Saturday, November 19, 2016

#satchat gratitude

Happy Saturday everyone! Hopefully, everyone is ready for a restful and relaxing week... as long as you have the week off, right?!

Last night at yoga, we were challenged, when stressed, to think of ways to demonstrate gratitude. As it is Thanksgiving week, I figured it would be apropos to blog about gratitude. It's been a stressful and trying year, so I should be grateful for many, many things.

My husband: Not only do we share love and companionship but we also both teachers. Even though our lives are incredibly taxing and we argue about school, we respect each other enough to be sounding boards. Sometimes we need to bounce ideas off of one another and other times we just need to vent. I can't imagine spending my teaching career with anyone else - no one else quite understands the trials and tribulations of this occupation. I can't imagine being with anyone else as we just understand each other, and have a shared ridiculous amount of love for our furry babies.

My friends: I have many friends that love and support me. Even though we are all stressed out, we can be there for each other when we need it. Sometimes it's for happy hour or a yoga class, or supporting my obsession with the Cubs during the World Series. They are my people and they are my family away from "home."

My family: I miss them dearly every day while I'm out in the Mountain West. It makes me happy to know that they are only a day's drive away if I need to visit. I am glad that I have been able to travel multiple times in the past year to see them. I am lucky that we have a good long distance relationship so that we can celebrate across the phone or internet. I am fortunate to have such good people in my life!

My Twitter family: Even though most are completely random strangers, they've impacted my professional career more than they know. In a time of, usually, awful PD, they've given me new ideas for my classroom and refreshed my excitement for my career. I am so grateful that any time I am down on my job, I go to Twitter for some renewing.

My job: Every job is frustrating and infuriating, not only my own. Sometimes I need to keep that in perspective. Especially considering that I work with some awesome people, have a supportive admin, have the flexibility to make my classroom my own, and have 1:1 devices that spur my creativity. We had a staff meeting this past week with the CEO of D49, and it reminded me how lucky I am to work in a fantastic district. I have a sweet schedule and set-up - I would not be as lucky elsewhere.

I could keep going on and on, but I will leave you with a list of "little" things for which I'm also grateful: Canon EOS 80Ds, espresso machines, Spotify, yoga, Younger, Kindle Paperwhites, avocados, and pickle popcorn.

Thanks for reading! Have a Happy Thanksgiving, and I'll see you in two weeks!

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Stepping out of my comfort zone...

Good EVENING tribe!

When I started this day, I was completely unsure what I was going to blog about. It was a rough week, friends. I would imagine that each and every one of you (including me) had fires to put out this week. What I needed this weekend was to play catch-up; to grade and lesson plan. What I got instead was attending a conference down south for EdCamp Summit Colorado.

I've always enjoyed attending EdCamps. Whenever I leave, I usually feel overwhelmed with new ideas and thinking, but feel refreshed at the same time because I am around like-minded people. I am around my tribe, my people. So imagine, if you will, my genuine excitement for this weekend. I'm meeting new people, discussing ed and ed tech.

Then imagine my horror when this person walks up on the stage and talks about how he's from an improv group(ish). I had to do improv once for PD at Skyview, and I wanted to slit my throat. I am an introvert at heart and hate looking like a fool in front of anyone. I barely let myself look foolish in front of my close friends and family. It's a curse.

So then imagine my further horror when he tells us that we are doing a group presentation! We have to stand in front of the group, state a problem in education, find a solution, and create a call to action. We are split up into random groups of five where we have to create a Google Slides presentation in thirty minutes.

As we are getting these directions, I am looking for an exit. I am trying to figure out how I can quietly escape the area, hide in my hotel room, and cry myself to sleep. Improv is my personal version of hell, and I CANNOT ESCAPE!

I am incredibly lucky, though. I worked with a fabulous group of ladies. We are looking through the random images that we have to use when one teacher mentions that her students are bringing fart spray to her classroom. Apparently, they have farts in a can, and her students have been spraying this in her classroom. Anyone that teaches middle school knows that flatulence is already an issue, but this was icing. I had never heard this before!

So we think of how we can prevent farting in our classrooms, and find images that best represent our presentation. And we are LAUGHING hysterically. I am so grateful to those women because I was able to get in front of the group without worry. Our Google Slides presentation was hilarious.

The whole point of having Anthony Veneziale at EdCamp Summit was to get us out of our comfort zone, and boy did he do a good job with that! He provided some fascinating research that made me realize that I have to, HAVE to put myself out there. I cannot keep hiding because I have something important to offer my students, my colleagues, and the rest of the world. All of us cannot hide because we are all valuable. So my advice? Stop hiding in the dark.

Thanks for reading! I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Week Reflections

Greetings colleagues! After a second week back from break, I am reflecting on how the last two weeks have gone. There are two things that I want to discuss this week: 1) a class exercise that I thought worked well in my classroom and 2) homework.

A QR Codes activity
This past week, I did a mini-lesson that I thought went well. My students are currently learning about the American Revolution. One thing I believe is important for students for context and engagement is connecting past and present. For the past couple of years, I have had the students compare and contrast the American Revolution with a modern revolution; one that took place during the Arab Spring in 2011. I picked four countries that the students could research. These four countries (Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen) still have strife within their nation today.

My mini-lesson activity involved the students going out into the hall for four stations, scanning a QR code that took them to a video, and had them write, at periodic times, on a sheet of paper about the conflict. I had the students write one-word summaries to a) make them get to their point quickly and b) save time. They were not researching these conflicts yet; they just needed to be exposed to what happened. It was a preview activity to get their minds running and their hearts connected.

I think the lesson went well. There were some tech stumbles during my first period, which is, sadly, why they are my guinea pigs! The other three classes were much smoother.

It was interesting to see which country they chose based on the preview activity. I will say that most students chose Yemen to research, and I truly believe it's because of the video that they watched. That video was much more visual than the other three. Now I know I need to find better videos for the other three countries to make sure they are engaged visually. 

Homework outside of school 
I have mentioned throughout my blog this year about my struggles with my current students. One issue that keeps popping up, whether in my class, on my small team, or in eighth grade, is a lack of completing homework. 

I will admit that I am from the camp that could totally do away with homework. I have read numerous articles about countries overseas that have no homework, about the benefit of play, especially at an early age, and how homework provides little benefit in the actual class. 

Part of me, still, cannot let homework go. I will say that I do NOT assign homework nightly as a punishment, nor do I assign regular homework for "practice." My only homework, Monday - Thursday, is flipped learning. Flipped learning, like my mini-lesson this past week, is meant to expose them to the content. Lecturing has little value in the classroom, in my opinion, so the "lectures" happen through videos or readings. I assess their focus and attention through quizzes where they have to pass with 70% proficiency. 

What has been a challenge with this group of students is that they do not want to do flipped learning. It is interesting to listen to them grumble about their classroom grade, yet not see the correlation between avoiding flipped learning and then having a failing grade in my class. Then it can be so enlightening when I hear a student in my class have that lightbulb moment where they say, "I learned that last night through flipped learning!" 

I am not ready to give up flipped learning; it has a purpose in my classroom and is meant more as a support than punishment. I believe that I do not implement flipped learning quite right, and it is still a work in progress. 

Anyway, back to my original rant: my students don't do homework. Period. But they also do not like completing work in my class. Period. If a student does not complete something in class that is due the next day, it becomes homework. So I am seeing this trend of students not working in class, but then not working at home. So they do not complete the assignment and have a low grade in my class. It is this strange catch-22 where I do not know how to help keep my students on track. I try to create engaging (not fun) lessons where they collaborate with each other and have creative opportunities. But even that does not feel like enough. Any advice? 

Thanks for reading! I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website