Friday, July 17, 2015

Learning Socially.

July has so far been very professionally full. As I mentioned, I attend the ISTE conference at the end of June/beginning of July and have done some other work I'll maybe mention later.

But more immediately, we just got home from Flipcon15. This was my second event, and the social aspect of this conference were drastically and remarkably different from the social feelings I had at/after ISTE (I discussed this here).

I was thinking a bit about this in the context of myself, and so was beyond pleased when my friend Kristin Daniels pulled me aside at the end of the conference and said that "we" (I'm not sure when I became part of we, but I like it) need to figure out how to better involve the new people.

Challenge accepted!

I mentioned to Kristin and our friend Jason Bretzmann (who also blogged about this conversation here) that I felt so lost at ISTE and attributed it to not having a "tribe." You need to find a way to get new people to build their tribe so they have people to hang out with, to learn with, and to just build that comfort zone.

Since we stayed after the conference for one more evening, we put out the call to see who wanted to join us for dinner and a wide range of people joined us.

And, since I was in the middle of the table, and had veterans as well as newbies around me, plus lots of great minds, I asked what ideas everyone had.

Here's what came up (I tweeted them to Kristin, so this is verbatim):
  • preplan local meet ups before flipcon. Build that tribe before the big overwhelming event
  • first session should be job alike.
  • @ken_bauer says job alike first AND last... meet people first then firm up connections and share learning last.
  • at social events, let people sit, then break up tables. Mix in newbies and get vets to meet new people
  • @DaretoChem says have a social coordinator at each hotel. This person is the point for where after hours activities happen
  • a social lounge if no session is meeting your needs
  • newbie lounge... social time plus foundational learning (twitter 101, what is flip 101)
There's some great ideas here, but I'm a big fan of the social coordinator idea. That might just be that I WANT that job, but there have been many events where just knowing that ONE person has been helpful for me, and the social coordinator can be that person, the person getting everyone to socializing, and getting people meeting others!

(PS, in that ISTE post, I wondered what happened to my social butterfly self. It turns out, according to NY Mag that there are different kinds of introverts, and I happen to be high in thinking and anxious introversion. It all begins to make sense.)

So, what would help you feel like part of a community at a huge conference? How does it assist your learning?

Friday, July 3, 2015

This year, the good

Sitting in my drafts is a post titled, "This year, the bad." It was a few paragraphs about the ways I failed this year, the frustrations, and the dismal.

When I met with my supervisor expressing many of these struggles a few months ago (believe me, a huge leap of faith for me, since this is a new administrator, but this step went far in building our relationship of trust and support... lessons for me in many ways!), we tried to resolve these issues, but as the year progressed, his message turned to something like, "get through the year and move on."

So this is me, moving on.

This year, the good.

Twenty Percent Time
For the most part, my students took #20Time seriously, took on real work, and learned a lot. Some highlights were the student who learned how to cook, the student who improved her drawing, and the student who designed, wired, and programmed an animatronic dog.

I must improve this, though, because many students still get trapped in the "this project isn't due for months and I have this homework/test/etc due tomorrow." Procrastination remains an issue, and if it's ok to fail, they're ok with failing on this task rather than on the more immediate ones they face.

But the big success is that I finally saw students doing #20Time the way I want them to do it. Constant state of improvement and learning, using the time wisely (though this is an issue particularly for second semester seniors... oh, I'll just do this at home).

I just found this post, which will be great guidance in improving #20time next year. This infographic from that post is fantastic:

This year, I gave my US History students an extremely nebulous project. I was nervous, but they blew. my. mind. They tackled the work, and took it to another level, learning deeply not just about the stuff in the textbook (the time period being studied), but they learned how the theme developed over time in America AND justified their own positions on how the US should proceed in the future on this topic. I am so proud of them.

Going Digital
I finally had the opportunity to work with students who are happy to go digital. Work was submitted digitally, whether in Google Classroom (which we pioneered with each other) or shown on tablets, all class announcements were sent via Classroom or Remind, and they even (eventually) stopped asking to go to the restroom and just did it as long as no one else was out.

The Moment
I've had a rough time feeling like a good teacher in recent years. Some feedback has not been positive. I pretty much came into this year feeling pretty horrible and that I should either quit or go back to school. I ended up going back to school, but I also have incredibly supportive administrators who once again made me feel like I'm doing well. I hate to admit that I'm one of those people who like/need external motivation, but I do, so feeling supported and like I'm on the right track has done astonishing wonders for the way I feel about my day, my work, and as someone who spends much of her day in her own head about her work, this has had a huge impact on me outside of work too. Everywhere, EVERYWHERE, I am much more positive. It's amazing the impact one person can have one another.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

ISTE 2015

Today is the last day of the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Conference. It has been quite a ride.

Throughout the three days (well, two so far), I keep thinking back to this quiz I saw randomly on Facebook a few weeks ago, 21 Signs You Might Actually Be an Ambivert.

ISTE is overwhelming. There's all these people. Many of them are Rockstars in the Educator twitter world. I found a quiet spot in the oasis, and it was great to know that there was a quiet place I could go to not be found and recharge.

What happened to that life of the party I thought I am, I asked myself (silently, from my quiet corner).

It's pretty easy to be the life of the party when there's people I know, but holy cow I can't deal when I don't know anyone. I'm really not sure how this will translate to moving to a new job, should I ever pursue that, but I digress.

So, what have I learned so far? I've actually spent a great deal of time seeking elementary math resources. I realize this doesn't make sense, but since I am working with an elementary school this summer in developing their K-2 math curriculum, this seemed like a good place to begin.

I've gone to a few sessions. The best one was more of a talk by one of the aforementioned Twitter rockstars about creating a culture of innovation. It was enlightening and reassuring and also made me feel like I have a really long way to go. Like I said, it's been a challenging series of days.

I've thought about things I want to do better... interestingly, it seems I'm already embracing some of the current trends (which means I need to get on the front end of something new, since the bandwagon has caught up). These include: Flipped Classroom, 20% Time/Genius Hour. As I reflected, I realized we didn't receive a bunch of comments on the 20% blog this year. I want to work on that. Was it because their writing wasn't really communicating much... maybe. Was it just not enough connections were made... maybe. I want to work more closely with another 20 time teacher to get more discussion going, to get better reflection writing happening, to make the reflection process meaningful rather than simply something the students complete to get a homework grade.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Bad blogger

I have clearly not been a good blogger lately. I started a daily challenge to correct this, yet made it only two days. Yeah.

But things have been good and busy on the education front nonetheless. I've learned a ton in my NJExcel classes, and think I'm beginning to think like an administrator. Last week, we toured two elementary schools and I learned a ton about school safety and facilities, even discovering some of the things for which one might not expect a principal to be responsible....

A photo posted by @smallbutfeisty78 on

As a candidate for NJExcel, I must complete a series of projects in addition to internship activities. Through these, I'm learning a lot; one project focuses on I&RS (Intervention and Referral Services) about which I knew pretty much nothing. Now I know that this is a process available to support students who need greater levels of support emotionally, behaviorally, or academically. I look forward to serving on my school's I&RS team and looking for ways to improve the process for the school, the district, and most importantly, for the students.

Another project has me seeking to learn how a principal can build and sustain a positive school climate. Each time I tell someone about this project, I'm asked if the school's culture is not good. In reality, it's very good, but I want to learn how to create that. I've also identified ways in which our good culture can improve, after reading School Culture Rewired by Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker. For this project, I must complete an action research project, which required me to begin by collecting data. I gave teachers a survey from the book, and this process was interesting and enlightening. From teachers disagreeing with the methodology of the survey to the number of teachers who didn't return a survey at all and/or how many I had to chase down and hand a survey and stand over to get results. Enlightening indeed.

This summer, I'll work with my principal on a few projects, and I will also work with an elementary school to develop their master schedule and also to work on curriculum for the district. I'm nervous and excited about both these tasks, since it will be so far beyond my comfort zone and areas of... well, knowledge, since it's so far outside my area of expertise and I know absolutely nothing.

I'm so excited about all that I am learning, the connections I am making, and the ways in which I am growing. Hopefully one day, I will feel ready to be a school administrator!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Reflections from Ednado

On April 25, the first Ednado conference for educators was held at Middletown South HS. According to their website, Ednado is described as "Ednado is about promoting innovation and inspiring educators to try new things in their classrooms. At EDnado, educators from Monmouth County and beyond will be able to learn and share what WORKS in their schools." 

My husband was on the planning committee, and described the conference to me as "Part edtech conference, part Edcamp, part education playground."

Due to issues, we brought our sons to the conference. They were charged with helping, but spent much of their day in the Makerspace.
A photo posted by EDnado (@ednadoedu) on

A photo posted by EDnado (@ednadoedu) on
As for me, I took over the EDnado Instagram feed. I could not have had a better time at this conference than I did taking over their social media. I went into every session for a time, I played in the Makerspace, I drew attention to certain areas by promoting where the scavenger hunt would be for tickets and/or prizes, I helped folks in the hallway directing some toward sessions that might better suit their needs, and interacted with a lot more folks than I would have as a regular attendee.

This was such an AWESOME role for me, because I believe I was able to get the pulse of the conference in a way I could not have had I been a regular attendee.

A takeaway for me was the Draftback extension for Chrome, shared by Adam Schoenbart in his presentation on Backchanneling. This extension allows you to see a video of all the changes made to a Google doc. I can't wait to try it out!

The feedback from this conference was that people really enjoyed it. They captured both technology comfortable educators and those who are not using technology at all; I was amazed by how many folks brought notebooks and no technology, but yet all learned something new.

I look forward to Ednado 2016! Check out all the Tweets from #Ednado.

The schedule from the sessions also includes links for the collaborative notes.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

#AprilBlogaDay Day 2

What have you done today to make a ripple?

Today is "one of those days." It's the day before spring break. Folks are tired and just don't want to be here.

This post rapidly turned into a vent. Rather than venting or even looking for help on finding a solution to these issues, my ripple is going to be to let it go. I will get through today and will enjoy the next week off. We'll all come back in the middle of April (!!!!) rested and recharged and ready to finish the year strong.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

#AprilBlogaDay Day 1

Oh this poor, neglected blog.

There's a million reasons I haven't written here. Among others, life has become frenzied as I entered a program that will lead to my achieving principal's certification early in 2016. This, of course, is a great topic to discuss for the day 1 prompt for the blogging challenge to which I've committed for the month of April, "Are you where you thought you'd be?"

Yeah, no, I'm not.

I can remember being in my first year of teaching and thinking about how my mother had been at the same school district for her entire career.  At the time, she had not yet retired from teaching, but (as far as I know), she taught in the same district from age 22-55. I did not have those plans. I could not envision myself in the district I'd landed for more than a few years.

But yet, here I am, in the same district, for fifteen years.

It is an amazing district, and my career has developed and blossomed here with supportive administrators, lots of resources, and the type of student who is willing to try and go on an amazing ride with me in classrooms.

At that time, my desk was in the faculty room. It was often really distracting... you know that old SNL skit with Steve-O the copy guy?

That's how I felt.

So it was pretty surprising when my desk moved to a classroom... a classroom in which I taught nearly all of my classes. I stayed at that desk until my first maternity leave, when I transitioned to another school on campus and a new desk.

Since that first classroom, I've moved classrooms four times. My current room was a bakery at the time I thought I surely would not still be here by now.

Furthermore, I expected to have changed positions by now. I earned my supervisor's certificate in 2006, but have not successfully used that certificate. In the fall, I thought about how I would further my education when my program crossed my lap and in a whirlwind, I was entering the program to earn the next certificate. In the interview, I was asked where I see myself in five years. I replied that right now, I don't think I want to be a principal, but I also never expected to want to leave the classroom. In other words, what I wanted at 22 and what I want at 36 are not the same. I certainly don't expect my goals at 50 to be what they are now, so I'm opening doors now that will allow me the freedom to choose then what I want to do.

So, am I where I thought I would be? Absolutely not. But I'm open to wherever the road takes me next!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Close reading a text

So here's an old post I began and never finished. I began the year with an introduction of close reading a text using Outkast's Hey Ya! Perhaps you've heard the song.

As you can tell by the catchy tune and the fun and colorful video, this seems like an upbeat and happy tune.

But then I caught this acoustic cover on the radio one day and I almost cried on my way to the grocery store.

I knew I had a great opportunity to teach students how to close read a text. Here's what I did.

First, I played the Outkast video. Students sang along and danced (surprised me; I didn't think they'd know it!). We talked about what the song is about and what is the tone of the song.

Next, I played Matt Weddle's version and asked the same questions.

Finally, I gave students a copy of the lyrics and asked them to perform a close reading to tell me what the song is about and what is the tone. They were told to use the lyrics to support their analysis and that they should be marking up the lyric sheet, looking for key words/phrases/patterns in the text. I asked, "what words or phrases tell you what this song is about?" Then, we had a whole class discussion, modeling close reading. 

Finally, I gave them a historical text to close read.

This worked really well, and of course, I was singing Hey Ya all day!

Chalk Talk

It's been a super long time since I've posted, but here's something that could be helpful. It's a really old strategy that I learned about in a faculty meeting well over 8 years ago. Tech could certainly be used, but I haven't done it in any way but on a whiteboard.

Depending on the topic, I start by giving students time to gather and organize their thoughts. In this case, they were given a do now that asked "How did Thomas Jefferson feel about/treat Native Americans? Explain." This do now was a follow up to a podcast they viewed for homework.

Next, I put the central theme or question on the whiteboard and explained the Chalk Talk procedure:

  • You speak only using the markers. There are four markers available; when you've put up your ONE thought, pass it to someone who has not yet gone.
  • You may write a fact, opinion, question... anything, but it must be related to the theme and, of course, classroom appropriate. You may build off someone else's point as well.
  • When everyone has had a chance to add, only then may someone add a second point.
  • There is NO SPEAKING.
Depending on how controversial the topic is, it can definitely fall into organized chaos. I have had it devolve into two students carrying on an argument with markers. On task, but it became more about the argument than the central topic.

This can really be applied to anything--a gauge of what students know about a topic before beginning, a closure, a formative assessment. I've used it in nearly every class I've taught.