Tag Archives: teaching

Everything I learned about teaching middle school I learned in 1st grade….

 

….or passion+projects+technology=engagement

…or those first grade teachers are on to something!

…or teaching is a skill, not a content (or grade level for that matter)

When thinking about pairing projects and technology in my lessons, it actually isn’t even a thought. It has become such a natural part of my lesson design that my students, parents, and administrators expect it. This is not something I was taught in college…it is a mindset that was fostered during an amazing student teaching experience. Believe it or not, I student taught first grade. I was positive that I wanted to be a lower elementary teacher who could inspire the kids at the very beginning. My cooperating teacher, Kathy Horstmeyer, was the best of the best. Her classroom was not traditional…there were no desks, lots of noise, and the room seemed to transform into ponds, space, jungles, or whatever the theme of the week was. Students were always actively engaged in small learning groups, thematic projects, and thoughtful reflection of their learning…at a mere 7 years old. This is where I learned how to be a teacher. This is where I had a sense of how passion, projects, and technology could transform a classroom.

From this experience, I was asked to interview for a middle school position within the district. The thought absolutely terrified me! Of course, I got the job and began my own teaching journey as a 21-year-old teaching 7th graders language arts and social studies. The way that I conquered my fears in those early days is the reason I am the teacher I am today. I consciously decided that I would take what I learned from teaching first grade and apply it to 7th grade, but just at a higher level. I planned my lessons to be cooperative, project based, reflective, as well as infused with whatever technology I had at the time. I was going to replicate that feeling of passion, learning, and excitement that I witnessed in first grade… in my middle school classroom. You know what I found out? Those first grade teachers were on to something! Middle School students completely disengage when taught in a more traditional manner…they are kids who are passionate about different things, who are exploring their individuality, who enjoy collaborating, and who use technology as we use a pencil. Early on, my goal became to learn as much from my students as they learn from me…16 years later, it still is. Passion based learning and technology have allowed me to be a guide within the classroom directing students, and figuring out how each student learns best.

Personally, I think every student teacher should have to teach first grade.  They are the masters of differentiated instruction, project based learning, student centered curriculum, integrated instruction, and use technology  to enhance learning on a daily basis.  They are modeling the 21st Century Skills of creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, as well as communication and collaboration.  Go ahead…hang out in a first grade classroom…you’ll see…those first grade teachers are on to something!

How do you define a great teacher?

teacher

Come on, you remember your favorite teacher…you remember their name…you remember the grade…you remember how you felt in their classroom.  So…what was so great about them?  My last post was about remembering a time when you felt like you really learned in school, which made me think about the people who were behind those learning opportunities.  Mrs. Edleman and Mr. Tucker were great teachers…interestingly enough, the two learning experiences I talked about in my four question exercise were designed by these two teachers.  Could it be that engaging students in authentic learning allows for great teaching and learning?

How do you define a great teacher?

  • Is it the college they went to or the degrees they hold?
  • Is it their certifications or the school district they teach in?
  • Perhaps it is their ability to teach to the standards or their classes have the highest test scores?
  • Perhaps it is the content knowledge they bestow upon students?

Or maybe you could define a great teacher by…

  • Student growth while in their class
  • Experiences that will be remembered years after
  • Engagement of students on a daily basis
  • Instilling curiosity, creativity, and learning into their lesson design
  • Their ability to collaborate and learn from other teachers
  • Making connections for students through subjects and technology integration…and making connections with each student
  • Learning as much from their students as their students learn from them

When I think back to Mrs. Edleman and Mr. Tucker, I have no clue where they went to college, what degrees they held, what kind of certification they had, or how they ranked in their classes with standardized testing.  I do, however, remember learning, growing, being curious and engaged…the feeling I had when I was in their room…you know, those invisible things that are hard to measure?  We measure teachers by tangible, testable things because it is easy.  As teachers, we have been striving to create authentic assessments for our students, so how about doing the same for teachers? Let’s redefine teaching and focus on those invisible elements by creating portfolios of our work, lessons, videos of projects, student samples, parent letters, and reflection from students…they’ll define a great teacher for you.

While mulling this post over, I received a letter in the mail from my youngest’s first grade teacher.  I can tell you that she is a great teacher.  Why? Because she connected to, supported, and challenged my high functioning autism spectrum little guy.  This is an excerpt of what she wrote:

I wish I could find the words to describe what an honor it was to have the opportunity to teach your son this year.  We have laughed together, learned together and grown together.  He has taught me many things about teaching and life and will always hold a very special place in my heart. His determination to do well, his kind and gentle heart, sense of humor and handsome little smile will undoubtedly take him very far in his life ahead.

Great teachers do these types of things…they are not just a teacher, they are a part of the classroom community.  They teach, they learn, they lead, they reflect, and they grow every year with every child that walks through their doorway.  A great teacher is ultimately defined by the expectations placed upon the person defining them.  It is different for everyone…we are, in fact, individuals.  We can, however, focus on that invisible element…that intangible…to give each student in our classes a great experience.  After all, it isn’t about the greatness of the teacher, but the greatness experienced every day by every student and every teacher.  Next time you hear a student (or your child) say, “I had a GREAT day at school!” smile and remember what that really means.

Living Memoirs: A Biography Project

livingmemoir2010

How do you teach the biography genre without it being boring and mundane?  You have students choose someone they are passionate about…someone who has made a difference…someone that will keep them engaged for a trimester long project.  You also have them become the person, become a journalist, as well as a designer.

The living memoir project was created to cover a variety of writing skills for seventh grade.  The following are the components of the project:

  • Research:  Students use noodletools to collect information about their person from websites, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, etc.
  • Diary Entries:  In order to make the memoir seem authentic, students write 3 diary entries from 3 different times in their life.
  • Friendly Letter & Business Letter:  Research is vital to writing these letters.  Students need to decide who they are writing to and why while following strict letter writing guidelines.
  • Newspaper Article:  Students learn the parts of the newspaper, how to write a newspaper article, and how to format it properly.
  • Epitaph:  Students use their imaginations to create a “gravestone” along with an epitaph that has a quote that represents their person.  Yes, even if they aren’t dead yet, they get an epitaph!  Some students write the date of death in the year 3000 because they don’t want to “jinx” them!
  • Obituary:  Students hone in on those journalism skills they learned when they were writing their newspaper article to create an obituary that includes a charity their person would have wanted donations to go to.
  • Commemorative Stamp:  Students have fun designing (and pricing) a commemorative stamp that the US Postal System would be happy to use!
  • Photos and Captions:  Every memoir needs photos along with a description of the event.
  • My Contributions to the World:  This is an essay written in first person, as their biography choice, that describes what contributions they have made to the world.   It is a traditional 3-5 paragraph essay.
  • Dear Reader Letter:  This is a reflective piece written by the student to anyone that reads their project.  It is their chance to explain why they chose their person, some interesting facts that they learned, as well as the time and effort spent and if they would do anything differently if they were to do it again.

The students are given the components, they are taught the skills necessary to complete the assigned parts, but they are not told how to present their project…it is totally up to them!  This year I had a bicycle tire, a powerpoint, a fish tank, a bike, several old trunks, scrapbooks, pamphlets, and even a larger than life Cat in the Hat!

I believe by giving students choice with some guidelines as well as having an open ended design, it allows students the freedom and flexibility they need in order to be engaged.   Student engagement is essential to the learning process…it is actually the bottom line…if you don’t have student engagement, how do you have effective teaching and learning?

Click here for supporting files.

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Can you see me? Transparency in Teaching and Learning

transparentteacher

I’ve been teaching for 15 years…I’ve been learning my whole life.  My passion is the process of teaching and learning together.  I love learning from others, sharing ideas, and collaborating.  It is a part of me…an extension that is so natural, that I don’t even think about it.  Recently, I was sharing and collaborating with a group of teachers on twitter about a google maps lesson when a fellow teacher, Zoe Branigan-Pipe,  wrote this on her blog about me:

Well – I feel pretty engaged. Today, I thank @mrspal, a colleague in Philly that I met through twitter and blogging. Just read her blog: http://mrspal.org and you will see that she has a passion for education that is viral. She is transparent in her teaching and makes it a priority to share and support others.
After reading her post “take a walk down memory lane”, an interactive, inquiry based activity using Google Streets View, she inspired me to try it out on my own students. Within the hour, she emailed me her lesson plan/student instruction sheet and seemed as excited as I was. Now that is open source, open content, free, creative commons, license free at its GREATEST.

This absolutely blew my mind.  Zoe was able to see me as a person and a teacher within moments of our initial contact.  I wondered if others could see me as well without ever meeting me in person…I really thought about how she was able to do that.  When mulling this over in my head, I realized that everything I do online is an extension of my authentic self.  My digital footprint truly represents the person I am in “real” life.  So, what are the implications of this lightbulb moment?

  1. We need to be transparent in our web 2.0 lives in order for authentic learning and collaboration to occur.
  2. We need to make sure that our digital footprints are reflective of ourselves.
  3. We need to teach our students that it is vital to preserve their own digital footprints by being authentic and transparent.
  4. We need to be transparent in the classroom on a daily basis by being open, fair, accountable, and flexible.
  5. We need to be transparent in our learning.  Our classrooms are not limited to the four walls that hold it up any longer.  By collaborating and sharing, we are modeling transparency in learning for our students.

Sometimes it isn’t easy to step outside yourself  to see what others see.  I no longer see a divide between “real life” and “online life”.  I am the same person…I am transparent.  Thank you, Zoe, for reminding me of the importance of that.

Educon 2.2: Professional Development in my pj’s! #educon

educon

Sounds too good to be true, huh?  Professional Development in your pajamas?  That is exactly what I did this weekend.  Unfortunately, I did not get tickets on time to go to educon in Philadelphia, so I had to go with plan B.  I had my laptop up and running with my #educon twitter feed running in one window and the Friday night keynote panel discussion:  What is Smart? streaming on vokle.com in another window.  Here, I heard Loren Brichter, Martha Farah, Happy Fernandez, Eddie Glaude, and David Shenk discuss their thoughts on what they thought smart was.  While the discussion was going on, I was having other discussions about the topic on twitter.  What did I learn from the keynote panel?

  • Howard Gardner was right.
  • Dewey is still awesome.
  • Smart means different things to different people.
  • It is really hard to follow a neuroscience professor.
  • Passion for something is vital for being “smart” in it.
  • Elementary teachers resonate most with “smart” people.
  • My favorite question posed:  How do we make smart?

I woke up Saturday morning to watch the vokle stream of the morning keynote Marilyn Perez.  I found myself more concerned about what conversations I was going to attend than listening to the stream.  It was a good thing, though, because I got into my first choice conversation for session 1:  Teaching Big Ideas to 21st Century Learners with Ben Hazzard and Zoe Branigan-Pipe.  I will have to admit, that the technology of the elluminate session was painful at best to begin with.  So, while they were working on that, I was adding to my PLN (personal learning network) by searching through the #educon twitter feed.  Wow!  I am blown away by the people that I met and what they have to say about education and learning.  So, what did I learn from Zoe and Ben?

Ask yourself these questions when thinking about Big Ideas..

  • What are the relevant topics you can address with your students?
  • How can you make learning meaningful?
  • What are the Big Ideas your students will find relevant?
  • What 3 takeaways do you wish for your students.  Answers from the session can be found here.

During lunch, I followed Will Richardson to a demo by Jeff Han via ustream of the perceptive pixel, a multitouch interface that was amazing.

Next, I decided to multitask and attend two conversations.  The first was by Christian Long with the Alice Project.  The second was by David Warlick about Learning 2.0.  What did I learn here?

  • If you don’t establish boundaries, you can’t release creativity.
  • Ask students great questions and demand they prove it in public.
  • What does great learning look like?
  • Wow… The Alice Project
  • There are cool new tools for Blooms that were introduced here.

My last session of the day was with Chris Lehmann, the principal of the Science and Leadership Academy called, Leadership 2.0:  Who do we need our leaders to be?  Currently, I’m finishing my Master’s in Educational Leadership and working on my principal’s certification, so this one was the one I was really looking forward to.  There are some people that are born to be leaders; Chris Lehmann is one of them.  What did I learn from Chris?

  • Leaders need to use inquiry, technology infusion, and communities of care.
  • In inquiry learning, follow the lead of the students.
  • Technology should be a part of every day and transformative.
  • A caring community is one that is 24/7…in school, out of school, online, and off-line.
  • Character education needs to go deeper than the posters we hang around the school.
  • Teachers need to know the vision/mission of the school in order to incorporate it into their lessons each day.
  • Servant leadership is top down support for bottom up ideas.
  • Leadership is being able to get everyone on the same common ground, then move them forward.
  • You can’t bully teachers into caring for students.
  • Every good teacher knows how to outlive a mandate.

So, my mind was absolutely spinning from the day.  I took the kids out to Target and out to dinner.  When I got home, I went back to the #educon twitter feed to see what I could catch up on.  This community of learners were now synthesizing the information they learned in the other sessions that I couldn’t attend and were sharing it with all of us…now those are some great teachers/learners/leaders/collaborators!  I came across an ebook that was made in Ben Hazzard’s second session here:

Amazing how a group can collaborate so effectively!  Thanks to all who helped create the field guide.

Now it is Sunday morning…unfortunately, I won’t be attending any virtual conversations today because I have to catch up with the real world and everything I ignored yesterday.  Was it worth it?  Absolutely!  This was an amazing learning experience for me.  I have built a personal learning network that I will be able to learn from every day.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to meet them in person next year!

So….what did you learn this weekend???  ;o)

The power of emotions & writing: what I was not prepared for…

believe

I continued with my activities to prepare my 8th graders to write their “This I Believe” personal statement.  The first day was spent identifying and defining values along with ranking those values to what was most important to them.

The second day was what I was not prepared for in doing this assignment with my students.  I asked students to freewrite about the following questions:

  • When did you first realize your family loves you?
  • When did you learn that it is better to tell the truth?
  • Who was the first person to make you feel invincible?
  • When did you realize you could be anything you want to be?
  • When did you learn that life isn’t always fair?
  • Who taught you that sometimes things don’t work out the way you want them to?
  • When did you learn that you can’t always get what you want?
  • How did you learn about the Tooth Fairy, or other characters?
  • Has anyone ever tested your faith?
  • Have you ever done something that you regret?  What did you learn from that moment?

I read the questions, that I got from the This I Believe curriculum, and when I was finished, the room was silent.  Dead silent.  Then, a few hands went up.  The question that struck me most was, “What if you just realized someone loves you?  Can it be recent or does it have to be from when you were a little kid?”  With that, I answered by telling them a story about my gram.  I always knew that she loved me, but I could remember a specific time when I was a young adult that I truly realized that she loved me.  I got teary just telling the story….but what happened next, I was completely unprepared for…

I told the students to answer the questions as best they could on a separate  piece of paper, and that they could skip around.  Some students sat at the table, some sat on the floor, and others asked to go in the hallway.  Once they started writing, I heard sniffling, people getting up for tissues, and some outright sobbing.  I was amazed at the power that a question could stir up such emotion.  These kids were writing like I’ve never seen…totally focused and engaged.  I was overwhelmed by emotion myself as I saw my students “go there” emotionally…and that they were doing it through writing.  It dawned on me that they felt safe and secure enough in my class to be that emotionally open.  This is what I was completely unprepared for.  I never imagined that a little writing exercise  could be so powerful to them, and to me, but…I will remember to never underestimate the power of words and the emotional connection that we have to them.

This I Believe: Out of the mouths of babes

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I am beginning a project with my 8th graders based on NPR’s This I Believe.  My students are writing about what they believe in 350-500 words.  I plan on having them podcast their pieces as well as create an “ipod” ad of themselves that is hosted on our wiki as the final project.

As I introduced the project, some of the students were struggling to define values and choose what five values are the most important to them…certainly a daunting task for 8th graders!  I found this amazing podcast on the website that was written by a kindergarten student.

When Tarak McLain’s kindergarten group celebrated their 100th day of class, some kids brought 100 nuts or cotton balls. Tarak brought a list of 100 things he believes. Now a first-grader, Tarak shares his top beliefs about God, life, nature and war.

Click here to listen to his “This I Believe” podcast.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress of my own students’ pieces!

21st century learners: a vision of students today

There has been a trend on youtube where students are visually representing how they learn and how they want to learn.  Below are three powerful videos that depict what 21st century learners need in the classroom. It is vital that we realize that we are preparing students for a world that we can’t even imagine right now. We need to embrace how they learn and take advantage of the technology that they are so connected to.

Higher Education

K-12 Education

I need my teacher to learn

TKAMB21: To Kill A Mockingbird Meets the 21st Century

cover copy

So how to you take a classic book and make it relevant to kids today?  You include facebook, twitter, and im into the project.  My 8th graders ate this project up!  If you want to see if your students truly have a grasp of character development, have them write tweets as that character.  Check out my students’ TKAMB21 projects here!  This project idea can be used for social studies as well…imagine creating a facebook page for a historical character! Click here to see the original instructions.

2011 Update:

Since we’ve moved to a Google Platform, I formatted the assignment for Google Docs and used a Google Site to showcase their work. Templates for Google can be found here.

Also, I just read two books that are not appropriate for students, but a total riot for adults that explore this type of writing:

Cool tool for teachers: Youblisher

Oh, how I LOVE this new site (youblisher)!  It takes your own PDF files and turns them into a publication in a snap!  This is a great way to publish student work!  Here is an example of a project I just finished with my 8th graders TKAMB21 (To Kill a Mockingbird Meets the 21st Century).  My next blog post will detail that project…stay tuned!

TKAMB21