The Professional Development We Need (And Deserve)

An amazing thing happened today. I found myself this afternoon standing in the front of my classroom, desks in evenly spaced rows, a big jug of blue hand sanitizer near the door, my laptop projecting on the Promethean board, my iPad under the document camera, a bright yellow mask on my face. Spread out in a mixture of standing or sitting on top of the desks, a group of English teachers laughed, commiserated, and eagerly listened and shared ideas in preparation of our foray into hybrid education that starts Monday.

For the past month, I have been a ball of anxiety. I have come home from work angry and upset just about every day. I’ve started chomping on Smoothie Tums like they’re candy, and I’m in the middle of a two week cycle of Prilosec. Like many districts, mine is getting ready to start phasing students back to face-to-face, meaning that starting Monday, I’ll have students joining me in my actual classroom and students joining me via Cisco Webex from home, all at the same time. To increase the anxiety, we’re transitioning from a half day schedule (two groups of students, one AM and one PM), to a full day, complete with a whole new bell schedule and all new rosters of students. For the past three weeks of virtual learning, I taught eight separate 45-minute classes, but starting Monday, I’ll have three 100-minute block classes. Because why not throw a full schedule change into the middle of stressful pandemic teaching?

I consider myself a good classroom teacher; I strive to do what is best for my students every day and to improve my practice through research-based strategies. And I think I’ve done a good job of teaching virtually for the past three weeks that we’ve been fully online. But the prospect of teaching both at the same time… how will that even work?

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Enhance Learning with Pear Deck

As an educator and a student of educational technology, I’m always on the lookout for new tools that increase student learning and student engagement. I strive to authentically teach my curriculum in ways that students have fun at least some of the time and that students will remember after they leave my classroom. It’s not always an easy task to accomplish, but I like to think I work hard at it.

A couple of months ago, I stumbled on a tweet from Alice Keeler that linked to her blog, Teacher Tech with Alice Keeler, specifically a post about a new Google Slides add-on that purports to increase student engagement and give every single student a voice. A common theme in this blog, and in my teaching, is making lessons more student-centered and engaging all students in learning. So, I was understandably intrigued. I spent an afternoon exploring the add-on, which led me to the full resource, called Pear Deck.

I am now 100% a Pear Deck supporter for the following reasons:

  1. It’s simple.
  2. It projects onto the student’s devices.
  3. Every student answers every question.
  4. The dashboard shows me all responses and gives me control from anywhere.

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#summer

*cough* Ahem. *coughcough*

Man, it’s a bit dusty over here.

My poor neglected blog appears to have collected a couple of cobwebs and dustmites, and I have a list in my phone’s notepad of a half dozen blog topics sitting as lonely ideas waiting to join Internet permanency.

So far this summer, I’ve completed two more masters classes in which I crafted a full presentation on why Schoology is awesome and learned about and administered the Ekwall-Shanker Reading Inventory to two students, attended the ISTE 2017 conference in San Antonio, spent a couple days enjoying the Guadalupe River in Gruene, Texas with my husband, and played roughly 1.3 million hours of the Sims 4.

Ok, not 1.3 million, but the game did give me a notification this week that I’ve played 100 total hours. The game called this an accomplishment, but it felt a little like it was shaming me. “You have work to do! You have a blog to write! Lessons to plan for next year! Books to read! Another class to get ready for! And here you are playing the Sims. Shame!” it seemed to say.

But, no! No, Sims 4. You are wrong! I am not ashamed of my 100 hours of Sims playing time since I installed it on this computer in May. I’m not ashamed that my Sims family is now working on the fourth generation. I deserve that playing time. All teachers deserve to spend time in the summer doing what they want to do, what they enjoy, what makes them happy. We sacrifice so much of our personal lives during the school year, some more or less than others, for the sake of our students. After school hours grading, lunches spent shoveling in a salad while reworking the flopped parts of the day’s lesson for the afternoon classes, even late nights trying to sleep but worrying about that one students having so many problems at home. Like the meme I keep seeing on Facebook says, teachers don’t get summers off, we just collect our overtime. And let’s be honest here, most of us still do quite a lot of actual work during the summer to get ready for the next year.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted on Facebook “I have a carefully crafted reward system that involves to-do lists and The Sims. #gradstudentproblems.” I found this system to be incredibly effective. Both of my classes thankfully provided a calendar of due dates and assignments for the duration of the month, making it easy for me to create lists of what I needed to get done for both classes each day. If I completed my list for the day, I could play the Sims. If I didn’t, no Sims. I mean, hey, we all use positive reinforcement on our students, why not use it on ourselves?

So, in a way, those 100 hours of Sims playing time just shows how many things I actually did get done in June.

Even if writing a blog post wasn’t one of them.

(Posts about ISTE, my classes, and other topics of actual substance coming soon!)

Tweet Tweet!

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If you’d told me five years ago that I would be saying that Twitter is my professional development best friend, I would have laughed in your face. But here I am saying that Twitter is amazing and I have learned so much from the past couple weeks of use.

I’m a current masters student at the University of Houston, taking a class on Integrating Technology into the Curriculum. Part of this class required participation in a Twitter Slow Chat put on by ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education). I’ve heard of Twitter chats before. Plenty of my undergrad professors at Kent State encouraged us to participate in chats put on by NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) or other similar professional organizations. I was reluctant because I was just never super comfortable with Twitter. I know Facebook. I like Facebook. Honestly, I’ve only in the past year gotten into using Instagram. (Yeah, I know, I’m a bad millenial.)

I do have a smattering of experience with Twitter before this class. I created an account during the election with the hopes of following news organizations (and my husband’s live debate tweets), but that fizzled out quickly. I tried in my first year of teaching to create a class Twitter to send reminders to my Twitter-obsessed students, but after seeing some of their Twitter pages, I decided that was a bad idea. A very bad idea. *shudder* Then I discovered Remind anyway. Much less frightening.

But, hey, now it’s a class requirement. No more putting off Twitter. It’s time to give it a real go. I didn’t know what I was missing. I think my problem with Twitter in the past was simply that I never really knew how to utilize it. Continue reading

Let’s Get These Kids Moving!

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In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a clear theme to my methodology lately: student engagement. You can be the best teacher in the world, but if the students aren’t listening, you’re wasting your effort. And I hate wasted effort.

I’ve found that technology is a great way to increase engagement. It, like all things, has its drawbacks, and I, like all teachers, have struggled to use it effectively. But these past few weeks have really been eye-opening to the possibilities of using technology beyond simply having students submit their work through Schoology (though Schoology’s discussion posts can be great for getting those quiet kids to participate freely in discussion, and they’re perfect exit tickets).

The second way I’ve realized that I can really get students engaged is just getting them up out of their seats. Now, you can’t just tell them all to stand up and move around without a purpose, but giving them a task that requires them to move around, even if it’s just relocating to a new part of the room, gets them engaged and leaves them no ability to hide at their desk. I’ll be honest, I am only one teacher and they are many students. When we’re doing deskwork, there have been times that a kid managed to get away with not actually doing any of the work, and I didn’t realize it until after school. Getting them up and moving around makes it more obvious if kids try to not participate. Honestly, from what I’ve seen (especially in my Persuasion Matchup activity) when the students are moving around, they don’t want to not participate (sorry about the double negative). They want to work!

Taking these two major ideas, technology and movement, I decided to try a new tool in my classroom today: Quizlet Live.

It is AWESOME.  Continue reading