Friday, March 28, 2014

Queso Dip at 8:30 am and Other Things You'd Better Snag Immediately!

Those of you who have had the privilege to enter a school district's teacher's lounge know exactly what I'm talking about.  The special delivery....a pan of brownies, pink or blue cupcakes for an upcoming babe, or if I've particularly hit the jackpot...Velveeta queso dip and chips. The beacon reaches the far depths of the universe like some sort of pinging submarine, as people come out of the woodwork immediately.  The adage "you snooze, you lose" is especially true in the teacher's lounge.  So, there I was, snagging up my small portion of cheesy 8:30 in the morning.

The same is true of treasures that appear on Twitter.  There are so many changes to the technology world. New app lists, new top 10 lists of what's hot in ed tech, and the list goes on.  Some nights my Twitter feed is so abuzz with things to save, I know that if I don't get my hands on it, it's gone into the Twitter abyss never to be located again.  I can't "favorite" or bookmark fast enough. (See this post from earlier this year about my favorite bookmarking site.)  This week, I found two really excellent tools that were new to me.  Ones you really should explore.

The first is one called Scrawlar.  I am incredibly impressed with the possibilities it offers.  It's a sharable whiteboard and word processor all wrapped up into one.  It can be found online and it works equally well on mobile devices (no Flash chaos!).  To top it off, it meets my ever so strict (but ever so rare) guideline of not requiring student accounts to get set up and started.  The Scrawlar blog lists a host of academic purposes for this site.  It's a little like Educreations and a little like Google Docs...all neatly wrapped in a unique package. For free.

The next site I encourage you to check out is a little sweetheart with BIG potential to be a great support to any elementary math classroom.  It's called Front Row.  The new teacher I mentor is truly phenomenal, and I would be remiss not to share that I likely learn just as much from her as she does from me.  This find was hers, and it's a doozy.  Not only can you quite easily enter your students into the room and custom tailor math supplemental activities based on the CCSS, but you can easily generate reports, or print out individual or whole group sheets for those days when the computer or internet just won't cooperate well for everyone.  This really doesn't cover the half of it.  This (Rock) Valley girl thinks this is totally awesome, totally free, and totally worth checking out!

Grab hold of these two sites for your digital backpack.  If I'm going to stick my neck out and promote something, it has to have serious promise in the technology integration world and deliver.  Deliver like that divine hot queso dip...even at 8:30 in the morning. A tech integrationist breakfast of champions. Dig in.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Let's Dance--March Madness Activities for Students

There is nothing that kids like better than a teacher and school who embrace their interests.  It's March Madness, people, and that means basketball.  Lots and lots of basketball.  I will try to hide the feelings of chagrin resulting after Duke's loss today.  Crud.  Bracket broken.  There goes my billion.

While it's too late for my Blue Devils (I still harbor some bitterness. Where the heck is Mercer anyway?!?), it isn't too late to dig into the fun that comes with the crazed season of tournament time. There are still a great plenty vying for their chance at divine hoopster glory.

The one thing about basketball is that it holds a variety of options for learning extensions.  Trajectory, probability, addition, mapping, writing, name it!  There are so many resources out there to help you design your lessons in a way that will not only interest them, but most importantly, meet your standards!  Here are a few that I love...

This one from Fabulousclassroom is recently updated to include 2014 resources, ideas, and
webquests.  Good ones!  If you're looking for ready-made quests that get kids digging into the 'net (pun intended), this is the place. Excellent stuff designed for middle and high school, primarily, but any of these can be tweaked to fit your classroom's needs.

This link from Education World offers quite a few resources and ideas for ways to use the tourney for educational purposes.  There is a wide variety of age levels addressed here, and I very much appreciate the sweet list of "additional resources" at the bottom.

This resource from Math Pages, is terrific for gleaning ideas for math extensions. There are plenty of ideas for tapping into your math standards.  This is meant for high school math students and showcases the use of such web tools as Google Earth and Glogster, among others, for showcasing knowledge and findings.

Here is an awesome Pinterest page by Krista Schmidt that has a TON of super ideas for classrooms, down to the coordinating bulletin board.  It's a Pinterest-a-palooza of basketball.

Finally, this Quia Class Page has some excellent ideas and links for creating your own class challenges. While this one is made for a particular 6th grade class, it offers some top-notch ways to really involve all of your students in the whole tournament.  And the links at the bottom?? More ideas spinning through my head than I can count! Seriously.  Take a peek.

Dig in and have some fun.  Don't fight the naturally competitive nature of kids.  Embrace it and mold it in a healthy way.  Use it to your advantage and by all means, have some FUN!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

We Need to Toss the Chalk, Kids

Being a Technology Integrationist is a joy.  I truly love the variety of what I get to do each day. In very few jobs do you get to "play" on the newest forms of technology, figure out techno-puzzles, and help out such a wide variety of students and teachers.  I do, however, have a part of my job that is less than stellar, but necessary.  I am a computer ninja.

Part of staying on top of proper use involves monitoring what is going on with student computers.  We use LAN School as a way to monitor student computer screens and content on the computers.  We also use iBoss and Fortigate content filters to help us ward off any threats or access to inappropriate sites. The best laid plans still result in our IT guy and I digitally slicing our way through some computers detecting improper downloads and non-academic use that could be potentially harmful.  I spent over 1/2 day yesterday dealing with this.  I did have a few other things to be doing.  Now my family will feel the brunt, because I'll be doing that work this weekend.  Kids are kids, and I get that, but I'm frustrated.

There is not a 1:1 or tech-infused school that does not deal with this.  Everyone has their own way of dealing with the issues, but I really feel that opening up this conversation would be to the betterment of all involved.  What has me chapped, more than anything, is that kids are playing the victim in all of this. Hence the above-mentioned photo.  What they don't realize is that we aren't out to limit their every move.  We aren't there to make their lives miserable.  We, are, however, allowing them the use of a school (and thus taxpayer) owned machine for their educational benefit.  Period.  Shutting off your wi-fi to avoid detection is a blatant breaking of rules.  Downloading web-based games to your machine, same thing.  So just quit already.  We are here to make sure you learn, not become a better gamer or have better rankings on your Fantasy League.  If you used as much ingenuity on your schoolwork as you do on seeking ways around the system, who knows what you'd accomplish.

It isn't "us" against "you".  Toss the chalk, kids.  It's time.

So, there.  I'm off my soapbox.

I'd love comments about what you and your district are doing to help get this message out to kids.  Do you have things that are working well?  Things that are epically failing and in need of overhaul?  Share! Comment.  We ninjas need to stick together....

Friday, March 7, 2014

My Week was W.R.A.D.!

WOW---it's been one of those weeks.  End of the quarter rush for teachers entering grades, the typical third quarter slump, and a winter that is like the hairball the cat can't quite cough up (which is why I don't have a cat). The highlight of my week, though, was World Read Aloud Day (#WRAD14). March 5th marked this day of celebrating the joys of reading aloud. We read anything...a story, a poem, the announcements...  Kids needed to see that reading and presenting aloud was something worth sharing.  Oral reading fluency is a gift well-practiced.  A treasure born through generations of storytelling.

A host of activities took place throughout the school.  Some I participated in; some were done by the classroom teachers themselves.  It was great to see teachers willing to do something they hadn't done before.  Mr. Swanson's third grade class conducted student interviews, recorded on iPad, for sharing and grading later.  Students really had to work hard to speak and read clearly.  Great practice!

Mrs. Schmidt, the boisterous, gutsy, MS Resource teacher who never lets a good challenge go unaccepted, read poetry to our middle schoolers during their lunch periods.  While utterly confused and astonished by the fact that a teacher was reading to them in a slightly bizarre locale, they quickly realized that it was pretty cool.  The second group even clapped afterward.  That's middle school code for "thanks, Teach!"

I ended the day in 5th grade with one of my daring teacher souls who isn't afraid to let me come in with my wild ideas while showing complete faith in me (or she fakes it REALLY well).  A few weeks ago, I connected with a fellow Iowa teacher on Twitter.  We were both in search of classrooms with which to interact for #WRAD14.  Her 5th graders from Sioux Central in Sioux Rapids were a fantastic group of kids who were just as eager to share some read alouds.  They shared about their favorite books through posters and short booktalks and excerpts, while Mrs. Den Hartog's kids shared treasured poems about topics from bad student excuses to boogers, read during their recently wrapped up unit.  I giggled, as this is the stuff that lights up a fifth grader.  Completely disgusts most adults, mind you, but enamores the young. Everybody had smiles and laughter on both sides of the Skype screen throughout our 30 minutes together.  All through reading aloud.  Simple pleasure.

Our captive Sioux Central audience via Skype
Reading a revolting (but funny) poem aloud
Truth be told, it needs to warm up outside.  Like now.  I'm likely to need a straight jacket should another snowflake fall.  A padded room should the temp drop below zero again.  My vitamin D deficiency has reached DEFCON 5.  At least I have #WRAD weeks like this to carry me through 'til Spring.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Career Week + Technology= A Whole Lotta Inspiration!

This week marked our school's Career Week, where students in all grade levels in our elementary were exposed to a wide variety of career choices and knowledge as to how the education they are receiving today leads to such a career.  Walking down the halls, I saw an ATF agent walking into an elementary room in full gear--yes, even carrying the bullet shield--to explain to children what the job entails.  I saw a local firefighter let children try on his gear to get a feel for what that's like.  I heard the owner of a local recycling and metal plant give his suggestions for how to properly recycle and describe what he creates with recycled metal.  I have such pride in the people of our community.  These people all willing to take time out of their hectic schedules to share what they do every day with our young students.

This would have been enough.  Truly.  Our community, while small in population at around 3,000 residents, is bursting at the seams with the economic growth and international businesses that line its streets.  We have some phenomenal things taking place in Northwest Iowa.  Not only that, but many of us who grew up here, return here.  I've been elsewhere, in great districts, big cities, you name it.  Like Dorothy said..."There's no place like home."  But--with technology, our "home" just became a little bigger...

Dr. David Brommer on a GH with our kids
By making use of Google Hangouts and Skype, we can expose our kids to experts. You can access people across the far reaches of the country, or even world.  So, this year, we stepped up Career Week by utilizing our technology.  A computer and a Smartboard are now a window to another place and more information. In a fifth grade classroom, for example, 4-5th grade students were privy to some pretty sweet information from Dr. David Brommer, who is a Professor of Geography at the University of North Alabama.  His storm chasing escapades were enough to drop the jaws of some very interested students.  Students learned directly from one of the best....not in a textbook...not through second-hand was the REAL DEAL.

I encourage you to use Skype or Google Hangout to get your classes engaged in real-time learning from experts.  Teachers aren't supposed to be the "sage on the stage" anymore.  Those days are (or should be) obsolete.  We are facilitators.  We teach them to fish.  Fish for information, not just feed them.  They'll learn these skills from you and develop them on their own.  It's inspiring.  Walk down your own main street.  Find your local experts.  Get them into schools to share what they know.  And for the rest....get out the computer....  Use your Six Degrees of Separation to find that you actually have many more resources than you ever dreamed possible. It's time to connect and be inspired!  After all, every career began with a teacher.

Ultimate Dodgeball--Teachers against Teachers while the kids cheered us on! A great way to cap off Career Week