Kahoot or Not?

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Last week I attended a Tech Academy given by a progressive school corporation for whom I’ll be teaching fourth grade this year. I learned amazing ideas that I am totally pumped about trying in my classroom.

One of the sessions used Kahoot as a formative assessment to check out our understanding of the SAMR model. I hadn’t studied this model much before, so my schema was not as broad as those of my peers. Plus, I’d heard of Kahoot, but had never played before. I’m all for a fun game. In my house, I am the Tetris master. Back in the day, nobody in my family could catch me as Princess Peach on Mario Kart Racing. Plus, I’m really interested in finding ways to use Pokemon Go in my class this year.So, I’m pretty cool with playing games. Who isn’t?

But, as the Kahoot started,  I began to feel very nervous. I was the new kid on the block. What if my peers thought I was dumb? What if I didn’t know the right answer? What if I wasn’t fast enough?

As the game progressed, I held onto second place until the last question when Jen pulled ahead of me.(Way to do go Jen!) I came in third overall. Not too shabby. Not embarrassing. I don’t think I looked dumb, but the whole time I played I was anxious.

This experience got me wondering. If I felt nervous and afraid of what my peers might think, how many of my students might feel the same way? What about slower readers? If I’m correct, players earn points for how fast they answer correctly. What about students who just need more time to process?

Maybe there is a way to increase the answering time or to edit how players accumulate points. I just don’t know enough about Kahoot yet. Before I use Kahoot in my classroom I want to find the answers to these questions. I would never want one of my students to feel uneasy in front of his/her peers while playing a game.

I would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences with Kahoot!

What do you think? Kahoot or not??

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What is a Role Model?

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I was having a discussion with my brother-in-law the other night. He is a concrete contractor, and knows pretty much everyone in our small town. He mentioned a teacher he knew who had gone through a divorce. “Wow,” he stated in a shocked tone, “I thought teachers always had their stuff together.”

I think many people believe that same stereotype. Teachers are role models. Teachers are perfect. Teachers are like Miss Beetle on the Little House series. Teachers ALWAYS have their stuff together.

But let’s talk for a minute about the definition of a role model. According to Merriam-Webster.com a role model is “someone who another person admires and tries to be like.”

Professionally, I have so many role models in education. Pernille Ripp, Ruth Ayres, Colby Sharp, Heather Schilling, Michelle Ball, and Anne Clark. Why are they my role models? Because their passion for kids, for change, and for making this harsh world better than they found it inspires me to do better.  But beyond that, these educators are REAL. They aren’t afraid to show vulnerability or ask for advice. They know how to laugh at themselves. They may post a picture of themselves doing something silly or admit to students that they were wrong about something. That’s what a role model is.

Because teachers can be role models, but let’s be honest, we are inherently human. We hurt, we make mistakes, we get divorces, sometimes we swear, and sometimes we go to the local bar for a breaded cheeseburger and a beer. Teachers have tattoos, can be upset with their spouse or children, and yes, they may even have financial difficulties.

So, If you see my tattoos, or see me drinking a beer, please know above all, I’m just a person. A person trying to make a difference in my students’ lives. Trying to teach children what is important in life. That they are more than a test score, that they can choose not to hate someone because of the color or his/her skin, and that they have gifts and genius that have yet to be discovered. If I can do that, regardless of my personal flaws, I will surely “have my stuff together.”

 

 

Why Twitter?

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 I joined Twitter a little over 2 years ago. A teacher who is a dear friend of mine showed me the ropes. It has changed my teacher life! You might say I’m kind of addicted to Twitter, especially in the summer. I start my mornings with a cup of coffee and my Twitter feed.

Another amazing friend of mine, who happens to be a professor of education, sometimes brings her preservice teachers into my classroom. When asked about many things that are happening and how I came across them, the answer is often, “I learned about it on Twitter!”

Here is a short list of how/why I use Twitter:

  1. I follow inspiring educators like @pernilleripp, @gcouros, & @angelamaiers to name a very few. These educators give me the courage to try something new, to stand up against educational practices I know to be bad for kids, and to make connections with like-minded educators. #kindredspirits
  2. I can peruse Twitter at my leisure for as much (or as little) free PD as I want. During the school year, I am intentional about skimming the news feed for 5-10 minutes a day. I may read an interesting article, look at a trending hashtag, or just comment or retweet ideas I find thought-provoking.
  3. I can join Twitter chats related to a certain topic. Last night, I helped curate a Twitter chat on the book A Mindset for Learning. (Check it out if you haven’t heard about it). I learned so much! I got to share ideas with teachers from across the US and even Mexico. And…the authors of the book joined in the chat and answered questions. Talk about feeling like you are meeting rock stars! (You are!)
  4. I get to learn how to do cool stuff in my classroom. I’ve learned about QR codes, Genius Hour, blogging, and much more. Recently, I have been intrigued by the Pokemon Go craze. Just yesterday, @cybraryman1 posted a resource page of ways to use Pokemon in education. I don’t have to spend hours searching for ideas; it’s already been posted on Twitter for me. The generosity of educators is humbling.
  5. It seems like the media tries to portray schools as boring, as failing our students, the downfall of society, yada, yada, yada. This is just not true. It’s up to teachers and administrators to get the REAL story out there. Each day after school, I post pictures or videos of the great things my students are doing. It’s our responsibility to show parents, our town, and the world that our kids are doing amazing, creative, challenging, and life-changing work in our schools. Plus, kids love to see themselves on Twitter.
  6. I find out about conferences I may not otherwise hear about. If you’ve never been to #nErDcampMI you are missing out! This is a conference held each summer in Parma, MI where educators, authors, and illustrators get together to learn and share their love of reading and writing. What could be better than that??!! You could feel the electricity in the air when Kate DiCamillo made a surprise visit. Plus I got to meet Pernille Ripp in person!! I never would’ve know about this opportunity if it weren’t for Twitter.

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I could go on and on touting the great ways Twitter has made me a better a teacher. But the main reason I believe every educator should be on Twitter is that it helps the isolation I know we all feel as teachers. It gives validation and reinforcement that what you are doing matters. It helps me reflect on my classroom practices and to question if what I’m doing is the best that I could be doing.

Are you on Twitter?

 

 

What is Literacy Really??

 

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I love this quote. I think the final sentence, “Literacy is an essential tool for personal growth and active participation in a democratic society, ” pretty much says it all. So, as a fourth grade teacher, it’s imperative that I allow my students to use critical thinking skills to make informed decisions about their own lives. Yes, I said my fourth grade students.

Flashback several years. The district in which I worked annually sent third grade students to the circus for a field trip. This had been going on for about 40 years. The year my students were supposed to attend, there was a snowstorm and the trip was cancelled. When those students entered 4th grade, our team decided to continue with our scheduled trips and forego the circus. No big deal, right? Little did we know what a huge deal it would be.

As I began to plan our persuasive writing unit, I decided to pick something more relevant than school uniforms or year long school; I chose circuses. The class researched circuses. We looked at circus websites, animal activist websites, videos, etc. We explored what bias was and learned about counterarguments. After considering the pros and cons of going to the circus, students were required to take a stance, back it up with evidence, and list a call to action. After their research, each student in my class decided circuses were not something they wanted to support.

Now, from my proud teacher point of view, these essays were nothing short of brilliant. Students’ passions and voices were emphatic and direct. Why? Because they had done the research. They knew about the local circus. They had made up their own minds.

About a month after this writing project, the circus came to town. A few days before the current year’s third graders were to attend, a parental barrage stormed Facebook. Why wasn’t 4th grade going? Why weren’t their children attending the circus? My goodness, we’d been sending kids to the circus for over 40 years! Why stop now?

As it so happened, fourth grade was required to attend. Students who did not want to go had the options of remaining in the media center all day, staying home, or going on the trip. Needless to say, many students ended up going to something they did not want to see. One brave student, who will forever be my hero, did stay in the library all day long. Four other students stayed home and were counted absent. I heard later that several of my young activists stood up yelling “bull hook, bull hook” when the elephants were marched out and prodded with bull hooks.

I remember when I was in 3rd grade in the same district. I remember going to the circus and just being so worried that the trapeze artists would fall to their deaths.  And me? What did I do that day, almost 40 years after I had attended as a student? I boycotted the circus. I took a personal day.

This was an excruciating decision. I angered parents of students not in my class. I even angered some of my own peers. But, isn’t it most vital in education that are we are teaching students to think? We are teaching them to look at all sides of an issue and then make an informed decision in their own lives. The status quo just isn’t good enough. If we don’t allow students to think for themselves, what really are we teaching them? Shouldn’t a ten year old’s stand on something in his/her life matter?

Just because something has “always been done this way,” or in this case, for the last 40 years, does not mean it’s the best thing to do today. If we want to change this world for the better, teachers need to have the courage to help change it. Stand up for what is right, even if you have to buck the system. Help kids learn to think critically, evaluate information, and make informed decisions. And then, most importantly, allow them to act on those decisions. THAT is literacy! THAT is the goal of education.

P.S. About 2 weeks after our local circus was held, the Barnum & Bailey Circus announced on CNN that they were phasing out elephant acts in their shows. My class cheered when I showed them the video! Kids are pretty smart. We should ask them what they want or think, and trust their decisions.

 

 

 

 

 

On the Verge

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     It’s almost here. Less than a month and the 2016-2017 school year will commence!  A few days ago, I was walking through Meijer and noticed that school supplies were being stocked. Some will inwardly groan, roll their eyes, or release a big sigh at the sight of glue sticks, #2 pencils, and pocket folders. Some, like Gerry Brooks (whom I adore by the way!) may create videos bemoaning the prematurity at which big box stores stock these supplies. But for me, the annual stocking of school supplies represents a year full of promise. For me, school supplies signal that I am on the verge.

     With nervous excitement, I’m on the verge of meeting my incoming students. On the verge of beginning our journey together as a class and creating the bonds that will soon make us a family.  On the verge of trying out new tech, fresh lessons, and innovative ideas gleaned from this summer’s professional development.

       I’m on the verge of discovery, hope, and of nurturing learners who will change the world! I just know we are on the verge of something great!!

Get Inspired!

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     It’s the beginning of July and my head is spinning. I’ve attended the WISE conference, All-Write conference, and am getting ready to head to one of my favorite conferences, Nerdcamp! The inspiration and motivation are flowing. But then, it is after all, only July. How do I keep the inspiration coming? How do I stay inspired when meetings, emails, and talk among colleagues often focuses on data and the looming “tests?”

     I think the answers lie on what and with whom you spend your time. I have two teacher friends (not just colleagues, but FRIENDS), who are brilliant, passionate, and inspire me in some way every time we talk. They GET me. They are my teacher soul mates. We are like-minded in our belief that kids need more than academics. Students should be challenged, learn about ethics and empathy, but most of all, kids should be inspired and encouraged to take chances, be creative, and absolutely championed to have fun while learning. Shouldn’t teachers do the same?

     A second powerful way that I find inspiration is through Twitter. During the summer, I spend A LOT of time (too much according to my husband), perusing tweets. When school starts, as soon as my kids dismiss, I have formed the habit of spending 10-15 minutes on Twitter. I try to post a least one tweet a day showing what kids have been doing that day. Then I spend a few minutes reading tweets, articles, or watching a video that someone has posted. The outcome is powerful! Inspiration on a daily basis.

     Teaching is an exhausting, often thankless vocation. We are beat down by the news media, legislators, and let’s be honest, sometimes by parents and even our own peers. We can isolate ourselves and “just do the best we can,” OR we can get out there and search out our own inspiration. Find other passionate teachers, follow amazing educators on Twitter, start a book chat or writing group.

      Inspiration is a call to action that prompts us to seek out new ways of doing things, gives us courage, and  fuels the passion that drives our teaching. Without it, we will stagnate, do the same things we’ve always done, and be satisfied with the status quo. Our students deserve so much more.

      If we want to inspire our students to change the world, WE must stay inspired ourselves.

 

 

What if?

This past week I attended  a Wabash WISE conference featuring Alan November and Josh Stumpenhorst as keynote speakers. Each time I attend a professional conference I am inspired and motivated to try new ideas in my classroom. So, as I am reflecting on this conference, posts I’ve read on Twitter, and most importantly, conversations I’ve had with colleagues, I composed this list of What Ifs. My intention is to continue to allow myself to reflect and question practices in my classroom, as well as start conversations with my respected peers and administrators. I would love to hear your thoughts as well!

WHAT IF…

  • we didn’t give a weekly reading test, but instead let students choose how to demonstrate mastery?
  • we spent little to no class time on spelling, but spent that time on word origin study? (We, ourselves, Google how to spell unknown words!)
  • we had a quarterly (or yearly) Innovative Day or Genius Hour Expo to invite parents/families in to see student learning?
  • we quit rewarding students with pizza and baseball tickets, but allowed them choice so they would be intrinsically motivated to read?
  • we gave teachers Genius Hour (20% time) to explore what they want to learn about?
  • we did more collaborative projects across grade levels?
  • we did away with all standardized testing pep rallies?
  • we could actually put into practice the great ideas we hear from innovators at conferences?
  • teachers, administrators, parents, and students all  work together to overcome fear, and together change the current educational system?
  • we created learning environments where kids loved to learn?
  • we eliminate mindless test prep?
  • instead of analyzing data, data, data, we just helped our kids? (We already know what the data will say anyway).
  • we prepared kids for real life, instead of irrelevant test-taking?
  • we brought wonder, curiosity, innovation, and critical thinking into our classrooms every. single. day.?
  • we only did what we knew was GOOD for kids?
  • every one of us became that “rebel” that changed education?
  • we start today?