Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The "Code" Never Bothered Us Anyway

This week our REACH students have participated in the Hour of Code. We started exploring the basics to coding with Angry Birds and characters from Frozen. Although these tutorials may seem like games, they actually involve problem solving and logic. The neat thing about these tutorials is that they progress from simple tasks to more challenging ones that allow the students to apply concepts that they have learned throughout. Also, there are several video tutorials where experts give advice for new skills such as using loops.

Another feature I particularly liked was that the tutorials offered different levels to accommodate a broad range of learners. I used the Angry Birds tutorial as our introduction and for younger learners in 2nd and 3rd grades. I encouraged my 4th-6th grades to start with the Frozen tutorial if they were proficient in games and computers. Finally,  my more advanced learners (aka My Minecraft bunch) moved on to the Flappy Bird and Scratch tutorials featured. To read more about different tutorials to try with your students, click here. 

It is safe to say that we enjoyed exploring the language of coding and computers. We plan to continue coding by trying out the 20 hour course offered through code.org as well as other programs such as Scratch and Tynker. I may also try the Unplugged activities featured on the site to make the concepts of coding more concrete for my younger grades.

I have to admit that coding has been on my mind and "to-try" list since last year. Due to my lack of confidence in an area I was not proficient in, I kept postponing it. Thanks to code.org, I feel like I can explore this new area with my students without pressure.




Sunday, November 2, 2014

Social Media Inspired Writing Prompts

Recently, I have taken the plunge into my own form of blended learning. While my students have used Edmodo for social interactions and collaborative projects, I have also integrated Google Classroom with my 5th and 6th graders. Eventually, I want to utilize Google Classroom as our main LMS and Google Drive for eportfolios. For now, I am posting all writing prompts on either Edmodo (grades 2-4) and Google Classroom (grades 5-6). These platforms are ideal for our current writing unit, where my goal is to use a variety of social media inspired prompts to hook my students while showing them the more playful side of writing. Here are some of my favorites so far:

Dear Letters 

Skills/Focus: Multiple Perspectives,  Developing Voice,  Descriptive Writing 

To introduce this assignment I show the Dear Kitten Series by Buzzfeed. These immediately grab my students' attention and have been a favorite! After the video, we discuss point of view and the purpose behind the letters. Next, I challenge students to write their own letters. Here are the directions I give: 
Instructions

  1. Pick an inanimate object or animal.
  2. Pick audience (who/what), Nontypical context (i.e. Instead of animal in the wild, what about animal in a zoo?)
  3. Write a letter giving advice to something else (point of view)
  4. Make the setting specific and interesting. (i.e. marker in PreK class on the 1st day of school)
  5. Select picture to capture the message/mood of letter. Use ookaboo.com or pixabay.com



Here are few student examples: 


Image Source: Pixabay.com

Image Source: Pixabay.com




Two Sentence Stories 

Skills/Focus: Storytelling, Vocabulary, Summarizing  
I modified this assignment based on the article, 20 terrifying Two-Sentence Stories. I came across this article on Facebook and shared only those samples that were school appropriate. Students created their own stories based on the following guidelines: 
1. Choose a genre (i.e. Adventure, Epic, Romantic, Mystery, Scary, etc.) 
2. Condense a story into two sentences. Choose your words wisely! 
3. Select a picture to use as an illustration or cover for your story. Use ookaboo.com or pixabay.com


Image Source: Pixabay.com
Image Source: Pixabay.com


 Scary Stories in 5 Words 

Skills/Focus: Storytelling, Vocabulary, Context 
This prompt was inspired by a Twitter hashtag. I found this humorous trend appear in my feed and thought why not use it to insert some humor into writing! I recommend to not use actual hashtags in the event that there are inappropriate examples. So to make this more school appropriate I selected a few samples to share.


The internet is down worldwide. 



Imagine a world without pizza. 



There is no wifi here.



Whatever you do, don't move. 


I am telling on you. 



Tips for Student Writing 

Although all final products are posted online, I encourage students to use whatever method works for them as they are brainstorming and writing their first draft. While some students choose to use a graphic organizer/thinking maps, others can doodle or take notes on a piece of paper. Most my students have chosen to draft using Google Docs, so I encourage the use of add ons and tools to assist them. I am moving towards collaborative editing "teams" where students will need to "hire/contract" their own peers to assist in the editing process. It is important that as a teacher I am not the only individual giving feedback for student writing. Finally, student work is displayed either on our class blog or class Twitter account to share with a global audience. 


Monday, October 6, 2014

It's Better to Learn Together

Just recently I attended and presented at our state gifted conference. I wasn't sure I was going to make it this year, but was glad I did! This year I presented, Birds of a Feather Tweet Together: Building Your PLN through Twitter and other Social Media Tools. For years, I have connected, collaborated, and as a result grown professionally thanks to my PLN. I have noticed that members of my PLN have even made it to more personal aspects of my life. From my Facebook account to my RunKeeper App, I am surrounded by my PLN who inspire me to be the best I can be. I know that sounds corny, but it is true. For this reason, I chose to share my love for my PLN with colleagues from all over my state.

My Sharing in a Nutshell

In my presentation, I focused on my why. This is what not only drives our instruction, but is the reason we connect. I made sure to also differentiate between a connected educator versus a connected person. This idea was inspired by Amanda Dykes' (@amandacdykes) post, Are You a Connected or a Connected Person? I shared that in my case, I was both. This is why I don't have separate accounts on Twitter or Facebook.

To check out my presentation slides, click here
For my handout, click here

Sharing is Caring 

But perhaps the biggest moment during my session was not my sharing. Instead, it was when my colleagues gave their input and insights. This made my heart smile to know that my fellow teachers were comfortable enough to share their experiences, whys, and questions. And to know that they were engaged throughout and related to my message was absolutely priceless! Conversations were going before, during, and after the session. We even started a Google Spreadsheet on our state Facebook group page to continue the conversations. And that's what's it's all about for me. The connections.


Takeaways

So here are a few topics that emerged from our sharing during the session. I have also included more resources to explore. This section is dedicated to my state crew!

Tips for Building Your PLN

  • Find your people
  • Start small (with one tool) and get comfortable with it! 
  • Pick the tool that is right for you and stick to it 
  • It's amazing how far we've come thanks to technology! Now we can connect with gifted educators all over the nation and globe. 

The Maker Ed Movement: 


Coding:

Professional Conferences/Groups:







Monday, August 25, 2014

Happy New (School) Year!

View from the back of the room.
It's back to school for many this week and I want to wish everyone a great start! As for me, well we're going into our fourth week of school since we are early starters here in the South. I wanted to take the time to share the learning spaces in my classroom. Thanks to my lovely and very talented teammate, I now have a classroom set up that works! After being in three different classrooms over the past four years, I can finally say I feel settled. I have struggled with finding the perfect set up with the space available to me. And now, I feel there is a certain flow to my classroom that is conducive to center work, collaboration, and flexibility. So here's a quick tour:

Supply Headquarters

At the front of the class you will find my supply headquarters. Here I have reference books, school supplies, and pencil sharpeners attached to a small bookshelf. At the top are two bathroom caddies that students can take for restroom breaks if needed. Above the shelf will be our Student Spotlight bulletin board. This board will be dedicated to a student who exemplifies strong work ethics and positive attitudes throughout the year. It will be changed throughout the term to celebrate our students and their achievements. We also provide guidelines to students who are selected. To read these, click here.






Front Board 
Adjacent to our Supply Headquarters is our front board. I was delighted to find a newly installed interactive whiteboard this fall. We use this part of the room to view the daily news either on CNN Student News or Channel One. Also, I post our schedule on a small red chart next to our board and use the left side for notes or directions, while the right side can be for reminders and notes. Students hang their backpacks and lunch bags underneath the board for organization. Because I had these hangers put up, that left me without a ledge to put markers and erasers. I use these magnetic bags to keep all markers and erasers and keep them low so that students may use them when needed.

Classroom Library
Past my desk is our classroom library. I have organized this section into reading levels, where each shelf houses a certain range of levels. I have placed novel sets on the bottom shelves and in baskets. All picture books are above the shelves in wooden crates. The bulletin board will highlight book review posters that students can share once they complete a book of their choice. I am missing a rug and will write a few grants to make this space cozier for students. This area of my room has been a work in progress, however I am pleased with it so far.

Storage Corner

Past the classroom library and towards the back corner of the classroom is my storage corner. I have inherited some file cabinets where I keep my resource materials. My goal is to purge two more cabinets if not all to add space to my classroom. In the meantime, I use the top of the file cabinets as a storing area for any maker projects. Each grade or class will have an assigned bin where they can store their projects. Underneath is a poster box that contains all laminated maps to use for Mystery Location Calls and poster boards for any projects.










Tech Time Cart
To the right of my Storage Corner is our Tech Time Cart. This houses all our macbooks and headphones. I have put up some technology related posters above the cart and plan on adding some Mac Shortcut Posters. I have posted logins to student programs such as Accelerated Reader, Compass, Edmodo, and Scholastic's Book Flix. Students will also keep their logins and passwords in their folders. This year each student will be assigned a computer, which they will be responsible for putting back in the correct slot and charging. Also, I am excited to use Google Drive to set up digital portfolios and for submitting work.




A new addition to our classroom is our Non-Fiction Library! I was thrilled to have inherited this bookcase another teacher graciously donated. For the past couple of years, my teammate had all the nonfiction books in her room and decided to bring them over to my side. I created a nook near our classroom opening (we are in one large classroom with an opening to pass through). The top shelf has all parent and teacher resources for gifted children while the remaining shelves have books organized by categories such as World Cultures, Geography, Animals/habitats, The Human Body, and much more. These will come in handy once students start their Passion Projects and independent research projects.






Past the opening to our classrooms, is my closet door. Here I have placed a pocket chart to keep all student handouts such as reading logs or thinking maps. This will keep my desk area clutter free and accessible for all students. The pocket chart has labels that I can add to assist students in locating the appropriate resource they need.









The final section of my room are my counters and cabinets. The cabinets underneath contain a supplies that we don't use on a regular basis such as rulers, bulletin board borders, and craft materials. Each cabinet door is labeled to assist in locating materials needed. The counters hold our Literature Circle baskets, where students can keep their independent reading books, reading logs, and Literature Circle jobs. In the center I have placed a paper tray with construction paper and poster paper followed by cubbies with classroom folders. Our classroom folders will organize any weekly logs, handouts, resources, and projects we complete on a weekly basis. On the wall, above the folders is a red pocket chart with our Performance Standards Scale, which are based on the DAP Levels. Students work and behavior are evaluated using this scale.

Panoramic View from the door. 
From this view you can see that there are four rectangular blue tables located in the center and two round tables along the perimeter in case students want some more space to work. We normally hold our morning meetings and any whole class instruction or events (such as technology tutorials or Google Hangouts) at the blue tables. I also have an additional office chair near my desk where I like to have "appointments," or one-on-one conferences with my students.

This concludes my classroom tour. I hope you enjoyed it and of course I am open to modifications throughout the year from my best critics and problem solvers- my students.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Blending Research and Poetry to Capture Historical Events

The independent research project has been a staple in my gifted classroom. For the longest I struggled with ways to challenge my students to not only narrow their focus in their research but also convey what they have learned in creative and novel ways. Instead of finding basic facts on Google and throwing these facts back at me, I wanted something different and something that would push my students' thinking. This is especially difficult during my summer program, where my time is limited to 30 minutes. And this year, our program covered a theme that was rich in history: The Freedom Summer Movement of 1964. 

I was so pumped to learn that our program would focus on this pivotal event of the Civil Rights Movement. Students were going to dive into exploring primary resources of the time period, speak to community leaders who participated or lived through the actual movement as children, and even take a tour of sites in our community that served as locations for local rallies. I felt the pressure to deliver an experience for my students that involved more than the technology. Although I was assigned as their Technology Instructor, it was obviously more than just the tool for me, but about creating a learning experience to help them capture the mood and essence of Freedom Summer. The following is what I came up with.

Freedom Poems

Since students were devoting a majority of their time researching and examining key figures and events of Freedom Summer in the regular classes, I had students apply the information they have gathered to compose poetry. I chose poetry because it provided a structure for students to convey the moods, feelings, and themes that emerged from this difficult time in Mississippi history. I challenged students to think from the perspective of those who lived through the movement, which proved to be a challenging endeavor for them. I also added a visual element to this assignment by having students base their poems on actual pictures that were taken from the experience. 

To view some sample poem templates that work well with historical research, click here
To explore poem templates for younger learners, click here.  

Theme Memes 

Another project option I offered were Theme Memes. This idea was inspired by a post shared by a colleague on the NAGC Computers & Technology Facebook Page, where she used them to capture the theme of a documentary. I took that same concept and had my students choose a word to capture what Freedom Summer meant to them or those individuals in their pictures. Much like the previous project mentioned, the theme memes would be based on the images that occurred during Freedom Summer. The final step was to create a tagline to elaborate or exemplify their word. 
To create your own Theme Memes, visit: bighugelabs.com

Our source of inspiration.

 

Reflection

Overall, I was very impressed with the insight my students brought to these projects. Although they initially struggled with the concept of presenting themes and information from another's point of view, they put forth their best effort. I would love for you to share how you bring history to life with your students. 

Note: If you're having trouble viewing the video, click on the title on the left hand corner to view it on YouTube. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Edmodo as a Creative Writing Space

It's almost back to school and that means back to Edmodo! My students and I have used this platform for quite some time now. Because I don't teach a core subject, my main goal is to ignite creativity among my students, especially when it comes to their writing. So far this is what my students have enjoyed the most from our time on Edmodo.

Creative Writing Activities 

1. Caption This!- For this activity, I provide a picture for my students to describe and challenge them not to use obvious descriptions. I like to follow @fascinatingpics and @earthpix to find stunning images of our world.


2. 6-Word Stories/Collaborative Stories - Another variation for the image sources above is having students write 6 word stories to describe a picture. These can also turn into a collaborative writing activity if you provide a story starter and have each student write a sentence or two to continue the story.


3. Title Talk- I'm always amused when I run into title talks on Twitter. These are hilarious remakes or substitutions of movie titles, which can also apply to book titles. Of course, my students know that all titles must be school and age appropriate. This is a great substitution activity, especially if your students are familiar with the SCAMPER model.

4. Friday Funny- On Fridays, I like to post a comic or funny joke that relates to what is happening that week. For example, if we are predicted to have a "snow day", I post some winter comics. Or if we have a class inside joke, I post a cartoon or comic that relates to that theme. This seems to build a sense of community among my students and gets the discussion going. This year, I will encourage my students to create puns for the week to model after one of the "punniest" people we know, Carl Azuz from @CNNStudentNews.

5. Journal Writing with a Twist- I recently bought the book, Unjournaling and have found several prompts that I would like for my students to share on Edmodo. I haven't decided whether I will preselect the prompts or have students self-select the ones they are interested in.

Next Steps 

Now I am brainstorming some activities to build vocabulary and to continue to develop writing in novel ways. As you can see, I like to keep my activities short and simple so that my students can complete these with minimal guidance. At the same time, I want to keep them open-ended as to not stifle creativity. Do you have other activities that you are willing to share? 

Birds of Feather, Tweet (and Hangout) Together!

Preparing to return to the classroom for the fall, is prime time for inspiration! Normally, I reach out to my amazing PLN and schedule a few Skype calls to catch up with my peeps, brainstorm exciting projects, and share cool tools for school. This gets my mind ready to tackle the new school year and pumped to try out new approaches that will improve my practice. I am a connected person. I live and breathe my job and can't get enough of learning. If you know me, you know that I get very excited at the thought of connecting with my Tweeps (My fellow teachers on Twitter)! And this year, I decided to spread my joy in connecting by inviting more folks to my "Brainstorming Party."

One of my go-to Tweeps for these brainstorming sessions is @amusone. We have connected for years via Twitter and have done several collaborative projects with our students via Skype. She was also the first person I tried Google Hangouts with. We have switched over to Hangouts to continue our annual summer brainstorming and invited @ellication to our session. I was blown away by the neat tools that @ellication shared and was thrilled to collaborate on a special project we have in store for our students this year (more to come later). But perhaps what I most enjoyed from our chat is the level of enthusiasm we have for our students in creating a space for them to own their learning.

Other Hangouts that I was looking forward to this summer were with my gifted education crew. These Hangouts were inspired by one of my favorite gifted education teachers, @bdlasher. She and I connected on Twitter and via our class blogs, which eventually blossomed into our summer brainstorming sessions. This year I took it a step further and invited @edu_ms_pagano, @mrlemere, and @teachagiftedkid to our Hangout.
Gifted Guru Hangout
In a nutshell: Our lively discussion went from organizing Maker Spaces to taking our kids' independent research projects to the next level. We even kept notes on a shared Google Doc that included links and resources we use in our own planning (Thank you, @ellication for the idea!). It was invigorating to learn from my crew and experience the collaboration in action! What is even more refreshing is the fact that all the tips and resources shared were vetted because they come from folks I trust.

I hope my fellow Tweechers benefited from our Hangouts as much as I did. We are fortunate to live in a time where technology can easily bring us together to bounce ideas and find other educators who "get us." I would love to continue our Gifted Guru Hangouts throughout the school year, especially since others from my PLN have asked to join us. So let's make it happen! Feel free to leave your Twitter handle in the comments or reach out to me via Twitter by clicking here.

*Shout Out: I wanted to acknowledge @mcoaty for chatting with me via a Hangout. We had our own chat about all things related to Math enrichment and collaborative/tech-integrated projects for our students. He is definitely my go-to person as I plan for my Math enrichment group! I am hoping he will join us for our next Gifted Guru Hangout.