Sunday, May 7, 2017

"Let's try it!"

The Good

Thank you for your patience as I return to this blog that I've neglected for far too long.  (I learned to say 'Thank you' instead of 'I'm sorry'... what do you think?)  We have been using our iPads daily in the classroom, and it's been one heck of a roller coaster.

I've had several district meetings during the school day, and it was so great to be able to communicate digitally with my students while I was away.  I could also monitor their progress from afar, which beats going all day wishing and hoping that my kids are a) behaving well, and b) actually working.

Luckily, my students are very flexible, so when I decided to take a break from Google Docs/Slides/Drawings (Drawings doesn't work on iPads anyway), they were able to go with the flow.

-Time out-

I LOVE MY STUDENTS.  I know that I say that every year by the time May rolls around, but this group has been especially resilient, encouraging, and creative during our short period of pilot craziness.

-Time in-

Another reason for straying from G Suite apps was the LMS we were piloting in addition to our device.  I wanted to see what Canvas could do, so we intentionally said goodbye to Google Classroom.  We still use Google Drive, but I've been trying hard to use discussions, assignments, and quizzes within Canvas.

Part of that has been experimenting with outside websites or apps such as Flipgrid, MyOn, and Kami.  Twitter has been a big inspiration, and I was able to glean some ideas from a Google Summit I attended at the end of spring break (more on that later, I promise).  We have these iPads for a limited time only, so it's important to mix it up and see what they can do!  When I was talking about this to our Tech Resource Coordinator (TRC), I told her I felt like I was on a reality show called, "Let's Try It!"  I was joking at the time, but this has become my reality (show). :D

The Bad

IF my classroom were a reality show about all the new things we've tried, there would be SEVERAL confessional scenes of me screaming, crying, throwing things (probably including my iPad), and crying some more.  Almost every day of "Let's Try It!" has produced a problem or challenge of some sort.  I feel the worst for my first period class because that's usually the first time I realize there's a problem.  Common issues include the following:

- Links won't open
- Videos won't load/play
- Embedded content (documents, videos, websites) are blank
- Work that students have started disappears suddenly

The great thing, though, is that my first period kids are incredibly helpful in finding a solution to the problem, or will at least let me know the issues right away so together we can find a work-around relatively quickly.  

And sometimes there is no work-around.  Like, for example, some of the iPads are running out of storage, so some of the apps won't run.  For some unknown reason, we are not allowed to delete any apps off the iPads!  We can install hundreds of apps, but we can't DELETE any.  Factor in the fact that each iPad is being shared by three students and all their individual files, and you have a lot of frustration on your hands.

The Ugly

So the result of all of this is that, basically, I'm not coping well with the daily failures. :P

I feel like I'm not being a responsible teacher.  I'm wasting insane amounts of time just "figuring out" how things work on these devices.  Grading in Canvas is also a nightmare, which leads to more wasted time and a grade book full of holes.

Unfortunately (for me), when I talked through all this with my students, they don't want to give up the iPads!  What?!  The iPads cause us all headaches, but then the students started saying things like, "But we're learning to be problem solvers!" and "We can persevere through it!"

Where I see failure, my students see opportunities; they are amazing.

We have just under 3 weeks of school left, and I'm going to keep on truckin' with these iPads.  Apparently the students are learning things that I'm not even teaching, thank God.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Getting Set Up

Day 1 of our iPad pilot:

Is this what herding cats feels like?

I'm being dramatic. 😆  Today was the first day students were able to hold and log in to the iPads.  Part of that process included logging in as a "shared user" with an Apple ID and a temporary password (rife with with a mixture of capital letters, lowercase letters, and numbers), and downloading apps from a selection of district-approved choices.

One thing I love about teaching three periods is improving my instruction throughout the day.  For first period, I put together a quick Google Slide to guide students through each step.  After I explained each slide, I gave students a few minutes to follow my directions.  By slide #4, kids were all over the place and some kids went ahead while other kids asked me to go back a few slides.  It was a mess.

For second and third period, I learned my lesson and went through all the slides before letting the students loose on the iPads.  It went a touch better than first period!

During first and third periods, the Director of Technology, himself, came to my classroom to see how it would go setting up the student accounts.  Aside from the chaos in first period, students were able to get logged in with minimal problems.  During second period, when the DoT left, there were some (unconfirmed) wifi issues that prevented a little less than half my class from logging in to their iPads. Of course. Hashtag-Murphy's-Law.

While it turned out to be an annoying setback, I've now been through the set up process roughly 2.5 times, and I'm confident I can get the second period kids on board in no time on Monday.  Wifi-willing, of course.

My biggest challenge now is preparing lessons and "learning work" for students to do using the iPads.  I might take it easy on myself and start at the bottom of the SAMR model and work my way up (or top-down in the illustration below).  Substitution is easier to begin with because I can take existing lessons and transpose them into digital files.  But eventually I want to be at the redefining stage where students are crafting and demonstrating their own learning.

I was thinking today about worksheets and how they get a bum rap.  The worksheets THEMSELVES are not bad.  It's the rote memorization and repetitive yet meaningless "practice" that makes a worksheet bad.  The reason why I was thinking about this is because I gave an assignment a while ago where I put a quote up on the smartboard.  I asked students to get a sheet of paper and explain the quote in a paragraph.  Since the end of the grading period is coming up, I decided to just put the quote at the top of a Google Doc with a bunch of lines, and give one more chance to the students who never turned this assignment in.  Was it a worksheet?  Yes.  Was it making them think?  Yes.  Was it an example of "Redefinition"?  No, but who's to say we can't build on this in the future?


I think a lot of teachers are under the impression that you have to use every bell and whistle that technology has to offer.  NOT TRUE.  If you're a good teacher, you know how to engage your students and get them excited to learn.  The technology helps!  Instead of this worksheet on the quote, I could have put it into Padlet or started a discussion in Google Classroom.  Then students are showing off their thoughts and thinking through their ideas with feedback from peers.  While the "dream" is always to go big and have students create the next self-driving car, there are times when it's enough to just dip your toe in the water.  That is OKAY.

Or at least, that's what I'm telling myself this week :D

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Almost There...

The iPads are here!  They're encased in a (seemingly) military-grade cart and each iPad has its own bar code sticker and durable case.

We haven't used them, though.  Apple has some type of education setting where students can log in and log out of their device.  It's a complicated process to set up, so I'm waiting ever-so-patiently for the amazing Director of Technology to get everything square away!  He said it was not easy, so I dropped some doughnuts off at his desk last week :)

In other news, I've been mulling over the way I take grades (see previous post), and I've started to make some changes.  We used to start class every day by reading silently, and then one of our Daily Three rotations would be writing a reader's response.  At the end of the week, I would have students grade each other's Daily Threes and students would read aloud the reader's responses that were well-written.

One problem I didn't even realize is that I never really gave feedback about the reader's responses that weren't well-written.  If there was an obvious mistake, I would write a note; but I'm not sure if many students scour their already-graded assignments looking for meaningful feedback.....

So, now I check the students' reader's responses on Monday.  If they are able to produce a well-written reader's response, they get a stamp!  Students who have a stamp don't have to write any more reader's responses for the week.  Instead, they get a free rotation to work on something else (most prefer to play a word game like Bananagrams or Apples to Apples).  For the students who don't have a well-written reader's response, I give them verbal feedback ("Needs more details," or "I see the cause but not the effect," etc.) which they USE to write a better response tomorrow for another chance at a stamp.  Even the students who don't get a stamp until Thursday are pumped that they get a free rotation on Friday, even though there are students who have had a free rotation every day almost all week! :)

The best part, though, is that the students are not just churning out blah work to satisfy their writing requirement.  They are actually trying to write their best work the first time, and they are receiving and using meaningful feedback to develop their writing if it needs improvement.

I changed my mind.  The best part is actually THIS: I have already graded a reading/writing assignment for the week, and I can put it in the grade book as a skill grade... WITH NO WEEKEND GRADING.

This is in no way a perfect system.  The whole reason why students write reader's responses is to prove that they read during silent reading, and that they comprehend what they read.  Writing one response a week means that students don't technically have to read for the rest of the week when they've received their stamp.  Maybe instead of writing a response for the rest of the week, students can record a quick video recapping what they've read.

Anyway, it's so nice having more options simply because we have technology in the room.  Yay!

In other news, there are some changes on the horizon and I feel unsettled and a little scared about the future.  I have to remember, though, that I've always had people to help me through life, and I'm sure that won't change any time soon. The educators in my building are truly top-notch, and I'm grateful every day for their influence on me as a teacher.  💗

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Just Be Nice

Last week was Random Acts of Kindness Week.  I didn't realize this until Friday, so during homeroom we ended up watching a couple of those Thai insurance commercials on YouTube that are real tear-jerkers.  You know the ones.

Anyway, it made me think - AGAIN - about my role as a teacher.  I know how important it is for kids to learn all the "stuff", but what good is the "stuff" if the kid isn't good?  And I don't mean "good" like they follow all the rules and do what they're told.  I mean "good" like they know in their heart what's right and wrong - how treating people with kindness is one of the best ways to make the world a better place.  How beneficial is it to have a bunch of skills if you just make people miserable?

My grandmother passed away on February 3rd.  It was her 95th lunar birthday, and she took her last breath as we gathered around her in prayer.  It was a quiet and peaceful way to leave this earth, but it still makes me sad.  Like they all say, it is a selfish sadness.  And truly, it is!  I keep thinking that there's one less person on this earth who loves me.  But then I think of all the people on earth and in Heaven who love me still, and I tell myself to stop being sad.  My students and their families were so supportive and gracious.  One of my students even brought in a sympathy card and had each of my homeroom kids sign it.  I couldn't help but shed some tears!!  Look at these 10- and 11-year olds being kind and caring people!  😍

Unfortunately, I've also fallen behind on grading and it's giving me serious anxiety.  I like to think of myself as a big-picture person.  So when I try and think of why I have to do all the grading, it's hard for me to find a good answer.  Ultimately, I want my grade book to reflect the skill level of my students.  I found that the more grades I put in the grade book, the better/more accurate the reflection of mastery.  But... does it have to be like this???  Do I have to grade 5 different writing assignments to prove that FINALLY Jonny knows how to write a good paragraph?

Here's the issue... I need Jonny to write a good paragraph.  But sometimes he doesn't try very hard.  Or maybe he doesn't like the topic and decides to get it over with asap.  OR maybe Jonny is sick of writing 500 paragraphs and we're all wasting time here - been there, done that.  If he can prove to me - at least once - that he can write a good paragraph, can we just stop with the paragraph factory?

Maybe the answer is not MORE assessments, but MEANINGFUL assessments.  It's time for some changes.  Let's stop wasting each others' time, and learn how to make the world a better place.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Tech Brain

A week ago today, I turned 33.  It was a surprisingly normal day, which made me feel like my whole life is one boring day on repeat, ad nauseam. ⛈

But I wasn't in my classroom that day because I attended our monthly District Wide Technology Committee meeting.  Teachers, administrators, TRCs, and media specialists come together to talk tech and discuss decisions about our eventual 1-to-1 rollout.  That's 1 electronic device to 1 student.

Of course it's a cool idea, but the amount of planning and decision-making behind this initiative is staggering, even to me.  Well, I guess that's not saying much, considering how horrible I am at making decisions.  I'm 80% excited about it and 20% terrified about it.  I didn't even realize my terror until....

I found out I'll be piloting 28 iPads for 9 weeks in my classroom!!  I'll be giving feedback on the devices (iPads) and a new Learning Management System (LMS) called Canvas.  I have a feeling it's going to be crazytown trying to get the best use out of them, but I feel up to the challenge.

Luckily, there are now many school districts who have gone through this very process, so there are several resources I can use!  In fact, today I Googled "ipads in 5th grade" and the first thing to pop up was a blog about a teacher piloting iPads in 5th grade!  The blog was from 2013, so it may not be completely current....... :D but still, it's a place to start.

So just some quick things I want to remember about this week:

- One of my students suggested I read the Warriors series.  I am completely hooked, and half my class is now obsessed with it.

- I brought back Monday Pun Day, and we are learning/discussing more vocab than ever.  This is most embarrassing because we have an actual vocab list every week.  Just goes to show that whatever your brain doesn't struggle with turns to mush.

- Students now get "skill checks" in reading and writing to balance out the tests and quizzes in the gradebook.  So far, the writing skill checks are responses to quotes.  This also leads to great discussions, and I feel like I'm molding little minds.  Next step: try to take over the world.  Wait, I mean figure out some good reading skill checks.

- A girl came up to me after class yesterday and gushed about how great Padlet is.  We had been using it for class discussions regarding compare and contrast in paired texts.  She loved being able to share her thoughts while reading and commenting on everyone else.  She said it was better than waiting in class to say ideas one person at a time. :D (This may be because she wants to make a comment after every other comment in class, hahah <3)

- Realizing how grateful I am every day for this job and the opportunities I have to learn and watch others learn.  So humbling!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Going Postal, Post-Break

Just kidding.  I'm not certifiable yet. 😬

Usually, the segue back into normal life after Christmas break is not a cause for concern; this year, however, Back-2-School "New Year Edition" really knocked me off my feet!  There are several things changing in the school year, and I am not very graceful when it comes to making changes mid-stride.  Long story short, I realized (too late) that I was supposed to plan waaaaaaay more than I actually did.  There were obviously other factors involved, but my small group and I are going through Andy Stanley's "Starting Over" series, and this was my (sizable) slice of the circle.

So, last week I worked very many 14-hour work days.  I didn't get enough sleep, and I was a grouch.  And after all the hours I worked and all the things I seemingly accomplished, I was still behind.  How is it possible to do so much and still have 2879365 things left to do???  Is this what it feels like to be a mom?  I just can't deal...

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Fresh Beginning

Behold, I am blogging.

I'll put the exciting stuff first, and the reflection stuff last.  That way if you fall asleep half way through, you won't be missing much. :)

Today I did something new.  I posted a video on YouTube!  A video of MY FACE, guys (insert emoji guy with the blue forehead and melting face).  It was just the beginning-of-class announcements that I usually say out loud for each of my 3 periods, but now I only have to say it once and make better use of my voice and time.

Ok, fine.  Due to outtakes, I actually ended up saying it 14 times.  But it can only get better from here, right?*

Some goals I have for the month are to start a badging system for reading skills, and to set up my class on the free version of Canvas**.  This is, of course, in addition to my life goal of SOMEDAY GETTING CAUGHT UP WITH ALL OF MY GRADING.

Same as every Christmas break before, I am so incredibly happy to not have to work for two whole weeks.  Then on the last Thursday night, I'm like dying to be a productive human again.  That is, until Sunday night, when I beg the universe for a Christmas Break Do-Over.  I'm so hard to please.

I suppose I should give credit where it's due.  I actually have a private blog where I really air out all my dirty laundry, but AJ Juliani challenged teachers to start a blog and share it publicly.  So, here is my public, clean-laundry-only blog.  Please enjoy.

*No, really.  In one of my outtakes, I ended the video by saying, LET'S START THE YEAR WITH A BANG!  Then I died of shame.  It has to get better from here.

**If you use Canvas and have any lovely tips for me, please comment!