Tag Archives: science

Differentiating with Technology

When I was growing up, my computer classes were focused on typing and how to use specific programs. As the Technology Coordinator this year, it’s my job to facilitate lessons using technology. My focus is not on the smaller skills like how to save a Word Document, but on the bigger picture: to use computers to extend learning. The skills are absolutely needed, but children learn those skills through use, not through direct instruction (just like language). Every time I’ve gone to PD on a computer program, I find that I already knew 90% of what was presented because I’ve played around with computers. The creative aspect of technology is the part that’s harder to learn and harder to teach.

So far, I’ve worked with two classes in the lab. Our focus has been research on a topic they’re learning in class. One group is a fifth grade group and the other is a second grade group. It is so easy to differentiate the instruction with they way I have it set up. Some children are writing based on their research, and some are having their learning recorded on video. They’re each having a chance to express what they’ve learned in a way that is just right for them.

Before getting to this point, I needed to work on infrastructure– some of which is constantly evolving. The students have a student login with a student email account that I facilitate. I write the students an email as my prep for the lesson. Each child opens the email with their name in the subject, and they have a detailed list of instructions for their assignment. I can find appropriate resources based on their reading levels. My time with the group is maximized because I don’t need to give group directions– children are motivated to understand how to use computers.

Next week, I’ll have headphones for each computer, and I’m going to install a text-to-speech program for the children who will need sources read to them. This will make finding resources so much easier, as I will need to find resources for the child’s listening comprehension level instead of their decoding and comprehension levels. Many more resources will be accessible to them.

It’s amazing to have children creating instead of just filling in blanks on worksheets. They are excited and more invested in their work. I have more to think about for K-1, but maybe we will be able to do something similar with videos instead of writing. I want to move beyond the mindset of repetition and rote learning.

Look for the silver lining.

Any job has its share of good days and bad days. Teaching has a spectrum of days ranging from feeling like you’ve changed a small part of the world in the most amazing fashion, to choking back tears until a free prep appears in your schedule. Luckily I can confidently say my good days infinitely outweigh my bad days. With that said, bad days can be difficult to digest. As teachers, we are so eager to make a plan, follow through with that plan, and assess the outcome. But when a bad day affects ones ability to see a plan through at all, my next thought is “what can I do to change this situation? How can I make it so that this situation is less likely to repeat itself?” When the answer doesn’t come so simply, set in an overwhelming feeling of stress.

Teaching is emotional, intense, and in many ways spontaneous. Unexpected emotions and behaviors pop up during our days. These moments take precedence over the academic plan for our children. If one of my kids isn’t emotionally or physically regulated and ready to learn – how can I expect them to attend, participate, and be an active member of the group? Even though I planned on reviewing yesterday’s content, introducing three new vocabulary words, and having independent work time, it is okay if that plan doesn’t see itself through. Their emotional, mental, and physical needs come first before I can hold them to such a standard.

With all of these thoughts, I also selfishly consider my own patience, sanity, and overall state of mind. What can I do when I’m starting to feel like I’m losing control, not being effective, or unable to spark my kids’ interests. Well, the teacher side of me thinks, obviously I need I reevaluate the situation. I need to think about my role as the teacher and how to set up my room so that all children can be successful. Do I need to incorporate more visuals, more movement, less verbal language, more time for transitions – the list goes on.

Then the human side of me thinks, take a breath, go grab a coffee with Jess, cry if you need to, and envision the glass of wine I will most certainly be having with dinner tonight.

Surprisingly the combination of teacher and human somehow balances out, gets me through the day, and leads me to prepare for a better tomorrow.

As I write this post reflecting on an emotionally taxing day, I am realizing that even putting these feelings into words is a helpful strategy. Whether it may be to a public forum, a text message to a friend, or only for my eyes to see, writing about tough days is a way to let it out of your system. Of course I still feel drained, stressed, and like I’m ready for bed at 6pm. But with that said, I am also prepared to begin tomorrow as a fresh start, learn from my mistakes, prepare my students for a great day, and prepare myself for those unexpected moments that often lead me to think “this really is the most incredible job,” even on the tough days.

Keeping Organized

I’m the kind of organized person that has labeled boxes in my apartment for everything from dog supplies to checkbooks to stamps to matches. Everything has a place… and usually a color, too. My classroom was always well organized as well.

I’ve been exploring with the best ways to keep my digital life organized for myself and for the people I provide resources for. So far, I love Dropmark. It’s visual, easy to organize, quick to load, and there are different levels of privacy for each category. I’ve found it so helpful for the lessons I teach. All I need to do is send the link or link it to a QR code in order to share it with my groups.

I’ve also been collecting resources for teachers to begin to use in their classrooms and to start the flipped classroom model. The idea of the flipped classroom is to provide learning opportunities at home, too. Providing families with meaningful and safe resources for their children to explore at home will help children to see that screens can be used for more than games. It also means that the instruction in the classroom will be more rich with more knowledge about topics than a teacher could provide in a 30 minute lesson.

Here’s the beginning of my Dropmark. Check it out!

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

I had several gut reactions when Jess asked me to contribute to her teacher blog.  Immediately, I was flattered she would want my input and ideas on her blog.  But that positive feeling quickly vanished and anxiety started to creep in.  I’ve never considered myself a writer, and trying to eloquently reflect on my teaching is a real challenge for me.  Add to this my inability to make a decision and I’m faced with what I could only describe as writer’s block right out of the gate!  Jess, being the great friend and supportive colleague she is, gave me an idea for my first blog post, so I must thank her not only for asking me to contribute, but for giving me that little bit of extra support I needed to get started.

When I first started teaching, one of the most overwhelming aspects of my new career was having to create: a classroom community, lesson plans for reading, math, writing, science and social studies, rules with expectations and consequences, schedules and transition times, behavior charts, worksheets, homework.  Although I had almost 3 years of graduate school and a year of student teaching under my belt, I still felt grossly unprepared. Where do I start? What if what I create doesn’t resonate with my students? How do I know that what I’m creating is going to work?   I would spend hours drafting and editing, copying, pasting and then cutting, just to start all over again.  As I talked to other teachers and visited other classrooms, I would marvel at what was being created throughout my school. But I also felt a bit envious that I hadn’t thought of some of it on my own.

“Don’t reinvent the wheel!” I remember hearing this from more than one professor in graduate school. The idea that you don’t always have to create something from scratch was new to me. My life before teaching was in an advertising agency, where reinventing the wheel was what made you successful. In advertising, if you go into a meeting with a client and simply reused an old pitch idea, you would no doubt lose the pitch.  I must admit it took some time to get used to the idea that borrowing another teacher’s idea, or using another teacher’s lessons and activities was OK.

But I’ve learned two important reasons why sharing and imitating ideas can be a good thing in the classroom. The first is that it allows for more collaboration among teachers. There are many days I don’t see any other teachers except the ones that work in my classroom. We are so busy and very rarely get a chance to visit each other throughout the day. When we are borrowing ideas and materials, it provides a reason for communication and collaboration. The second is that borrowed ideas can lead to more consistently throughout the school. The students I teach thrive on structure, routine, and the expected. The more consistent we can be not only in our own classrooms but throughout the classrooms of the school, the more my students are able to process classroom expectations and consequences, content skills and concepts, and specific behavior management techniques.

So, my advice to teachers old and new is to be comfortable borrowing from your colleagues and allow your own ideas to be borrowed by other teachers.  You’ll be surprised at how much more well rounded and more collaborative your teaching practice becomes.

Big Brother or Teacher?

For me, reading books side-by-side encourages some really interesting discoveries of connections and parallels– I’m sure it does for most readers. The last few books I’ve read for professional and personal reasons are 1984 by George Orwell, Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon, and Why School? by Will Richardson. You might think that there isn’t much in common, but I’ve applied what I’ve read to my teaching… a little from each book, and it’s quite critical.

All three books discuss teaching the next generation. Solomon interviews families who have children with different identities than their parents (homosexuality, deafness, dwarfism, autism, schizophrenia, etc.). In his search for the answer about whether or not he should have children, he discovers families who have embraced their children’s differences and found communities to foster healthy growth, independence, and comfort in their identities. The communities are mostly centered around who the child is versus who the parents are (the way it should be, right?). This got me thinking about teaching. We are constantly listing out skills that all children must have or teaching from a list, and we won’t leave any child behind. Why aren’t we embracing their strengths– even those who aren’t exceptional?

In 1984, I found a similar theme– an organization designed to squash out the individuals and their independent thoughts (presented in a different light, of course). Isn’t that what we do when we try to teach every child the same thing? The other thing to reflect is how the Party disseminated all of the information– whoever controls the present, controls the past. When I think about my classroom and how I’ve been teaching, I know that everything has been filtered through me– scarily Orwellian. The plethora of information I digest comes out in a smaller portion for my class to understand, but after reading these books, I’m uneasy delivering information the way I so comfortably did before.

I do work hard to find factual information to present, yet was I really able to describe the horrors of slavery? I also presented it as the past– what about now? How do we get our fruits and vegetables to market? These are thoughts I’ve had, but there seems to be a piece missing if I’m not talking about the whole picture of human history from multiple perspectives. How can just one person do this?

This is where Will Richardson’s book played a part. The problem is how I present– Am I teaching in a way that leads my students to these questions or am I teaching in a way that only leads them to the questions I can answer? Considering what’s developmentally appropriate has a role, as well… Filtering and breaking down information into digestible chunks has primarily been done on a group basis. How can I open my students up to all of the information I can without scaring them? Do I teach more controversial topics as fact and open the exploration to less controversial or safe topics?

These are just some of the thoughts racing through my mind this morning. What are your thoughts?

A Glimpse into My Classroom

I started this blog with a big change. Five years of tweaking my teaching has led me to this point. There are so many practical ways to keep a classroom organized, which were never presented to me in graduate school. I hope this helps some new teachers looking for ways to keep organized.

I wish I had recorded my ups and downs in my beginning years– but I didn’t. New teachers: start writing now! It will be really valuable for you, even if it sounds impossible now. Find the five minutes to talk into your voice recorder, send yourself a reflective email, or write a journal or blog entry. It’s at the top of my should have list, and I hate that list.

I figured I should probably dedicate a few posts to what I have discovered that works and ways I have saved both my sanity and time.

Children should always know what they’re learning about. It is embarrassing and upsetting when kids can’t verbalize the topic they’re learning. Here’s my classroom solution:

I used Boardmaker, backed it, laminated it, and it’s a neat way to show what has been learned, what is being learned, and what will be learned– it also puts the year into perspective. They reference it for conversation, sharing with visitors, and it truly grounds them.

On an organized scale of 1 to 10, I would like my classroom to be at an 11. To do this, I have some structures in place that take me a lot less time than they did when I first started teaching. One of the major projects I took on was organizing the classroom library, so that the students were in control of maintaining it, rather than frustratingly reorganizing the library each week. Before school started, I made circle labels using Boardmaker images on Microsoft Word. It’s really easy. I sorted the books by category (science books, social studies book, history books, feelings books, friendship books, etc.). Each category has a bin (or two) with a matching picture label on the front of the bin. Now one of the class jobs is class librarian, whose job it is to organize the books.

More to come soon!