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:

Our source of inspiration.



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.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Struggle is Real: My Journey Towards Wellness

My Younger Years: Middle School (Left), High School (Right)
Those of you who know me personally are very familiar with my use of the saying, “The struggle is real,” or as I like to express it as #thestruggleisreal. I have joked a lot about my struggles with food and weight to make the burden seem lighter, but the truth? It’s not something to take lightly. I have recently become aware of my actual state of health and it’s not pretty. It’s also not funny anymore. My whole life I have struggled with my weight. As far as I can remember, I have been a chubby girl who loves to eat. That hasn’t changed. And even despite my most recent efforts to become an active adult, it’s still not enough. And the only person to blame is myself (Some thanks given to my genes, but mainly for my lifestyle). Ouch.  That truth hurts, but it is something that needed to come to my attention. Better now than later. No longer will occasional exercise be enough. It’s time to turn a new leaf, time for a new beginning.
Adulthood: College (Left), Newly Married (Right)- Thinnest I have ever been! 
Going through this has made me realize how oblivious I have been over the past years. It is easy to get caught up with life and ignore one’s needs. It’s even easier to become complacent. But the irony of all this is that this state of complacency has not transferred to my profession. When it comes to my learning, I don’t settle. In fact, I like to challenge myself, question, reflect, and even share the work I do. I love to make connections and learn from others who have similar passions as myself.  Where I have stimulated my mind, I have ignored my body.

I know what I need to do from now on. I’m taking that same energy that I have researching innovative teaching practices to seeking information for my own nutrition and fitness.  Just as I would make a plan for my professional learning, I am now going to set goals for myself. I will also connect more with my online friends for support. As insignificant as a comment or like on a RunKeeper activity may seem, it means a lot for me. And I appreciate those of you who have already offered this support on a weekly basis!

But I think the biggest challenge so far in this wellness journey, is finding activities that are right for me. By that I mean, exercise that I not only enjoy but will actually keep up. I have never been athletic, so exercise in itself has been difficult. For now, I will include a mixture of running, dancing with my Wii Just Dance, and exercise videos for circuit training. These are just some options for me to increase my activity and motivate me. I figure if I have to do something, I might as well have fun doing it!

My best run this summer! Was proud of my time & distance. 

I am optimistic that things will improve and just as with any challenge, I will remember to take small steps. We all have our own struggles that may deviate our journeys into different or unexpected paths. I hope that you will continue to follow my journey and in doing so helps you take a closer look at your own. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Big Fish, Little Fish: Finding My School of Fish at ISTE

It's been a while since I have been here! The school year has been a busy but fulfilling one and my summer has not disappointed either. I wanted to share with you my reflections as a newbie at ISTE 2014. For those of you not familiar with ISTE, it is the mega Educational Technology conference in the world! No joke, it's massive! I was fortunate enough to be in attendance due to its proximity and relevance to teaching and learning. In fact, the title and theme of this post was inspired by the following conversation I had on Twitter. . .

After experiencing ISTE, I realized it was much more than a professional development opportunity. And way more than a conference for tech junkies like myself. Here is a glimpse of what my brain has processed so far. 

Finding My School of Fish 
Of all the conferences I have attended, I felt like I was at home for the first time at ISTE. For years I have been on Twitter and have worked on building my PLN by connecting and collaborating with other educators, leaders, and ed tech specialists. It was at ISTE that I was finally able to meet some of these folks in person and let me say that was an experience in itself. I was delighted to discover that all those I have been in communication with were just as personable and amazing in real life! While I was able to chat and catch up briefly with some, there were others that I instantly clicked with and that stole my heart. Of course you know I have to mention my two #ISTEbesties Lisa Pagano and Joshua Lemere. I have followed these two exceptional gifted educators on Twitter, but really got to know them beyond the profile and small talk.  We learned, we laughed, and even lived our own ISTE newbie experience together. I can say with sincerity that our time together cultivated friendships that I hope will last beyond our time at ISTE. 

With the fabulous Lisa & Josh!
The Hustle is Real! 
With Top Hustlers: Dr. Will, Eric, Walter, & Sarah. 
Another theme that struck me throughout the conference was the energy, and what I like to call the hustle. It came to no surprise that ISTE was a place where all the "big fish" gathered since it was the mecca for cutting edge technologies and the brightest minds in ed tech. But this hunger for innovation and connecting wasn't exclusive to the "big fish" but rather something I observed in almost everyone I encountered at the conference. To some extent, everyone was trying to make their mark and share their story. I appreciated those conversations where you heard not only the back story to how an app was created, but the struggles that some faced in treading new waters. At the same time, I soaked up all the advice and support that my Tweeps had to offer to my husband, Dr. Will. That type of exchange truly warmed my heart and lifted my spirit. It was great to know that there are folks out there that have our backs. And that right there is real!

 Some more of my favorite hustlers!
With Shelly, Peggy, Jerry, & Krissy. Always supportive & keeping it real!

Choosing My Learning  
Another aspect I enjoyed about ISTE was that learning took place in many formats. I was overwhelmed by not only the selection of topics available to explore but at the same time pleased that my learning did not have to be limited to traditional sessions. I chose to participate in the Digital Storytelling and Maker Spaces Playgrounds, where various speakers presented short, dynamic, and even hands-on demonstrations. My two favorites were led by author, Peter H. Reynolds and Vinnie Vrotny

With author, Peter H. Reynolds. 
Peter Reynolds gave a great talk on the importance of allowing our students to make their mark. As he read his book, The Dot, he emphasized that we are all artists and must seek opportunities to be creativite and explore our passions.  
Vinnie's Maker Space Playground.
Vinnie's showcase of Maker Space projects, just blew my mind! This year I took a step towards Maker Spaces with DIY projects and was very interested in exploring other projects and resources. Vinnie not only delivered on that front, but also taught me much more. When I asked him if cardboard was the foundation to Maker Spaces, he turned to me and said, "The foundation is a teacher willing to take the leap." Priceless. 
I enjoyed Vinnie's playground because I was able to hear the stories and touch products such as duct tape skirts, light up sewing kits, and a plastic frame made by a laser printer; all of which were student inspired and created! I was in awe to say the least and will definitely be on the look out for Vinnie at future conferences. He is not one to miss! 

Overall, ISTE exceeded my expectations on all levels. From challenging my thinking to making deeper connections, I gained much from what at first felt like the ISTE tsunami. While it all came at once, I was glad to take the plunge because below the surface I was able to find my school of fish. Now I feel I can take my next adventure out to sea, and this time, I don't have to do it alone.  
It's all about connecting!