November Reflections: Leaping into Learning

pablo

What, it’s November already? One would think that as a middle school teacher and magazine columnist I should have a better handle on my time management and blogging skills, but obviously I do not. Here I am though, finally writing again, on a school night! So, hello, dear reader and friend. Let’s catch up for a bit.

The first quarter of the school year has blown by, much like the non-existent season of fall here in the Northeast. (Seriously? I had a couple of weekends to enjoy the colorful foliage before some storms came in and left bare branches.) Working at a new district has been both exciting and challenging; exciting because it’s a new workplace, and challenging because it’s a new workplace. My past columns have focused on inquiry-based instruction, modeling instruction, and the 5E learning cycle so I have been really pushing myself to walk the talk in my own science classroom. Since my first year of teaching, my work motto was “Be bold and courageous in all that you do.” Science is about experimentation anyway, so why not try new  and different things?

Here’s some new things I “leapt” at this quarter and what I learned from them:

  1. The 5E learning cycle is a fun and effective way to teach science. One of the NSTA listserv members shared his 5E lesson plan template and I’ve adapted it for my unit plans. I think this year so far I have doubled the amount of hands-on activities and labs from what I usually do in a unit. Even though I  increased the number of labs, prep time and clean up has been reduced with the installation of class jobs and student helpers. Students seem to be more at ease with vocabulary and concepts that most students in the past struggled with, even after review and reteaching. I think that is because they are making the connections between their Explore lab experiences and the content. I too find it easier to explain something when I can say, “Remember what happened when…?”  or “Remember when you…?” Instantly an image pops up in their heads, and they get it.
  2. Visual sketch noting is not just for the artistically-inclined. Earlier in September, students completed a multiple intelligences survey and many described themselves as visual-spatial learners. I also had a lot of students who kept drawing in class. Rather than get annoyed by their scribbles, I embraced it and switched class notes to foldables and doodles in our science interactive notebooks. Now they were earning notebook grades for coloring and drawing–a win/win for us all! While I personally prefer outlines and bulleted lists for notes, I too have tried to be more creative by using Google Drawing to create diagrams, flow-charts, and summaries for notes. I also have tried drawing during team meetings, and while I get strange looks from peers, I realized I remember more things when I drew them because I could picture them in my head. Again with the images!
  3. Cognitive psychology tricks makes productive learning stick. (Hey, that rhymes!) In October, I attended a local science conference and one of the sessions I sat in was based on Peter Brown’s, “Make It Stick:The Science of Successful Learning”. The master teacher shared her experiences using vocabulary concept maps and summary sheets. I came home and tried both as review strategies for our first unit test. At first, students resisted. Middle school students resist change, especially when that change means they have to do more thinking and more work! They complained a lot about how hard it was, but then something shifted. They started getting into discussions about categorizing vocabulary words and how they should word their phrases to show connections. When they found out they could use the summary sheet for a test, they were excited until they learned they had to decide on their own what goes on that sheet. Students who really took the time to work on their vocabulary maps and summary sheets earned higher scores than those who blew it off. I like the strategies, and am interested to see what the results will be for the next unit. Will more students take it seriously this time? Hmm…
  4. When you have a low STEAM budget, build things out of junk. One of my classes is a STEAM class that meets every day for 20 minutes. It was a last minute schedule change before school started so I didn’t really have a lot of time or materials to plan out a curriculum. Thankfully, NSTA listserv members shared some STEAM resources and school staff donated recyclable materials to help me get through the first 10 weeks.  I started off with weekly themed challenges, like the Apple A-lympics. Students built the tallest towers, cantilevers, wrecking balls, and bridges with apples. When they got bored with that theme (and the apples started rotting), we switched to two-week challenges such as cardboard marble mazes and candy pumpkin’ chunkin’ catapults. Students really enjoyed building things, but we got burned out quickly. When I get the next batch of students in December, I plan to throw in videos, science literacy articles, and basic lab skills review to break things up and give us some breathing space. Instead of a weekly challenge, I may  break it up into 5- 2-week long short term projects or do 1 long-term project using Google CS where they can work on their own pace.
  5. Angela Watson is the queen of batching and streamlining; I want to be her when I grow up. Back in July, I signed up for Angela Watson’s “40 Hour Teacher Work Week” program. It has been hard to keep up with the weekly readings, audios and Facebook posts since school started but the content is pure gold. I have been commuting to work carrying only my lunch box! (If you’re a science teacher, you KNOW this is a biggie. I usually carry 1-2 totes of papers and STUFF that I need for a demo, activity or lab.) I have been getting more work done at work, and rarely brought work home since October. I have been getting out of work on time, and have not once had to go to school on a weekend to print! I get more time to spend with my husband, actually watch TV, or curl up with a book on weeknights. (Or like tonight, finally blog.) Bottom line: after seven years of teaching, I am starting to have my own personal life.
    1. Batching similar tasks means that I don’t go around in circles all day. I plan everything out the night before or morning of, prioritize my tasks for the day, and I make sure I check off my list. Done, done, and done.
    2. The weekly readings and Facebook posts keep me reflecting and revamping my routines and strategies to make it even more streamlined and effective. For example, I loved the idea of class jobs and I created all these fancy titles. Environmental manager? Technology specialist? Supply Manager? Cute, right? Fast forward to November and no one is doing those jobs. Turns out all I needed were paper passers. It may be Pinterest-worthy, but if it’s not getting what I need done, I need to avoid it and stick to what will help me do my job well and fast.
    3. Weekly Do-Nows, or bellringers, are a great way to set the tone for class. I used to do half sheets with 3-5 problems every day , which unfortunately just formed towering piles on my office desk because I didn’t have the time to look at them all. This year I created weekly worksheets and projected Science Spot’s Science Starters on the board or created my own problems in a Google Slidedeck. Now I’m thinking of revamping it again to a weekly review worksheet but with old NYS ILS exam problems printed on them instead of showing it on the board. Some students have also started to just wait until we go over the answers, but hopefully this way will deter reluctant starters and hold them accountable for the review.
    4. Where have single-point rubrics been all of my life? I learned about single-point rubrics at that same conference from that same master teacher who talked about concept maps and summary sheets. Single-point rubrics only describe the criteria for proficiency. Students’ eyes will no longer glaze over when they read over my rubrics! Why didn’t my college professors ever tell me about these beautiful things? Sorry, Rubistar, I no longer need your time-consuming analytic rubrics! Currently I’m rewriting my interactive notebook, lab report, and groupwork rubrics into single-point rubrics. This might be Pinterest-worthy. Streamlining can be sexy.

I’m not quite sure what’s in line for me for the rest of November, but hey, I’m trying and learning new things! That’s all I can ask of myself. So, be bold, my friend. Learn something new! Leap, and that net will appear! (Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving in case it takes me another few weeks to get back here.)

 

5 New Things I Wish I Knew Before About Preparing for the New School Year

This July, I signed up for Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Work Week program. The 40 Hour Teacher Work Week program is a one year program that sends time-saving resources to your inbox. The e-guides and audio files focus on various topics such as creating a self-running classroom, efficient routines, lesson-planning and assessment, and finding a work/life balance.  My favorite part of the program is the private Facebook support group where I am able to interact with other program members and talk about how we are adapting the 40 Hour Teacher Work Week principles in our classrooms.

My main take-aways from the July and August readings were 1) I needed to learn how to prioritize efficiency over Pinterest-y perfection; and 2) I needed to set sustainable systems in place to make sure my classroom runs efficiently. This week I begin my seventh year teaching, but it will be my first year at a brand new high school. It was the perfect opportunity to rethink my classroom routines, procedures, and systems. With the readings and advice from the 40 Teacher Hour Work Week Facebook group, I was able to reflect on my old systems and figure out how to make them more sustainable. Here are some pictures of my classroom, and some of the things I wish I knew before when I was a new teacher preparing for the new school year.

  1. Assign specific class jobs.20160901_145430

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it is actually one of the hardest things I had to accept as a teacher. As a type-A new teacher, it was easier for me to do everything because things got done faster and in the way I wanted them to be. However, this meant that there were more things on my plate and that I ended up getting home later. It wasn’t until recently when I began to ask for volunteers to help me clean up that I realized middle school students do want to help, and it worked out well as long as I explained what I needed them to do. Excitement for class jobs fizzled out for the first year I tried them because I was not consistent with who did what and for how long.

This year I am revamping the class jobs to what I really need: subject matter experts (students who can answer peer questions during activities), lab technicians (early arrival or late dismissal students who can help me set up lab equipment for group activities), paper passers (students who collect and distribute papers), supply managers (students who oversee the supply bins for interactive notebooks and projects), technology specialists (students who help me with the computers and class apps), and environmental managers (students who help me wipe down tables and clean up after activities).  I created the class jobs posters on Canva and put them up in my TeachersPayTeachers store for free as PDF downloads.

The plan is to have 1-2 volunteers per class who can complete the job for a month. When they finish their job at the end of the month, they earn a free homework pass or 20 gold coins from ClassCraft. It would be their responsibility to teach the next month’s students how to do their job.

2. Make it easy for students to turn in their work (and hold them accountable for it).20160901_145410.jpg

I don’t remember where I learned this bin trick, but I have been using it for several years. I use several Sterilite bins with laminated labels Velcro’ed on the front. The bins are located at the front of the room by the door. One of the first procedures I teach my students is to place their homework and completed classwork in their appropriate bin. Previously, I had students place their homework on the corner of their desks. I collected homework and checked off names on a laminated roster while students completed their bellringer, or Do-Now activity.

This year, I am going to ask students to hand in their homework on their way in to their seats instead. I’m thinking of assigning students classroom numbers, writing their classroom numbers instead of their names on papers, and having an early-finisher put the homework in numerical order and check off the numbers on a roster. The anonymity will prevent putting students on the spot for not having in homework on time, and it will come in handy later when I have paper passers return graded work. I will use the checklists later during a planning period to fill out a Missing Student Work Google Form that automatically emails parents about their child’s missing homework or classwork.

Another addition this year is the Teacher Inbox. The Teacher Inbox is designated for non-academic documents such as emergency contact cards, field trip permission slips, doctor notes, and absent or late make up work. This allows me to keep non-graded work separate, and I can carry the bin around to my desk or office where I can later file things away or drop things off at the office.

 3. Make it easy for students to get what they need (and hold them accountable for it).20160901_145607

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from a mentor during my undergraduate student teaching days was to make a “home base” for my students. Home base was a designated area in the classroom where students could go to collect and return lab equipment during labs. I have since then adapted home base to Student Center where students pick up absent make up work, extra copies, tissue, pencils, and use office supplies. It is usually located at the back of the room.

Having the Student Center ensured that students weren’t creating distractions as they came up to my desk for something during instruction. It also kept me from losing papers on my desk, or trying to find out where the stapler or tape dispenser were.

In the past few years, I stuck extra copies in the Absent Bin and told students it was their responsibility to pick up the missed work. I had two sets of folders in the Absent Bin; one set was labeled Monday to Friday, and the second set was labeled Last Monday to Last Friday. I moved the sets at the end of the week and recycled the documents every two weeks. Obviously without dates, the two-week folder system didn’t work. Students didn’t remember what days they were absent.

This year, I am revamping the Absent Bin by designating paper passers or a team member of a group to collect work for an absent member. I plan to clip a “While You Were Out” half sheet to the papers. Folders are labeled by period, and students are directed to pick up their labeled make-up work from their designated folder when they return to class. I also plan to add a sign-out sheet for students who would like to meet with me to make up short labs, or to get extra tutoring to catch up in class after school by the Absent Bin. In addition, students will be directed to check Google Classroom for videos and other instructional materials.

4. Make it easy to find what I need, and even easier to put away.20160901_14550320160901_145450

Having a home base for myself is important, especially with all the forms I need throughout the day. This year, I decided not to have a teacher desk in the classroom since I have a separate office/prep room. Without a desk, I needed a place where I can keep my forms and handouts organized and ready.

I saw the labeled clear Sterilite stack of drawers from Pinterest, and thought it was a genius idea. This year I am without Chromebooks, so I have to say goodbye to my paperless classroom and hello again to handouts. The labeled Sterilite stack of drawers will help me keep my handouts and interactive notebook output pages organized throughout the week. I love the idea of using the last drawer for the substitute teacher. I plan to place Scholastic Science World articles and close reading graphic organizers there. It’s not shown in the picture, but I am also creating a substitute teacher binder that I will place by the Sterilite stack of drawers.

The second photo show two hanging folder black bins. The first bin, “Form Templates”, hold forms that I need throughout the day such as nurse passes, office passes, While You Were Out half sheets, blank Thank You cards, and blank Good Notes Home. The second bin, “Teacher In/Out”, is a temporary holding place for important memos, office mail, papers to grade, graded papers, etc. Without a teacher desk in the classroom, it is a good way for me to stay organized and not lose things until I can get to my office.

The black filing cabinets were too heavy for me to move, so I am going to use them as a Student Portfolio Center. I plan to print out student names on file folder labels and ask for volunteers to create labeled folders for each period. Here I will put signed laboratory safety contracts, their parents’ “In A Million Words or Less” essays, samples of student writing, etc. Since the filing cabinets are at the front of the room, it would be an ideal place to have accessible to students and parents during conferences. My own files–planning, units, etc– will be held in my office, away from the classroom.

 5. Take advantage of technology to digitize what you can.

Thankfully there are computer stations in my classroom this year. One of the things I learned from the 40 Hour Teacher Work Week Facebook group was to convert my forms, such as the Bathroom Log and Missing Homework Log, into Google Forms. This eliminates some paper waste, and holds students accountable for their work and whereabouts. Plus, I l just love Google Forms!

This year, I created Google Forms for the Bathroom Log and Missing Homework Log. Students are not allowed to use cell phones in the classroom so I didn’t make a QR code. Instead, I made a sign over the first computer station (left) to show students where to log in. The Google Forms are bookmarked and saved on the computer’s desktop.

Over the fourth computer station (right), I made a sign to show early finishers where to log in. I plan to create a Symbaloo page that has links to science news websites, science video channels, and review games. Maybe I will create a Google Form for science article summaries too.

Some other tips I learned on how to organize and create efficient routines in the classroom include using chalk markers to label the tables (no more students picking away the tape!), using a cheap shoe organizer to hold cell phones and electronic devices (pockets are numbered and correspond with students’ classroom numbers), and creating a glue sponge bins out of Dollar Store tupperware (an easier and faster process for gluing interactive notebook output pages).

I am really glad I caught Angela Watson’s free summer webinar and made the decision to try her 40 Hour Teacher Work Week program. Focusing on what will help me run things more smoothly has really helped me let go of my idea of having to be a perfect teacher with the perfect Pinterest-worthy classroom. While it is certainly fun to browse for creative ideas, I think focusing on efficiency and productivity this summer has helped me to see my classroom in a different way. I feel less stressed, more confident and prepared to take on a new school year. I feel that I will be able to focus more on my relationships with my students this year because I am involving them in the process, and asking them to take responsibility for their classroom.

Friend, I wish you a Happy and Wonderful New School Year!

Note: I was not compensated for this post. I just wanted to share my opinion and experience with the program.

School Year Highlights & Summer Happenings

 

School Highlights andSummer Happenings

No worries: I am still alive! My dear friend, I have so much to tell you! The 2015-2016 school year has come and gone, and there are less than four weeks of summer vacation left before I begin the new 2016-2017 school year. Where do I begin with my news? I’ll start off with some highlights from last year, bullet-journal style.

2015-2016 School Highlights

  • Organized an all-day STEM DAY for Grades 6-8 with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s (RPI) Engineering Ambassador Program
  • Created and supervised a new elective in which the students attended their first Future Cities Albany Competition
    • My elective students and I met former astronaut, Dr. David Hilmers! That’s a photo of my students and I in the Future Cities’ website and article.
    • The team won the “2016 Best Green Design Model” award!
  • Helped create an all-day inter-curriculum CSI Day for Grades 6-8 with department
  • Helped create a half-day STEM competition between Grades 6-7 with the math teacher
  • Learned more about Google Apps for Education (GAFE) tools and used them in the classroom with the school’s 1:1 Chromebook program
  • Implemented the Code Blue unit with Life Science students for the third year in a row, where several amazing parents, who worked in the medical field, volunteered to act as judges and evaluate the students’ Grand Rounds presentations
  • Set up and helped evaluate the 4th Grade Intermediate Life Science (ILS) exams
  • Set up and proctored the 8th Grade ILS exams for the first time on my own as a teacher
  • Taught Regents Living Environment (LE) for the first time, proctored the exams, and helped evaluate other schools’ exams in June.
    • I am proud to say that 100% of my Regents LE students earned a score of 84 or higher! Whew!

Other Important News

  • This fall, I will begin my seventh year of teaching as the new 8th Grade Physical Science Teacher at a rural public school district.
    • I greatly enjoyed my time teaching Grades 6-8 at a private Catholic school, and learned so much about teaching different science subjects (and teaching evolution in a Catholic school setting!). I also loved experimenting with GAFE and web 2.0 tools. I will certainly miss the students and staff!
    • After six years of teaching at charter schools and private schools, I am relieved to finally be in a public school setting–one that is also less than a half hour drive from home! Tira tira! (Filipino slang for I can do it! I did it!)
  • This fall, I will also officially debut as one of the magazine columnists for NSTA’s Science Scope magazine!
    • So, be on the lookout this month for the September issue! I write for the monthly “From the Listservs” column. If you are an NSTA member and subscribe to one or all of the NSTA email listservs, many thanks for your wonderful responses and contributions to my column.
    • I have been working for the past four months on these magazine articles, and holy moly! I do not envy my editors and other professional writers their jobs. How do they stay so disciplined with their writing schedules?! I struggle with blogging on a daily basis, so it will be quite an adventure this year to see how I brush off my social media accounts, attempt to blog more frequently, and keep up with the monthly column! Tira tira!

What I’ve Been Up To Lately

  • Back last November, Hubby and I moved into a 200-year old farmhouse. This summer has been all about house projects. We practically live at Lowes and Home Depot since we are there every other weekend. So far, we have–
    • Repainted the front porch and back patios
    • Repainted the gazebo
    • Attempted to build a chicken coop and chicken run from scratch
      • I have 20 10-week-old chickens living in my sun-room! Building this chicken coop and run has been the bane of my existence. Between Hubby’s knee surgery and rainy weekends, this particular building project is going molasses slow. I can’t wait for it to be finally over and reclaim my sun-room.
  • Took up a self-paced Bible study with SheReadsTruth. (Thanks Lisa, @teachwithsoul, for the recommendation!)
  • Started to learn and practice creative hand lettering
  • Signed up for Angela Watson’s 40 Hour Teacher Work Club Program (#40HTWC)
    • Vicki (@coolcatteacher) shared a post on Angela’s “6 Simple Steps to Your Best Summer Ever”, which I read, which led to a free webinar and to the #40HTWC program
    • I attended the webinar and was inspired to sign up for the #40HTWC program, which is a year-long professional development program for teachers on how to work smart and more efficiently throughout the school year.
    • Completed the July materials, and I’m super excited to be in the classroom throughout August to set up my classroom and organization systems.
    • I’m loving the #40HTWC Facebook group for secondary teachers–the topics are on point, and I’m getting so much advice and feedback! Membership is closed for the 2016-2017 year, but if you get a chance to sign up for next year, I recommend you do it!  Watch out for some of my blog posts later this year on my personal teacher goals with #40HTWC
  • Attended several of Chris Kesler’s free science webinars
    • I watched his free webinars on interactive science notebooks, the 5E learning cycle, and student-led stations–all very informative and clearly presented
    • I’ve tried interactive science notebooks for two years now; setup and routines has been hard for me to keep consistent, so hopefully this fall I can tweak the system to run more efficiently.

2016-2017 Goals

  • With the #40HTWC program, my goal is to create a more productive and efficient workspace for my students and myself. With a self-running classroom, I hope to be able to spend more time focusing on…
    • building an inquiry-based curriculum
    • learning more Next Generation Science Standards and modeling instruction
    • and continuing to learn more about GAFE tools
  • Entering my seventh year teaching, I have also learned that I need to create parameters around work. I used to think that being a good teacher was about being the first to arrive and the last to leave, but I have learned over time that a good teacher is one who manages time well and includes well-being as a priority. With #40HTWC this year, I hope to…
    • make more time for daily exercise
    • make healthier food choices
    • and make more time for self-care

Hopefully throughout the year I’ll be able to journal about my experiences with #40HTWC, the new school, and new column position. Until then, happy summer!

 

 

8 Things I Learned From My First Webinar

pablo

Earlier this March, I went live with my first webinar!  I debut as a Model Schools Instructor for a regional community information center where I shared some of my practices in instructional technology integration with district staff from over 14 school districts.  The webinar was called “How To Use Google Apps and Web 2.0 Tools For Formative Assessment”.  The webinar was based on my personal experiences as a middle school science teacher this school year using various tools with a 1:1 Google Chromebook program.

Attendance was high and the feedback from the course evaluations have been overwhelmingly encouraging and positive. Thank you to those who attended and took the time to answer the survey. The links to the Google Slides and Google Document are posted below.

The webinar was an exciting but daunting challenge. Sure, I’ve taken my fair share of professional development training webinars, but I haven’t been on the other side before. I didn’t realize what type and extent of preparation were needed to design and host a successful  webinar. At school, I was simply sharing my passion for instructional technology with my department team members over coffee breaks in the lounge room, showing quick 1:1 demos in my room, or sharing what I was doing with others at monthly faculty meetings.

A webinar was different. The challenge was how to transmit my passion and experiences through a computer screen to a larger group of educators I have never met before. To prepare, I decided to put together a list of things that I enjoyed about webinars I have taken as a teacher and incorporated that into my design.

4 Things I Learned About Preparing a Webinar:

  1. Begin with a question.
    • A webinar is not about the presenter. It is about the people who signed up to take that webinar. They have a reason for paying money for that webinar. Focus on that reason. Get rid of the Agenda slide and start with a simple question: “Why are you here?”
  2. Make the webinar interactive.
    • Sitting in front of a computer screen for an hour is going to be tough for viewers and you. Do not, I repeat, kill them by PowerPoint. Do use lots of fun and vivid imagery.
    • With a webinar, you can’t see or hear your audience so you need to build in multiple checks to engage and check in with your audience. Ask questions. Take polls. Luckily for me, my webinar was an introductory “smack-down” session on online tools for formative assessment!  I was able to create multiple checks where the audience experienced the tools as students.
  3. Write a script.
    • Despite the fact that I teach in front of students all day and presented a couple of times in front of very large groups, my knees still quake at the thought of speaking in front of people. I’m not very quick at forming articulate sentences; it takes me awhile to figure out what I really want to say.
    • Writing a script helped me focus on the most important ideas and say it with fewer more succinct words.
  4. Give homework.
    • Have your viewers take an active role in their learning. Ask them how they can use the information they learned in their classroom the next day. Brainstorm and share ideas.
    • Provide resources they can check out on their own. Since my webinar was an introductory session, I wasn’t able to spend more time on technical how-to’s on individual tools. Instead, I created a Google Document and linked several resources that the viewers can read on their own.

So, how well did my preparation set me up for the actual presentation? Holy moly, it was so nerve-wracking. I arrived two hours earlier at the studio and found that it was just barely enough time to prep the webinar through WebEx, which I have never used before. However, once I started talking, I quickly got the hang of it and I was shocked to see how the hour flew by so fast. I really enjoyed the process–it was so much fun! Below are some things I learned from presenting the webinar:

4 Things I Learned About Presenting A Webinar:

  1.  Improvise, improvise, improvise! 
    • Even with a script, I learned that I had to be very flexible. There were steps I had to remember on how to turn on the mic and record the webinar and some housekeeping announcements to make before I started. I also ran into problems on how to share my tools, but thankfully I was able to share the links via the Chat box and a TodaysMeet backchannel I created for the webinar. The unexpected items made me flustered and I found myself stuttering a few times. Finally, I just took a deep breath, cracked some jokes, and got on with it!
  2. You can’t control everything, so go with the flow.
    • There were audio problems with some of the viewers. (Sorry, the studio told me that as a presenter, I have nothing to do with audio!) Towards the end of the webinar, one of my add-ons didn’t work. It was frustrating, but I understood that sometimes things go wrong, especially in a live webinar. I apologized, made more jokes, and followed up with the Google Document.
    • After some research on how to improve my webinar skills, I later picked up the tip on creating and emailing viewers PDF printouts of your webinar slideshow. It gives viewers something tangible to follow along with and write notes on.
  3.  You can’t make everyone like you, so go with the flow.
    • While a majority of my reviews after the webinar were positive, I did receive one negative review. The viewer stated I was disorganized, none of my tools worked, and that my webinar was no help at all. I was CRUSHED! My mind was like a pit bull gnawing incessantly on a bone; I kept playing it over and over in my head for a couple of days. Finally, I decided to spit it out and let it go. What was one negative review among many positives? It was my first webinar after all.
    • After some reflection, I do think that in my next webinar my first poll should ask teachers where they are on the instructional technology spectrum. I would also share with the viewers a preview of the tools I was going to talk about and ask them to rate them on how familiar they are with them. While I was clear about my webinar being an introductory session,  I can customize it on the spot depending on the viewers’ feedback.
  4. Do what you love and have fun!
    • I’m thankful for the opportunity to grow as a professional educator and presenter, and to be able to share my practices and passion for instructional technology with others. It was a fun first experience, and I look forward to putting together more webinars in the summer. As we teachers like to quip, practice makes perfect!

 

Webinar Google Slides: https://goo.gl/YnYsUg

Webinar Google Document:  https://goo.gl/GU2hNH

 

How We Got Rid of Missing Homework (Excuses) With Google Forms

pablo

One of the things my middle school team and I struggled a lot with before holiday break was the high rate of students who did not turn in homework and assignments on time. At first, we created a Google Document that listed students and their missing work. The document was shared with the middle school teachers and Grades 6-8 students. Students who were listed on the document had to come in during lunch and recess for “lunch detention” to make up their missing work.

While the Google Document allowed us to keep track of assignments, it made more work for us as teachers. We rotated through lunch shifts so that one or more teachers had their homerooms open for students to make up missing work. Did we doom ourselves to eating lunch alone in the classroom, never to eat lunch together again in the faculty lounge?

I was determined not to work harder than my students, and to figure out a way to get back to that far-away faculty lounge!  After a long thoughtful conversation with the boss, I realized that if we teachers wanted our students to take more responsibility for their work (or lack of), we had to reach out to their parents and get them in on the action. Sure, we emailed and made phone calls, but the communication channels weren’t always immediate.

What if there was a way to log online when a student didn’t do his or her homework? What if parents received an automated email each time this happened? Parents could talk to their child about that assignment on that exact same day. It would be parents holding their own children accountable, and not a Google Document, or teachers eating lunch in their classrooms. We’d finally start getting more work in on time!

By December, I was already using Google Forms with the Flubaroo Add-On for short quick assessments in the science classroom. After Googling ideas, sure enough, there was such a way!

Through my Internet research, I came across Mr. Trussell’s 2014 blog post, “Setting Up A Form To Email Parents About Missing Homework“. Within two hours, I had a working “Missing Homework” Google Forms template and a parent email template! I shared them immediately with the middle school team when we returned from break, and we were ready to roll.

Screenshot 2016-01-31 19.40.27
Screenshot of the Missing Homework/Classwork Google Form

 

That weekend before the end of the holiday break, I wrote mass emails to parents in each grade introducing the Missing Homework form and automated notices. Within minutes, my inbox was flooded with enthusiastic responses from parents, who loved the idea. Needless to say, students were wary that first Monday back.

Each teacher has his or her own way of using the Missing Homework Google Form. I use it with my work iPad, walking around the room and collecting work individually as students work on bell-ringers. Other teachers bookmark it on their desktop computers and run the list of students missing work during one of their preps.

Screenshot 2016-01-01 14.46.27
Screenshot of the first email template

We middle school teachers have used the Missing Homework forms for a whole month now, and I’m glad to say that it has greatly reduced the amount of missing homework and assignments. In that first week of January, we had close to 30% of students not submit work on time. That number went down to 8% in just two days after those automated parent emails were generated.  Now, a full month later, we no longer see the same staggering amounts of students with missing work.

Since then, I’ve tweaked the Missing Homework Google Form a little bit in response to peer teacher and parent feedback. Specials teachers loved the Google Form and wanted to use it in their classes to notify parents of late classwork and projects. Those teachers’ names were added to the drop-down menus, and I edited the form to include classwork. Parents also wanted to know the names of the missing assignments, when the assignments were assigned, and what the assignment deadlines were. I changed the short answer textbox to long answer textbox so teachers could add the necessary information–they could be as brief or as detailed as they wanted!

One of the drawbacks of the Missing Homework Google Form was that the “Autocrat” Add-on does not automatically merge the spreadsheet, email template, and coding whenever I submit a log on the Missing Homework Google Form. Fortunately, I have the last prep of the day so I can set time aside to open up the Google Form and run the merge manually while I type up homework emails to teachers and text reminders (Remind) to parents for the day.

So that I don’t forget to do it, I used the “Form Notifications” Add-on on the Google Form itself to send me email notifications whenever there are five or more responses added to the Google Form by the other teachers.

Despite the heavy legwork upfront, the Missing Homework Google Form, and automated emails have greatly improved our parent-teacher communications. Parents love getting the emails, and we teachers have PDF records we can refer to back up student grades. In addition, the Google Form offers visual diagrams of student work through its summary of responses.

I wouldn’t say that we have completely eradicated students’ inability to turn work in on time as a team, but at least, I get the opportunity now to take a real lunch break!

New Year, One Goal

 

20151230_103018
Goal setting for the new year with my #getotoworkbook

For 2016, here’s my New Year’s Resolution: to focus on being a better version of me.

Earlier in the school year, I wrote out life goals where I wanted to be a better person for my loved ones. I wanted to be a more patient wife, a more dutiful daughter, a more supportive sister and friend. I wanted to write more and to be a better teacher. I wanted to be lots of things, and I did my best to do it, but it didn’t take long for me to wear out trying to be all of it.

After some late night reflections, I realized that I didn’t have to work so hard to try to be these different faces to different people. The thing that mattered most was that I work hard on being simply a better me.

So, here’s to being more forgiving and accepting of myself in 2016. Here’s to better choices: making more time for my faith and personal health. Here’s to balance, smaller steps, and being okay with imperfections.

Happy New Year, friend!

 

 

How Google Classroom Saved My Sanity

pablo (2)

This year, I went from teaching one prep to four preps, ranging from 6th Grade Earth Science to 8th Grade Regents Living Environment. Imagine: new school setting, teaching three science subjects I have not taught before, and creating (not one, but four!) new curriculum guides from scratch (again! for the sixth year in a row!). Sounds daunting, eh? 

 

It was! WordPress likes to remind me that I wrote absolutely nothing during October and November. That’s because I was so busy trying to keep my head above the water! Even when I had planned out my units in advance, my time was eaten up trying to create new everything–interactive notebooks, lessons, labs, and assessments–for all four preps. (Thankfully, I have an amazing support system of people both at work and online via the NSTA science listserves. That first physics unit could’ve gone horribly wrong if it weren’t for those science packs and encouraging emails.)

One October day, I was at work very early to run copies for all preps. The old printer jammed! My heart jumped out of my throat. The other teachers were going to be there any minute now, and I just couldn’t be that teacher.  It was bad enough that I was the new teacher who was printing over a hundred copies; now I was the new teacher who was printing over a hundred copies who jammed the printer ten minutes before the first period. Needless to say, I was quite unpopular in the lounge room that day.

Enter Google Classroom.

I’d like to say something more witty and intellectual about why I started using Google Classroom, but honestly, at first, it was purely out of survival. I needed a way to 1) organize all my lessons for each class; 2) distribute all the materials (and have copies for those students who seem to lose everything) and; 3) find a system that would help me keep track of student work. I needed out of my relationship with that ornery printer ASAP.

With a 1:1 Google Chromebook program and a Google account at school, it seemed a no-brainer to set up multiple Google Classroom pages for each prep.  Of course, I had no idea how to use Google Classroom, but with Youtube tutorials and quick searches online, that was easily remedied. I set up my classes and rolled Google Classroom out the very next day. The students, of course, took it to immediately.  Why didn’t I think of this before?

Fast forward to the present with Google Classroom.

I’ve used Google Classroom for two months now, and I can’t imagine my life without it. Not only did Google Classroom help me get organized, but it also got me to a point where I’m teaching in an almost paperless classroom. (I say “almost” because I still have to print NYS Regents lab packets and foldables.) I no longer risk my life in the printer room!

In fact, just before Thanksgiving break, there was another big disastrous printer jam. For a second, I felt the old panic. What was I going to do? How was I going to teach? Didn’t I need to print out notes for a class? Then I realized, Wait! I have Google Classroom now! I don’t need to print anything! That was the day I learned how to make interactive notes via Google Documents and the Drawing tool, and posted them on Google Classroom. (Thank you, search engine gods, for leading me to Nick Mitchell’s blog, The Scientific Teacher, and his post on online interactice science notebooks.)

Oh, Google Classroom, let me count the ways I love you:

  • With you, I am able to create a transparent classroom and save precious chalkboard space by posting my learning objectives, class agenda/minutes, and homework reminders online.
  • With you, I am able to better organize and archive my lessons. I used to use EduSync’s TeacherCal app as an online lesson plan book, which was an external account. Now I can simply use Google Calendar in house to create individual pacing maps for each class, and post them on Google Classroom. Students know when I’m teaching different concepts, and what the due dates are for projects and assessments.
  • With you, I am able to provide a variety of learning materials to meet the different needs and preferences of my students. I can easily share PPTs, interactive Google Doc notes, videos, online CK12 e-text chapters (goodbye heavy textbooks!), simulations, and virtual labs with students. I can even upload my own Screencast-o-Matic short demo and tutorial videos to Google Drive and share them privately through Google Classroom. (Thanks to Richard Bryne at “Free Technology for Teachers” for that brief tutorial!)
  • With you, I am able to differentiate my instruction by integrating other Google apps and online tools, such as Google Drawing, Padlet, and Quizlet to engage and motivate my students.
  • With you, I am able to encourage more collaboration among students by creating jigsaw projects using Google Drawing, Google Slides, and Google Docs and posting those projects through Google Classroom. They’re now working harder than I am in the classroom!
  • With you, I am able to hold my students more accountable for their work. I can see who turned in their work on time! Students can no longer use the excuse that they lost their work or didn’t know where to find it because it’s all posted online. Sorry, Fido! Can’t eat digital files!
  • With you, I am able to communicate more information with families. I can check on the revision history on projects. I can even share missing assignments with parents and students!
  • With you, I am able to reduce my grading piles by creating individual copies of assignments via Google Classroom. No more papers! No more folders! Each student has his or her own folder online, which I can access anytime anywhere with Internet access.
  • With you, I am able to cut my grading time in half and  get immediate feedback to my students through Google Forms, and add-ons such as Flubaroo and Online Rubric. I can create more frequent formative assessments and more meaningful summative assessments from the real-time data. Plus, I love the histograms–I share them with my students so they can see their individual and whole-class progress.

 

 

Google Classroom has saved my sanity. I’m more organized, less stressed, (no longer unpopular in the lounge room?), and actually even more excited to learn more ways on how to use Google Classroom in my classroom.

I’m especially curious to see how other science teachers are using Google Classroom in their classroom to create flipped classrooms, create blended online learning environments (assignments online, labs in person?), and  encourage more collaborative work among students. Please comment and share with me your Google Classroom experiences!