I <3 Technology

ITECThe longer I teach, the more addicted to technology I become. I find that technology is engaging for students (engaged students learn more!), it often makes my life easier, it easily fosters genuine creativity, and it helps train students to be 21st learners and consumers. I was THRILLED to be given the opportunity to attend ITEC 2014 this school year. While I don’t always pick the perfect sessions, I left wishing I could have attended the entire conference rather than just one day. While some ideas I heard were great reminders, I also heard some novel things I need to try…

  • EduCanon  may revolutionize the way I show videos to class. The program offers tools that allow teachers to directly embed comprehension questions into videos and receive feedback about student knowledge.
  • iFakeText is just plain fun. I asked my psychology students to create fake text conversations showing they understand the interventions for alcoholics.
  • FlipSnack may be an another awesome presentation tool for my eighth graders. I’m considering having students use this tool for their final American Revolution project.
  • ThingLink allows students to add tags to their own digital photos or photos of their choice. Again, my psychology guinea pigs tested this out for me by tagging a photo with information about depressive disorder.
  • The Noun Project allows users to choose from hundreds of symbols to tell a story. I’m not 100% sure how to use it yet, but I’m considering having students create a visual representation of an essential question essay.

I heard tons of other great ideas, and it was awesome to join with my fellow tech-lovers in rejuvenating our passion for everything technology! What will they think of next?

Accountable Talk

During a recent professional development training, my local AEA representative provided my peers and me information about accountable talk (method for encouraging students to stay on task during discussion or collaborative work). Based on the videos and blogs out there, I think the idea has been around for awhile! Regardless, the idea was new to me! I’ve noticed that this year’s crop of students could use extra support when working with their peers, so I was happy to test out the process.

I worked with my instructional coach to review my lesson plan, and she visited my room to observe and videotape the lesson. (Check out the relevant clip HERE.) I tweaked the sentence starters a bit from what I’d heard in professional development:

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I think my favorite stem is “How does the text support your ideas?” I think it reinforces literacy and social studies skills as well as helps students support their claims. I thought my introduction of accountable talk went well, but it is an expectation I will need to revisit throughout the year to ensure students see the value of working effectively with their peers.

Therapy Session

My psychology class is pretty tough. I don’t want it to be, but the book is a high school level text and my students are in 8th grade. The concepts are abstract and totally new to all learners. I’ve been trying lots of new things this year to make the text and vocabulary more accessible to my students. My instructional coach sent some ideas from Learning in the Fast Lane, and there was one that I was easily adapted for psychology….

Learning in the Fast Lane recommended having students act out vocabulary words to deepen their understanding. I transformed this into skits called “Therapy Sessions.” Students were assigned a partner and a vocabulary word (in this case, a psychological disorder). One studentpsych was the therapist and one was the patient. The students conducted the “therapy session,” giving clues to what their assigned disorder was. After the skit, the class guessed which disorder was being “treated” in the skit.

Kids LOVED this! I actually saw a girl skipping out of the room saying, “Psychology is the BEST!” I will absolutely continue to use this strategy. In fact, I think it will become a standard activity in psych class!

Sticky Sort and Ideas for Building Background

I had a good lesson today in social studies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Man, I love when that happens!

Essential Question: What was North America like before Europeans arrived?
Learning Target: I can recall background knowledge to enhance new learning.
  • I gave students a preference survey relating to various Native American culture areas:

culture areas survey


  • I discussed students’ survey results using this presentation (example slide):

(Active Engagement Bonus Points: “Raise your hand if you agree with…”)

Culture Areas PPT

  • I then passed out oodles of sticky notes. I instructed students to write one thing they know about American Indians on each note.Sticky Sort
  • After approximately five minutes of brainstorming, I instructed students to work in small groups, combine their stickies, and categorize their ideas. Students created categories such as food, resources, clothing, housing, and many more.
  • Finally, after discussing their categories and ideas in general, I assigned students a pretest so I could determine what lesson they need next.

I was BEYOND pleased with this lesson! First of all, I felt good about focusing the lesson with my essential question and learning target. I referenced each at the start of the lesson and many times throughout. Secondly, I utilized a legitimate collaboration technique (versus simply saying “Work together!” ….which I am wont to do). The energy in my room was infectious; the students were highly engaged in their work. Finally, I’m worthless at differentiation. The pretest is going to allow me to actually assign the next lesson based on students knowledge versus providing a homogenous activity. Another bonus point…I invited my instructional coach to observe this lesson! Yay me!

Toilet Paper and a Promise

I arrived at school at 7:00 a.m. today, the first day of the year for teachers. There was no toilet paper in either staff bathroom. I chose to go to the student bathroom, but there weren’t any lights on. The doors leading to the cafeteria where the kick-off would be hosted were closed formidably, blocking a dark hallway. Are we doing this thing today or not?!

These minutiae latched on to my preexisting crummy attitude and made me ill-prepared to laugh at the opening jokes and bask in the beauty of a fresh start. I told myself I would reassess my disposition at the end of the day, and it took me all eight hours to have an epiphany regarding the next 180 days. This is my Golden Year. Eight years of teaching eighth grade. I don’t remember my golden birthday because I turned four on the fourth way back in 1989, but this, a golden year of teaching, I promise to remember.pinky-swear

I promise to love the kids.
I promise to learn and implement new technologies.
I promise to be a positive, open-minded colleague.
I promise to create engaging, student-centered lessons.
I promise to bring snacks.
Today, I feel pretty ill-prepared to make good on these promises. What really matters on this first day is that I rekindled old relationships, met new friends, and was granted a glorious gift. 
The gift of a new school year, with every opportunity to make my dreams a reality.

Exit Slip Dice Game

I’m a teaching genius. Fine, fine….not really. I’m actually just a teacher trying to keep my head abovec543072_s water with only a handful of days left in the school year! When I’m blessed with a strike of creative brilliance at this time of the year, I am doubly thankful!

The last couple of days, I’ve asked to students to write standard exit slips (okay…they weren’t necessarily standard because one was a “Tweet from Vicksburg” and one was an “Emancipation Proclamation newspaper headline.”), and I wanted to do something different today. I broke kids into small groups and provided each group with a die. Each group member had to roll the die and answer the associated question:

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Totally fun and totally new to my classroom! I was able to wander about the room and participate in group conversations quite easily as students were engaged in this active “game” more so than if I had each student report out their learning in a whip-around. Plus, I felt like this met the requirements of collaborative group work because each student had a role but also relied on others to complete the task! I will definitely keep this in my teacher tool bag!

An extension may be to have students write down their peers answers which would hold them accountable for listening. Students could use that information to write a paragraph summarizing the lesson (literacy connection!!!).

Games and Motivation

I was trolling the internet the other day and came across THIS article about Candy Crush. I’m new to the game, though I was immediately addicted when I started playing. I thought the article connected quite clearly to our psychology study focusing on motivation, so I decided to use it in class.

  • I showed THIS video to hook kids onto the topic.
    • After the video, I led a discussion regarding what games kids like to play and why they enjoying playing them.
  • Students then read the article either independently or with a classmate.
    • I asked them to jot down notes answering the question, “How does Candy Crush motivate players?”
  • Students shared out their notes and found things like…kids playing
    • Food is inherently motivating to humans. :-)
    • You never know when you will win.
    • You lose more often than you win.
    • The game is simple but challenging.
    • The game gets progressively harder.
    • The game only lets you play so much before forcing you to take a break. You can’t wait to come back for more!
    • Players believe they are in control of their strategy when really it is a game of luck.
  • I was able to connect these points to conditioning and motivation as students have learned in class.
  • Next, I showed students THIS video explaining why games are addicting to kids, which we discussed after viewing.
  • Finally, I asked students to email me three ways teachers could get kids addicted to school, based on what they learned throughout the lesson.
  • Examples from kids include…
    • One way you can get kids addicted to school is by having a reward process; such as having a day to have homework and tests, while another day is having fun and games to learn a new lesson.
    • The fist idea to get kids addicted to school is to reward them for the things we do or get good food during school.
    • Make it simple and to the point with no twists or turn.
    • One way you could get kids addicted to school is to do more fun things. Another way is reward kids for things. Last, schools can do more things to be associated with fun and happiness. 
    • More hands on work.

Kids were pretty clear that FUN is motivating! :-) In general, student take aways showed they understood the message about motivation. All students listed as least one way to make school addicting that was directly tied to the article/videos (some ideas were opinions instead of tied to the content). I was happy  to leave the textbooks on the shelf today, and use a relevant topic to get kids exited about the curriculum!