Discontentment

This post is a tough one for me to write. I have had a lot of thoughts and feelings rolling around my head for many weeks and I am unsure how to put them into words. However, I think there is value in sitting down and hashing things out in a post in order to hopefully make sense of it all.

I guess I will start by saying that I am not content. I don’t think this is a bad thing. In fact, I have always been a person that strives for excellence, therefore never, if rarely, finding myself in a place of contentment. However, this feeling is more of a bewildered and frustrated discontentment than I am used to.

I guess you could say that this school year has been a tough one for me. On one hand, I feel that I have more ideas for improving my classroom than ever before. I am connected to some very inspiring educators that are doing great things in their classrooms. Yet, on the other hand, I feel stuck and inadequate. I am not happy with some of the daily activities in my classroom and I want more. I want to leave school everyday feeling excited for the learning that took place in my classroom that day. I want my students to take ownership and to enjoy learning in my classroom. Instead, I’m left wondering why so many of my students are complacent or why the learning is so difficult for some of them.

I have resolved to try “flipping” this unit. I have prepared 5-7 minute videos that summarize and give an overview of the topics we will explore in class. Then, we will try group discussions and more project-based learning. Much of my inspiration for this has come from the classroom of Todd Nesloney (thanks for your webinars). I have also resolved to write down positive things I see happening in my classroom on a daily basis. I am hoping that this will help me keep a positive attitude. Last, I have decided to integrate Twitter as a communication tool and assign students to tweet classroom activities (this is something I have tried to do unsuccessfully for about three years). As teachers, it is so easy to become disheartened and so easy to shift the blame. However, I refuse to blame my students or the pressures of testing and a common curriculum. The only person I can control is myself and I am determined to make the changes necessary to be happy as an educator.

Think Positive

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Recently, I have been reminded that it is important to notice the good things in life. It is so easy to get caught up in the negative and only see what is wrong or challenging. I get frustrated when my students complain about an assignment because they don’t want to read. I get frustrated when I see certain people I am friends with on Facebook that only ever have things to complain about. I get frustrated when my colleagues bring up the same issues over and over again and seem to think that all or most problems could be fixed by going back to what we had last year.

I am reminded, however, that I cannot change others. I can only change myself. One of the high school teachers in my district is writing a blog documenting the positive things in her life. She started by doing this for 365 days and is now past 1000. Her idea inspired me to remember the positive things in life and keep my joy even when it seems I’m surrounded by negativity.

In that spirit, here are some great things that are happening this school year:

1. Today, one of my most notorious complainers had a good day and proceeded to announce this fact to me when he saw me later in the day. I agreed, smiled, and reminded him to keep it up! It was great to share a positive moment with him when I often struggle to motivate him in class.

2. On Monday I made a student’s day (it also happened to be his birthday) by giving him some mixed berries from my lunch. He ate them in about 5 seconds and raved about how delicious they were. He had asked me to bring him some for weeks since he saw me eating them once.

3. My Digital Portfolio class has really turned a corner. They are blogging every week and their posts are improving. I love the blogging portion of the class because I get a window into my students’ lives and what they are learning in school. The experience has been very positive!

4. Technology hiccups are slowly disappearing! We get to submit our app requests this week and hopefully the apps we would like will be added to the students’ iPads soon!

5. I have great co-workers! They are always there for me and we have a lot of good conversation even if it is sometimes just joking around.

I’m so thankful for what I have and need to remember to focus on the little things that make life great!

Wading Through the Muck

Gobbledygook. That’s the word that comes to mind when I think of some of my frustrations this past week. We just concluded our third week of school so you can say things have “settled” into place. My students and I are getting to know each other. We are getting into a routine. Things are getting more comfortable. And yet, when the rubber meets the road, we sometimes learn that we gave more challenges than anticipated. 

I am so thankful and blessed to work in a district with 1:1 technology at the middle and high school levels. Students now have iPads and I was so excited to start using them. However, there were hiccups. Gobbledygook. Muck. It was unpleasant and it tried my patience. Sometimes great expectations come crashing down with the reality of things that you had not anticipated.

I’m realizing that I cannot expect to do things the same as I did last year with Macbook Air laptops. iPads are different and that is one of their strengths. I’ve also realized that there is so much more to learn. Perhaps I need to personally force myself to use my iPad even though I often gravitate to my laptop. My biggest question of the week is how do other schools do this? (what kinds of learning is going on in a 1:1 iPad situation at the middle school level, what apps are they using, etc) This is where I definitely have more to learn. With so many apps (and yet so few as my students are limited right now) what can I do to best utilize this technology and make learning more meaningful for my students? This is my desire as an educator. Each day is a fresh start and I am committed to keep on learning and wading through the muck. 

Thoughts for a New Year

It happens every year. Those summer days dwindle and I find myself quickly approaching a new school year. What will this year be like? What will my students be like? How is this year going to be different than the last?

Like most educators, I never really stopped teaching. I am always reading, researching and pondering. Trying to make my classroom better. I have so many ideas for my class and knowing where to start can be overwhelming. So, I guess one thing I need to do is just write them all down somewhere so I can begin to make sense of it all.

1. Evernote as a paperless classroom tool. Last year, when my school went to Macbook Air laptops, I used Google Drive for virtually all assignments. However, when I was playing with the iPad app (we are switching to iPads this year) I didn’t see a copy option. This is essential to giving to students assignments and making sure they cannot edit the original or end up working in the same document. Perhaps I can get around this with the web browser option or I could have them get the assignment from Edmodo? Still working on this one, but Evernote is definitely a possibility.

2. Blogging. I really want to introduce blogging into my 8th grade U. S. History class. After doing some research for my MAET classes this summer, I am excited about how blogs can allow for deeper thinking and more writing in my classroom. My idea is to keep a running list of things we are learning about during the week and then have students pick one to blog about. I also want to push myself to blog more (I guess this post is a good start).

3. Ditching the textbook. This is probably the thing that has me the most intimidated because it seems to be very time consuming to find internet sources and perhaps get into authoring my own textbook through iBooks Author. However, I really don’t enjoy using a textbook in my history class. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth and I know my students don’t like using it either. There is so much more information out there on the Internet that we could be reading and using the textbook seems like a cop out. Sorry if this statement offended anyone.

4. Standards-based grading. This one, along with the ditching the textbook idea are really two areas where I could use a partner to work with. I have been toying with the idea of going to an SBG system for a few years, but haven’t been able to figure it out so far. The eighth grade GLCEs may seem “neat” and easy to convert to an SBG system to the naked eye, but they are “messier” than they seem (overlapping concepts, themes, and timeframes). However, I think it would be a much more valuable learning experience for my students if I could shift to this way of grading, rather than assignment grades.

5. Increasing parent communication through technology. I suppose the student blogs would be one way to do this, but I have also thought about doing video updates (having students record our classroom at various times during the week and then post a compilation).

6. Edmodo. I still plan to use this as my main classroom website. It went pretty well last year. The only thing I struggled with was keeping up the grading portion of the Daily Warm-up prompts (quizzes). Perhaps I will tell students that I will only give them an official grade on one per week and they won’t know which one? We always discuss the answer as a class anyway. I also want to get all pre and post tests onto Edmodo as well.

Well, those are my ideas. I know some are “high and lofty” and I know that I will not be able to fully implement all of them in one school year. However, I hope that by writing them down and posting updates, I will take steps toward making them happen.

Week 1 Reflection

Week one of 1:1 laptop integration is complete! I can definitely say that I have jumped in with both feet and I’m feeling great about it. In one week we have transitioned from paper “warm-ups” turned in weekly to answers submitted through Edmodo. We have also created folders in Google Drive to submit assignments. I also created a shared folder for assignments that students can make copies of them and save them to their Google Drives. Going paperless anyone? I haven’t made more than 20 copies all week! Lastly, students have been researching 1800s inventions and creating infomercials about them. It has been a whirlwind of activity!

I feel like I am finally becoming the teacher I have been wanting to be. I feel as though I have a whole new world at my fingertips. My favorite part of this week has been the increased opportunity for formative assessment and feedback. I feel even more connected to my students and I feel that I know even more of where they are at with their learning. This is mainly because of the comments I can make on their Google Docs, the opportunity to grade their warm-ups daily on Edmodo and provide feedback, and the project-based learning going on in my classroom. The project has allowed me to “flip” my classroom in some ways – put more of the ownership of learning onto the students and follow the “every student every day” theory. This means that I make an effort to connect with every student and have a conversation about their learning in class.

I feel more alive as an educator than ever before. Today was definitely one of the best days that I have ever had as a teacher and I cannot wait to see where the journey will take us next week.

Flip what?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the first annual Michigan Flipteaching Conference. Mind. Blown. Brain. Mush. I was so impressed with the level of quality interactions and presentations that this experience afforded me. I would like to share a few things that I’ve learned and will be using in my classroom in the future.

First of all, I would like to say that I have never been a “traditional” history teacher. You know, the kind that has an immense wealth of knowledge and can get into a conversation about any president that (if you let them continue) could last the better part of a day. That’s not me. I’ve always enjoyed studying history and have taken many history classes throughout my educational career, but my reading in my “free time” (who has any?) usually consists of ed tech articles, other professional development, leadership, spiritual development, finances, or the occasional fiction. Not that I wouldn’t like to read more history. I guess I just don’t gravitate to it. If I want to know more about something that I am teaching, I Google.

So, not being the traditional history teacher, I have struggled with what my day-to-day classroom should look like. At my core, I believe that the lecture’s role in education is diminishing. Not that I don’t believe that teachers should relay knowledge, model processes, and “teach”, because I do. I am just wresting with what this looks like in today’s classroom.

Enter 21st Century Learning. 1:1 laptops. Flipped Classroom. Blended Learning.

I can’t remember when I first heard of the concept of a “flipped classroom”. It was probably from one of the wonderful teachers I follow on Twitter (if you are a teacher and not on Twitter you need to be, it’s like 24/7 PD). I also attended a couple sessions on flipping at the 2012 MACUL Conference in Grand Rapids, MI. Since then, the idea has been in my head, but my biggest obstacle was what it would look like in a history classroom (most examples are in Math and Science). I also heard an inspiring presentation during a summer class for my Master’s program (go MAET) by a teacher who had great success flipping her classroom.

But I still had so many questions. If history is so content-based, what will we be doing in class if the content delivery takes place at home? How much time will I have to spend creating videos? What learning management system should I use to keep everything organized?

After the conference this weekend, I finally feel like I have some answers. A few sessions really solidified things for me. First, I attended a session on Edmodo. Although I have been resistant to Edmodo (why can’t I just use Facebook if it looks like Facebook and my students are already on Facebook, whine, whine whine..) I now think that it will be the best choice for me. I am especially excited for the opportunities to have more online discussions and post pictures and videos of my class happenings as it will be a closed group, whereas my current Facebook page is open and therefore one-sided as far as communication. Edmodo is also easier to manage as compared to other lms’s.

Second, I truly enjoyed the Flipping in Social Studies session. It was a very small group of teachers, which allowed me to ask all of my burning questions. Also, the presenters, @davidfouch and @kls4711 did a great job of relaying what flipping looks like in their classroom. One thing that stood out was how different each of their classrooms are, yet how much the same. The overall theme was that these two teachers were teaching their students to take ownership of their own learning and to go deeper in their learning. They also had more time to work with students in class in small groups and on a one-to-one basis. They had more debates. More primary source annotation. More learning! As I listened to them and talked to them, I was inspired. This was what I wanted for my classroom!

Lastly, what I really appreciated about the conference was seeing the “evolution” of the flipped classroom. As the t-shirt said, “It’s not about the video”. More and more, I am seeing that this method is about creating more space for learning. Isn’t that what all teachers want? In a world with high-stakes testing and curriculum out the wazoo, don’t we all want more time. I see now that even though I don’t spend much time lecturing, I am spending too much time in my classroom having my students learn the surface-level facts in different ways. I want more depth. I want more ownership. I want more learning. If I “flip”, I can give my students the surface facts and push them to dig deeper. We can spend class time asking questions, researching, creating, discussing, sharing, and exploring. In the end, I hope my students have learned more than I (or anyone else) could ever teach them about history. I hope they learn how to be better learners.