Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Using VR to Take a Digital Field Trip

Hello Fellow Educators!
I am so excited to update you all with this quarters learning and new activities! This quarter we read Around the World in Eighty Days.  Last year was my first time ever reading and teaching the novel.  I blogged about it last year in January.

Because I knew how I wanted to change the unit with prereading strategies and our postreading project, I could get more into the novel with my students.  This quarter has been great! I will be the first to admit, AW80D is not my all time favorite novel. It starts off slow and the vocabulary is very difficult. I use several strategies to help my lower level readers. First, all assignments are on Actively Learn. With Actively Learn I have a built in chunking strategy.  I don't want 10 questions on a study guide for a chapter when I can build in 2 to 3 questions throughout the chapter and instantly see who is reading and who is comprehending.  Next, I had the audio from Lit2Go for those who needed to hear it as well. I love this site because it also provides the text with the audio! The third tool I use for differentiation is the graphic novel. I have two NonEnglish Proficient, or NEP, students in my classes. The chunking on AL was too much, and the audio moved too fast, but they were both able to translate and participate in class activities using the graphic novel!

Check out a few of these end of the novel blogs to see how the students liked and anaylzed the novel!

While we were reading I continued to build and strengthen my "Discovering" worksheets from last year allowing the students to journey through LondonIndia, and Japan as Phileas Fogg was.  This year I built in VR!

My colleague Mrs. Jeffrey wrote a Donor's Choose grant for a set of 10 Google Cardboards.  I have been itching to borrow them!  I ran into some problems with them at first.  For instance, I wanted to do a Google Expedition, but I needed 10 devices on our school network, also my iPad would not load the expeditions as an instructor.  I had about three students in each class volunteer their phones for the hour. We couldn't get two of them onto the wifi and one was too old to download the cardboard app.

In the end I split my class into stations with their "Discovering" worksheets and their "Trip of a Lifetime" planning.  This way groups could move and work.  I had two stations set up with the volunteer phones that did work.  Two phones were my phone and my old Galaxy s4 on the school network.  Because I couldn't fully connect to Google Expeditions, I found a couple really wonderful VR 360ยบ videos showing the locations such as the Taj Mahal, and Tokyo, Japan.  I also put two phones onto Google Streetview through Google Cardboard. One was set for Westminster Abbey in London and the other for the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.

For these two days of working, researching, and exploring in their stations my students couldn't wait until it was their turn to try the Cardboards.  I had students who had seen Oculus Rift in the Verizon store or the Playstation VR, but they knew they couldn't afford it. They hadn't experience VR before.

For one group my student, Stephen, grabbed the cardboard and could not believe it! He was walking around the classroom as he visited the Taj Mahal and said to his group members, "Please, don't make me come back to reality. I want to stay here on the other side of the world!"

The classes were so engaged with their cardboard device as they walked around. I overheard so many excited comments!
"It feels like I'm there."
"Whoa, that's a big church."
"I've always dreamed of being on the Eiffel Tower! I can't believe it's so big!"
"Where else can we go with these?!"

For our second day of work stations I had more students show up with the cardboard app and Streetview downloaded. They told me their parents said they could use their data just for the class period.  I did what I could to quickly search up locations listed in the novel:  London,  Suez, Yokohama, San Francisco, Omaha.  For most classes, I was able to put one Cardboard per group, 7 all together!  In my first hour I had a student show up with his Samsung Gear VR headset.  He asked if he could run the groups in the hallway and show them what his does such as go on a rollercoaster.  I told him he'd miss out on the research time with his group, and this student who is usually disengaged, pulled up his slides presentation on his iPad, and it was mostly done!  He did extra work on it, knowing I would say no if he didn't have work done!  I let him become the teacher in the hallway pulling groups one at a time for a rollercoaster ride.  Did it fit with the novel? No, but the students were trying out new things. They learned that from Phileas Fogg and Passepartout in the novel, of course!

My math teaching partner Mrs. Welch and I sat down and fully created our "Trip of a Lifetime" research project upon completing the novel.  This project will have to be a completely separate blog because it has been amazing!   As the students are working on their "Trip of a Lifetime" projects they are thinking about their VR experiences.  I have a couple who want to search on Streetview and Youtube for VR activities to build into their presentations.  I overheard one saying, "I need to see if there's a VR video for this location in China." Another wants to present to a small group her planned adventures to swim with dolphins.

Ideally every classroom, team, or building would have this set of Google Expeditions from Best Buy with the devices linked to the school network. This way a teacher wouldn't be relying on student phones or data plans. Something I'm thinking of doing is possibly sending a letter home to parents requesting that old phone in the drawer. As long as it's a smartphone that can run the apps, I can use it.  However, many teachers need permissions first to put other devices on the school wifi. If you are an educator, talk with your tech person about it or possibly bring in a mobile hotspot!

I believe this is the next level of exploration for literature and social studies virtual field trips, science experiments, perhaps even math exploration. Students can now look at things and experience them in a different way.  VR devices are already helping to save lives!  Think of the experiences that educators can create with VR in the classroom!

Are you using VR in your classroom?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments or through Twitter!

Thank you for reading,
Andi Adams
English Middle School Mania

Monday, November 21, 2016

I'm a PBS Kid and a PBS Teacher!

Morning fellow educators.  Over the past couple months I've had the opportunity to give several different presentations to my peers and colleagues.  I decided I'm going to share out that information on here as well.  So, not in any order, I'm starting with my Tech Thursday presentation to my staff over PBSlearningmedia.

As an adult, when you think back to your first "digital" learning experiences they probably have something to do with a TV and PBS.  I think about Sesame Street and how much I loved Big Bird as a kid.  I remember that we went to Sesame Street Live, and I had books on record (yes, I'm that old). It was a treat when we watched PBS in school in kindergarten and first grade!

As a parent I have never minded having Elmo occasionally sing to my children.  For a period of time my daughter was way into Super Why also.  I couldn't argue with a show that taught morals, values, and problem solving skills!  PBS has always been a go to for educational programming.

It's no wonder PBS makes such great educational content for the classroom also, but not everyone knows about it! Part of my Colorado PBS Digital Lead Teacher responsibilities is sharing the content with my staff.  That's the thing about the PBS content, it's free! So, they don't spend a lot of money on advertising.  That's our job as the lead teachers!

I had a really great time presenting on a Tech Thursday to my staff! Tech Thursdays happen once a month at our school.  These are admin meetings with a focus on technology.  I asked if I could present the PBS website, PBSlearningmedia, and content available because in this case, an email wouldn't be sufficient. I had about 40 minutes to present to each group of 6th, 7th, and 8th core teachers, and 20 minutes to present to enrichment teachers.  I did some of the legwork beforehand of searching the PBSlearningmedia site for content geared toward the standards I knew my colleagues would be covering.

For the presentation I just made a quick Google Slides presentation. On the slides I linked my doc of New PBS Content. Not all of the content on PBSlearningmedia is made by PBS, content may be housed on PBS and also it's original site.  The thing that makes it PBS trustworthy is that the content and videos are vetted by PBS educators to ensure that it is appropriate for specific age levels.  This takes the guess work and time out of Youtube and Google searches!

In the past I have seen Tech Thursdays go down the drain.  Sometimes our staff isn't very interested in what is being presented, and they let the presenter know by completely tuning out and focusing on grading, lesson planning, and checking emails.  I know this because I am also guilty of such behavior. I was prepared to be tuned out, but I didn't get that reaction!  The first group I presented to was 8th grade.  I was about 15 minutes into presenting when one of the teachers said, "Hey Janine, did you see this?"  I suddenly realized that they were all on and searching the content!  Yay!  So, I did what I always want other presenters to do. I stopped talking. I told them I would let them search the content, they had my slides for reference, and I'd be able to answer questions whenever!  This was pretty much the same reaction from 6th and 7th grade as well.

I helped teachers work through the Lesson Builder and Puzzle Builder.  I told them what I love the most is that the videos are easily downloadable.  They can be embedded into other systems such as Google Classroom, Edpuzzle, even PowerPoint. A science teacher on my team liked that she could use the Lesson Builder and give the students the Assignment Code instead of having them log in a create accounts.  One of the 6th grade iPad teachers tested the Puzzle Builder out to make sure it would work on the iPad and didn't require flash.

Enrichment teachers were a tougher audience, but I found small successes as the PE teachers were finding useful lessons for their next health unit.  Our drama teacher loved the videos taken from actual plays showing stage cues and commentary.  Our communications teacher does a lot with debate and elections, so he said he's already used the site to teach about the electoral college and the debate system.

Overall, I felt it was a successful presentation.  The next day I was actually thanked three times by teachers for sharing the site.  They were excited about all of the content and the fact that it was FREE! One teacher said, "I'm not an iPad teacher, so I usually feel like Tech Thursday doesn't apply to me, but this was content that I could actually download and use. I don't need the computer lab to stream a video, but I could give students the link to complete something at home without much prep time."

I believe that fully explains why sometimes technology isn't implemented in the classrooms. It's not just teachers, everyone is afraid of changing the way they do things, especially if it's never been wrong. To switch to a fully integrated tech class means changing the way you teach. A lot of teachers ask, how much work it is to switch everything over and try something new?  The key is to try something here and there instead of trying to make everything different.  My staff really loved the PBSlearningmedia content because they could teach the content they've always taught in a new way. That makes change less scary.

Thank you for reading.  Please check out the PBS site. Comment below or Tweet at me with questions or your favorite content from the site!

English Middle School Mania

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Blog About Blogging

I have been blogging about my teaching irregularly for over a year now.  I never know what I'm going to blog about until I want to blog about it, hence the very irregular posts.  So, I was hesitant when I sat in a GAFE session lead by Chris Moore.  He shared his classroom blogs with us and discussed the global audience that blogs opened for students.  I still felt unsure. How would I connect it to content? What about grading? How would I monitor it? These questions all ran through my mind. I was curious though and started to read more about student blogs. I read a couple articles from Ditch That Textbook. These two really stuck, "My Plea for Public Student Blogging" and "20 Ideas for Solid Student Blogging." Of course, it also really helped that my teaching partner, LaDonna, was on fire!  She always is! She had a plan in place to set our students up with blogs and get each of them going!  Without her I wouldn't have been able to make the leap to having student blogs!  Thank you! Thank you, Mrs. Welch!
So, the students had blogs, now what?  What were they going to blog about?  I needed something to get us going.  My previous school used Lucy Calkins Writer's Workshop, and Companion Books is part of the informative writing unit. For the past two years I have had students create companion novels related to choice reading.  Here are some examples that I show the students: The Girl Who Was on FireFrozen: The Essential GuideEnder's World: Fresh Perspectives on the SF Classic Ender's Game. This year I wanted to start with something similar and still give students choices, but I also wanted to encourage them to read, read, read!  I created Lit-opoly and had students choose a genre to start, then as they read books they moved around the board and completed chance cards. Reading mulitple books or harder books was not the grade, I did not want to punish slower readers or lower level readers.  The grade was their blog. Like the companion novel they were supposed to choose a focus for a post such as character development, conflict, setting, theme, etc.  We blogged every two weeks. Brennan and Autumn really nailed our focus with their first blogs about conflicts and character development!

I had planned on having students blog three times during the six week unit. However, my plan changed when I taught a mini unit focusing on setting, character development, foreshadowing and mood.  This is my Three Day Horror Story Unit.   This is a mini unit that I created and left for a sub a few years back. The students read Duffy's Jacket by Bruce Coville and Three Skeleton Key by George G. Toudouze, then they write their own scary stories using these texts as mentor texts.  We were wrapping up our semester, and the students were supposed to post their third Lit-opoly blog post, but my classes kept asking if they could have time to expand their stories and post those.  MY STUDENTS WANTED WRITING TIME! I couldn't say no to that. So, they wrote their own scary stories.  They focused on developing characters and settings, they focused on foreshadowing and setting an eerie mood in their writing.

The next thing I've learned about my students blogging is that they wanted time to read each other's blogs and other students.  I found this out by having my students read an article by Kayla Delzer, "Three Reasons Students Should Own Your Classroom's Twitter and Instagram Accounts." I posted this article into my Activelylearn and asked my students what they thought about blogging, and if they wanted to have a class Twitter account.  For my first question, "How can we improve our blogs so they are communicating what you feel is important?  What would you change or do differently?"  Stephen J. said, "I would make it so that we could have a day when we read the blogs of other classrooms and schools. This is important because we might get new ideas and vocabulary as well as reading other blogs and getting our blogs read by other people."  Baylea L. was so honest that it made me laugh, "In my blog, I try to put it into a kid my age's perspective, and I try to keep it fun and not hard to read. Because that's what school is. Fun. Sure, work stinks majorly and grades are total butts, but school is supposed to be a fun place to learn and be with your friends. And I find that trying to make our classroom blogs fun (while also getting the point across) is important." Next I asked, "What is your opinion of having a class Twitter or Instagram account along with our blogs?  Be detailed and specific.  Thanks!"  I got some great answers that really got me thinking. Audrey L.  was honest in her hesitation to add something else, "I think it would be cool but it is just too much. I don't think it is really  necessary. We already do blogs which are cool and I don't think we should do them (Twitter)." Alex E. looked at it as a skill building tool, "I think having a Twitter or Instagram account along with a blog is productive and helpful because kids get a chance to explain and interact with the material they are learning, and are going to be more prepared for the real world when they grow up because they will have experience with presenting and instructing others."  Overall, I don't know if I'm ready to create a class Twitter account and hand over the reigns yet, but I'm optimistic for maybe building it in to second semester!

Because they asked for it, I gave my students a chance to read each other's blogs.  A few of their favorites from the comments I heard in class were: Alex's "The Van"; Sean's "The Legend of Eneron's Soul"; and Gabriella's "The Vacation From Reality".  I had two students try out new forms of writing for this project check out Daisy's "Ms. Mildred" written in journal form and Josh's "Home Alone, the Scary Story" written as a poem!

Two more amazing learning moments happened when the students were reading each other's blogs.  One student explained to his classmates how to check their traffic.  Suddenly I heard students exclaiming, "Someone in India read mine!"  "I  have people from France!" "Ten people read mine today!" The second experience was one of those moments that really gets your emotions going. In my 7th hr. we have two student who are non English proficient.  One student speaks Mandarin, the other speaks Vietnamese.  They can't even communicate with each other!  These two often sit in the back with our wonderful paraprofessional translating text and using graphic organizers on their own.  On our blog reading day I asked 7th hour to please check theirs out as well.  The translation is often difficult and incorrect at times, each student is proficient in writing in her first language and uses Google Translate to switch the work to English.  Here's an example of Ziren's. I asked the girls to go ahead and comment in their first language on the other students' blogs. The rest of the class could use translate for once. During blog reading time I had a student come up to me. He was really excited because he had gone into his blog and used Google Translate to translate his scary story in both Vietnamese and Chinese. Here is Jack's post. His original English version had errors in it, so the translation might have been even more difficult, but I encouraged him to let Ziren and Hoang know that they should check his out.  He showed it to Ziren and her eyes lit up!  She said, "OH!" and started reading from his iPad. Suddenly a few other students wanted to translate theirs and share also. This was the first time the students really started to understand how much more work their non-English speaking classmates put into our class just to understand our lessons on a daily basis! I loved it!

As we talk about our global community I also give the students time during warm-ups to check out other class blogs.  Chris told us about #comments4kids at the GAFE summit and I have used that to find other classroom blogs to connect with.  One that we connected with through Twitter is Mr Boylen's 7th and 8th grade classes. My students saw a lot of freedom in his student's blog posts. That's the next thing we discussed.  I told them I didn't have to grade every blog post. We could definitely have free blog warm-ups where they could just post!

As we begin our second quarter I'm so excited to continue blogging in our classroom.  Hopefully it will inspire me to blog more often!  Then I won't have so much to say!  Head to our iPad team website to see our student blogs.

Thanks for reading,
English Middle School Mania

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Preparing Teachers for 21st Century Teaching

I just posted a yearlong ABC Research Book project on my TPT.
This is a yearlong project that I taught to my 7th graders six years ago in Nebraska.  I liked the idea of giving choice and scaffolding the writing throughout the year instead of a one quarter 10 page research paper that many students plagiarized to get through. The lesson I posted is revamped for 2016, not 2010, yet it's still for the more traditional classroom. I know that is where most teachers still live. I get it, change can be scary.  This can be for a classroom that is full of tech, or no tech.

For my iPad classroom I would like to set this project up on individual blogs. The students could add labels to their assignments each week in order for me to easily find them and grade them.  Right now, we were told to put blogs on hold until our tech coordinator could get everything set up with state and federal laws such as FERPA and other acronyms I can't remember. This means I'll start the students out with Google Docs for the assignments. When we get the blog up we can copy and paste.

When we get held up by tech laws or issues, I always think about how simple it is to run a non-tech class.  You have a book, paper, pencil and sometimes a computer lab.  But, that's never been my teaching goal.  I've always wanted to be the teacher who prepares students for real world technology. What I'm realizing is that many teachers are not prepared to teach students real world technology themselves.

I have a student teacher this year.  She is very excited about teaching an iPad class.  Over these first few weeks she has been introduced to Schoology, Google Docs, Slides, Forms, and QR codes.  She said she now can't imagine not teaching from a tablet with the ability to move around the classroom.  We started talking about her courses.  I asked her, what technology has your program prepared you to use in your teaching.  Her answer was overhead projectors, smart boards, PowerPoint.

Why are we teaching new teachers to use old tools?

I am very interested and would love to see an #edchat or comments about this.  How can schools move forward with technology when they might only have a handful of teachers on staff willing to embrace it?

My student teacher mentioned an assignment where they had to create a lesson and present it to their class.  She said they worked in partners. They could use any of the technology in the classroom.  Her and her partner chose to use the overhead projector.  My question is, why?  In the twelve years that I have been teaching, I think I have used one maybe ten times.  My first classroom was equipped with a Smartboard during my first year of teaching. I haven't had an overhead since then.  That was over a decade ago! Seriously, let's burn those bulbs out, and get rid of overhead projectors, FAST!

Then, there's the Smartboard.  I will totally admit when I first got mine. I loved it.  It projected everything on my computer. I could take a screen shot of the notes we went over in class.  I could make each day's presentation on a Smartdeck, and I could add in interactive things such as moving or disappearing shapes and games. I had novel study games where you threw a koosh ball at the board to select a review question.  However, I have realized in the past few years with my iPad and Apple TV that having an interactive whiteboard is great, but you are limited to the front of the classroom, and there is only one front of the classroom.

My current iPad classroom has a projector on a card with an Apple TV. I can point this cart at any wall.  I switch it up pretty often by just swinging the cart to a different wall, and I can moved all around my classroom as I teach. I can have students take over the Apple TV with their iPads to show a video, presentation, or just an example of the work they're doing.  I'm not worried that the students are playing games while I'm teaching because I don't have to face them from the board anymore.

Schools might say that an iPad classroom with Apple TVs is not in the budget. This technology could be done with a Chromecast for a fraction of the price of an Apple TV.  My school has several Chromebook carts for the non iPad teachers. I often think of how my daily lessons are on Google Slides.  Anyone running a Google Classroom could easily project from a Chromebook or a Galaxy tablet for a fraction of the price of an iPad classroom.

This brings up the final technology that my student teacher mentioned, PowerPoint.  I know that Google Slides is very similar to PowerPoint, so I'm not saying don't make slide shows.  What I am saying is, why are we still using save to a hard drive static technology when we live in a cloud based world?  I don't know how many times I have heard people say, "So, do I have to send you the updated copy now?" when we are on a Google Doc.  No, you don't have to, it's already updated for all of us. You don't even have to push a save button.  It did that already, instantly.  My student teacher is so funny.  She called it "Nifty" because she could share a Slides presentation with me, and I was able to edit and update instantly.  Shouldn't something this simple be standard practice for all college students by now?  I would have killed to have this technology in 2001 when the computer lab literally shut down as I was typing up an eight page final for a class and hadn't pressed save in over an hour.

Google isn't the only program working from the cloud now. Microsoft is pushing their Office 365 cloud based technology to districts in town.  In my opinion, right now, it's not as seamless as the Google products, but it's a step in the right direction for districts that haven't gone Google yet.

I have had the opportunity to attend two GAFE (Google Apps for Education) summits in the past year, ISTE 2016, a PBS leadership summit, and I presented at GAFE last month.  I'm in my twelfth year of teaching, and I'm realizing I am more prepared to teach 21st century learners than many of the new college graduates.  Why is that? Or, am I wrong?  To be fair, I am only basing this on the one program I have seen here in Colorado Springs. What else is happening at colleges around the country?

Let me know. I truly am interested!
As always, thank you for reading!

English Middle School Mania

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

PBS Leadership Summit and ISTE 2016 Takeaways

This past weekend I received an amazing opportunity!  I was chosen this year as the Lead PBS Digital Media Innovator for Colorado.  That's a lot to say.

To start off, if you have never heard of PBS Learning Media don't feel like you are out of the loop. We know that PBS is a non profit company.  The majority of us in the education world probably have fond memories of the first shows we watched being on PBS.  We grew up with PBS.  What a lot of educators may not know is that PBS supports education beyond television. PBS Learning Media has taken the great things we love about the network and has created lesson plans and downloadable videos tied to Common Core and State Standards. Definitely create a free account and start browsing and adding items to your favorites.  Some of my favorite items are What are Myths?: In Search of Myths and Heroes: I used pieces of this to start off my hero's journey unit and tied it in with Greek mythology; Mission US: American Lit. does not match my 7th grade partner's SS curriculum, but if it did I would totally use this to pull the students into the events and action; and Exploring Social Media with Hashtags: our students must learn to research in a new way instead of Encyclopedias they will need to be able to follow and analyze hashtags.

This past weekend all of the 52 Lead Innovators were invited to the PBS Leadership Summit in Denver, CO.  I was slightly bummed that I didn't get a fancy destination out of the prize, but it's only going to motivate me to be a better version of myself so that someday I do get to travel somewhere to present! So, I drove up to Denver from the Springs, and did receive a wonderful accommodation at the Denver Marriott City Center hotel in downtown Denver.  The location was incredible.  This morning I walked the four blocks to ISTE with my fellow PBS friends!

We started off our event Saturday with lunch and SWAG!

The benefits of being a Lead Innovator include the Leadership Summit, a day at ISTE 2016, a new Samsung Galaxy Tablet, a year long subscriptions to PBS LearningMedia Custom, professional development and huge networking opportunities among peers. Check out our weekend on Twitter with #PBSdigitalinnovator.  Some of my responsibilties are just like this, blogging, professional development with my school and district. My station partner, Laurie Zeller, at Rocky Mountain PBS even wants to hold a FREE PD for Colorado Springs area educators!  Dates and Agenda TBD!

We had two days of sessions where I learned so much and was completely humbled by the amount of knowledge, innovation, and brain power in the room.  Some of the PBS Lead Innovators have done these noteworthy incredible things, and I just get excited when I sell something on TPTKaci Heins is now a curriculum developer at Houston where she can regularly have lunch with astronauts. Kayla Delzer has led a TED talk and writes a phenomenal blog that mine can't compare to! Kevin Cornell is Mister C. with his own PBS show.  Steve Isaacs won the 2016 ISTE Award for Outstanding Teacher.  There were more in the PBS Digital Innovator group who were leading sessions at ISTE and had founded businesses, I was awe inspired as we went through our introductions.

Our presenters and sessions included Michael Gorman, Leslie Fisher, Shelly Fryer, Wes Fryer, Jaime Casap, Mary Jo Madda, Hadley Ferguson.  They challenged us to be a lone nut, to think about thinking, to try new things, to imagine the classroom of tomorrow, and to come together for conversations about topics we're interested in not something someone else is interested in.

On Monday I was able to spend the day at ISTE 2016!  I started out with the poster sessions, then went into the Exhibition Hall.  I went to two sessions afterwards before heading home to my family. I can't even list all of the apps that I learned about over the weekend.  I created another Symbaloo showcasing the websites and apps.  One that I am truly excited about is Aurasma.  I want to help my students use this augmented reality to bring their creations into a whole new dimension! I can't wait to work more on flipped learning aspects with Edpuzzle as well!

Albert Einstein said, "To ought not be forgotten long after you are dead and rotten, do something worth the writing, or write something worth the reading."

Other than a lot of swag that my daughter already tried to claim, my biggest takeaways from this weekend have been that I'm not done yet. I've just barely started!  In order to truly be a great teacher and inspire my students, in order to be at the level of my PBS Digital Innovator peers, I need to keep working!

As always, thank you for reading!

English Middle School Mania

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Middle School English Gets Graphic!

We started our fourth quarter unit.  This one has been my favorite to end the year with for the past few years.  Each year it is of course slightly different, but my unit goal stays the same, by the end of the quarter the students will be able to describe the hero's journey storyline and how it relates to a novel. Also, the students will apply the learning by creating a graphic novel of a brand new hero following the hero's journey storyline.  There's a lot going on!

We started out by choosing literature circle books.  I scoured the book room at my new school for books that fit the hero's journey pattern.  Here's what I came up with: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief; Harry Potter; The Dark is Rising book one; The Giver; Among the Hidden; The Outsiders; and Artemis Fowl.  I know you might see The Outsiders on this list and notice that it doesn't fit with the genres of the rest, but to me that's the beauty of it.  Ponyboy definitely fits the hero's journey! We can also use that to talk about the fact that this common pattern doesn't have to be just a fantasy or sci-fi storyline. I do know that this list is heavy on the male hero character with zero female leads.  At my previous school I also used The Hunger Games and Life As We Knew It. Divergent, Uglies, and Matched would fit the pattern as well. 

Since we are mapping the hero's journey with our novels, I am loving the newest plot chart that Created for Learning posted on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I am totally having the students use this when they complete their novels! They make the best plot charts and have a great news letter!

We have been working on our novels for a few weeks now.  The students have weekly quizzes once a week on Tuesdays and weekly literature circle activities on Fridays.   In order to easily facilitate multiple quizzes in a classroom I created my quiz answer sheet as a Google Form. I pass out paper copies of quizzes, but these include a list of common writing prompts for all students to choose from and then 2-3 multiple choice or short answer questions for their novels.  It's super easy to get all of the answers on one spreadsheet and grade for a class!  Here's an example of my Google Form quiz sheet! 

The students started planning their own graphic novels today with the creation of their villains.  Read, Write, Think has a lesson that a colleague and I used about three years ago and have evolved from.  From our creation of heroes and villains the students will move into storyboard planning, then creating their graphic novels.  I have used Pixton.com for the past four years.  We only use it for a month and I find it is totally worth the $9.00 for 200 students to create a really high quality graphic novel.  I also have the students use the Marvel Super Hero Creator to create their hero as if an artist designed him/her. This becomes our graphic novel cover. Here are some samples of my students creations over the years. 

If you choose to use Pixton and want to use my assignment it's been on there for five years now! That's pretty exciting in itself!  It's listed under activities as Super Hero Comic Book.  I have revised my rubric and focus since the original one, but I always start here. 

If you want the lessons done for you, I have the Hero's Journey Unit on my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  This is eight full weeks of my super detailed lesson plans, plus links galore to help make it your own!  Let me know any thoughts or feedback that you have for the unit!  I am always looking for new book recommendations! 

In one more bit of awesome news.  I recently found out I am the Colorado PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator for 2016!   I get to attend the PBS Digital Innovators Summit in Denver this summer and one day of ISTE.  I hope to have so much more in technology and digital innovation to share next year!  


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Exploring Poetry Through Stations

Each year I like to have a short three week poetry unit as we approach Spring Break.  During this unit we don't focus on writing poetry, instead we focus on understanding poetry.  In order to understand poetry students need to review or learn some of the elements of figurative language.

I find that I love far too many poems and poets that it's hard to pick just a few.  I also know that my top picks might not appeal to my students.  Instead I try to choose a variety of poems to focus on specific elements.
For Rhyme and Rhyme Scheme I like to start with a poem that is very literal.  "There's This That I Like About Hockey, My Lad" By:John Kieran is a favorite when we are looking for the boys in class. We also point out alliteration with the words maul and maim; popular pastime; sturdier sport.

When we compare structure and identify Extended Metaphor I love to use "Mother to Son" and "Dreams" by Langston Hughes.  I really love this Youtube video of "Mother to Son" with two readers helping the students to understand the metaphor. This also helps us to identify dialect.

With my advanced students we look at several of Shakespeare's sonnets and study Iambic Pentameter.  We always start by stomping out meter. This idea has been around for a while.  I even got our social studies teacher to compete with me in a poetry slam.  The students had a blast listening to their teachers completely dissing one another.

Ms. Kimberly thinks she can write sonnets
Perhaps first she should master history
Topics that make you just want to vomit
What are those big heads?  it’s a mystery
Then she tries to bring in mathematics
Maybe she should teach elementary
In steam she attempts space aeronautics
History is just supplementary
She thinks she’s a do-it-all master teach
She tries to make long dead guys seem worth-while
Tell her she’s the best and she’ll give a speech
Don’t make her mad or she will be puerile
You would think that I hate her in the end
How is it that she became my best friend?

I love to spend two days at some point during the unit looking at many different elements! This is why I choose to utilize Poetry Stations. I love learning what poems, lines, or phrases the students are drawn to in the various stations.  I have even seen the most reluctant writers really blossom with Found Poetry and form poetry such as Diamante and Haiku poetry.  I have modified these stations for a variety of purposes over the years.  Two years ago I used two days of stations to preview the content we would be covering.  This year I used these two days as review at the end of the unit before our final test. Last year, I even found these stations especially useful during testing when I had a random two hour class period with a different group each day.  

Thanks for reading today!  Let me know in the comments below how you would use or have used Poetry Stations!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Giving Choice and Encouraging Students to JUST READ!

Each year I try to incorporate more options to encourage choice reading with my middle school students.  This quarter I chose some of my favorite projects and presentations over the past years and created a choice Tic-Tac-Toe board.  I wanted to assess written standards as well as presentation standards over these choice books. We are halfway through our quarter and already I have had four students present! The majority will present the last two weeks of the quarter!  Each presentation was unique to the books chosen and showcased the hard work and effort put forth by the students.  

Here's the break down of the project:
Before the Project - 
For this project I have allowed 100% choice.  In the past I have worked with our school librarian to compile a genre of books such as award winners, sci-fi, fantasy, biography.  Decide beforehand if you are willing to give 100% choice or if selecting a genre would fulfill a different requirement. I introduced the project and sent home the parent approval forms first. Students had two weeks to have a book ready for the start of the quarter.  The quarter is 8 weeks, this allowed 6 weeks of reading time with presentations mixed in and a small cushion for late work.
During the Project 
- I created a Google Form for Book Talk sign ups and allowed up to four per day through the duration of the project. A blank calendar for each class period would suffice instead of a Google Form. However, with the form I don't have to worry about students erasing their day on the calendar, crossing someone else off, or any of the middle school experiences I have had over the years. The heaviest presentation days are of course the last two weeks of the project, however students who are avid readers did sign up for earlier dates.  One said she wanted to “get the presentation out of the way” so she could have more time to enjoy as many books as she wanted.  We have 60 minute class periods.  I have been able to allow for 10 minutes of silent reading on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I run “random book checks” throughout the project.  I used a checklist for this and some Schoology check-ins as well.  If the student had his/her book and updated reading log it was 10 points, 5 points for just his/her book, 0 points if the book was missing.There were no points for just having a Reading Log, it doesn't show me that the book is traveling to each class as it should. 

Here's what our Google Form looked like for the students: 

By using the Google add-on Choice Eliminator I was able to have dates disappear after four students signed up for a date.  I found a great You-Tube tutorial on how to use this in Google Forms.   

After the Project/Assessment – I have learned many tricks over the years to solve problems that seem to arise one such is “Mean Teacher” syndrome.  This is when a student wants to argue about something such as eye contact, voice level, or the creativity of a project.  To reduce the fear of failure and instill more confidence in my students, I explain that three people will be grading the presentation.  The student chooses someone he/she trusts, and I choose someone I believe to be a neutral party. Sometimes this is another teacher or administrator, however most often it is a student who is excelling in class.  The three of us grade the presentation. I explain that the student graders will not grade essays because they are not trained in this part, however if a class has had a lot of practice with peer grading this is acceptable as well.  I average the two student rubrics together then average that score with mine.  If the class has discussed fair grading and understands the rubric expectations, the student graders are usually incredibly close to my grading. If I find that the students grade harsher than I do, I use only my scores.

So far the students are doing really well with this choice board project.  I can't wait to see more end results!

Click the image to go to my Teachers pay Teachers store!

Thanks for reading!  Message me with ideas about the project, questions, comments!

English Middle School Mania