Saturday, October 14, 2017

Instruction Through Digital Innovation

This week I participated in a professional development program called Instruction Through Digital Innovation. It is a technology program recognizing the good work that teachers were doing with technology in the district while helping teachers learn more, network and brainstorm with other like-minded teachers. The day included the presenters showing some benefits of technology in the classroom, the group of teachers identifying how technology could be integrated effectively in classrooms, classroom visits, and lesson development.

I love workshops like this one. I love learning about new tech. Many times I see immediate applications of the tools in my class but I am always surprised by the ideas of others. I don't know how many times a teacher suggested something and I thought to myself, "Why didn't I think of that?" When you get some creative, tech-savvy teachers in a room, they will astound you with what they know. While we received many handouts, it was the suggestions of teachers during conversation times that I noted. Now, I will go back to my classroom and investigate the ideas of these creative teachers and see how they apply to my own situation. Like any good ideas, I'll tweak them to make them work for me, but the ideas are the important currency.

One of the tools that we used was the TIM chart. It helped the teachers in the room come to agreement on where tech integration fell on the spectrum. For the most part, teachers agreed on more effective and less effective uses of technology. In our own lessons, we are trying to seamlessly use technology to further learning, not just substitute one tool for another. The key to technology is that is should do something that other tools cannot do to enhance learning. 

When it came time to create my lesson for reflection, I chose to have kids make "How-to" videos using FlipGrid. FlipGrid is an app that our district is pushing. It is a short video app with which kids can create video responses. It looks really cool and I can find dozens of uses for it in my room. The problem is that I don't know how to use it. I subscribed to the teacher kit, read enough to get me going, and pulled two kids from class, and had them download the app to their phone. They will be responsible for learning how to use it. They will make an introductory "How-to" video about using FlipGrid which I will show my classes. They will then be the experts in the room. To say that they are excited is an understatement. I am happy because I can leverage the interest of these kids in order to get all of the students using FlipGrid. We are a community of teachers and learners. 

I am really looking forward to what comes next during our time in the IDI program. I feel that I have a lot of growing to do this year. Last year, I integrated some tech into my classroom but not nearly as much as years previous. Part of that problem was because I was in a new situation (new state, district, and school) and part of it was getting a handle on what resources our school had. Now that I am one year in, I feel that I can make better decisions and get these kids up to speed in their use of technology. They need to learn and I need to give them the room, time, and resources so that they can learn.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Hurricane Irma

On September 10, Naples, FL took a direct hit from Hurricane Irma. During the week prior, we saw the weather models that showed how Irma may skirt up the east coast of Florida and avoid the west coast altogether. Three days before Irma hit, those models shifted. Irma was headed directly toward Naples. Our superintendent wisely cancelled school for the two days before the hurricane made landfall. That gave our students and staff a chance to evacuate to safety if they chose. Many of my kiddos' families evacuated. Since Irma was going to tear up the entire state, many of the kids' families fled to Georgia, Tennessee, the Carolinas, and Alabama. Our school district used 29 schools as shelters and thousands and thousands of Naples residents used those shelters. It was going to be ugly.

When Irma hit, she hit hard. Irma made landfall in Naples as a Category 4 hurricane with winds up to 142 miles per hour. The storm lasted for hours with the most intense part of the storm, the eye wall, lasting for 2-3 hours. Since the eye of the storm was passing directly over Naples, many took the opportunity to go outside in the eye of the hurricane. I know I did. How many people can say that they have experienced the eye of a hurricane? Winds and rain pummeled us through the night as Irma made her way up the Florida peninsula.

On the morning of September 11, we woke to see the devastation that Irma left behind. Much of Naples was flooded, streets were impassable, trees and power lines were down, buildings were destroyed, there was no power or cell service and the water system was tainted. People who had prepared to live off the grid for awhile would be fine. Those who did not prepare were in trouble. I learned that the two most important commodities after a hurricane are water and gas. Since no stores or gas stations would open for a few days, the lines for those items, when they became available, were tremendous. Some waited up to seven hours in line for gas.

Now we were ready for recovery. People tried as best they could to check on their loved ones. Orders from the County Sheriff's Department stated that people should not drive the roads until officials could check them out to make sure they were safe. Most people were stranded in their homes with no power or communications. I myself was without power for eleven days. Slowly, over the next couple of weeks, things would get back to normal. School in Collier County was cancelled for the two weeks following Hurricane Irma. There was no way that the schools could open. Most were without power, 29 had been used as shelters, and many of our kids were not even in the state. No, we would have to wait for Naples to recover more before schools could open.

During the two weeks of recovery before schools opened, we all worked on restoring our properties. Residents placed as much debris as possible by the streets so that FEMA trucks could take it away in the next few months. Driving around, there were two sounds that we heard constantly: the hum of generators and the roar of chainsaws. These two things are essential in any disaster. Our power company promised that nearly all power would be restored to residents by September 22, nearly two weeks after the hurricane. On that day, teachers would return to schools. It took a herculean effort to make the schools whole again, but they were.

When we returned, we learned about the massive amount of resources that our school district, in partnership with the business community, had assembled to help the kids and their families. Our school communities are indeed communities. When kids returned to school on Monday, September 25, we were ready. Our counselors gathered information about what kids' families needed and the all-call went out to get those items. All kids would have free breakfast and lunch through the month of October. For some of our kiddos, these are the only meals that they get daily. Kids who needed clothes got clothes. Bags of food went home to families in need. When a community pitches in, there is nothing it can't accomplish.

In class, we debriefed. Kids told their stories about leaving or staying. They talked about the fear of the storm and the difficulty of recovery. Kids who evacuated talked about what they returned to. It will take months for Naples to get back to normal. We see evidence, debris piles, everyday that remind us of Hurricane Irma. These kids are resilient. They returned a bit battered but ready to get back into the routine. The normalcy that school provides is something that they latched onto immediately. There were brighter days ahead.

Irma will be with us all year long. It is a shared experience that will bond many of us. In a few months, we will look back and realize that we got through it together. Irma brought out the best of Naples residents. For a few weeks, people checked in on each other, lent a hand, donated, were kinder, visited, and solidified the community that is Naples. In the couple of weeks that we have been back to school, I see the same thing happening among our kids. They are kinder and a bit more empathetic, maybe because they know that we're all in this together.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Vote With Your Feet Vocabulary

Everyone loves KaHoot! It is an awesome game that helps kids learn and have fun in class. We use KaHoot a lot in class and the kids always want more. The only downside of KaHoot is that kids don't move much during the game. Sometimes, we try to take the principles of KaHoot and use them in a different way so that kids can move around the room more. So this week, we did Vote With Your Feet Vocabulary.

The idea is the same as KaHoot. We review vocabulary (in this case, prefixes) using a question and four answers. Instead of pushing a button to record their answers, the kiddos walked (or ran) to the corner of the room that had the number corresponding to the correct answer. We covered twenty prefixes in about fifteen minutes.

Prep for this activity was easy. I used Google Slides to create a card with a prefix, a couple of sample words, and four answer possibilities. The answer possibilities were numbered 1-4. Before class, I hung numbered signs in each corner and we were ready to go.

As we were playing, I noticed a lot of the kiddos discussing with their neighbors what the prefixes meant. Some kids didn't know the answers so they went back and forth with a friend, trying to figure it out. I like that kind of discourse. I like to see the kids relying on their peers to solve the problem. Most of the kids got most of the answers correct. Sometimes they were confused. That's okay. There is a good chance that they will remember better because they were more involved in solving the problems. That kind of experience sticks.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

I Wish My Teacher Knew...

Last year, a teacher's blog post went viral. She had her students fill in the answer to the following:

I wish my teacher knew...

Our reading coach at the time, Paul Holimon (@holimon_paul), reminded those of us in the English Department that it would be a good exercise for us to do as well. So at the end of last year, I had my kiddos fill out index cards titled, "I wish my teacher knew..." I was astounded by what they wrote. Many of the kids, who had sub-par years, wanted me to know that they were indeed good students. Many wanted me to know that they were good at sports, had talents that I never knew about, had different ideas about class and school that would have been helpful for me to know, and were going through personal tragedies. They gave me valuable information but I was disappointed that I waited so long to do this activity.

This year, I knew I wanted to know more about my kiddos from the first week of school. On Friday, I passed out index cards titled, "I wish my teacher knew..." I told the kiddos that they had the choice of putting their name on their card or keeping it anonymous. About 40% used their names. I don't think I would have gotten so much information if I insisted on the kids putting their names. The information that I got, however, is amazing.

Some of the things that I found out are:

- About 20% of my kids do NOT like to read. I think much of this feeling is because of how they have had to deal with reading in class before. That will change this year; I promise.
- One student is a cancer survivor...twice.
- One student said, "My dad walked out on me."
- Many of my kids love sports (soccer, boxing, wrestling, basketball, football, hockey).
- A few of my kids hate Jake Paul and Team 10.
- One of my kiddos is from the Philippines and speaks Tagalog.
- Some of the kids have experienced terrible things and therefore read books to help them deal with those experiences.
- Many kids bragged about their talents in art, music, dance, math, sports, and technology.
- Some kids' parents are divorced and it is hard on them.
- Some kiddos have experienced recent deaths in the family or their circle of friends.
- One or two kids' pets have recently died.
- Many kids related the school subject in which they are excellent!

It is important for me to know these things so that I have a sense of what this group of kiddos is dealing with. Often we forget that our students are people who have bad days or need some extra help or attention in order to get through the day. School is so much more than disseminating information. A school is a living, breathing organism. We teachers must have the soft skills to accommodate all kids regardless of their strengths and weaknesses, both academic and emotional. We are their parent figure while at school and we must act accordingly, treating these kids as if they were our own.

My mission is to take all of this information into account and make sure that this group of kids has the best school year they have ever had.  I will revisit this activity periodically throughout the year but I hope that I don't have to. I hope that the kids will become comfortable enough that they will freely share with me all of the time. If we get to that point, I'll know I have been successful.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

It's All About the Team

We spend a lot of time during the first few days on team building activities. It is always important to show the kiddos that they can work well with everyone in the class. Kids have a natural inclination to be collaborative and cooperation in class is essential. During the first few days, in addition to talking about expectations, we play some games that demonstrate how crucial teamwork is. When we develop good teamwork at the beginning of the year, that teamwork and collaboration pays off big during the last few months of the school year. Fostering cooperation and collaboration during the first week of school is an investment in the last few months of school.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

That's a Lot of Reading!

When I first introduced the idea of the 40 Book Challenge to the kiddos, they immediately thought, "No way!" Most of these kids have been middle of the road students their entire lives. To attempt to read 40 books in one school year seemed beyond their capabilities, according to them. When I asked how many books they read last year and the year before, I got answers ranging from "none" to "five" with a few exceptions, readers who read over ten books. Their challenge was also my challenge. How could we create an environment where kids would willingly pick up a book and read it for a decent amount of time? How could we get reading to be "cool" for kids? How could we help kids build the reading stamina that they will need in the future?

Since I had just started at East Naples Middle School, I had to stock my bookshelves. Selecting books that kids would want to read is always a challenge, especially because I didn't really know these kids yet. I bought hundreds of books that I thought would appeal to them and, with a fully stocked library at school, the kids had lots of choices. Now, we had to change the culture. I showed book trailer after book trailer, gave book talk after book talk, highlighted books that I saw kids read, and read WITH the kids so that they could see that it is their most important work, not busy work to do while I do other teacher duties. Some kiddos are readers just waiting to blossom. Those kids took to the program instantly. Others took a while to buy in but they did. Slowly, over the course of the year, kids would begin to ask, "I'm finished with the assignment. Can I read?" Music to my ears. Reading became a preferred option for the kids. Often, when kids came to class, they asked if we could forgo the day's work and just read.

My class schedule is three 90 minute blocks. I make sure that 30 of those minutes are dedicated to independent reading. Kids choose their books. We use some textbook stories as our whole class readings so that we have some common points of reference, but nearly all of the other reading time kids spend is on independent reading. I also ask that they read 30 minutes each night before going to bed. Some did but probably most did not. Still, they read in class. They selected their own books and read. Many times, kids would check out the same book and read together. Some groups took an entire series and rotated through it so that they all could read each book. Kids developed reading stamina. The cries of, "How much longer?" faded over the course of the year.

On our classroom wall, we have divisions for our 40 Book Challenge. Each student gets a card with their name. I put a sticker on the card for each book read. Everyone starts on the "0-5 Books" wall. Next is the "6-10 Books" wall, followed by the "11-20 Books" wall, the "21-30 Books" wall, the "30-40 Books" wall and lastly the "40+ Books" wall. Kids would see their card move throughout the year. It is a tangible visual that kids can look to in order to chart their progress. We also celebrate every five books a kiddo reads with a cupcake. When kids reach 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, and 40 books, they get "cupcaked". We celebrate!

These kiddos read. Five students reached 40+ Books but so many others read more than they ever thought they would. Kids are in the process of completing a class survey and some of the questions deal with their reading this year. When I look at the number of books read last year as compared to this year, I am blown away. The majority of our kids read over 15 books this year. That is a book every couple of weeks. To make things interesting, I joined the challenge. I didn't get to 40+ Books either but it was fun to keep track with the kids. They also saw me as a real reader who was reading what they were reading. They could trust that my book recommendations were probably pretty good. After all, we were a reading community. We share. 

So many of the kids were surprised by the number of books that they read this year. For some kids, it was ten times what they had read in years past. The key was book choice. Several students reported that they only read one or two books last year and those were the class novels that they read together. This year, we did no class novels. Kids had to take on the responsibility of being a real reader, looking for books they might like and developing their taste in reading. It is what real readers do. While the kiddos were surprised about how much they read, they also reveled in the accomplishment. This year is something they can always look back on with pride. They accomplished so much more than they thought they could. Many of them developed a love of reading that will last their lifetime. That love of reading is gold. I believe that if kids leave me with a love of reading, then I have done the best thing possible for them. Only time will tell.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Looking Down the Road

Last week, we took a field trip to Florida Gulf Coast University. Every seventh grader in our school participated. It is like a rite of passage. It is one of the two seventh grade field trips every year. I think the district is trying to expose the kids to the idea of college. Many have it in their minds that they are going to college after high school but many others do not. This trip shows our kiddos that the option is there for them if they want it.

I am a big proponent of kids going to college. I know it is not necessary to become the best person one can be, but for the experience of it (moving far from home, being on your own for the first time in your life, meeting a variety of people from around the globe), it can't be beat. I want my kiddos open to the idea that college may be an option for them. Many don't even consider it an option. Whether it is cost, grades, or not thinking that they are "college material", a lot of my students don't even think about college. I have been working all year to change that.

I have begun many sentences this year with "When you get to college", or "After high school, when you get to make your own schedule in college". It is important that we talk about college as if it is a given, that they will have that option to take or leave. I want the expectation that they will go to school after high school, be it college, junior college or tech school. We know that these days a high school diploma is not enough for the average kiddo to get a good-paying job. It takes more.

On our tour of FGCU, we saw a dorm room, Alico Arena (where the FGCU basketball team plays), an engineering classroom, the student commons, the library, and several gathering spots around campus. FGCU is a new school, celebrating its twentieth year of operation this year. The campus has newer buildings and a fresh look. It is an attractive place for kids to consider going to school. It is also relatively inexpensive. During the tour, I overheard several kids saying, "I'm going here!" I smiled at that. Others said, "I'm not. I'm going to Florida (the University of Florida)!" I smiled at that as well. Kids were talking about going to college as if it were in the cards now. Some of those same kiddos didn't see the possibility last week. Now they do. The more our tour guide talked about the opportunities, the more kids began to see things differently. 

I tell kids all of the time, "You want to be in the position where you get to make decisions, not have decisions made for you." That means that kids have to achieve enough that they can choose from a selection of things for which they qualify. They are making the decision. If they only qualify for one thing, the decision is made for them. That is why I push college so hard. I know that if they achieve enough to be accepted by a handful of colleges, they will be the decision-maker. They can decide which school to attend or not to attend at all. Regardless, the decision is theirs. 

As we loaded back onto the bus at the end of the day, kids were reminiscing about what they saw on campus. Some were comparing this campus to others that they have seen. I suggested to my kiddos that anytime they have a chance to see a college campus, they should take the opportunity. I look back with fond memories at all of the times I have spent on the campuses of the colleges I've attended. These kids are excitedly looking forward to the experience they will have. College is not out of reach for them. They know that now.