Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Why I Finally Switched to Google Classroom

I finally made the switch from Schoology to Google Classroom.  I wasn't planning on it, but it just made sense in the long run.

There are a few things I'm loving about Google Classroom!  1) Easy sharing of a doc with 100 students. 2) My rubric is attached to my doc. I can create an assignment on a Doc with my Orange Slice rubric at the top and load it into Classroom. 3) Students can mark something as "Done" if they worked with a partner.


Here's why I switched. 1) I use Google Docs, Slides, and Youtube for 98% of my assignments. It really just made sense.  2) My professional portfolio/website is a Google Site, so now, I can load student work examples seamlessly from Slides.  3) Even though there is a new Google Drive connection with Schoology, our district's firewall was not letting it work the way it should have. Therefore, each student was sharing their Google Doc or Slides. I would end up with 100 different assignments to sort through.

Here's what I did love about Schoology. 1) The quiz functions were better than Google Forms.  2) I could lock an assignment after the due date. 3) I could hide an assignment, but still access it myself for example to review a students previous work and compare growth. 4) I could organize folders so new students could go back to get caught up on something, but it wasn't just a scrolling mess.
Where are these functions on Classroom?

I wanted to point out that both systems have some amazing benefits. Our district has paid for Schoology Enterprise, so I'm not going to knock it!  As an iPad teacher it was really easy for me to load assignments as PDFs to Schoology and grade on the iPad by swiping. That was pretty glorious! When students worked on Google Docs or Slides last year I had them share their work as a link and post the link on Schoology. This way my grading was still organized by classes and I could easily access it. If the newest Google Drive updates had worked I might still be on Schoology. Also, once you have a class set up in Schoology you can copy assignments such as tests and quizzes from one year to the next. I found that really handy in my second year on the iPad.

Since I'm in a completely different role this year I'm not on the iPad anymore. I have a full Mac lab for digital photo and yearbook.  Yearbook is its own beast that I can talk about another time. In photo we use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.  With Classroom, I love that I can load one Doc or set of Slides, and I can mark it to "Make a Copy for Each Student." Boom! It's instantly done.  They don't have to create a copy and share it with me.  Then, even if they forget to press "Turn In," I can still open their document and grade it or see their progress.  I really do love that aspect of the Google Suite for Education!  For Photoshop tutorials I can load a video tutorial directly from Youtube.  So far, I'm very happy with the switch!

I know a ton of teachers love their LMS such as Schoology or SeeSaw.  What LMS do other teachers use? I'm going to take it to Twitter to find out!  Also, if you have some new Google Classroom tips for me, I'd love to hear them!

Thanks for reading!

~Andi
English Middle School Mania
@aadamsELA






Thursday, August 31, 2017

Make Your Class Like an Elective

Today as I was leaving school on a Thursday I was walking out with one of our social studies teachers. He had two paper trays stacked on top of each other, full of papers.  We don't have students tomorrow because it's a professional development day and Monday is Labor Day.  I made the joke to him, "Wow, that looks like a fun filled evening."  He responded and said, "You know I enjoy not sleeping. I like staying up from midnight til 5 am reading papers." We went on to banter about timely feedback, we sarcastically said, "I don't really need to have a weekend or see my family."  Although we both knew this wasn't actually sarcasm, this is the truth for almost every teacher I know.

Each year I told myself I was going to stagger due dates with my classes, do more peer editing, do more as a class and assign less... each year I inevitably three weeks into the quarter had a stack of essays that were going to take me an entire weekend to grade. No matter how good those essays were, I hated my existence half way through the stack.  I would wish I was an elective teacher and not an English teacher.

Finally, I am an elective teacher!  This year I made the switch from secondary English to digital photography and yearbook.  I am elated because everything is new again.  I am in that discovery stage that I haven't been in for a very long time.  I am watching Photoshop tutorials in the evenings, and I'm trying new things.  Each day I'm excited to share those new skills with the students. However, I have also learned in the past month as an elective teacher that the system wasn't fully to blame for my work load. It was partly my fault. I wasn't teaching my "core" class like an elective.

In this new role people say things to me such as, "Gee, I wish I didn't have grading like you." "What are you going to do with your weekends now that your not a tested subject?"  "I bet the students are great because they chose your class."  I'm learning though, that because the students far outnumber the amount of teachers in a building, some are forced to take an elective they might hate. Others, even though they chose the class, still misbehave.  Just because the band teacher or drama teacher can't take student work home, doesn't mean they aren't doing just as much as the math teacher. In fact, how would the math teacher feel if his/her students were expected to perform math in front of an audience? Maybe they should be.

As a "core" teacher, I couldn't wrap my head around how to change the system.  I knew teachers who were flipping their classes and administrators who kept saying, "Don't grade everything, or give a simple formative assessment."  I didn't know how to not grade those formative assessments. I didn't know how to not grade that flipped learning. I didn't know how to not make more work for myself.  I kept saying, "If I have 30+ students how do I know if they know it without having them turn it in?" I have had some very eye opening moments in this new position that I wish I had years ago.  Here are a few things I've learned about being an elective teacher: Use grouping strategies; Don't make it homework if they can't master it on their own; Have students complete multiples before submitting one; Have students "perform" for an audience. Some of these you might read as a veteran teacher and say, "Duh!"  Trust me I thought I was doing all of these to the best of my abilities, but I've learned some new strategies this year.

Use Grouping Strategies: Number your tables or your rows even.  My first row goes 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2 they group with my second row 3, 4, 3, 4, 3, 4. I have four even rows. Then use the numbers frequently to separate your group.  Here's how I work in photo.  I start off with our whole class warm up. We move into our lesson. Today, I was reviewing photoshop basics.  Many students were struggling with finding the tools because some are loaded beneath others and need a right click to find them.  Next, I previewed what we will be working on next week with Photoshop, in our case it's cut-outs.  In order to do these the students needed to go take photos of objects to cut out from simple to complex such as doorways, trashcans, flowers, and people.  Here's where that grouping comes in handy.  I split my class into two groups. 1s and 3s go take photos for 25 minutes while 2s and 4s are in the classroom working through their current Photoshop assignment.  Now I have 25 minutes to walk around and meet with each student. I can tell you as I sit here who had the five tools from today down and who needed more support.  Some students had it down, and I could give praise or simple edits.  When they switched out I had a new group to meet with.  Here's the thing, why couldn't I do this with ELA? Why did I insist on doing 25 minutes of grammar on NoRedInk as a full class? Why did I insist on reading a short story as a full class?  I could have easily lead a 10 minute mini lesson about the short story and previewed it with the full class then I could have divided the class into two groups. With the smaller group working with me I could have had better accountability for who was reading and comprehending.

Don't Make it Homework if They Can't Master it on their Own: Once again I thought I was doing this in the ELA classroom, but I kept trying to have them fully complete something in order to move on to the next thing. I kept thinking they HAD to take it home and complete it and practice it. In this new classroom, they can't always take it home. They do not have Adobe Photoshop at home, as it is expensive. Even if they did, they'd have to find the right youtube video to do the task I'm asking for because there may be no one at home to help.  Most of them do not have a real camera and can't take home the school cameras.  Therefore, I can't assign Photoshop or anything that requires manual mode on the camera.  In contrast, in the ELA classroom I kept expecting students to master an essay at home over night. Then, I would have to grade a hastily written essay over the weekend. Why was I trying to cram four essays into a month?  This goes into my next strategy.

Have Students Complete Multiples Before Submitting One: As a photographer you might take 50 images and have four good shots.  I knew this in middle school when I had to roll my own film and develop it myself. I would always roll 27 frames instead of 24 knowing that at least three would be complete junk.  We ask students all the time to write on a topic that doesn't interest them then we grade it, and it's junk.  What I should have done is have students take a topic fully through the process of prewriting, writing, peer editing, and revising multiple times. Then, I should have said, "turn in your best one from the past two/three weeks."  This is the one the students are saying is their best work. They took multiple attempts and they felt this one was the one the exemplifies their level of mastery.

Have Students "Perform" for an Audience: This one, I actually feel I was pretty good at as an ELA teacher.  My teaching partner LaDonna and I would partner up pretty frequently to have the students create something relating to a larger project to showcase their learning. We would invite other classrooms in for "Presentation Day" The students would present multiple times in a gallery walk style to other students, teachers, and admin.  We also had our middle school ELA and math students "perform" by blogging about their achievements and learning. We saw growth throughout the year because of these performance mastery aspects. I am carrying this over to photography by planning at least one "Presentation Day" with my students towards the end of the quarter to showcase their portfolios. Students will also create their own "professional portfolio" google site to showcase all of their classwork, this is where I will incorporate those blog aspects to relate the learning to performing.

So, the next time you think to yourself, "I wish I was an elective teacher," ask yourself instead, "How can I make my class more like an elective?"

Thanks for reading!

~Andi
English Middle School Mania
@aadamsELA
 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Getting Outdoors on Summer Break

It's the Summer Solstice today!  It's always so funny that while the normal world is celebrating the beginning of summer, as a teacher, once this day hits I'm already mourning the end of it!

Before it's totally over I wanted to talk about what I'm doing to relax and rejuvenate. It's a super hectic summer. My next post is going to be about my new job and what my husband and I are doing all summer as teachers to prepare for the next school year.

However, this post is all about getting away from it all and literally disconnecting with tech. My daughter had mentioned earlier this year that she had never been camping other than backyard camping in the tent. She also hadn't been fishing. I decided it was time for the eight year old to experience the great outdoors over night. My hubby isn't huge on camping, yet I love it. So, I planned a girls trip with a friend. Suzy is the ultimate outdoorsy girl who backpacks and kayaks. She's a good one to have on a trip! Anything I forgot, like dinner for the second night, she was prepared for!

I picked a location, Curecanti National Recreation Area, it's about a 3 1/2 hour drive from the Springs. OutDoorsGeek called the reservoir a Kayaker's Paradise. We packed the car, loaded the boats on the car and headed out. We stopped at the visitor's center. I assumed there would be a fee for parking or camping. There is not. This National Park is completely free! We planned on parking at the marina, loading the boats and paddling straight across to the Turtle Rock campsite.  It was recommended instead to drive on further, park on a dirt road near the Lake Fork Bridge, then load the boats and paddle about two miles upstream to the Lake Form Arm campsite.


If you've never kayak camped, loading the boats from your stuff in the car, in my opinion, is by far the worst part. You have to have drybags for everything! You need to pack lightly so it all fits in the boat, yet have enough that you are warm at night, cool in the day, have enough food and water. Between the two adults, we had everything covered. I love this Buzzfeed diagram about packing your kayak. I always have extra bungees in my boat for large items such as wood for the campfire. 

The best part about kayak camping is you get to camp in backcountry areas that you wouldn't want to or might not be able to hike to.  The paddle up Lake Fork Arm was longer than we had wanted, and it was hard to spot the campsite, but it was a pretty perfect campsite once we were settled. The site has two tent pads, two fire pits, a picnic site with a bear box and one vault toilet. Primitive, but at least we weren't digging holes or hanging items in trees! 

My daughter was a trooper. The three hour drive, stop at the visitor center, loading the boats, and paddling to the site made us all super tired and ready to set up the tent and hammock and relax!


Over the three days and two nights we got to explore our little area. I enjoyed taking photos and teaching my kiddo more about camping and paddling. We would take turns paddling, mostly I was on. When we got into a rhythm we flew. Her little arms set a pretty fast pace for me to keep up with. I let her bring an old smartphone as her camera. She enjoyed her own little explorations around the site and on the rocks as we paddled. I have yet to check out her pics, though I really should. 

I kept my drybag in my lap as I shot with my Canon. When the water got choppy or I needed to muscle I rolled it up quick. Other times I just enjoyed having my LG in my phone case around my neck. Here are some of my favorite shots from the weekend.




This isn't white water kayaking. While I've done a little white water canoeing and the required Colorado rafting trips, I really enjoy peaceful floats where I can put my feet up and take breaks when the wind is behind me. 

                                 

All in all it was a super successful first girls paddle trip with my daughter!  I hope for many more paddling adventures!

Thanks for reading. Happy official first day of Summer to every one! 

~Andi






Monday, May 29, 2017

Embracing the Fidget Fight and End of Year Blues!

Revised on 6/9/17 - a combined blog effort with Mrs. Welch Knows!

The 2016-2017 school year is officially over for me!  I am so beyond ready for summer.  I have a girls kayaking trip coming up, a visit back to Nebraska to see family, and another school year to prepare for.

For weeks we’ve been fighting the “fidget spinner battle” and that combined with trying to keep students engaged during the last week of school got our wheels turning. As teachers we tend to understand the last week of school is often something the students aren't going to put much time or effort into, they're "checked-out" and so are we. We were both undecided going into the last full week of school (That's the beauty of teaching for a combined total of 21 years, we could pull something together over the weekend!), then LaDonna, said, "Wanna do a project about Spinners?" Of course the answer was “yes!”

Our Eastern Hemisphere teacher also got in on the action. So, we started creating it on a Thursday, and continued adding pieces over the weekend.  However, we’re really proud of what we came up with: 
Learning Objectives
Math
Students will:
  • Collect data.
  • Graph and analyze data using circle graphs, scatter plots and box plots.
  • Calculate mean/average.
  • Convert time (minutes to seconds) using proportions.
ELA
Students will:
  • Collect evidence for and against spinners as fidget toys
  • Present an argument to:
    • Persuade your teachers and principals to accept and see the benefits of fidget spinners
    • Convince your peers to stop spinning and to see the challenges it causes for others
E.H.
Students will:
  • Research toys through the 20th-21st centuries
  • Generate a list of the top 20 toys of the 21st century
  • Design a toy






You can find the Math piece here and the ELA piece FREE here. The projects were actually pretty great! The students loved working together for the four days, and even though we only had four school days left in the year, a lot of the students really worked hard to create a solid presentation for our last full day. They took ownership of their learning and their projects. 


For ELA, I wanted the students to focus on one last argument piece. Articles were chosen to outline positives and negatives of spinners as a useful fidget. The students also needed to create a survey to track their argument.  Some of the groups were surprised. They thought everyone would vote yes in favor of spinners in the classroom, however about half of the students they surveyed were against them. After gathering all the data and creating displays, students were expected to present their math data and their argument showing evidence to support their stance on spinners.



For math, Mrs. Welch wanted to focus on applying useful math skills in a meaningful way. I also wanted students to apply skills that they had learned this school year. I not only wanted students to take ownership, I wanted them to answer that age old question, “When am I ever going to use this?” Students were given opportunities of choice and were able to share their opinion of this hot topic. Although the ELA focused on the debate of the topic, students had to take a stance and develop a survey question for their position of “To spin or Not to spin?” with statistics in mind. The math of this project focused on collecting and analyzing data to back up their argument and test the quality of these overnight sensations. The price of these little gadgets range from $5 to $40 and are made from a plethora of materials. After gathering all the data and creating displays, students were expected to analyze their data in such a way to decide if price and materials plays a role in how well a fidget spinner spins.




This brought us to this blog post today. I thought of how we embraced this item that has become the bane of teacher's existence.  We took something that challenged us and turned it around on the students. As many say, “if you can’t beat them, join them.” 

What we as teachers need to do is help our students take ownership of their learning. We need to help them make that shift.  I think Ownership is the biggest shift in education. Ownership is by definition the “fact of being an owner.” This may not be true for all but when you own something, you have a sense of pride about it. You want to show everyone and you sometimes brag about it.  When you think about all of the buzzwords and phrases that have been around for the past 10 years: project-based learning, one-to-one, flipped learning, blended learning, flexible seating, flexible spaces, genius hour, makerspace, growth mindset... What do they all have in common?  We're trying to put the student in charge of the learning. All of these things were also created with the student in mind  and tend to promote a student centered environment.

Why do we get so frustrated over small objects spinning in our peripheral vision?  It's because we feel like they are distractions from the learning. They usually are, but that's because the students are taking ownership of everything in front of them instead of their own learning. It is also frustrating to see the way fidget spinners are being marketed. Let’s face the fact that they are indeed toys.

If you want to continue teaching the way you were taught and the way your parents were taught, stop reading NOW.  If you want to embrace this shift:  Try, and really do it, don't just say it, but try to focus on one of those phrases from above.  If you already do one, add in another! All of these practices are meant to help students take ownership of their learning. Which should be the ultimate goal, to get the students to care equally or even more than you, as an educator, do about their learning or education.

I had a principal a few years back who constantly said, "Focus on only what you can control." This means if you are the only teacher embracing student ownership, so be it. You can't control the others in your building or on your grade level team.  You can also say over and over that you wish the parents would instill this concept themselves, but you can't control that either.  You can only control your classroom. 

So, when the next annoying fad comes in, embrace it. Your students will love you for it and will learn so much from it.  Show your students how they take ownership of that fad, and they can take ownership of their learning too. Enjoy the end of the school year if you are finishing up. Rest, Relax, and Rejuvenate over the next few weeks.  


Thanks for reading!

Update! This was posted on the @EdTechTeam blog!



Sunday, May 7, 2017

How to Become an EdTechTeam Summit Presenter

Last weekend I had the privilege of presenting at my third EdtechTeam Summit.  As an educator, you may know of these as GAFE Summits (#gafesummit). GAFE stands for Google Apps For Education. Since Google has rebranded their apps as the GSuite for Education there's not a sweet acronym that can be used anymore. The Edtech team has had to rebrand their summit name as well (#edtechteam).
I attended my first summit in the fall of 2015 at Monarch High School in Boulder, CO. This is where I learned about OrangeSlice, ActivelyLearn, Symbaloo, and so much more.  I also learned, I had a wealth of knowledge to share myself.  There are things I have learned in my classroom from trial and error.  I am able to share these ideas with others via my blog, Twitter, TeacherspayTeachers, and at summits.
How does one become a presenter?

  • First, if you've never attended a summit, I would recommend attending one.  Get to know the format of the sessions and enjoy a weekend of learning among your edtechie tribe!   Check out the EdtechTeam website to find a Google, iPad, or Apple summit near you.
  • Next, think about your passions and expertise.  Then, apply!  What's the worst that could happen? They don't chose your session? Everyone gets told no at some point. It doesn't mean you don't know what you're doing. It means you may need to revamp, rethink, then reapply.

I have heard from colleagues, "I have nothing new or groundbreaking to present."
I have presented twice about using graphic novels in the classroom and once about tips and tricks for grading in docs and forms.
Here's what I have learned:

1) There's always going to be someone who comes to your session who is just learning to embrace technology in the classroom or is willing to try new things.  You are the expert in the room for the time being.
2) Give time for exploration. It's just like being in your classroom, if your group suddenly is into the material and talking with one another and sharing ideas, you've done your job!
The first time I presented about graphic novels I was guilty of too much talk.  For my second presentation about grading with Google extensions I shared out ideas and let people try things. My feedback was much better.  For my third presentation the EdtechTeam selected my graphic novel presentation again. This time I was able to build in more time to play with extensions such as Bitmoji and websites such as Pixton.

Here are my slide show presentations and documents to give you ideas.






I'm not a professional speaker by any means, but I do feel like I'm finding my voice.  I get better each time I have the opportunity to share. Don't be afraid to share your knowledge.  I hope you find this advice helpful. Enjoy your next summit!

Update! This was posted on the @EdTechTeam blog!

Thanks!
~Andi
@aadamsELA
English Middle School Mania