Monday, August 20, 2012

Sneak Peak

Here's what's happening in my English classroom this week:

More pictures to be posted later as the transformation continues.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

PBL: an Example from Fiction

My daughter and I read a book together this summer as part of her summer reading requirements. Dancing on the Inside is the story of a twelve year old girl who is afraid to start her first class, but feels a passion for dance inside her heart.

Jenny bravely sticks with the ballet class - not as a dancer, but as an observer. She watches the classes and then practices what she sees at home and with her dancer friend, Ara. Jenny discovers a love of choreography while trying to help Ara control her energetic dance style.

This is where light bulbs started going off in my head. Here we have Jenny, a girl suffering from social phobia who is able to follow her passion and learn while working on a project. Jenny and Ara work together to craft a beautiful story ballet, eventually convincing their dance studio to stage the performance. Jenny throws herself wholeheartedly into the choreography, learning a lot about dance and herself in the process. She learns that the process is long and hard, but the work is rewarding.

The end product: Jenny's ballet is received with much praise by her audience, including the local media. Tie in to PBL: Jenny's project was shared with the world. It was REAL. It wasn't a practice project stuck in a binder.

I don't want to spoil more of the book - so please look it up for yourself. In fact, I would recommend this book to all new teachers and those who are interested in PBL. It's a short, quick read, but it maps out PBL in such a natural way that I found it quite inspirational. My daughter put the book down 3/4 of the way in to grab paper and pencils. Her mind was already at work with ideas of her own. Jenny inspired her to follow her passions.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Classroom Design Plans

Two years ago, my classroom was full of desks in straight rows, like this:
 I knew it wasn't what I wanted, but I had to make the best of it. So, every period I moved desks into this formation:

 Last year, I knew it was time to leave the desks behind. I wanted space for my students to spread out. I wanted to encourage collaboration. I found 7 tables on Craigslist for $50 - not too shabby. I loved having tables - it was everything I wanted, except... the tables were standard long rectangular tables and they took up a lot of classroom space.

My tables ended up in rows. It was the only way to allow space to move between the tables. It worked... but it still wasn't what I really wanted to do.

This year is special. I am inspired, encouraged, and energetic. I have high hopes. I went back to Craigslist last week to see what I could do to change up my table situation.

I found round tables! Two beautiful tables were given to me for free, I dug one up from our storage, and another three I bought on the cheap from a local restaurant that went out of business.
I got rid of a lot of classroom storage - I really don't need it as almost everything is digital. I don't have any files. 

I promise I will post pictures next week as my classroom comes together. I've already taken the before pictures... and I can't wait for the transformation. I have big plans for my classroom walls.

**All room plans were created using the Living Spaces room planner.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Padcamp 2012

I presented today at Padcamp in New Jersey. It was a packed day full of networking and collaborating. Padcamp is an unconference where the participants create the schedule. We learn best from each other. I presented on using the Nearpod app and Ignite Presentations in the classroom.

If you would like to check out some of my slides, I posted them on the Padcamp Wiki here.

Thank you to all the organizers, volunteers, and attendees. It was a productive, inspiring day.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Advice for New Teachers

1. Take Risks

So what if no one in your building has a classroom website? Be the first. Be brave and be bold. A new teacher is expected to not immediately fit into the norm, so this is a wonderful opportunity to carve your own path.

2. Take Time

Not just for spa treatments, but to connect with other educators at your school. You are not in this alone. Find a mix of teachers to surround yourself. I suggest the following:
  • An older teacher who is wise to the ways of classroom management and is an expert in understanding your school's particular culture
  • A younger teacher who has fresh ideas
  • A crazy history teacher who will have you in stitches during your lunch break
  • A coffee-friend - someone who will listen to your success and frustrations
 3. Take Yourself Online

As important as face-to-face interactions are with your school colleagues, it's also in your best interest to network online.
  • Use Twitter to share and find resources, participate in weekly chats, and follow interesting educators. I suggest following #ntchat if you are new to the classroom.
  • Use Facebook to share important info with parents and students. If you are uncomfortable friending, then create a Page on Facebook. (Here's mine)
  • Use Google+ in a similar way to Twitter, but with the added features of: extended conversations, picture and video viewing, and Google Hangouts. I strongly suggest finding Google Certified Teachers on Google+ and watching their Hangouts on Air.
4. Take Yourself Offline

I'm a fan of educational technology (obviously), but some of my best ideas come from times when I step away from my laptop. Take a walk, go for a bike ride, watch a ballet performance, snuggle with your kids, or reread a favorite novel. These breaks allow us to take a step back and get excited about our profession all over again.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Barefoot Shoes

Bare (haha) with me today, as I take a break from posting on edtech subjects to relate my experiences researching footware.

On a typical day in the classroom, I spend 75% of my time on my feet. I do not have normal feet. Ha! Instead I was gifted with wide feet and a Morton's toe.

This summer I started running for fitness and joy. I've been using my six-year-old pair of New Balance running shoes that have definitely seen better days. This week, I've spent a fair amount of time researching shoes to find the shoe for me.

I keep coming back to the concept of barefoot running. When I am home, I'm barefoot. As soon as I come in the door, I lose the shoes. Shoes tend to make my feet feel cramped and often lead to painful blisters. However, barefoot running is not for the feint of heart - it's a commitment that takes time and practice to perfect.

To build up to barefoot running, I've been researching barefoot or minimalistic shoes. Barefoot shoes are a bit of a misnomer. These shoes provide a small amount of protection while allowing the foot to feel the ground surface so the runner can adjust as needed.

These are some of the shoes I've looked at:

Huaraches by Invisible Shoes
Barefoot Run Pace Glove Wide by Merrell
TrekSport by Vibram FiveFingers

To bring this back around to the classroom, I've been thinking today about the best classroom shoe options for me. Extra cushioning and support tend to make my feet feel worse not better. Another session of internet browsing brought me to the Roo by Soft Star.

Unfortunately, the Roo currently is not offered in my size, but I'm also interested in the Dash line. While these shoes might look like slippers, they are durable and made to be used like normal footwear. 
Aesthetically, these shoes may make me look like I belong in a Kindergarten class, but if my toes can breathe and splay, I'm happy.

Everything comes down to price. Most barefoot or minimalistic shoes run in the $80-$130 range, with a few sales here and there (except for Invisible Shoe's huaraches, which are $25-$40ish). So for now, I'm limited to researching and dreaming. Some day!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Aurasma - Augmented Reality

Aurasma is one of my new favorite apps. I learned about it last May when students at EdcampPhilly demonstrated its possibilities. When a student recommends an app... pay attention!

Here's how Aurasma works: take a picture of something with your iPad (or iPhone or certain Android devices). It could be an object or a picture on your classroom wall. Almost anything works. Then the fun begins. Using Aurasma, layer over top of that picture with another picture, an animation, or a video. This can be from your camera roll or the Aurasma library.

Now, when a student opens up Aurasma on his device and joins your channel, they can look around your room using the camera in the Aurasma app. When the camera picks up one of the objects you've layered over, the new picture or video pops up on the screen.

How could you use this in the classroom? Create a virtual wall for students. I plan on letting my techielit techs take over this project. When an administrator or parent enters my classroom, they can use an iPad or phone to check out research we've been conducting and projects we've completed, just by scanning the walls (handy, since most of our projects are digitized anyway).

More ideas:
  • Foreign Languages - use Aurasma to write object names in the language of your choice. Students practice fluency by using the iPad to scan the room for layered objects. When a layered object is detected, a picture with the correct name pops up on the iPad. 
  • History - Digitize a timeline on your classroom wall. Students scan dates and pictures or videos pop up related to that date.
  • Math - Post common formulas on a bulletin board. Students use their iPads to scan the formulas and video tutorials pop up.
  • Science - Use Aurasma for a science lab. Students scan samples of various larvae and see the adult stage for each bug. 
You can also layer 3D objects, but I haven't played with this feature yet. Check it out in action:

Did I mention it's free? After poking around on their website this morning, I also learned that the images can be interactive - you can add buttons and links. I will have to try these features. Nifty!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Faculty Meetings: Edcamp Style

If you know me, you know I'm a fan of the Edcamp model. These free unconferences offer participants the opportunity to share in an engaging, inspiring environment. The result? Everyone walks away with something practical - teachers teaching teachers is after all one of the best forms of professional development.

What if our faculty meetings followed the same pattern? Dream with me here. The day before a meeting, a Google Doc is circulated where teachers share what topics and subjects they are interested in learning about. The doc could contain a table with columns. Teachers can fill out the first three columns based on their interests. In the first column, teachers can write in any idea or topic that they would like to know more about. The second column is for other teachers to indicate their interest in that topic. The third column is for teachers to sign up to lead discussion on the proposed topic.

On the day of the faculty meeting, use the interest stars to guide room and time decisions. Remember, if you don't have time to address all the topics, that's ok! Continue to use the form week to week.

Encourage facilitators to start the sessions promptly to allow maximum discussion in the time slot. If participants want to discuss a topic further, offer the session again another time, or even better, start a discussion about the topic in a faculty Google Group. I would suggest keeping the in-class discussion time short. This will keep interest level high.

If the model works well for afternoon faculty meetings, consider using it for a full day of in-service professional development.

Collaboration is key!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Crunch

School starts in four weeks. Teacher orientation starts in two and a half weeks. Summer is almost over and it's crunch time.

I spent most of my summer gleaning information from twitter, webinars, blogs, google+, facebook, and face-to-face conversations. At the beginning of August, I created a blueprint for my classes, mapping out the where, when, and hows.

Now, it all comes together. This week, I've been focusing on google accounts. My school does not use Google Apps for Education, but my students do use many google apps. To make this easy (ha!) I set up a google account for each student to use while in my class. I give them a password and link the accounts to my google account so I can monitor and address issues as needed. It's not a perfect system, but it works. It takes massive amounts of time to set up. Breaks are a must.

My plan for this year: PBL. I have a lot to learn and a lot to explore in the next few months as I start to implement PBL in more of my classes. I've used PBL on a smaller scale for the past two years - it's time to expand.

While my mind is mostly focused on curriculum, I'm also thinking about my classroom setup. Last year I was fortunate enough to be able to swap out desks for tables. This year, I will continue with the tables, but I'm desperately searching Craigslist to see if I can change my long tables for round tables. Round tables would allow me to move easily around my classroom, and check in with table groups. I would love to do something like this.

My plan for the walls is much like the design in my GTA video:

I'm currently working on adding wood grain to butcher paper to make the railings and parts of the cabin. Here's where I got that idea.

It may be crunch time, but I still have two and a half weeks to enjoy sleeping in (which, really, is the best part about summer)!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Google Teacher Academy

So... I didn't get accepted.

Am I upset? Sure - it's a huge opportunity and honor.

Am I despairing? Not a bit. Instead of wallowing, the wheels are already turning in my head. What can I do myself to make this year amazing? How can I be more creative? How can I use Google Apps to their fullest potential and spread the word?

Maybe I'll create my own action plan. Maybe I'll put together a mini-GTA with my coworkers where we can collaborate and learn from each other. I'm most definitely still going to apply to present at Pete&C in Hershey, PA this year.

While I would have loved to have the opportunity to hang out in New York with some of the most energetic, brilliant teachers, this is not the end for my journey. If I want my students to see that failure is a part of the process, then I need to model this in my own life. I will keep trying. I will keep trying.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Webinar Oberservations

Over the past few years, I've participated in many different webinars, usually related to education. The free webinars are a mixed bag - sometimes they are inspiring, other times they are a yawn. Here are my observations:

The Good Webinars are...
  • clearly defined 
  • well advertised
  • on-trend
  • well-taught
  • recorded and archived
The Bad Webinars are...
  • boring
  • uninspiring
  • confusing
The Ugly Webinars are...
  • thinly veiled advertising for another (paid) course or product
  • a waste of time
The worst webinars have presenters who don't present any new content. Instead, they talk about how wonderful a particular product or methodology is, without ever providing a clear definition or demonstration. I've attended webinars where the first twenty minutes are spent introducing the presenters. Here's a tip: give your audience an amazing webinar, and a link to your curricula vitae.

The best webinars are inspiring and intriguing. They leave you with practical information and the desire to know more.  Great webinars stimulate conversation on Twitter and Google+.

The webinar format is perfect for delivering professional development on the go to teachers and administration. However, it's only as good as the facilitator. I encourage you presenters out there to think through your talks, streamline the message, engage your audience, add to the conversation, and change the world - one educator at a time.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Observations of a MOOC

I'm currently enrolled in Coursera's Fantasy and Science Fiction class. As a teacher, it's been an interesting couple of weeks observing the formation of the class community. Here are my take-aways so far:

For the instructor:
  • Peer review is only as good as your peers. Proper modeling and a rubric are necessary for everyone to be on the same page. 
  • If a forum is provided for students to discuss the class, it's good practice to interact yourself. Even with a MOOC, a professor can regularly check in so that students feel their voices are heard. 
  • Instructions need to be clear and direct. If something needs to be changed (it happens, we've all been there), a timely note or email to students is appropriate. Do not ignore the issues. 
For the student:

  • Relax. It's a free course. Enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Developing Literature Curriculum

On The English Companion Ning, I often run across posts by new or returning teachers asking for advice on developing a curriculum. This is the process I use. It's important to note that I teach at a private school, so I do not have to use the CCSS, but I do keep them in mind for accountability.

For my 10th grade World Literature classes, I completed lengthy research to pick a central theme or idea for the year. I decided to go with Stories of the Sea for a number of reasons:
  • Adventure books appeal to both genders
  • There are many different types of conflict to discuss (man vs. man, man vs. nature, etc.)
  • The books are clean but intelligent (an important consideration for my school)
The books I chose:
- Lieutenant Hornblower (England, France, West Indies)
- Whale Rider (New Zealand)
- Haroun and the Sea of Stories (India)
- Twelfth Night
- Kon-Tiki (Norway, South America, Phillipines)

I don't plan in detail at the beginning of the year. I prefer to adjust to the culture of each individual class and student before I make final decisions. However, I do brainstorm a general direction of where I'd like to head.

As my classes typically make use of Project Based Learning (PBL), I always start each unit by thinking of essential questions.

In September, my Honors class will start with Kon-Tiki. After a rich discussion on Heyerdahl's passion for adventure, learning, and achievement, I want to set my students free to explore and reflect on their own interests and passions.

As you can see at the top right of the board, my goal this year is to awaken curiosity.

As you can see, I'm still in the planning phases. Exact phrases and the wording of my essential questions are still in flux. In this unit for Whale Rider, I plan to read the short book aloud while my students discuss through a backchannel.

This particular unit for Lieutenant Hornblower is in the brainstorming phase. I want my students to use the true PBL model to construct their own answers to the essential questions, but I'm not sure what that will look like (which isn't a bad thing, it's in the nature of PBL). The novella is one of my ideas... but we will see. I'm curious to get feedback from my students on how they would like to approach these questions. I need to keep balance in mind - good suggestions along with gentle prodding to help students take charge of their learning. My goal is for the students to craft purposeful projects that have real-world importance.

My challenge this year is to also fit in the required research paper. I'm thinking of shortening the assignment, as we will be conducting research and writing the entire year. That will leave the last few weeks of May into the first week of June to complete the paper. I do like the assignment, as it sums up the year neatly. Students take an aptitude test, chose a career they are interested in learning more about, write a paper, and give an Ignite presentation.

This is how I think through the literature portion of my year. For more on how I approach scheduling ELA across a week of five 42 minute periods, see this post.