Thursday, July 31, 2014

Top 5: July

So July is coming to an end and it's about time to show you my favorites from the month!  This summer, I was exposed to great professional development and implemented several new things into my teaching with my summer school classes.  Without further adieu, here's the Top 5 for July!

    Coggle:  I wrote a post on Coggle before but I want to reiterate how amazing it is.  This FREE mind-streaming software really reimagined the way my students planned out their essays.  I had intended on using Coggle as a pre-writing device but my students had other plans.  Instead, they chose to use it as a way to create an outline that was not limited by the Roman Numeral system.  They focused on relationships and level of specificity.  

    Drive:  This summer I transformed my entire writing class into one that is based online.  Every essay was written online (yes... I used to be the teacher that made students do hand-written drafts!).  Every essay was revised online. Every essay was graded online.  The share, chat, and commenting functions of Google Drive allowed me and my students to interact with their writing in a way that time wasn't allowed for in the traditional writing classroom.

    Twitter:  This has been my favorite professional development!  At this moment, I'm loving these Tweet chats: #christianeducations (Christian Educators), #iledchat (Illinois Educators), #ntchat (New Teachers), and #21stedchat (21st Century Education). There are so many others that I love too.  Pretty much any state-level tweet chat is fun to me!  I enjoy collaborating with teachers across the country.  Stay tuned for a post on how to successfully participate in an educational Twitter chat.  In the mean time, check out these other Tweet Chats.

    BRIEF: Joe McCormack's new book BRIEF is intended for high-level executives in Fortune 500 companies.  But that doesn't mean teachers can't learn from it!  The premise of the book is that because we are so inundated with information, we must learn the keys to brevity and how they apply to speaking, presenting, and writing - or as he calls it, being a "lean communicator".  Isn't that what we do as teachers?

    Creating Magic:  Lee Cockerell, the man who ran Walt Disney World operations, says "It's not the magic that makes it work; it's the way we work that makes it magic" in his book Creating Magic. In it, he discusses 10 leadership strategies that help you to put people first in any and every market. The book itself is full of insights into people and what makes them tick.

    Tuesday, July 29, 2014

    Adventures with Doctopus

    Today I discovered Doctopus. Apparently I'm a year behind but it's better late than never, right Brownbaggers?  Doctopus is a Google Sheets Add On and, according to its description, it was designed with "teacher workflow in mind - taming complexity and unlocking the power of Google Apps for differentiation and collaboration."  Quite a claim!  You all already know that I am a HUGE FAN of using Google Apps in the classroom.  In fact, I have revamped my entire writing curriculum to be entirely online through Google Drive.

    So when I heard about an Add On that could essentially make my life easier by "passing out" my documents, storing them in one place, and allowing me to grade with a rubric... I was down!

    Thus far my experience has been a little murky though.  I don't know if it's just me but I found that the explanations of Doctopus could have been a little bit clearer.  Maybe they could have hired a technical writer?  I wonder if the directions make sense to people who have used Doctopus over the past year, but as a newbie I was confused.

    It starts off by asking you to import or create a new roster including names and emails.  Simple enough.  

    Then it goes through the different types of folders that can or should be created.  As a newbie, I didn't know the difference.  I suspect that the longer I toy around with it, the more familiar I will become.  You'll see in the picture below that just one assignment for one roster created all of the folders under "July - Summer School Students".  That's 11 folders.  I only have 7 students for this section so imagine a full-sized class!  That being said, I hope and assume that additional assignments will be filed under the same roster.  Time will tell.  But, folders created!

    Next it asks you to choose the assignment template.  I had a difficult time choosing one because it didn't give me access to other folders on my Drive. Maybe that's a glitch with my computer.  Anyhow, I just resaved my assignment template in the folder that the roster had just created.  I could then upload the assignment template from there. I did like that it gives you options for how the students view the document.  For example they can view only, comment, or edit (nothing new) but you can also set it up for them to view each other's or only their own.  That's a cool feature!  It also allows you to send it to groups or to individuals.  There's where a new level of collaboration comes in.  I sent the assignments and checked what they looked like on the other end - meaning I snooped over a student's shoulder.

    Finally it allows you to do Add On's with grading.  I have yet to use those but I look forward to exploring them.  Goobric, an interactive rubric tool, can be added on to the Doctopus sheet so that they interface together.  As I typically grade holistically, I haven't tried it yet. All in good time!

    My thoughts so far?  It seems difficult to use and easy to use at the same time.  As a beginner, I feel like I have no clue what's going on or how to truly utilize Doctopus yet.  It's not super user friendly.  At the same time, I know that it has much to offer. I'm excited to see what opportunities for innovation and collaboration it will bring into my classroom.  

    I'll keep you all updated as I become more familiar with it, of course.  Have any of you used it before?  I'd love to get some tips from you all! Comment below or tweet me @mac_ker1.

    Monday, July 28, 2014

    Learning from a Veteran: An Interview

    I had the pleasure of working with my girl Steph for the first three years of my teaching career.  During that time, she was supportive and challenging and encouraged me to be a teacher that really stuck to her guns.  She taught me that it was okay to challenge my students in a new way and she always urged me to be a collaborator.  During our last conversation, I thought this teacher has so much wisdom to offer!  So I decided to interview her.  Below are some little nuggets of gold to take with as the school year begins.

    1.  What is the most important thing that you have learned that student teaching didn't prepare you for?
    Student teaching is a time of life when I was definitely in survival mode. I was trying to lesson plan well, teach well, grade well, know my students as best I could, and to sleep a bit here and there. During this time, I was so focused on my classroom, that I saw little outside of those four walls. Therefore, student teaching did not, in any way, prepare me for the variety of teacher personalities and agendas that I would come in contact with.

    It did not occur to me that collaboration would be incredibly difficult at times; that small groups of teachers are resistant to change and therefore growth. Student teaching did not warn me that some teachers would forget why they got into this profession in the first place. Their self-centeredness and stubbornness was shocking in the early days of my career. Honestly, after twelve years it is still surprising at times.  Student teaching did not show me the disappointment I would feel at times in my colleagues, and undoubtedly the disappointment they sometimes feel in me. It also did not show me the personalities of those who constantly go above and beyond, of those who can reach students unreachable in other classrooms. I was unprepared for the lengths some teachers are willing to go for students, for their schools, and for their communities.

    What I have learned during the last twelve years, no thanks to student teaching, is to align myself with teachers, administrators, and staff who inspire me and to stay away from those who create drama or who drag me down. I have learned to seek out those who are like minded and to learn from and grow with them. Only in this way, can I become the absolute best version of my teacher self.

    2.  When was the first time you realized, "wow, I'm really a teacher"?
    I did not have my first “Aha” moment in which I felt like a real teacher, until a few years into my career. I came into teaching from the publishing field and have always felt that improving student writing is critical. During one class period, I was having students revise pieces of their own writing, as well as other student pieces of writing. We were making sure statements were supported with textual evidence and we were eliminating wordiness. Any changes that helped improve writing flow or increased clarity were celebrated and witnessed by the entire class. Students began complimenting each other on changes being made, and started thanking each other for the help they were receiving. I knew they were improving. They knew they were enjoying the activity. At the end of the period, one student came up and thanked me for caring about their writing and for trying to make them better. That was it! I knew then that I was a “real teacher.” When you can get students to thank you for making them work, you have made it!

    3.  What's one activity that you did during your first few years of teaching that you will never do again and why?
    During my first few years of teaching I wanted to work a creative project into my Shakespeare unit. I also wanted to have student-produced work to display in my classroom. I remember assigning the License Plate Project. Students were to create a license plate that related in some way to Julius Caesar.  They were meant to be clever and to reveal an important part of the play. Many of the plates simply had phrases such as: E2BRUTE, or SEASER or STABSTAB. They were colorful or cute and the right size or shape, but in my reflection of this activity I realized the students got nothing out of doing this. They were not asked to analyze or critically think. They were asked to be cute and to color nicely. I have learned since those early days that my creative projects must always contain a written explanation of the creative piece. When doing creative projects now, my students must incorporate a discussion of why they chose certain colors; the symbolism of their piece; any allegory or allusion they have included, etc.

    4.  What role does creativity play in your classroom?
    Creativity plays a solid role in my current classroom. I am very aware that not all students learn in the same way, and that many cannot express what they have learned in the form of multiple choice tests and formal essays. In my classroom we stand up, we move around, we sing, we chant, we play, we color, we paint, we write, we read, we laugh, we share. My opening day activity with seniors in Honors World Literature is a finger painting activity. They must describe the role of a griot in Africa, but do so on butcher paper using finger paints. Later in the year when we study cuneiform and hieroglyphics, they create their own symbols and alphabets related to modern day and write a brief story using their designs.  Anyone without an assigned reading part during Oedipus Rex becomes part of the chorus and must help chant those lines while walking in a circle in the middle of the room. Hector and Achilles have had their arguments on top of desks and they have spilled out into the hallway. Odysseus and Penelope have had heartfelt discussions lying next to each other on the floor of my classroom, and many a student has taken the risk to show us the video she created at home, because she was just a bit too nervous to be creative with us watching in real time. Creativity is noisy and messy. It means the teacher has to let go a little bit, but it makes learning fun and it is engaging.  And, it can create amazing results.

    5.  If your teaching style was an animal, what would it be and why?
    This is a difficult question. After much deliberation I have decided that my teaching style is that of a wasp. Much like the wasp, I attempt to keep stinging (read as motivating) my students. Their flailing hands and attempts and shooing me away, are useless. I buzz around their heads and near their ears so that they hear my voice and understand my expectations even when they are away from my classroom. I buzz near them and attempt to make them move, and only really sting when necessary.                                                                                                                 

    Friday, July 25, 2014

    What's the real difference between teaching high school and college?

    As many of you probably know, I taught high school for the first 3 years of my career before moving on to the collegiate level.  This summer, though, I had the opportunity to teach summer school for credit recovery students (not all were credit recovery but a large majority were).  There is a huge difference between the way you teach high schoolers and the way you teach college students, even freshman, but that's no surprise.  You don't need me to tell you that.  

    However, what's truly interesting is the huge difference in the way that these students interact with you at different points in their academic careers.  You would think that only being separated by 1-2 years of age wouldn't change the way they interact with their instructors but boy does it.  So what did I learn from having sandwiched experiences in the high school and college classroom?

    High schoolers are more personable.   I love my college students... don't get me wrong.  But high schoolers are more interested in having relationships with their instructors.  They want to know what's going on in your life.  They are interested in whether or not you've heard of Wiz Khalifa and are disgusted when you haven't. In general, they want to know you as a person.  

    For college students, this isn't really the case.  My college kids are there to learn and that's about it.  Now, this may be because I teach a general education course - I would hope that they build more relationships with professors in their areas of academic study.  But by and large, it's come to class and book it when it's over.  I'm not sure which I prefer more. 

    College students become instantly more responsible.  It has to be the fact that they know that they're in college because it has been less than a year since they were running around their high schools wearing face paint for Class Color Day.  College students truly are more responsible.  And even when they're not, they don't tell you about it.  There's no "I didn't have time for... " or "My printer wasn't working..." or even "You didn't explain it clear enough...". They own up to their mistakes and take the consequences usually without complaint.

    High schoolers on the other hand, not so much.  Of course there are the good students who are way more mature than their classmates.  But I would say it was a weekly occurrence having one of those awkward conversations where excuses were made.  The framing of just being in college completely changes a student's outlook and behavior.  It's refreshing.

    In general, I would rather teach college students.  Yes, I get to teach the material that I'm more interested in but I also get to interact with adult students.  I can encourage them and press them in ways that public K-12 doesn't really allow for. My experience this summer did remind me of what I love about high school students, though.  They act like real people and they treat you like a real person (however they still treat you like a loser when they see you at the local ice cream shop).  

    As school time starts to creep up on us, some of us are dreading it and some of us can't wait until the first day.  Just remember that we're lucky.  Not only do we have jobs (a hot commodity nowadays), we also serve students - the future of our country.  We have the opportunity to encourage kids of all ages and teach them not just about our content but about how to be a citizen, a person, and a friend. 

    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

    Brownbag Back to School Blog Hop

    Welcome Brownbaggers!  Yep!  It's that time of the year again.  July is coming to an end and August is just around the corner.  It's back to school time already! Can you believe it?!  Teachers around the country are already planning curriculum, designing materials, and collaborating with others.  Some of us never even stopped!
    Well we want to help you out with that awkward first day of the semester.  What should teachers do for their first day back?  How do we make it interesting without losing our own sense of pedagogy?  This blog hop will give you a great list of First Day of School Activities that can be put to use in all different classrooms for all different content areas!

    So what am I doing you might ask?

    I like to start my semester off with some reflection and future telling!  I'm not a big PowerPoint person.  I don't do a ton of front-of-the-classroom teaching as I don't find it conducive to my own teaching style.  Enter Michael Scott's take on PowerPoint.

    However, I do like to have a visual of what we will be covering... and no, not just me pointing at them!  So here's a layout of what I cover in my Welcome Back Interactive PowerPoint!

    1.  Reflection:  It's important to me that my students are able to reflect on past experiences in similar classes.  I want to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly!  

    2.  Connection:  So why do those past experiences matter for this class? Because they know how they learn best!  As a class we can draw on this knowledge for activities, policies & procedures, and so much more!

    3.  Examination:  What do they need to know today?  Together we check out the syllabus and the room set up.  We go over the meatiest info - we like to call this part "Syllabus Day" in higher ed.

    4.  Analysis:  Even though we just read through the syllabus, it's important that my students can see the value in it for them at that exact moment.  I have them pick out the 3 most important skills they will learn and argue which will be most useful for them.

    5.  Questioning:  I want my syllabus ingrained in my students' heads.  I want them to know how many essays they're writing, what the grading scale is, and what my policy is on late work.  So we make a game about it!  Students testing students!

    (click me!)

    -> Like my Facebook page and you'll see a tab on the top that says "Freebie Grab Bag!"  (If you don't, it's either because you haven't liked the page or you'll find it under "More").  Click the Freebie Grab Bag tab and you'll be rerouted to free content just for my followers!

    Check out what other teachers are doing on their first days back to school by clicking the links below!  You will get PLENTY of tips that you can implement right away!  You'll see the links right below the link up information!
    Link Up Info 

    Tuesday, July 22, 2014

    Monday, July 21, 2014

    Coggle Yourself

    That's right, Brownbaggers.  I said it.  Coggle yourself.  Coggle is my new fascination.  I love to introduce new technologies into my classroom that allow my students to ease themselves into the writing process.  Technologies that help them to create rather then add one more step to the process.  

    Coggle is a FREE mind-streaming software that encourages users to freely associate ideas.  If you've never used Coggle before, check out this tutorial down below!

    As a writing teacher, I have found Coggle to be useful in a number of ways.
    1. Organization > Students are forced to use a branching mechanism to identify different ideas having to do with their main topic or organization.  
    2. Relationships > Students must view their ideas in relationship to one another.  A typical outline uses a Roman Numeral system.  With Coggle, the mind-streaming software uses a Parent > Child > Sister relationship. Not only do students see the differing level of specificity between Parent and Child, they must also recognize the relationship between the sister levels making them unified and coherent.

    So how did I use it in my classroom?  I used it for planning an entire paper. In fact, I didn't even make them write the paper.  

    I only graded their "Essay Map".

    There is nothing anywhere that tells us students HAVE to fully write out each and every essay.  Pre-writing stages are just as, if not more, important than the drafting stages.  Even better, though Coggle seems to be only for pre-writing, most of my students used it for drafting.  Where they started with writing individual words, they later returned and replaced with sentences, examples, and transitional expressions.  Further they revised throughout the entire Coggle process.  They essentially went through the entire writing process without ever writing a traditional essay.  It took them a little over an hour to develop the Coggles you see inn these images.

    In and of itself, Coggle is an effective tool to employ in the writing classroom. The uses are limitless.  We should spend more time on the pre-writing stages of the writing as they produce more meaningful and effective essays. Perhaps we should even forgo writing entire essays for specific assignments. After all, Common Core would suggest that we focus more on process rather than product.  

    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.4
      • Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.)
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.5
      • Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1-3 up to and including grades 9-10 here.)
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.6
      • Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology's capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.
    Based on the CCSS listed above, it's important to spend time focusing on the process of idea development and organization.  Coggle is one of many useful tools to implement in your classroom to help you do that.  Try it out!  Let me know how it goes by commenting below with your experiences - the positives and the negatives.

    Tuesday, July 15, 2014

    Field Trip to the Art Exhibit

    To change things up in the 4-hour long summer school class that I teach, I took my students to the art exhibit on campus.  After visiting and observing, students were to write a back story on a piece of art of their choice.  It was, in a way, a multi-modal essay because it included both text and photo.  They were to include a photo of the artwork that they chose and reference it in their essay.  Aside from that, there weren't too many restrictions.  This was an opportunity for them to be creative!
    The exhibit, called Plop Art by Erik L. Peterson, was interesting to say the least.  I'm not an artie by any means but I would assume that this would be considered contemporary art... I know that only because I Googled it. It seems to only be defined by the time period that it is produced in.  In reading the Peterson's description, he mentioned that the art was to serve as commentary on various norms in our culture including narcissim and ADHD.

    While I won't tell you about all of the art work we saw, I'll mention a few. We saw a Reflecting Pool which at first we all thought was a pile of sand...Then we realized that it transformed colors as you looked at it.  After realizing what it was, the iPhones popped out.  Everyone wanted a shot.  It was hard to capture the rainbows on film, though.  As you can see, mine looks a little bit more ghostly.

    We also saw a tapestry created out of the two billboards.  It took us quite a while to figure out what it was but, once we realized, we understood the large amount of time and painstaking attention to detail it must have taken to create.

    We saw another piece known as the Cooler.  It was just as you would think. It was a cooler with two ice cream cones inside.  I'm not quite sure what the purpose was but I'm sure it's ironic in some way.  Students joked about it being a "grab-and-go" and not a piece of artwork.  

    And then we saw my favorite.  The neon plop cone with spilled ice cream (it had no name).  Isn't it amazing? Surprisingly, we had a lot of conversation about it.  I say surprisingly because this isn't an art class and none of us have any idea how to discuss art.  Students argued about the focal point - "It's the cone.  It's on the wall.  How could it not be the focal point?" - "No it's the blob of ice cream.  Is it melted or did it fall off?  I think it melted because it's so much bigger." - "It's neither.  It's the light that catches your attention. The light and the color."  I was impressed with the amount of conversation that they had.  They enjoyed it, observed it, and didn't take the art viewing process too seriously. 

    So what did I learn from this experience?  Take your students out of the classroom!  We all need a change of pace.  It doesn't have to be serious!  It can be fun and enjoyable but still educational.  While there, students took notes on the art work of their choice and later they wrote an essay on the back stories for how the art came to be.  Perhaps taking our students out of the typical classroom fires up their creative impulses.  One thing's for sure though, they were able to experience something new and creative, use a different part of their brain, and interact with one another in a way that encouraged discussion and collaboration.

    So where to next?  Maybe the Student Center Coffee Shop?  Maybe the lake in the courtyard?  Perhaps even the observatory!   I'd love to hear any suggestions that you may have!

    Thursday, July 10, 2014

    Positive Thinking Thursday

    This week, I'm linking up with Mrs. Laffin's Laughings Positive Thinking Thursday!  Please click the image below to check out what others are saying!

    My positive thought for the day: 

    ***We need to encourage openness and bravery!***

    So often, this meme is the truth!
    Over-Educated Problems
    Unfortunately, this happens to the best of us.  I'm currently in grad school and this still happens to me.  Sometimes you don't want to be the person who knows the answer.  Sometimes you want to blend in.  Sometimes you're unsure of the respond you'll get from the teacher.  Sometimes you're even unsure of the response you'll get from classmates.

    As teachers, we need to encourage openness and bravery!  This will change in our classrooms in countless ways!

    Wednesday, July 9, 2014

    Changing It Up

    Hi Brownbaggers!  I'm sorry for the week-long hiatus!  I was vacationing in Lake Geneva with Mi Madre.  It was a lovely, much needed vacation.  3 days of pure bliss that included horseback riding in the rain, laying poolside to catch some rays, and eating a caesar salad that I had my eye on since day 1. After I got back, I had to quickly prepare for my second semester of summer school teaching.  The week has already started and we are doing some really fun things!

    One thing that I'm doing this semester is changing up the content and the environment everyday.  4 hours is a long time for a class solely dedicated to composition.  
    That's right - you read that right.  

    No grammar
    No reading
    No discussion

    It's JUST FOR WRITING!  Not surprisingly, that can get boring.  

    So, we like to change it up!  Here's what we've been doing.

    1.  I let the students create the content:  

    I never really saw myself as a teacher that let students determine the content of the class, but I decided to give it a go this semester.  The first day I had them write an essay describing their best and worst experiences with writing and one suggestion for an essay that they would be interested in writing. From that point forward, I have been and will continue to use their ideas. 

    They have LOVED it.  

    They're writing about things that they truly care about. And what's better? They have been creative in what they suggest!  Some offered ideas on reflections, some on research, and some on theoretical scenarios.  It makes for interesting content to say the least.  

    So what holds this all together?  My prompt decoder (<--- CLICK the LINK so you can check it out!).  I created a document where I just slip in the student-generated prompt and then we, as a class, determine the requirements, type of essay, pre-writing strategies, drafting ideas, etc.  It's been great to have them think deeply about a prompt and learn about the process more than the product.

    2.  We write in different locations:
    This has been so fun!  Everyday, we start off in the classroom, do pre-writing outside, and then finish with drafting in the computer lab.  It has been BEAUTIFUL out so that's obviously a plus!  However, I plan on taking them to more locations.  There is a coffee shop on campus, mini-living rooms, lakes, gardens, etc.  Taking them to different places breaks up the 4 hours but more importantly, it gets the creative juices flowing.

    I'd love to hear more about the ways you change it up in your classroom.  Are there certain places you take your students?  Different pedagogies you try on? Comment below or tweet me @mac_ker1!

    As always, if you've enjoyed this post, please subscribe to us by adding us to your RSS Feed and Liking us on Facebook!