Friday, November 20, 2015

Still Treading Water


I'm so overwhelmed and haven't been able to read my Feedly or get a post in.

I should be grading or planning, or at home packing for this weekend's EdTechTeam Google Summit, but I decided to try and get a post in.

So what has been going on since the last post?  Let me tell you...

With broken up weeks because of holidays, and testing, etc. We haven't had a Passion Project Day in a while, and it looks like we may only have one after the students get back from Thanksgiving Break and before "Winter" Break.  I'm still making them blog about it though, to hopefully encourage them to work on it.  I've decided to start making the blog post due every other week though instead of every week.   I have barely made a dent in grading them, so if I'm drowning in them, the kids must be too.

Still on the subject of the Passion Project, we (mostly) finished up our presentations of our proposals.  There were a few things that stood out to me:

  • One student said the project is helping them start to figure out what they want to do in life.
  • One is doing a project about the bass guitar and naming it "All About That Bass" (I thought that was cute)
  • One is doing his on the topic of the brain and depression.
  • I have a few groups of students who are going to make their own video game
  • One is going to learn American Sign Language
  • One is doing one on Slacklining
  • One group is doing one on preventing baseball injuries
  • and, one is doing one on Autism because he wants to give families back hope.
The group of 5 I talked about in my last post are still together.  I pulled them aside and asked them to figure out how to break into two groups or to create a presentation to convince me to allow them to stay together.  They did a pretty good job, though one girl was the clear "ringleader".

Besides getting blogs and comments graded and into the books, I need to start planning out the elevator pitch that I originally planned for the end of the semester...I guess we will see.

Last week, I had a really transformative experience when I participated in a training for Safe School Ambassadors with 6 other teachers and 15 students.  It's really hard to put into words what it was like, but I'm looking forward to helping students (and myself) change for the better and help others change because of that.  This also inspired me to say yes to a request to send me to Orlando in February for an Anti-Bullying conference that I didn't want to do previously because I didn't want to pulled out again.  But, this issue is really important.

I will be spending my break coming in to do work.  I need to plan out the Edgar Allan Poe Unit for my 10th graders all the while going into their To Kill a Mockingbird essays do when we get back to give them feedback.

I'm hoping this enormous feeling of being overwhelmed will lessen a bit when I finish my Masters at the end of the school year.  I need to find more time to fit in some yoga.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Struggling to Reach the Surface

Not to be a downer (or drowner, as the case may be), but I'm struggling.  I'm sure I'm not the only one, especially if you teach English like I do.  I'm (hopefully not vainly) trying to break the surface of that which is grading.  

I'm SO far behind.  With my own school, where I often spend the weekends, or at least Sunday, getting most of my work done, and trying out the passion project, and planning, and making sure I'm not sitting at my desk when I'm being a "guide on the side", and getting my 10,000 steps in Monday-Friday (20 pounds lost, woot), I'm never really making any significant progress in filling my lungs with the oxygen that is being completely caught up.

Only in teaching do you contemplate taking a day off in order to do more work.  I'm not going to do it because I already know I'll be pulled from the classroom two days in a row in November, and at least one in December.

Speaking of that, as a teacher that uses tech in the classroom, planning for subs is that much harder.  And, planning for subs is a major pain without the added issue of tech.  I don't feel comfortable putting the Chromebooks in the hands of a sub, so I often have to figure out how to do something the "old-fashioned" way, or do a one off lesson.  Any other techy teachers want to talk subs with me?

I had an epiphany moment with the Passion Project this week.  We started the presentations of our proposals.  It took a lot longer than I thought, but we also had a shorter class period than normal, so we'll continue this Friday.  I had borrowed the template from Kevin Brookhouser after reading his book on 20 Time in the classroom, but my students (many of them) were confused by it.  So, I simplified it a bit and changed it for next year (again, that must mean I'm planning to try this crazy ride again) by changing it to have a more clear objective that has an impact on at least one other person.  I've also decided (damn, that 20/20 hindsight) to create a screencast explaining the proposal for next year.

The proposals presentations were enlightening.  I learned, that of course, there is a group of 5, despite the fact I told them both verbally and in writing that they could only have 4 people per group (*sigh*), and that some kids are unbelievably selfish (but only some kids).  I'm quite impressed with the ideas some of my students have.  Here are a  few ideas that stood out to me:

  • two students are going to work together to inspire people with their passion for music, which will hopefully culminate in a performance of an original song.
  • three students want to give turtles to children in hospitals for companions.
  • numerous students want to do something to help the homeless
  • one student wants to educate people on the culture and languages of the indigenous Mexican tribes so they don't become lost
  • one girl wants to do henna tattoos for people who have lost their hair

With the Passion Project just about every Friday, I'm "behind" where I should be according to the curriculum map.  I guess it's a good thing I only use that as a guide and have decided to take the time my students and I need (or try to at least, that's another struggle) to work through the content regardless of time.  

I am still on To Kill a Mockingbird with my 10th-grade honors students.  We've finished reading the book, but there is so much I can still do with it.  I feel the push to get done and started on the Poe unit, but I'm not going to.  I'm going to give it a few more weeks (especially since it looks like testing will get in the way one week) and take Poe to the end of the semester.

My 11th grade PLC wants to have The Crucible done before Winter Break.  Yeah, doubt that is going to happen for me.  We haven't even started it yet.  We finish Romanticism next week, and that is with taking out Transcendentalism.

I wonder how much time I would get back if all the testing went away?

Speaking of my 11th grade.  I had them go through "The Raven" and mark all the words and phrases that contributed to the mood, then had them type the words into a wordle (which doesn't work on Chrome by the way, had to switch to Firefox).  Check out their wordles below.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Passion Project Roller Coaster of Emotions

The ups and downs of The Passion Project are not as enjoyable as the loops and drops of a roller coaster.  The loop-de-loops on a rollercoaster can be exhilarating.  The loop-de-loops of trying out a Passion Project can be draining.

Some students have ideas that are really exciting.  Their ideas have me strapped in my seat and inching towards the first drop.

Other students are struggling, and I'm struggling to help them.  I've already decided to simplify the proposal for next year, that should help them understand with less confusion...  I guess that means I plan on doing it next year.

What a lot of them are having a hard time with are the blogs.  They use Passion Project days on this instead of using them to do research.  They are also waiting until the last minute, so I'm having a hard time seeing where they need help until it's nearly too late.

It is all very overwhelming.  Part of it is probably trying to finish up my last year of graduate school while trying this all out.  I may have gotten on a coaster that is too big for my britches.  But, it is too late to get off.

I think I've decided that if I can get the students to produce blogs with ease and somewhat well, I'm going to consider that a success.  They will have a skill that not many other students on campus have.

Now, I think I need to see if I can find a coaster with a smoother ride.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Read Report for September 2015 Part 2

Here are the posts I found interesting that were written up at the end of September.

The EdTechTeam talked about student tech talks under their #ONENEWTHING hashtag.  I really liked the idea.  I don't think I could do it that often, but maybe once a grading period.  I like the idea of students presenting tech ideas.  I especially like the idea about having them sumit, via Google Form, what they want to talk about (they don't need to know about incognito mode).

Another one from EdTechTeam, is about designing a Google MyMaps lesson.  I'm sure this would be really great for social studies teachers.  I could see possibly using it myself with students for historical backgrounds on novels and stories, or to map out the journey of the characters in a novel or in a story the students create themselves.

Over at te@chthought, they made a top 10 post about knowing you are doing it right.  I found it interesting, particularly numbers 5 and 9.  My mother can attest that I have a penchant for not doing what I am told, and I think I have brought that into my adulthood.  I also have issues with some of the higher higher ups not thinking about the individual student and only looking at them as data points.

I came across this post from Connected Principals about why educators should blog.  I think the first point stood out to me more than any of the others.  Blogging requires reflection.  It's so true.  I often find that I have something in my head that I could blog about, but then I never seem to find the time, or I have to make time and something else (grading, planning) suffers.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Passion Project Blog Example

My students are currently struggling with the concept of blogging about their Passion Project and how to create one.  So, I thought I would post and use this as a way to exemplify what it is I want from them and how to do it.

Over the past 6 weeks, since school started, I have introduced the idea of the Passion Project and what Genius Hour/20% Time is.  I had them watch videos and answer some reflective questions.  We tried out the Bad Idea Factory, which didn't go as well as I had hoped.  Last week, I introduced them to the blog portion of the project, and that has created a lot of confusion.  I think it's because they are outside of their comfort zones academically.

I'm currently working to help the students move past their confusion about the blogs, and the project itself, by creating a screencast video of how to do a blog post for the project.

For the next week, I'm going to focus on helping students constructively leave comments on their classmates blogs.  I'm hoping that will be a little less confusing than the blogs themselves, which I've told the students to think of like a journal for the project.  I may create another how to video for commenting as well.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Read Report for September 2015 Part 1

I've been so busy, sometimes doing my headless chicken impression, that I haven't found the time to do a Read Report since August.  I don't really have the time now, but I'm doing it anyways.

First up is a post by Catlin Tucker about a redesign of her gradebook.  Instead of the traditional grading categories, she moved to a skills-based category system.  I think the idea is interesting, and if I didn't have a department policy about grade categories, I might give something similar a try.

So, I discovered the Cult of Pedagogy.  This particular post is about ineffective teaching strategies.  It talks about moving beyond and away from teaching the way were were taught and the rationale behind why you should get ride of each strategy and what you can do instead.  The first strategy mentioned is popcorn reading, which I sometimes am still guilty of using.

Andi McNair talked about failure.  This one caught my eye because so many students seem to be terrified of failure.  Trying to get them to take risks is often very difficult to do.  There is a really great "poster" in this post that I don't want to infringe on its copyright, so I didn't post it here.

Jacqui, over at Ask a Tech Teacher, did a post about writing a novel on Twitter.  Using a 140 character limit is a good way of helping the students become more concise writers.

That's it for what I read in September.  I still have to go back and read some stuff from the beginning of September.  I'll try and do that quickly and get some interesting posts from my feedly to you.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Bad Idea Factory

Today was a Passion Project Day.  It is only the 3rd one, but I'm already getting a little worried about it.

You'll be able to see from the pictures below that passion for the Passion Project seemed to wane as the day went on.

Today's goal was to start generating ideas, both good and bad.  I am getting a lot of my ideas from Kevin Brookhouser's book, The 20Time Project. One of his ideas was the Bad Idea Factory.  It sounded like a good idea and a possibly rocking good time with the kids, so I wanted to try it. 

I did a little google searching for other teachers that gave it a try.  I came across a blog post of Karl Lindgren-Streicher's on the day he tried it in his classroom.  He talked about how he 'borrowed' from Kevin Brookhouser and Kate Petty (I've met her in person through a friend.  She was my sister's teacher.).  I pretty much did the same thing he did.  It sounded fabulous.

So, my plan was to have them free write on some questions about things they have always wanted to do for about 20-25 minutes.  These were some of the comments I heard and exchanges I had during the free write session:

"Miss Barron, what if I want to be a median?"

"A median?  You mean like in math or in the middle of a road?"

"No, like with your mind."

"Oh, you mean medium."

"I want to learn how to drive using my feet"

"Miss Barron, how do you spell bungee?"

 For the most part, the free write portion went well.  The Bad Idea Factory portion on the other hand. . . went really well too - during 1st period.  The kids and I had a blast and they did a pretty good job of filling the board up (as you can see).

Period 1

Things started to wane a bit as the day went on...

Period 2

Period 3
Things in 4th period with the 11th graders (periods 1-3 are 10th grade honors students) seemed to pick up a bit, but the majority of what is on the board was written by one student whose bad ideas all had to do with cars.
Period 4

Period 5
 I was a little disappointed in 5th period.  There were some "bad ideas" that I erased before taking this picture because they weren't very nice to certain people.  It made me kind of sad that they didn't seem to know what they were essentially saying was hurtful.

This activity just didn't go as well as I thought it would based on the descriptions from Kevin Brookhouser and Karl Lindgren-Streicher.  I'm wondering if it has to do with the socioeconomic and racial make up of my students.

There was one point during 4th period were a student noticed that one of the bad ideas was actually a good one, or could be turned into a good one:  texting while driving.  I used the opportunity to have them explain how we could turn that into a good project.  They came up with one I hope one of them does:  create a campaign to warn teenagers of the dangers of texting while driving.

I guess I can chalk this one up to a mostly misadventure. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

First Two Weeks of School 2015

I originally created this post with the intent to blog on the first day of school, but things got in the way.  That seems to be the possible theme for this year, as I then decided I would use this post to blog about the first week of school...and things got in the way.  Those things were my Master's program, planning and grading.

So, here I am, blogging about the first two weeks of school.

Let's try and take this chronologically.

I'm one of the "techy" teachers on campus  (If you've ever read anything on this blog before, you're probably thinking, duh.  If you haven't read anything on this blog before, why are you starting here?).

So I planned to follow Catlin Tucker's example and avoid the boring cliched first day of going over the syllabus.  My plans and the technology's plans were not the same.

Of course, the students couldn't log into the Chromebooks and access the internet.

So we ended up going over the syllabus for the first two periods and chatting about the things we liked to read and watch.  It wasn't until 3rd period that we figured out if the students "browsed as guest" that they could access everything they needed.

From that point on, the rest of the day was pretty good.  The kids liked taking the quiz and they enjoyed competing against each other with the Socrative Space Race.

The second day I switched things out a bit and got 1st and 2nd caught up with the rest of the day, and 3rd on caught up on the syllabus.

The network was still being wonky.  So, the students were still browsing as a guest.  But, I still got them all signed up to (though, there were some snafus with that the company is ironing out).  I gave them some time to practice on the site and had a practice unit for them to do that was due at the end of the week (I have not yet gone into grade said unit yet *sigh*).

I got the kids signed up to Google Classroom and started off with an assignment on Two-Chunk paragraphs with attached screencast directions.

I'm in the middle of grading these, after taking a "break" to give the students some feedback on essays, and the students seem to understand the concept and formatting better than they did last year at this time.

On Friday, I tried out Classroom's new question feature with an attached presentation with some videos related to Genius Hour and 20% Time.  I'm going to attempt this with my students this year.  I'm calling it...

I had students respond to a question asking about what stood out most to them and to respond to at least one other student.  That seemed to work out really well too.  

This past week, we worked on our narrative.  The previous week, I used a Google form and took a quick survey of the students to see what kind of narrative essay they wanted to write:  (auto)biographical or a short story.  The short story won.

I had them start off with an assignment that had them going through the ABC strategy (Attack the prompt, Brainstorm, and Choose the order).  I encouraged them to use Lucidchart add-on or the Google Drawing function to create their graphic organizers.  This ended up taking way too long.  Students were a little intimated, I think, by the charts and it took many of them two days to finished and cut into the two days I gave them for drafting their essay in class.

Friday was another Passion Project day.  I had some questions to help them explore their passion and try and begin to think about what they want to do for their projects.  I'm following a lot of the advice/format of Kevin Brookhauser and his book, The 20 Time Project.

I think that is it.  I've got to get to reading and doing my assignments for MY class now...

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Read Report as of August 15, 2015

For the time being, I'm going to call my round-up of articles and blogs I read recently the "Read Report".  If you have better ideas, let me know.

First up is a post by Heather Wolper-Gawron on how to host a twitter chat with your school community.  This isn't just for the faculty, but for parent's and students.  I found it really interesting, and I might approach my principal about doing one for our school.  I think we would start "easy" with maybe one a grading period.  I may do a few on my own for my students.

Next, Alice in WonderTech discusses creating an environment that discourages plagiarism.  She makes some good points about how getting students started in class lessens the probability that they will try and take the cheating shortcut of copy and paste (not always though).  I found with the 11th-grade research project that I had less plagiarism this time around where we did most of the work in class.

Over at a Meaningful Mess, Andi McNair was talking about the question of "What If?"  As educators, particularly at the beginning of a school year, we often as ourselves that question, but in the negative:  What if I do it wrong?  What if the students make things difficult? 

Well, what if we flipped the script and focused on the positive side of "what if?":  What if I do it right?  What if the students make it the best year?

Tired of standarized style of assessments?  Take a look at John Spencers Ten Alternative Assessments.  It's a pretty straightforward list and won't take you long to check out.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Let's Play Catch Up

Almost 3 months since my last blog post?  I know; I know; I'm not a very consistent blogger.  Feel free to wag your finger at the screen.

So, what's been going down since May?

Well, in March, I said I was going to have students retake a survey to get their feedback on the use of Chromebooks in the classroom.  Well...note to self: set reminders for surveys you want students to take at different points in the year.  Yeah.  I got overwhelmed with end of the year stuff and forgot.

The end of the (school) year was a typical scramble to get things done.  I was not happy with the overall grades of my students, but talking with other teachers on campus, neither were they happy with the results.  Since most of the other teachers did not move to blended-learning like I did,  I'm going to hazard a guess that the apathy from the students didn't have anything to do with my transition into using the technology, but with the change in climate and expectations our school experienced last year.

I'm looking forward to being able to teach the 11th grade two years in a row for the first time in my now 10 year career as a teacher.  I'll actually be able to build on what I did the year before.  Imagine that!

The day after the last teacher duty day, a Saturday (yes, a Saturday), I participated in a summit at one of our district campuses that was put together by the EdTechTeam.  I really enjoyed it and gained a lot of useful information, particularly with Google Forms and branch logic (I'll talk more about that perhaps in another post once I get the hang of it).

That summit also had me contemplating trying out a 20% Time/Genius Hour Project with my students.  I'm not sure exactly what I want to do, but I'm thinking of using the first few Genius Hours (because that's what I'm going to call it because I think we'll skip them when we have short weeks), working with the students to create the criteria and protocols for it.

I spent some time this summer going through the Fundamentals Training at the Google for Education Training Center  to begin getting GAFE certified.

I took the Level 1 test today, and I PASSED!!!

I've gone through all the Chromebook training as well and as soon as I get everything I earned from my Level 1 certification, I might go and take that test as well.  I'm hoping I'll be able to find time to get Advanced Training in this year, but with with the last half of my Masters, I doubt it.

Speaking of my Masters.  I aced the first half of the program. I got an A in all my classes and a 100% in 4 of the 5 taken.

One way I'm going to try and be a better blogger is to start posting interesting articles/blog posts that I come across on the web or my Feedly reader.  A friend of mine outside of the education world does that on her blog each week, and it appears that my friend over at Flipping With Kirch has started to do something similar as well.  I'm not sure I'll be able to do every week.  But, I should be able to do at least once a month.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Student Engagement...such an awesome title.

I was reading this blog post by John Spencer about student engagement, and it got me to thinking about it in my own classroom.

I started out this journey hoping for many things, but an increase in student engagement was definitely one.

Was it successful?

Yes and no.

It really depends on what we are doing in class.

Lately, I've been noticing that students are getting their work done (on some assignments) in class a lot faster than they were towards the beginning of the year.  My fear is that they aren't really thinking about the questions and the answers.  They are just doing it to do it.

Grades are not great, at least at the college prep level, but I'm not sure how much of it is the change to paperless and blended-learning, and how much of it is a change in student accountability protocols within the school.  I'm seeing this more with my college prep students than I am in my honors students.  One of my honors students (when asked) said that she thinks more about the questions because I ask them to (*cough* insist they *cough*) use quotes from the text to back up their answers to half their answers. 

One area where I've seen a definite improvement in engagement was when my 11th graders did their debatable issue persuasive research paper.

This is a very extensive, 1000 point project.  It can make or break a student's grade.  In the past, this was spread out over the end of January through March and interspersed with other content lessons.  It included annotated bibliographies, two outlines, notes, and three drafts; and every few weeks, we would come back to the project and get a step done.  Most of the work was done on the student's own time.  I would then spend weeks (months) after the final draft was due going after most of the students to turn in the paper.  In other words, turn in rates for this assignment sucked.  I would get like maybe 1/4 to 1/2 of them to turn it in on time.  This was pretty much how it was across the entire 11th grade.

This year, since I have the Chromebooks, I took all the month of February, which was not enough and kind of crazy (this month is pretty cray cray too with family graduations, birthdays, my own Masters program, and a friend's wedding I will be flying out of state for), to work in class with the students on their projects. During the process, they were engaged in their topic. They were asking me questions and for my feedback like they never had all year.  We were pretty rushed in the end (and it kind of reflected in their actual papers), but out of my 120 11th graders, I had maybe 10 not turn it in. 

So what do you think about student engagement?  What works for you?  What doesn't work for you?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Blending Doctopus and Goobric with Google Classroom

Not a very inventive title, but an accurate one.

So, I just graded my first set of research papers using Doctopus so I can use the Goobric grading rubric.  It was....pretty dang awesome.  It made grading the essays a lot easier and less irritating than I remember them being in the past. 

What Doctopus is is a free way to use your Google Drive via sheets to handle Google Document assignments from your students.  Here is a quick video on what Doctopus is:

I had never looked into Doctopus before since I use Google Classroom, but the prospect of being able to use Goobric to grade some projects intrigued me, especially for the 11th grade research essay.  This essay took up a month of instruction and is worth a lot of points for the students.  Here is a video about using Goobric that includes some direction.

I did a little research to find out about Doctopus and Goobric (The two go hand-in-hand).  I was particularly looking for ways to incorporate it with Classroom and found some blog posts.  Here are two good ones I found:  one from Richard Bryne and one from Jennie Magiera.  There I found some very useful "How To" videos.

Now, I'm not sure how often I'll be able to use Goobric for grading because it's department policy to use the district's 6-point grading rubric for essays, which is holistic.  Goobric is not really set up for holistic grading, but this was definitely worth sharing.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

CUE the Recovery

I love CUE.  I really do.  I love the CUE Conference, and I want to go every year.  Yet, I need time to recover and sort through all the information I gathered. 

I hope to have some more information and neat tricks, etc. for you from CUE in the coming weeks as I disseminate and try out different things, but we're going through WASC right now, so things are a little crazy, and I'm a little behind in my grading.

One thing I do want to share that I've tried out with my 11th grade students is Pear Deck.  Pear Deck allows you to broadcast your presentation to and integrate interaction with the students and their devices (Chromebooks in my case).  So, instead of students following along on the screen with your PowerPoint or Google Slide, you can have them following along directly on their own screen (works with anything that has a web browser) and even have them answer questions that you can then project up onto the board.

Here are some videos about it that I found.

There is a free version and a premium version.  I'm currently doing a 30 day trial of the premium version to see if it will be worth the cost.  I'll give my opinion on it when I make the decision.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Reflections and Comparisons...yet not really

Back in October, right after that seemingly disastrous test my 11th graders took,  I created a form to get some feedback from them.  28 out of my nearly 200 students filled out the survey for me (and for extra credit).  Here are some of the results and the results of a more recent version of the survey 44 students took.

I can't really make any accurate analysis because I don't have the same number, or even the exact same students, filling out the survey, but I think the fact that I have almost twice as many kids taking the survey does say a lot.  I have at least built up enough of a relationship with my students that more want to help me out (or maybe just themselves for the extra credit).

The percentage of students who like using the Chromebooks went down, but the number of students who do like using the Chromebooks went up.  Just a little more than the number of students who even took the survey last time, like using the Chromebooks 4 months later.  I'm going to count that as a success.

The percentage of student that felt they stayed more on task with the Chromebooks has gone down my nearly 20%.  This I can believe and I've seen it first hand in my class room.  The percentage of students that feel their attention with the Chromebooks isn't any different than in other classes without them went up a little.  

The problem is that students have a hard time staying on tasks, with phones at the ready especially, period.  I don't think the Chromebooks have changed that at all.  

What I think that could help kids stay on task better with Chromebooks is to get something like Lanschool.   That costs around $1000 for a class liscense though, so I might do a or apply for another grant (maybe the OCCUE) to get it.  In the meantime though, I have started using the grid function and last modified sorting option in the Google Drive folder for the Google Classroom assignment to keep track on student progress during class.  I call out the kids that haven't been updating their work and give positive feedback for those that are.  It seems to keep them on task a little better.

I may start projecting the grid view of their assignments so they can see the progress they are all making (or not making).

This one makes me happy.  Not only did the percentage of students that feel they are learning more with the Chrombooks rise, but the number of students nearly doubled.  More kids are saying that they are learing more with the Chromebooks, and less are saying that they aren't.  While this is still a learing process for me and the students, I don't think I made the wrong choice in working so hard to bring this tech into my classroom.  But, we'll see way they say at the end of the year.