Monday, February 20, 2017

One Thing Leads To Another

One of my favorite moments as a teacher is when a small idea that I have blossoms and comes to fruition in my classroom in a way I never expected. Coming up in March, my students will be taking the Forward exam, a standardized state test. Naturally, the kids have some hesitancy about the test; so I had the idea to get all of my wonderful friends on twitter to send inspirational videos to my class about it.

The first person I contacted was my great friend Julie Smith; and she got just as excited as I did! Just before, she had attended a conference where she heard about a program called "Flipgrid" where you can share videos about the same topic all in one spot! So I got on the computer that night and with help from my husband, created a video explaining my idea, and shared it with my friends on Twitter!  You can imagine how over the moon I was when my friends Barbara Gruener and Joy Kirr responded with their videos within twenty four hours! Thank you!

I am very fixed in my mindset about standardized testing; I passionately do not believe that the score tells you  anything about the child's creativity, critical thinking skills, their communication skills nor their collaboration skill set. However, I have come to grips with the fact that standardized testing is not going away, it is a necessary evil, and it is important for our students to do well. 

So I asked myself... what is in my control to help make this testing experience a positive one for our class? And that is how I arrived at asking my friends for their messages, as well as making some changes to my classroom on my own.

  1. I can remain positive and upbeat myself.  I can remind our class to breathe, and not worry about this.  I can remind them to trust themselves.
  2. I can let them chew gum, have mints, and sit wherever they are comfortable to take the test.
  3. I can show them inspirational videos from my educator friends across the country.  Friends that took the time to send their own message about testing.  They say it takes a village and you never know what message might make a connection with one of the students sitting in our classroom.
We must never forget that teachers are learners too, and we have to adapt to stay relevant in an ever changing world. Today, I tried something new and it worked!  Color me happy and excited to share it with you! 

If you are interested in seeing my Flipgrid here is the link.

Image result for standardized testing

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Final Project ~ Innovator's Mindset

As innovations go, this year was one of the most unique of my career in that 5th grade was departmentalized and I became solely a math and social studies teacher, as opposed to an "every subject teacher."

With this new role, I was worried about how I was going to keep up my connections to the outside world as well as invite our community into our learning space.  When I taught reading and writing, it was very easy to do Google Hang Outs with authors and other classes.  It was very easy to invite parents in to read to the children.  All of that was #winning...but how on earth would I do that with math and social studies?  Then I got to are always saying in math class, "When will I ever use this again?  Why do I need to know this?"  Then it occurred to me...invite the parents in and let THEM tell the students how they use math in their everyday life and job.  So...I drafted an email to my math families from both classes asking if they would like to come in and talk math to the kids! The response that I got was overwhelming and I already have six people signed up!  Parents were excited!  Kids were excited! 

We had our first parent, Mrs. Jensen, present on November 18th.  She not only presented to our morning math class (where her son is a student), but then she stayed for lunch, and did another session with my afternoon class!  She had a power point presentation that knocked our socks off, she had prizes for the kids who answered questions, and she kept the kids engaged the entire time.  We were laughing, doing math in our heads, and learning about economics all in one lesson!  It was awesome! The best part was that the kids learned from someone speaking from experience- Mrs. Jensen is a candy broker.  I couldn't have constructed a better lesson myself!  

Naturally, I tweeted this out so that other parents could see how this worked and that people were indeed coming forward to volunteer their time to help us learn more about how math is everywhere!  

Math is typically a straightforward, black and white, dry topic.  I wanted to find a way to kindle an excitement for math that kept the kids asking for more! After Mrs. Jensen left I heard kids say, "I can't wait until my dad comes in."   "I'm going to ask my mom if she'll come in."  #missionaccomplished!

Now if only I could get Greg Tang to do a Google Hang Out with our class...I'm working on it!  I'll save that one for a different blog....

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Innovator's Mindset Part Two

I love how part two of this book encouraged me to look inward and reflect on what we have at Merton School.

Relationships.  They are critical and lay the foundation for how we get kids to "work for us" from that point forward.  To me, relationship building seems like a special gene reserved for teachers!  I mean, come on...we're a "natural" at this relationship building stuff, aren't we?  It doesn't seem like anything else could get done without the foundation of building that relationship.  Furthermore, I think building relationships is one of the best parts of my job!  Just thinking about it makes me smile!  

Here is a great quote found on page 90:  "When people know they are valued and safe in trying new things, they are more likely to strive for something new and better."  I think truer words were never spoken.  We are lucky that Jay not only supports the idea of trying new things but encourages it.  Knowing that alone, provides a safety net for people who wouldn't ordinarily take a risk to take that leap of faith and do so.  

I loved the chart on page 103 titled "School VS. Learning" The learning side is so much more exciting to me and one that I aspire to have in my own classroom where we are creating, asking questions, and exploring our passions.  This, in my opinion, is what's best for kids.  This is what keeps kids engaged.  It keeps the classroom fun, energized, and full of life.  Sometimes I think we lose that sparkle when we get mired down in covering the content (pacing), taking away things that once brought joy into the school day, and grades.  I know that grades are a necessary evil, but I struggle with how much emphasis we put on grades and more often than not, at the expense of our kids getting all stressed out and riddled with anxiety.

I will leave you with this quote from Todd Whitaker, "The best thing about being a teacher is that it matters.  The hardest thing about being a teacher is that it matters every day."  I think this is so true.  We only have a certain number of days with these kids, so we have to make each one count.  No question our job is hard...but you know what?  I wouldn't trade it for the world!  I can't imagine doing anything else.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Summer Spark 2015

Summer Spark, 2015?  I think not; it was more like Summer Explosion!  

Imagine a "red carpet" experience.  There was flash photography everywhere and "celebrities" just kept pouring into this beautiful venue that had been set up for a two day conference.

"Look!  There's Michael Matera!"  

"And OMG, there's Pernille Ripp...I read her blogs all the time!"  

"Is that Dave Burgess?  The head pirate himself?"  

"Hey, there's Chuck Taft, the guy who was the visionary for this whole red carpet experience."

"So glad I brought my book Ditch That Textbook because there's Matt Miller!  I'm going to ask him to autograph my copy."  

"There's Will Piper!  I recognize him from twitter!"

With a shriek of happiness, I exclaimed "Joy Kirr!"  There she is!  I had been wanting to meet her for over a year and now there she was, standing in front of me!  She was so incredibly helpful when I wanted to implement #geniushour into my room.

"There's Ben Brazeau!  I chat with him every Thursday night on #sstlap and now we're standing next to each other!"

"Pinch me now!" I thought to myself.  "All of these rock-star educators under one roof... and I get to spend the next two days with them?  That's amazing!"   

The list goes on and on...

What I was more amazed by is how authentic, kind, friendly, and helpful everyone was. The relationships began on twitter and just grew from there. Being able to meet all of these wonderful people face-to-face was almost an indescribable event.  

So now that seeing these people, taking pictures, and saying hello was over, we could move into more in-depth discussions that impacted my students, my teaching, and my school.  When there are so many people coming together to share their skill set, you cannot go wrong!

Everyone got to experience the amazing and always inspiring Dave Burgess.  He rocked the house with his key note address on Monday morning.  If you haven't read his book, Teach Like A Pirate; please, put it on your summer reading list now.  It is a total game changer.  

After that, delegates got to pick their own sessions to attend. Yes, you heard me, delegates had a choice in their professional development!  What could be better?  I chose to see Matt Miller who showed us amazing tech tools that we could use in the classroom.  

Next, we were treated to a delicious lunch in a beautiful lunch room where educators continued to connect and get to know one another.  Note here though that I had to leave lunch early to prepare for my upcoming workshop at 1:00. This was going to be my first conference presentation ever! I was so excited to present, and it ended up going very, very well.  I had over 20 people in my session and had a blast doing it.  The afternoon was filled with more workshops that, again, were chosen by the participants.  It was mind blowing what educators are doing out there on a daily basis that impacts kids and makes their learning so much better. 

Another "pinch me moment" was coming up. That night, I went to dinner at a local pub and grill called the Chancery with a bunch of influential educators including Sandy Otto; a teacher from Minnesota who stayed with my family and I at our house, and came to the conference with me, Dave Burgess; the creator of the #tlap movement, Jay Posick; the principal at Merton Intermediate where I work, Tom Whitford; a principal in northern Wisconsin, and Matt Miller; the author of Ditch That Textbook It was a dinner that I wish could have lasted all night; and in a sense; it did because at 8:00 we held a live #tlap twitter chat right from our table!  It was awesome!  

So ended our first day at Summer Spark... I was so excited that I could barely sleep!

The next morning I met up with friends, grabbed some breakfast and went to more workshop sessions.  At lunch we planned an "unconference" which is similar to an edcamp. Topics grew organically and we let our feet do the learning; one word: gamification.

Thank you "Summer Spark"... I mean, summer explosion! I will definitely be back next year.  I cannot wait! 

See video of Summer Spark below:

Saturday, January 3, 2015

One Word...

I am excited to share my first blog of 2015!  Our principal, Jay Posick, asked us to pick a word that would guide us throughout the year.  A word that would mean something to us and that we could keep in the forefront of our minds as we go through each day.  Only one word?  Are you kidding me? Out of all the wonderful words out there I have to pick just one?  After a lot of thought, I came up with my one word:  APPRECIATE.

I thought of this word with two sets of people in mind:  my students and my colleagues.  I think of my students in the context of APPRECIATE because far too often I am concentrating on the "next thing" and not living in the moment.  What is their potential?  At what can they become better?  How can I help them improve?  And while all of those are great questions, I think we are always on to the next thing and do not take time to APPRECIATE the moments we have in front of us at that specific moment in time.  There is always room for improvement.  However, there is also room to APPRECIATE and celebrate where we are right now.  I also want to APPRECIATE the WHOLE student.  They come to us with hidden talents, worries, victories, problems at home, and hobbies they love.  This makes them who they are and if I am going to build a relationship with them I want to APPRECIATE everything they bring to the table. 

My colleagues are not much different than my students.  I want to APPRECIATE everything about them!  They too have hidden talents, worries, victories, problems at home, and hobbies they love.  I want to APPRECIATE them as people and celebrate what each of them contributes to their students, the team, and our school.  

With all of this APPRECIATION going on, I cannot help but think that this would make people feel all warm and fuzzy inside and I like that!  Adults and kids alike can sense when you are taking a genuine interest in them and not just a fly by of "How are you?" when you do not even stick around for their answer.  Showing people they are loved, validated, and APPRECIATED is like spreading sunshine around the world!  So when my students and my colleagues show up on January 5th , I am going to look at them with a new sense of APPRECIATION and reverence.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Just When You Thought Twitter Couldn't Get Any Better!

Have you ever hosted or moderated a chat on twitter?  I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to host #tlap this past Monday night and it was an awesome experience!  In fact, it's Wednesday night and I'm still "flying high" from the thrill of the whole thing!

First of all before I go on and try to convince all of you to host a chat, I would like to give my most heartfelt thank you to Dave Burgess.  Dave is the author of "Teach Like a Pirate" and just an all around great guy.  He has skyped with my class, signed my book, and even gave me a big pirate hug!  So when Dave asked me if I would moderate #tlap of course I said, "Yes!" I remember chuckling to myself after blurting that out, realizing I had absolutely no clue what I was doing.  I had only been on chats before, not hosted them!  They say all of the magic happens outside of your comfort zone, though, so I figured I had nothing to lose. Also, I saw this as a way to "give back" to the twitter that I had gleaned so much from in all of my chats.  Dave also mentioned that I would have the help and support from two other amazing educators that I had met at the #ICE14 conference:  Julie Nilsson Smith and Mary Kienstra.   

I immediately voxed (that's a whole different blog!) my principal, Jay Posick, to tell him the great news.  He was just as excited as I was! Then he told me this, which made me feel so good, "I will be sure to be on that chat Monday night."  That put me at ease right away knowing that I would have a familiar face on the chat. 

After voxing with Julie about the topic of the chat, we finally whittled our thoughts down to one: "The First Day of School." With that, I went to town on questions.  I had seen in #complitchat that they posted their questions on visual slides and was inspired to do the same thing.  I enlisted my husband's help and soon we were looking for pirate fonts and images!  

Next, I "scheduled" my tweets which is an amazing feature on twitter especially when you are the moderator of a chat. It is incredibly easy, and allowed me to respond to other tweets without having to worry about my own.

Then I recalled that the chat needed to be archived and heck if I knew how to do that!  Enter Paul Solarz.  Another friend I met at #ICE14.  I've seen him archive other chats so I asked him if he would do the same for #tlap.  He said yes, and I was so thankful.

Next, time to vox with Rik Rowe, another twitter friend who gave me some tips on how to run the chat.  I look forward to the day when I can meet Rik face-to-face.  In fact, I look forward to the day when I can meet many of my twitter friends face-to-face!

It's now Sunday night and I'm pretty sure I have all of my ducks in a row. The excitement is building and I touch base, via voxer, with Julie and Mary. Monday comes and I'm just giddy with excitement.  But first I have to sit through an eight hour training on Reader's Workshop. 

Finally, it's time!  8:00 CST comes and I couldn't be more excited!  The chat starts, lasts 2 minutes, and it's all over!  Well, not literally two minutes, but that's how fast the hour seem to fly by.  As I reflected on the event I came up with my "a-ha moments" from the chat.

1.  There are brilliant teachers on #tlap who have incredible ideas that they're willing to share with the rest of us.  With every tweet I read I just wanted to teleport myself to their classroom!  We can rest easy knowing that #tlap teachers are creating experiences for students all across the globe.  

2.  Educators on twitter are SO kind, generous, and supportive.  I was blown away by how helpful and kind everyone was to each other and me.  I feel so fortunate to be part of a community that fosters such kindness and generosity among all of its members.

3.  Moderating this chat affirmed my passion for being a connected educator.  

Thanks for reading.  Perhaps one day you will consider hosting a chat and expanding your horizons. Try it!  You won't regret it!  

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Everything is New in 2014!

Can you learn new things even after twenty-five years of teaching?  You bet'cha!  In fact...the new things I have learned so far in the year 2014 are pretty darn exciting!  

January 2014:  Started writing my first blog...okay, technically I started it on December 31st, 2013, but come on, close enough, right?  I was inspired by so many people on twitter who write their own blogs, so why not me?  Here I am on my fourth post and I am really enjoying the "experience."  I find myself looking forward to reading other people's blogs and seeing what they have to say.  I also like how "adult blogging" leads by example for our young learners.

February 2014:  I went to my first #ICE14 conference in St. Charles, Illinois. What an experience!  I got to meet my idol Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate.  I also go to meet people in my PLN face-to-face.  This would have never happened had I not joined twitter in October of 2013.  I also learned a ton of stuff that I can take back to my class, one of my favorites being the work of Mr. Greg Tang.  He was an awesome presenter and had some great math work to share.  You can check him out at:

May 2014:  I just signed up to attend my very first edcamp in Milwaukee.  I've only heard about how awesome these ed-camps are so now I am excited to live it!

So, there you have it.  Learning in 2014 has already proven to be a great thing!  This has been one of my best years ever professionally and it has really re-energized my passion for teaching.  What new thing will you try in 2014?