary level a weekly schedule is a nice thing for a parent to have access to.
    • My mother, who teaches elementary, includes a weekly spelling list on her website.
    • Many teachers these days find it beneficial to post some version of the standards they teach on their website.
If you want to get a little fancy with your website, here are a few considerations:
  • Get a Picasa account (free) and make edit some pictures to give your website some flashy images.
  •  Embed web gadgets using the insert feature and an "embed gadget" tool or the "html box" you can insert directly from Googles searchable list of gadgets.
  • Embed documents, forms (for quizzes or surveys), presentations, etc directly onto the webpages (I use an embedded document for my homework page - I update the document and my website is updated, without having to even login to my website). If I embed a Google documents version of an assignment instead of uploading a document, I can edit it and those fixes will be automatically available to my students, no uploading new versions necessary. Google Sites makes this as easy as "insert document."
  • Create some different link functionality or link to outside websites using the "edit layout" function under the "more" button.
Note: make sure to link back to any district purchased websites, so parents and students can find your site!
My science website.
The sky is the limit! Keep playing and let me know if you discover something cool!