Monthly Archives: July 2014

5 Websites That Will Change Your Classroom

This summer I have heard and read about approximately one million tech tools that I’d like to try during upcoming school year. With so many tools available, I think it’s important to have a plan for what I want to fully incorporate. Otherwise, I’ll find myself with an endless list of sites and apps, all of which get dabbled in, but none of which get mastered. Here are the sites I think will become an integral part of my classroom this year.

Infuse Learning – This is your instant exit ticket. No more passing out index cards on copying half sheets of paper. Once you set up your account, you can pose a question and have students use any device to answer. You do not need to prepare the questions in advance. As you think of any question, you can just click over to their website, ask it, and have students respond.

infuse

Kahoot – This is another instant response system, but I feel it will be best for pre-made sets of questions, such as a review of content area material. Like Infuse Learning, this site turns any device into an instant responder. The difference here is that the students are awarded points for correct answers, including additional points for the answering speed. I can see kids really getting into this one.

kahoot

GoNoodle – I’ll confess that we started using this at the end of last year, but it will be a part of this year’s classroom from Day 1. This website is the solution to the question, “How can I give my students a bodily-kinesthetic without it getting out of control?”. These video-based activities are short (3-5 min), diverse, and provide perfect transitions between subjects.

gonoodle

Remind – Super simple parent communication. Remind parents about upcoming events, news, or deadlines from any device. It shoots out a text-message (or email) in one direction, meaning the teacher is not giving out his/her cell phone number.

remind

Symbaloo – This one is for me. Imagine a site that takes your Bookmarks Bar and expands it so you can have dozens of websites within your reach instantly. This is Symbaloo. Just play around with it once and you’ll be hooked.

symbaloo

Hopefully this post helps you find something helpful you can use with your classroom this year. Remember, you don’t have to incorporate everything. Just find something that increases students’ engagement or makes your life easier and give it a try!

 

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We Make Memories

When my daughter was three years old, she was obsessed with drains. Not your average kitchen or bathroom drain…I’m talking about the large drains covered with grates found alongside the road, in parking lots, and in many parks. Here is one of many drain pictures we snapped:

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Many times we found ourselves stopping along the road or in parking lots for her to peer into the drain, always explaining to us what she saw. Her mother even made up “The Drain Song” which our daughter had to hear every night before going to sleep.

Fast forward four years. I was walking through our neighborhood with my daughter, now seven, when we came across one of the many drains we stopped at countless times when she was younger. I asked her if she still liked drains, and she looked at me like I was crazy. I asked her if she remembered “The Drain Song.” Not at all. In fact, she asked me to sing it for her.

This was mindblowing for me. How could she not remember? Then, the teacher in me started thinking. While I know part of my daughter not remembering had to do mostly with her brain development as a three-year-old, I began asking myself, “What will my students forget?” “What will they remember?”

While I can never know, here is what I think. My students will forget most everything. While what they learn will help them develop as students, I don’t think my lessons on nonfiction text features, the area of a parallelogram, or natural resources will be remembered in twenty years. These lessons are necessary because future learning builds on them, but they aren’t memories.

My students will remember when they investigated a topic over a long period of time, becoming an expert. They’ll remember delving in deep, asking questions, finding answers, and then sharing in a unique way with others. I hope they remember and develop their love of reading and writing I tried to foster. The common thread is that these all happen over extended periods of time.

Perhaps my challenge is to make my area of a parallelogram-type lessons more memorable (Teach Like a Pirate-style…), but I know that all 180 school days won’t live on in their memories forever. I want to help kids dig deep into topics and provide that spark that motivates them to investigate a topic on their own. As I prepare for the next school year, I am working to create more ways for students to do this. I know they won’t all be successful, but I can try.

Should I Teach Like a Pirate?

Honestly, when I first heard the title of Dave Burgess’s (@burgessdave) book Teach Like a Pirate, I thought it was a gimmick. I didn’t give it a second thought. Then, as I listened through back episodes of Vicki Davis’s (@coolcatteacher) Every Classroom Matters podcast, I heard an interview with Dave. This interview peaked my interest, and luckily I was able to find this book at our local library.

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Teach Like a Pirate is incredible and unique. Reading it, you are shocked that you haven’t read a book like it before. Dave is paying attention and making conscious decisions well beyond the content and technique that improve lessons. The following are the major take-aways I plan on using to improve my classroom.

When developing a lesson, Dave says, “How can I make this lesson outrageously entertaining, engaging, and powerful so that my students will never forget it and will be desperate to come back for more?” Wow…talk about raising the bar! What I like about this is that there’s no prescribed program or fix-all here, just quality preparation and reflection. If there’s a lesson we know is less-than-excited, we can challenge ourselves to kick it up a notch. Right now I’m imagining what I can do to try to improve lessons on necessaries like quotations marks and perimeter.

How do we do this? Dave suggests focusing on the presentation. I completely get this. I spend most of my time planning the content and technique of the lesson. I make sure there’s direct instruction and group work. I make sure technology is used if it helps. I make sure there are assessment and adjustment opportunities. What I don’t usually do is think about my clothes, music, lighting, props, and many other aspects of a lesson which could keep the students’ eyes glued to me, This type of thinking will help me to reach the next level with my teaching.

Finally, Dave’s idea about giving optional, challenging, exciting extra credit opportunities is something very useful. As a fourth grade teacher, I teach state history and geography, and I love the idea of giving families an interesting place to attempt to find. This is a great, non-threatening way to involve parents in the classroom and would likely create memorable moments for the students.

My classroom will benefit from Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. Writing this post is my first step toward this goal of increasing engagement in all my lessons; my next step is to jump in and get started!

Does Everyone Write the Same First Post?

Is this the place where I write the classic “Here’s-Why-I’m-Writing-a-Blog” post? You betcha.

Reason #1 – Everyone else is doing it. Since venturing into the realm of Twitter, I’ve noticed that almost everyone I follow has some kind of professional blog. That being said, I’m not doing it to fit in; rather, I always hear others extolling the virtues of having a professional blog. That’s what I’m most interested in.

Reason #2 – A chance to reflect. Among the many positives I’ve heard discussed is that a blog gives you the chance to reflect meaningfully on lessons you teach, books you read, and other experiences connected to education. Writing about my thinking will help me synthesize, and having a record of this will help me see how my thinking is evolving a changing.

Reason #3 – Remembering stuff – How many great ideas have you heard and promptly forgotten? Then, when you hear the idea again, you think, “Oh yeah…I remember that…Why didn’t I do that?” I am an expert at forgetting stuff. Sometimes I even forget entire lessons that worked brilliantly. Keeping this history in a blog will give me a chance to go back and remind myself what worked (and what didn’t…).

Starting a blog also scares me. Here’s why:

#1 – I might fail to keep it current. This is my biggest fear. I worry I’ll post a lot over the summer and then stop when school starts, creating this piece of blog-debris floating aimlessly in cyberspace.

#2 – I worry I’ll just rehash other stuff I’ve read. I read a lot of educational articles via Twitter, and I don’t want to accidentally plagiarize and make someone mad at me. I will make it a focus of mine to give credit to others’ ideas.

#3 – I need to separate the goal this blog from the goal of my classroom blog. I can see certain topics working for both blogs, but most of the content would be different. I don’t quite know yet how this will work.

There you go – the “first post” is done. Thanks for reading. Let’s see how this goes.