Friday, March 28, 2014

Summer Book Studies

Maybe it's because spring break is approaching or because my students clearly have spring fever, but I'm already starting to make plans for the summer. As usual, tackling some good books for professional development is on the agenda.

This summer, I'm going to get back to my roots on this blog: Teaching Reading and Writing with Technology. Towards that end, I've selected two books.

Book #1 (studied in June): When Writing with Technology Matters by Carol Bedard & Charles Fuhrken

This book is a case study of various writing projects done in an elementary classroom. I perused the full text preview on the Stenhouse website, and it looks like it could spark some good ideas and discussions. It goes deep into a couple ideas rather than covering the full range of ways to integrate technology in writers' workshop, so it's a good text for teachers at all experience levels.

Book #2 (studied in July/August): Many Texts, Many Voices: Teaching Literacy and Social Justice to Young Learners in the Digital Age by Penny Silvers & Mary C. Shorey

I'm increasingly reminded that these kids have never lived in a world that didn't have Facebook or Twitter, and as social media takes over everything, I want to teach students the skills to help them become powerful consumers (and creators!) of information. This book focuses on authentic literacy tasks that foster critical literacy and engagement with technology. I really cannot wait to tackle this book!

I'd love for you to join me as readers or discussion leaders this summer! I'll post a complete schedule in May, but in the meantime, please help me spread the word. Summer is a great time to gather new ideas that you can take back to the classroom and to play around with technology.

If you'd like to share in leading the discussion at your blog this summer, please fill out this Google Form, and I'll be in touch to set up the schedule.

This post contains affiliate links, but I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CRF, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, March 27, 2014

5 Tips to Make Your Paperless Classroom Work

I'm now more than 3/4 of the way through my year of 1:1 iPad work with fourth graders, and while I hoped to have a paperless classroom, the reality has been a bit different. We're definitely using less paper than we would without iPads, but I can't pretend that we're paper-free. As I reflect on this school year, here are five things I would do differently next year to make the paperless transition go even better.

1. Begin the year with a typing boot camp.
The biggest obstacle to the paperless classroom at the beginning of fourth grade is simply that the kids (for the most part) don't know how to type. Tasks that should have been quick ended up taking 3-4 times the length that I'd anticipated just because the kids were hunting for keys on the keyboard. I think if I'd spent the first term of the year working on typing skills, it would have made a big difference. And on a related note, I'd encourage students to get bluetooth keyboards to use with their iPads (assuming the school won't invest in those, too).

2. Transition gradually.
When my students start fourth grade, they come from a school that does not have 1:1 iPads. As a result, the technology integration is a big adjustment--for both students and parents. Going fully paperless can be a huge culture shock for the students, and the transition can produce some anxiety. Even with tech-savvy students, there can be a huge learning curve with different apps, and it can quickly get frustrating for some kids--especially the ones who were very comfortable with school as they previously knew it. Start small with a few key apps (e.g., Edmodo, Evernote) and build from there.

3. Try to give options.
Some students are far more comfortable with the iPads than others, and sometimes their lack of comfort can impact their work. With writing, for example, I've learned to give students the option of drafting on paper, even though there are lots of mind-mapping and word processing apps they could use for drafting. Usually once they have that first draft on paper, they're more comfortable typing it in to make revisions and edits. For some of my students, that flexibility makes a huge difference in the amount of writing they can endure. For other students, the iPads boost productivity. Either way, we know that choice is important to students, and this is another important way to differentiate in a 1:1 classroom.

4. Don't force it.
There are still some contexts where it makes more sense to use paper. Math tests are one example for me. I don't tend to give students multiple choice tests in math, and I want them to have plenty of space to show their work. Yes, they could do the work on GoodReader with a stylus and turn it in on Edmodo, but that's not necessarily more efficient for me to grade--especially on a multipage test. Similarly, we're still using paper and a notebook for our word study work. We use differentiated spelling lists with Words Their Way, and I want students to go through the practice of sorting and recording their words each week. Paper makes sense for that.

5. Stay flexible, and have a backup plan.
At the beginning of the year, we were using our iPads for almost everything (we still are). But then I got sick, and I had to write sub plans. I never know who I'm going to have as a sub, but there are two things that are certain: 1) the sub will never be as comfortable managing a class full of iPads as I am, and 2) students will be more apt to misbehave when they have a sub. As a result, I don't usually include the iPads in my sub plans unless I know that there will be someone there to enforce my expectations (e.g., someone I co-teach with or my student teacher). If students expect to use the iPads for everything, it can really throw a wrench into the system to take those away, even for a day. Therefore, it's important to be flexible with using them throughout the year so that students aren't dependent on them. Sure, they might have a preference, but they need to be able to function without them. That's also true for times when the power goes out, the internet goes down, or a software glitch makes the iPad temporarily unavailable.

Any tips to add? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

This post contains affiliate links, but I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CRF, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Amazing Power of Focus

I frequently like to put on music while I work, and I sometimes do that in my classroom, too. I've rotated through many Pandora playlists, and I use Spotify a fair amount. I like the music on those sites, but they're more for entertainment than work.

I've finally found a resource that really seems to help me and my students get into the zone and focus.

Let me introduce you to my favorite new website, Focus@Will.

This website allows you to listen to instrumental music from a variety of genres that has been specially selected to get you into a state of "flow." The music is sequenced in an order that draws on neuroscience and research about the impacts of music on productivity. They have a huge section documenting the science behind the playlists

I tried this site while reading some really dense texts for a PhD class, and I really felt like it helped me stay focused and productive. I cruised through the articles in record time! I also had it playing while I worked on writing this morning, and I do feel like it's impacting my personal productivity. It seems to be helping my students as well. 

They have two membership levels -- a free version and a paid version. The free version gives you 60 minutes of each playlist before stopping. You can listen to the playlists multiple times, but it will always be the same playlists. The paid version allows you to set a timer, customize playlists, listen to unlimited music, and track productivity for $4.99 billed monthly or $45 billed annually. I'm currently using the free version, but I suspect it won't be long before I upgrade. It's having a big impact on my productivity. 

If you like to have music on in the background while you or your students work, I'd definitely recommend giving Focus@Will a try. I'd love to hear about your experiences with it in the comments!

I like so much that I've become an affiliate with the site. This means that if you click the links above and subscribe, I'll receive a very small commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CRF, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Integrating Peer Feedback

Sometimes my students surprise me.

We're studying the Measurement and Data standards right now in math, and we were struggling a bit with 4.MD.2 - the measurement word problems standard. We've been using some of the free math units from Engage NY (a resource I highly recommend), and we were on day 3 of working through word problems, and I knew I had to mix it up a bit. Here's what we did.

First, students worked through 6 word problems from module 2. The word problems were multi-step and used many different types of metric measurement. They completed these problems independently, but they could consult other students if they got stuck. Once everyone at the table finished, they checked their work with each other to make sure they agreed on the same answer.

Next, I assigned each table a different focus problem from the 6 that they solved. They had about 10-15 minutes to work together to design a poster that explained the problem and solution. They could represent their work any way they wanted, but the work had to speak for itself -- they wouldn't be there to explain the poster to anyone else.

Once the posters were completed, I gathered the students together on the carpet, and we reviewed the Standards for Mathematical Practice using these posters I've made:

We talked about using these standards as opportunities to give feedback. We also discussed how effective feedback needs to be specific and constructive. If you like something, say what, specifically, you liked and how it helped communicate an idea. If something needed to be improved, explain what and how that could be done.

Once I felt like the students had some ideas for ways to give good feedback, I had the students do a gallery walk around the classroom to look at the other posters. In a gallery walk, students use sticky notes to comment on other people's work. They can leave positive and/or constructive feedback. I let the students comment anonymously if they wanted, and they were able to reference the SMP posters if they needed ideas (I gave them access to a digital copy on their iPads). I used a timer, and they spent 5 minutes studying and commenting on each poster before rotating.

Once they'd rotated through all of the posters, the returned to the poster their group had made, and they took a few minutes to read the feedback. I had them work together to sort the feedback into the categories "helpful" and "not helpful."

We shared a few examples of helpful comments with the whole class:
  • "I like how the team drew pictures to represent the problem, but I think the team could have explained what each picture represented from the problem."
  • "The pictures aren't in proportion to one another. The drawing of 1,500 mL is much larger than 3 L, but really the 3 L should be larger."
  • "Something I really like about your poster is that it has pictures to represent the problems. One thing that you could have done differently is represent the subtraction and addition with a tape diagram."
  • "You could have represented the answer in mixed units to make your answer clearer."
We then talked about unhelpful comments -- one word comments or feedback that focused more on style than substance.

Overall, this lesson was very helpful in getting the students to think about the Standards for Mathematical Practice and how to give effective feedback. Each group had ideas for things they wanted to change on their posters based on peer comments, and some groups even asked to work on it more during recess! It was also a good reminder for me that students can give each other powerful feedback, and I need to provide them with more opportunities to do this across the subject areas.

If you'd like to get a copy of my student-friendly Standards for Mathematical Practice posters, they're available in my TpT store by clicking the image below.

What are some ways you incorporate peer feedback in your classroom? I'd love to hear more ideas in the comments section!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Georgia Bloggers Meet-up

I was thrilled to get the opportunity to meet up with some other Georgia bloggers yesterday thanks to the organizational efforts of Jayne at Smart Kids. You see, even though I've been MIA from the blogging world a lot this year, blogging is always on my mind. Really.

This year has been a whirlwind as I've juggled teaching full-time, parenting, and starting my PhD program. Virtually everything I've written this year has included a bibliography, and that hasn't left a lot of energy for my blog. But when I've been researching and writing for my academic pursuits, I've been learning all about theories of professional learning and how our online encounters fit into that. I must say, there hasn't been a lot written about teacher professional learning through blogging, and that's a gap I intend to fill. More people need to know about the amazing teachers supporting each other through social media. They need to know how that process is 10 times better than any other form of professional development and how it empowers teachers to become better at their craft by pursuing their passions and interests.

So when I say that blogging is always on my mind, I really mean it. It's been at the heart of every paper I've written as I work on my PhD. When I got the chance to go meet some fellow bloggers, I couldn't say no.

The meet up was at Georgia School Supply in Macon, GA--about an hour and a half away from where I live. I was excited to go and meet some fellow bloggy friends because it's always so good to be able to match names and faces and to remember that there are some real live people with amazing ideas that are working in classrooms, too. I'd never met any of the people there, so it was a real treat.

We talked about our secret lives as bloggers and TpT'ers, shared tips and strategies, made business plans, swapped products, and had an all around great time. I love meeting other bloggers and learning how much we have in common. Everyone I met yesterday was wonderful, and I look forward to keeping in touch with these new friends!

I hope to be blogging more this week as my student teacher takes over EVERYTHING from now through spring break (woot! woot!). In the meantime, be sure to check out the blogs from the amazing people I met yesterday!

Jayne, Kelly, Angie, Stacy, Tara, Valerie
The Teacher Wife
Funky Fresh Firsties

...And They All Fall Down...

Georgia Grown Kiddo's

Jennifer, Carol, Kathy, Meghan, Kim, Irma, Megan


Michelin, Jessica, Greg, Erin, Alison


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