Challenge, Listen, Create, Learn, Repeat

Photo by Tom Swinnen on

People always ask, how do you find the time to find the things that you share? First off, I am so lucky that my current position allows me to spend time looking for learning opportunities for myself, my colleagues, and my students. I have a schedule but I am not with students all day as many of my colleagues are because I go in and out of the different classrooms on a rotating basis. Additionally, I no longer have children at home as my oldest graduated from college this past May (#WeAre) and my youngest is a college sophomore (#GoQuakers) so after I take care of the J (16 year old Bichon) and give him sofa time, I am pretty much free to do what I want when the school day is over. I also found that working without the tv is helpful. Hence, the time both during the day and in the evening to get to do what I do and be able to share with you the things I am sharing today.

Social Media Simulators

First are some templates you and your students can use to share their learning and show their understanding of a character, event, story, or topic in almost any subject. The first is a Netflix template you can download to use with Keynote, PowerPoint, or Google Slides and the other is an Instagram template. Your students can easily show their understanding by creating a profile from the character’s point of view. Further clicking led me to the Twitter, Facebook, Time and Nat Geo magazine templates, as well as a link to a social media generator.

Writer’s Block

This next share is for our English teachers, budding writers, experienced writers who want to hone their craft and learn from an online community, or just those who enjoy writing and would like to exercise their writing muscle with random prompts. The Writer Igniter is a cool tool from DIY MFA where you are given a character, situation, prop, and setting (to me it sounds like the game Clue: Ms. Scarlet in the kitchen with a candlestick) and then you just start writing. For people looking for more, this site offers writing resources, an online community, podcast interviews with authors, and more.

Icons: More than Celebrity

I’m fairly certain I got this next site from a recent Matt Miller post but without going back in my history, I cannot be certain. I just know I have it open in a tab ready to share. It’s called, The Noun Project and it is basically a searchable set of free, downloadable (with your log in) icons for any noun (or verb, or adjective, or other part of speech including gerunds) you can think of– even “ugly sweater.” You can change the tilt angle, rotate it, add a shape, and change the outline color to get it exactly how you want it for your project. Kind of fun!

Front and Center

Sometimes having something front and center, staring you in the face, or just out on your desk where you can easily flip through and reference makes it more likely you will use it because you will be reminded of it. This downloadable image of four tools for learning from Pooja Agarwal is one of those things. It’s a simple mini-poster of the definitions of retrieval practice, spacing, interleaving, and feedback-driven metacognition along with downloadable guides for how to use these in your classroom. Who is Pooja Agarwal you ask? Well, you can check out these other posts where I have previously shared her great, research-based practices.

The Matrix

While scrolling through my Twitter feed this morning, I came to a guest blog post on Alice Keeler’s blog. It was written by Robert Kaplinsky and it is on depth of knowledge matrices. The first sentence of the post is like clickbait to me, “Ready for a problem that will make you rethink how we teach students mathematics?” Honestly, had that been the title of a Buzz Feed article, I think more than math people would click on it. But it wasn’t and I was not specifically looking for it but am so glad I scrolled by when I did because while the blog post has several, I repeat, several DOK matrices from elementary math through Calc. I am so glad I was reminded (I first wrote about him last February) of his cool math website, Open Middle which has math problems for literally every grade in school from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

Click Here for Free Stuff

Now that I have your attention again, the above link is from We Are Teachers and it goes to their free, downloadable posters and lesson plans. Check out their upstander, character ed, historical figures, world language, math posters and the many others on the 21 pages for all areas of the curriculum.

And now for some professional learning and listening opportunities

I have been doing a lot of reading and personal work on culturally responsive teaching and mitigating implicit bias. It seems the more I read, the more that I find to learn, and the more articles like this from Medium that make their way to my inbox and Twitter feed. Most recently I read these articles from Edutopia, “Reflections on Becoming More Culturally Responsive”, “How to Audit Your Classroom Library for Diversity”, “Bringing a Culturally Responsive Lens to Math Class”, and “How to Make Social Emotional Learning More Culturally Responsive”.

Next is a podcast series, Neuroscience Meets Social Emotional Learning. It has 38 episodes ranging from 8 minutes to 1 hour and 8 minutes with the bulk being less than 30. I have not listened to any yet as I just happened upon them, but plan on listening to this one currently open in a tab, Dr. John Dunlosky on “Improving Student Success: Some Principles from Cognitive Science”.

For our 1st through 9th grade math educators and specialists, this summer you can pack your bags and head west to Denver or south to Texas (my directional perspective is from the northeast) to the [Co]Lab. At the [Co]Lab, you will learn and think collaboratively with other math educators from around the country about math practice and creating mathematical experiences that you can bring back for your young mathematicians (aka, your students). Even before you go, you can learn from their suggested readings, books, and articles, and resources including video playlists and free downloads.

For those teachers who would like to pack their passport along with their luggage can check out 5 Programs for FREE Teacher Travel (or “travel with great funding”). This site is run by a Boston public school teacher as a way to connect teachers who like to travel and travelers who like to teach so we can all learn from each other ways to combine these passions. A quick click on the “explore” will lead you to clickable categories, tags, and archives making it pretty easy to see what’s there for you. So, if you are looking to travel to reboot your teaching self or inspire your lessons, then check out what others have done, how they’ve done it, and give it a try.

Hop on the Feedback Train

This is a short week so it will be a short-ish share.

A couple weeks ago I shared a great Google add on for giving feedback to your students, Joe Zoo Express. Well last week they launched their new platform making it even easier for you and your students. They have a great YouTube channel of videos and tutorials that I encourage you to check out and subscribe to so you can get the most out of this tool. Here is the list of new and improved features that they sent in their announcement:

  • New Add-on Design – we’ve redesigned our add-on to improve its usability 
  • New JoeZoo App – to bypass some of the design and functionality limitations inside Google Apps, we’ve built JoeZoo App to house our new Rubric Builder and more great tools to come 
  • New Rubric Builder – it is now faster and easier to use and includes the following improvements: 
    • Customizable Grading Scale – you can now input NAME, IB or any other scale you’d like to use 
    • Fractional Grading – you can now give B+/- Weighted Points Scoring – you’ll be able to give points, as an alternative to %, when grading a doc 
    • Rubric Sharing – if your school or district installs JoeZoo, you’ll be able to instantly share rubrics with anyone 
  • Redesigned Feedback & Grading – we’ve redesigned both to reflect what you’ve told us:
    • Multiple Assessors – now multiple teachers and students can add feedback and grading to each doc
    • Feedback & Grading History – now all of the comments, messages and grades added to a doc are grouped by Date and can be scrolled in our add-on 
    • Self/Peer/Teacher Feedback – based on who assessed whom, we group and label their comments, messages and grades in our add-on 
  • Less Clicks – we’ve reduce the number of clicks to give feedback or grade by 75%, here’s how: 
    • No More Steps – we got rid of all those steps so you can add a comment, message or grade from 1 screen in 1 step 
    • No More Menus – to add a comment you simply search and save, no more menus to click through 
  • New Comment Features – here are the requested features we added: 
    • Point Scoring – you can now indicate if your comment is corrective or praise by give it a score between 1 – 5 points
    • Fix Tip Control – you now control when you want to show a “How to Fix” tip with your comments 
    • Resource Links – you can now add links to comments if you wish students to explore helpful resources 
  • New Monkey Checkers – if your school or district installs JoeZoo, you’ll get the following improvements: 
    • Teacher Monkey Checker – users with ‘educator’ accounts will get this version
    • Student Monkey Checker – users with ‘student’ accounts will get this version, perfect for Self Assessment
    • Multiple Uses per Doc – now you can use each Monkey Checker multiple times per doc 
  • Increased Student Privacy – we take privacy seriously and have made these improvements: 
    • No Personal Information – we will no longer ask for student Names or Gender during the set up of JoeZoo 
    • Deleting Personal Information – for existing students, we will be deleting any Names and Gender information they gave us when setting up JoeZoo 
    • JoeZoo Privacy Kit – we will be providing teachers and schools a kit that will include our new Privacy and Terms of Use policies and a Parental Consent Letter template 

While stepping in at the last minute to cover a 6th grade English class, I found The Teacher’s Corner. I was looking for daily writing prompts for middle school students and this one incorporates historical events and people in each day’s prompt. This link is for the month of October. While Teacher’s Corner’s prompts came up in my query for prompts for middle school, they could easily be tweaked for use in elementary classes as well.

I enjoy thoughtful articles that prompt discussion amongst other educators and this one on homework practice from Eric Sheninger is one such post as it was tweeted and retweeted several times. In it he reminisces about how he and his brother spent after school afternoons playing outside until dinner, participating in school sports, and the like. He then went on to talk about how our students are spending their time after school – often on “obscene” hours of homework. Sheninger reminds us of the purpose of homework and asks us to look critically at the kind of homework we are assigning and at how it is affecting our students.

“If your homework practices make kids dislike school and/or learning that alone should tell you something has to change.”

Last, but certainly not least, is a teaching and learning tool I learned about again from last night’s Edchat Interactive webinar with Kathy Perret. It’s called Class Flow and it’s completely FREE tool to create engaging, interactive, differentiated lessons for your class. I first mentioned in this post along with 9 other formative assessment tools. You can create your own lessons (compatible with Smart, Promethean, and more), find lessons that other teachers have shared, differentiate what your students do  by sending questions to small groups of students, give  badges, check for understanding, and work together in class or out of class.  They have lessons for students from pre-k through post-secondary that you can filter by grade, subject, rating, language- yes- I said language as they have lessons in languages from Arabic to Vietnamese and 22 in between. There is so much more to know (I only just learned about it last night) and you can learn more about it by looking at their information and short video introductions here. And by the way, as I mentioned, it is completely FREE to sign up and use!

For great articles, videos, and more like this one on teacher stress, please visit the Shipley PLN Lower & Middle School Edition!


Get Your Learning On

All genuine learning comes through experience. ~John Dewey

I hope you are having a lovely day! I have been collecting some things to share with you that I think you will find useful, informative, and thought-provoking. I’m keeping it short today . . .

I have shared in the past about great current events sites to use with your students. This week I learned that Newsela announced “Text Sets” which are articles grouped by subject. You can create your own text sets, or use or remix other teachers’ sets. Here is the article and here is the link to current text sets.

For more sites to use with your social studies and history classes, check this out– resources for teaching current events.

You may have heard the phrase, “the sage on the stage,” well writers of anything- including tweets, texts, Facebook posts, and of course emails and docs- this one is for you! Grammarly is your grammar guide on the side!

Here is a great opportunity from Coursera to learn about Web 2.0 Tools and put them into use in your classroom.

Who says young students can’t reach an authentic audience and do something with their writing?! This article about a fellow Twitterer’s 9-year-old daughter and her food blog will show you that your students can write with a purpose and for an authentic audience reaching far beyond the classroom with their writing!

Summer is coming which means you will have time to rethink your classroom space and do some garage sale shopping to make your space “more like a nice restaurant” (said a student in this teacher’s classroom) and open and inviting to more collaboration and group work.

With summer coming, you’ll have time to get your learning on. PBS teacher line has some excellent professional development opportunities that include both self-paced and instructor-facilitated grad credit courses. They range from 1.5 hours and $49 to $335 and there are numerous options that I think are worth the look.

Have you thought about how you might like to help your students become more creative? Wednesday afternoon there was a great webinar (1 hour long but even if you listen to the first 28 minutes, that would be enough-dayenu) from @edtechteacher and the topic was How to Unleash Your Student’s Creativity so they can tell the story of their learning. I watched the recording because I was unable to attend it live,  and I highly recommend viewing and trying some of the ideas. A big takeaway- if everyone’s products look the same, it’s a recipe, not creativity. We must create the space for student choice and voice.

I will leave you with this visual on the impact of technology use in the classroom. Food for thought.

Go Ahead, Brag a Little

This morning I read @georgecouros’ most recent post on his blog and I was inspired by this question that he posed: Why are you not blogging? George was referring to a post that Alan Levine wrote about on his blog. After lots of clicking and reading, I decided to write my feelings on the question.

So, I often ask my colleagues, not necessarily, “Why aren’t you blogging,”  but “Why wouldn’t you want to share what you are doing with other teachers?” “Why wouldn’t you want to show off the great things that you are doing with your students?”

Personally, I would love all of my teachers to have a blog where they could reflect on what they are teaching, share their lessons that are successful and even not successful, announce something they are doing with their class, post information that parents might need to know, and connect with other classes.

But many are fearful of what they are not familiar with.

Or they are fearful of not having time to post regularly.

Or they just do not feel they even have the time to think, let alone write about it.

Alan Levine had some great thoughts when it came to teachers and blogging that you can read here, but the gist of what he said, was that a blog is not a thesis paper and it should not be seen as such. One should not over think their posts. As he says, “If you are spending that long writing a blog post, then you are wasting time. And you are blogging wrongly.”

The point I want to get across is that teachers should not go into their classroom and shut the door on the opportunities they would have if they opened their mind to the possibilities of sharing the great work they are doing with their students.

Be it a blog, a wiki, a, find a platform from which you can begin to create or enhance your professional digital footprint.

So, go ahead, brag a little. What’s holding you back?
photo credit: andreakw via photo pin cc


Pink Sherbet Photography

One of the fourth grade teachers and I decided a couple of months ago to let her students have some independent research time so they could follow their passion and learn about whatever they wanted. The students were really excited about the idea of being able to choose whatever interested them and have time to seek out the information.

The teacher was also excited but a little hesitant about what we would actually get from the kids-would they really use their time to learn information, are they just playing?

We started by introducing the idea to the kids who immediately began percolating with possible topics. Here are their topics:

  1. Our resident artist chose to learn more about Picasso
  2. Our gamers chose to learn more about game design
  3. Our animal lovers chose to further their knowledge of the animals they love-big cats and turtles
  4. Our fashionista chose to learn more about an area designer Tory Burch
  5. Our class baker wanted to learn more about cake design
  6. Our class astronomer wanted to learn more about the planets
  7. Our writers wanted to spend more time writing so they began writing blogs

During their independent research time the students were researching, reading, emailing and skyping with experts in their field. Each time we were able to connect the students with a real person they were so excited to actually be in touch with people who could help tell them what it as really like to follow their passion!

Yesterday the students started to share their research with us and the teacher and I have been so impressed and inspired by what we are seeing. Our game designers went first. A group of four boys and one girl researched online and skyped with a game design class in California to learn about the program they used. These students then went on to create their own games.

The other students in the class were so inspired and motivated by what they saw that they are already thinking about what they are going to do the next time around!

Why did I spend 340 words telling you all this you wonder? A few reasons:

  1. This teacher took a risk with her class allowing them to have this time to follow their interests
  2. The students showed that if they were allowed, they could do so much
  3. There is value in allowing students to follow their passion
  4. Finally, and to me most importantly, these students are excited about learning and can’t wait to do it again! Need I say more?

Have you tried this with your class? How did it work? Would you do it again?

photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc