Sunday, December 17, 2017

5 most popular posts of 2017

Hello colleagues!

As I enjoy a hot cup of coffee in a quite cold Park City, Utah, I am reminiscing about this past year. I started blogging a year and a half ago, but 2017 was the first year that I had a full year of blogging! I still can't believe that I was able to come up with so many thoughts and be able to share them with all of you!

A few weeks ago, I was trolling Twitter. I came across a post from Catlin Tucker where she shared her top blog posts of the year. I instantly knew that I would do the same thing for my final "column" of the year, especially considering that this was my first year where I COULD share my top five posts of the year.

#5: Elevate. In this post, I wrote about how I was applying to become a Google Innovator and wanted to bring my idea into my classroom. I worked with my Language Arts counterpart to elevate and improve a long-standing project between the 8th grade Language Arts/Social Studies departments. Instead of doing another research essay (of which we had already done three that year in history alone), we had the students 1) research a Civil War figure, 2) participate in a Wax Museum project, 3) discover a characteristic that was best exemplified by this person, and 4) design and implement a community service project where they illustrate that same trait. We elevated the project and RAN with it!

#4: Taking risks. In this post, I wrote about stepping out of my comfort zone and applying to become a Google Innovator. Spoiler alert, I wasn't chosen. But I have another good idea for the application in the next round. We'll see! 

#3: Give the kids homework this weekend. In this post, I wrote about meeting kids where they are in the 21st century. This included trying to incorporate Snapchat into the classroom to have students tell stories. The end result is to try to build a comfortable community with your class. 

#2: #selfcare. In this post, I wrote about how I figured out what my #oneword2017 would be - self-care. It was the moment that I decided to make some changes in my life so that I was no longer overwhelmed by being a teacher. 

#1: Sharing My Love for Screencastify. In this post, I wrote about how I was using Screencastify in my new job. I love this app because it is SO easy to use and it is a good use of my time! If you haven't used Screencastify with your students, I strongly encourage you to do so.

Thanks for reading this post and all post over the last 18 months! I will be back in 2018 with a new post and a new #oneword2018! Happy holidays everyone :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, December 9, 2017

#selfcare: hype videos

Guys, I don't know about you, but I'm TIRED. I know that I've had more breaks than most of you, but I am running on empty.

Teachers spend most days running on empty, right? That's why self-care for teachers is SO. DARN. IMPORTANT.

There is a multitude of ways to take care of yourself, but for me, my #1 way to take care of myself is to listen to music. I've shared multiple playlists throughout the year. Sometimes, however, it's more than music. Sometimes I need to cry or laugh or be inspired.

And that's what YouTube is for. YouTube is not just for your students, folks. There is some phenomenal, non-school related stuff out there.

At times like this, when I'm running on empty, I try to figure out the best way for me to move forward. Often times, I need to cry. Not just a little bit... I need to let out gut-wrenching sobs. I realized this morning, for example, that I needed a good cry to start my day. Please view this entry from ESPN talking about my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes.

Did you cry? Good. Do you feel better? I hope so. 

So, here is a playlist of my favorite YouTube videos to hopefully make you laugh, cry, or inspire the buh-jeezes out of your last few days before your winter holiday.

YouTube can also be for your students. The past couple of years, before I taught 45-minute short enrichment classes, I would show my students videos on Friday, called "Fun Video Friday." I would encourage you to put together a playlist, with your students, of some of your favorite videos. When you or your students need a break, sometimes a quick three-minute video can change your students' or your mood, or just change the climate in the classroom.

Thanks for watching. I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Student Voice and Choice

Greetings colleagues!

When I started this new job four months ago, I was pretty terrified. I try to be organized and polished whenever I teach as I am NOT someone who flies by the seat of my pants. Teaching broadcasting was a WHOLE new thing, and I was making it up as I went for most of the first quarter. I now feel way more comfortable in this role as I'm figuring out what I want my students to know and do.

As a Social Studies teacher, I was always grasping for "wins" - good days, good class periods, and good moments. They did not often happen as I was a pushy teacher. I had high expectations. Students didn't get to goof off very often in my class. But now I'm a "fun" teacher - I still push and still have high expectations, but students get to goof off (ish) in my class. Students get to have fun because they are making up stories, they are creating videos, and they have an audience ready for their broadcast every week. Talk about student CHOICE AND VOICE!

I really thought about this the other day when a student said to me, "Mrs. Jeffrey - look at the board. You put the four of us (students) together. No other teacher would EVER do that!" I said to him, "Well, you do your work for me. If you were together in another class, would you not get anything done?" He said, "We don't have classes together, but I bet we wouldn't get anything done." So I said, "Every week you have to create a tangible product. If you don't get your work done, then you don't have anything in the broadcast." As I walked away from him, I heard him say to his colleague, "I've never thought about it that way before." WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!

I will totally own that it's completely different being an enrichment teacher. I get to make up my curriculum because I have incredibly open standards (in fact, there are no broadcasting standards... I use Language Arts and theatre standards). This allows me to give students more choice and voice throughout the year. I really struggled with giving students voice and choice when I taught Social Studies. It's a difficult thing to do!

So how can you give students choice and voice in your classroom? Here are some ideas...

One time that I always tried to give students choice was when I had an "open era," i.e., we're covering between 1810 - 1860. I would want to know what they wanted to learn about and I wanted to know which applications they wanted to use. This was a perfect time to use a tic-tac-toe board or dinner menu. It wasn't entirely open-ended, but students had more say in their work.

For each broadcast, there is always one entirely original video. I give students theme options, but the main idea, the story plot, the script, the camera shots, and music are solely the students' creation. They can be quite fun to watch. For the rest of the segments, I often choose the topic, but sometimes I don't hear from staff members, so the students get to design their own themes. Even though the structure is set, students still write the script, design the camera shots, and create music. I always get to see and hear their voice throughout, and they still have choices along the way.

Find a way to make student's work public. This can happen at your own school! A brag board is where you have a student post their work and write about why they're proud of this work. Pair up with another class (whether on your team or not), and have them visit your brag board, look at the student's work, and leave a comment. This could be on a cork board in the hall or through a digital Padlet. Let the students be proud of what they've done so that other students can be proud of them too!

Our school has an advisory period, so each class shows the broadcast every week. I also post the broadcast on YouTube and try to remember to tweet out about it as well.

Let your students speak, both figuratively and literally in your class. Let them share their voice. But give them a choice in what they want to say as well.

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Sunday, November 19, 2017

MOOC-Ed Reflection

Good morning colleagues!

Last week I finished a MOOC-Ed through North Carolina State University. A MOOC-Ed is a Massive Online Open Course for Educators. The course was six weeks and was pretty much self-directed. Each week, a new unit would open, but the previous sections did not close. Teachers were able to finish the course on their own time. This was my first time taking a fully online class, so I was nervous about staying on top of the class. However, because only one unit was open at a time, I stayed focused. I will definitely be taking more MOOC-Ed courses!

The class' focus was coaching digital learning which is the role that I moved into this year. There were teachers from all over the US (and the world) in the class. Some were general ed teachers, some were coaches, and some were working together in coaching teams. It was great to have so many people taking the course because I was able to see how digital learning is working in other schools.

The goals for this course included:
  • DEEPEN your understanding of what it takes to coach educators to integrate technology effectively with relevant and rigorous opportunities to build upon your professional needs and knowledge — whether beginning in your role as an instructional coach or seeking advanced strategies;
  • EXPLORE relevant frameworks (e.g., TPACK, SAMR, Four Cs), strategies, tools, and resources to advance your digital learning coaching efforts;
  • EXPERIENCE multiple opportunities for personalized application of your new learning and job-embedded practice; and
  • DEVELOP and share a personal coaching plan to support your school/district's digital/blended learning culture.
What went well: 

  • I feel like I made some good connections through Twitter. They designated a hashtag which I tried to use liberally. 
  • I learned more about Flipgrid and came up with some new ideas for my classroom and the school. 
  • I designed a coaching action plan that I think will help me continue to implement technology in my building. 
  • The class also pushed me to complete some curriculum that I designed and gave me new ideas for my staff bathroom tech tips newsletter!

What could be improved: 

  • Set Twitter chats were at different times each week. I made the very first one but ended up missing the next three because they were on different nights of the week. I hated losing that opportunity for connections and discussion. 
  • Because you could finish the class on your own time, people were responding on the forums at a much later date. I found myself going back to the forums to see if anyone replied to my posts. I was craving good conversations, but it felt like everyone was too busy to work together (I get it). 
  • Even though I'm a technology specialist, I am not technically a digital coach. At times it was frustrating in the class because it felt like the class was meant for coaches. I did not always have sufficient conversations about coaching from a teacher perspective to make meaningful progress with a staff. 
The negatives did not outweigh my enjoyment with taking the class, and as I said before, I would definitely take another MOOC-Ed course. I would encourage others to take a class (because it is definitely low-risk) and plan on promoting the courses through the tech tips newsletter!

Thanks for reading. I'll plan on writing again in two weeks! Have a happy Thanksgiving :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A small moment of gratitude

Dear colleagues:

It's November which traditionally is the month of giving thanks and being grateful. All sorts of people have been posting on social media and blogging about what they're thankful for. To no one's surprise, I'm also going to blog about what I'm grateful for. This year, what I'm grateful for is being able to change my mindset, whether it's dealing with my classroom, education, my relationships, or what's going on at that moment.

An excellent example of this was last Friday. I know how long it takes to get to work. I've been driving the same route for six years since we moved into our house. I give myself 15 minutes to get to work every day, and this day was no exception. What I did not anticipate was the incredibly thick fog. Whenever the weather is crazy, drivers either drive fifteen miles per hour over the speed limit or under. There is no in between. So I was dealing with stressful traffic, managed to hit ALL seven red lights on the way, and almost got into an accident. Another car and I were both (admittedly) "bombing" down a hill to try to make a green light. This other car was in the far right lane, and I was in the far left lane. The light turned yellow, and we both sped up when this other car switched over two lanes and cut me off. I had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting them and ended up missing the light.

While I'm sitting at the red light, I check the clock and realize I'm now late to morning duty. All of that made me start to cry. On a FRIDAY. At a red light. When I finally got to school, I walk in, and a colleague is in there waiting for me. She joins me on Fridays only to help with breakfast duty. We started talking about the weather and traffic because her commute was not great that morning either. She asked me where I lived and then asked when we bought the house. Right now the housing market along the Front Range of Colorado is HOT. People are buying homes, sight unseen, for well over the market price. The last five people that I know of that sold their houses all sold within 48 hours or less, at asking price or more.

She asked if we bought before the housing market exploded and I told her that not only did we purchase in 2011, we used a federal program to get our house! Good Neighbor Next Door is a HUD program that provides housing assistance to public servants. It is a lottery for select homes in older or struggling neighborhoods. The person who "wins" the house in the lottery has two mortgages on the house, each at half the price of the home. The person can also do renovations which are wrapped up in the cost of the home. After three years, one of the mortgages goes away. The idea is that the person can not only afford the house but also revitalize it! This, in turn, helps the neighborhood.

So during breakfast duty, I'm explaining all of this to my colleague and she is blown away. She's never heard about this program and can't believe how lucky we were. Telling her this story made me realize how #blessed I really am. Even though I had a bad morning, she helped me change my mindset instead to how grateful and lucky I am. I thanked her for helping me have a better morning and she, in a surprised tone, told me "You're welcome."

The whole point of this blog is to not only be grateful for what you have and thankful for the people around you, but be sure to help support a colleague see the positive in their lives. Make this week, before Thanksgiving Break, a good one! Take a moment to see, and help others recognize, small moments of gratitude.

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Personality tests

Hello colleagues! So I have a random story to tell you to start the blog this week. I was scrolling on Twitter not long ago when I saw my high school best friend post about her personality type. I've taken personality tests in the past, but I figured I was due for an upgrade. Turns out that I have the exact same personality type as her, INFJ. In the Myers-Briggs personality assessment, INFJ stands for introverted, intuitive, feeling, judging.

I used a website called 16 Personalities for my "assessment." I don't usually push sites like this, but there is a reason that this website is the first Google search result! The personality descriptions are quite descriptive, and I must say, spot on. When I read through my personality type, my jaw kept hitting the floor. My husband was trying to watch baseball, and I kept interrupting him to talk about my personality and all of the things I was learning about myself! It's like someone had finally unlocked my brain code. Apparently, INFJs are the rarest personality type which explains why I've felt so isolated my entire life!

Some of my personality strengths include

  • creativity (I'm pretty good at thinking outside the box)
  • decisiveness (ask me a question, and I'll give you a definitive answer. Where are we going to eat? Done.)
  • determined (hello magical word that I chose for myself during Path2Empathy)
  • altruistic (I don't care about money, fame, and power. I want everyone to be better). 

  • I'm private (You don't need to know about me - apparently other people don't feel that way!)
  • sensitive (Did I take my no crying pills today?)
  • perfectionist (HELLO)
  • can burn out quickly (Why were the last five years so hard?! I did it to myself). 

While reading through my INFJ personality, I realized why I'd felt so misunderstood here at Skyview and how I just wanted my job to have meaning. I want people to be better because I think we, as teachers, can make a difference.

So, what's the point of this blog. Am I just talking about myself here?

Giving the kids the Myers-Briggs assessment is the perfect way to start the school year (a little late... I know!). Giving the students a personality test isn't new or innovative, but I wish I had done THIS assessmet with my students every year. Knowing my little type A self, I would have put together a Google Sheet with students' names and personalities. This would have helped me better approach students. I could have better through through my groupings and team "jobs," and I could have pushed my students towards a certain set of occupations. Also, I want all of my colleagues to take the personality test so that I can learn a little more about them. I want to have better collegial relationships, especially in this new role.

I did, earlier today, ask some of my close colleagues to take the Myers-Briggs assessment, and you know what? I learned a lot about some of my closest friends (and even sisters). Some of their strengths and weaknesses were not surprising (because I know them well), but some made me look differently at my friends and family. I guess I just enjoy learning more about people. Is that part of my personality type? :)

Thanks for reading. And if you want to know a little more about yourself (I see you teachers... I know you will), TAKE THE QUIZ. I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Training Opportunities

Good morning colleagues! I hope you are having a rested weekend! I am up in Fort Collins visiting my in-laws and blogging in a great little coffee shop. Yesterday the Air Force Academy football team played against Colorado State (here in Fort Collins), so my father-in-law purchased tickets for us to go to the game. The weather turned out perfect, Air Force won, and I even got a little sunburn on my face in late October. Win, win, win!

I haven't blogged in three weeks, so I have many things to catch up on. But one thing that caught my interest this week is the free training opportunities that I've run into! I felt like I needed blog about how you can get more training, often for free, to become comfortable with technology or add a little innovation to your content!

I do, however, have to give a brief disclaimer. I am not teaching full-time, so I know that I have much more time available than my colleagues. Is it difficult to find time for training while also lesson planning, grading, having a life, and so on? Of course. So take this with a grain of salt.

Friday Institute: The North Carolina State College of Education provides free MOOC-Ed courses. I am currently working on a class called Coaching Digital Learning which is helping me learn how to more efficiently support others that I work with. I have a full week to work on a unit, and each block takes me about 3-4 hours. They open a new unit on Mondays, so if I want to wait until the weekend to work on the assignments, I can. They usually offer six-seven courses each "semester, " and they are not the same every time. These classes are worth looking into whether you are coaching or teaching (Note: I saw a Teaching Mathematics with Technology course that looks very interesting. Pass this on to any 1:1 math teachers in your building!)

EDpuzzle Coach Program: I am presenting "Flipped Learning with EDpuzzle" at the Colorado Google Summit next weekend. I've used EDpuzzle before, so as I'm designing my presentation, I stumble across this coaching program. WHAT?! So, of course, I'm intrigued and immediately sign-up. I have not finished the whole program, but I completed two modules, on Friday, in probably 20 minutes, and that was with students randomly asking me questions during a homeroom class where I have no students! It's an excellent way to learn more about using EDpuzzle in your class. I highly recommend EDpuzzle if you flip your content (using your own videos or not) or if you use Google Classroom!

Edcamps: I just missed an Edcamp yesterday in the Springs.
Edcamps are a GREAT way to be introduced to new innovative ideas, tech or not. They are entirely free with great swag, conversations, and even lunch! Edcamps are called "unconferences" because there is no set schedule. The schedule is created on the spot by the attendees. Yes, you have to give up a Saturday, but you will walk away completely overwhelmed with a million ideas. Just go!

Apple Teacher: If you use Macbooks or iPads with (or without) your students on a regular basis, it is worth looking into Apple Teacher certification. It will take you less than two hours (as long as you're comfortable with the various applications), and you can learn some great lesson ideas through their free iBooks. Even if you don't complete the certification (which you should - you can complete it on your own time - one test a day!), the iBooks are free and are a great resource!

Google Training Center: It does cost money to get the actual Google Teacher certification, but their training center is completely free. You will get some great ideas, tips, and tricks for using Google apps in the classroom. The best training is to actually use the applications in class, but if you're hesitant, start with the training center. There is both beginner and advanced training with applications and even training for Chromebooks and becoming a trainer (a goal I have in the spring). And if you use technology often in the classroom, there is a course on digital citizenship to keep your students safe.

Have any other ideas for free training? Please leave a comment below! I love to hear about new ideas!!! But I do hope this inspires you to look into some free training in the coming weeks and months! Thanks for reading. I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Getting the most from Chromebooks

Good morning on a FINALLY sunny day in Colorado Springs! There are good vibes around me because our school received two new Chromebook carts this week. It's always a good day when new technology shows up in the building!

Half of my job is teaching students about broadcasting, but the other half of my job, being a "technology specialist" is supporting teachers in the use of educational technology. My technology specialist position has been pretty quiet... teachers may be using technology, but they are not asking for support. I keep telling myself that it is the first quarter and this year the teachers are completely inundated and overwhelmed.

I am not the type of teacher who sits idly by and doesn't cherish and use the gift of time that I'm given. So I've been trying to think of new ways to get teachers to use Chromebooks, iPads, and desktop PCs. In my last five years as a 1:1 teacher, I've had many conversations about the use of technology in the classroom. Many teachers shy away from because of a few reasons:
1) They do not know how to use an application and want to learn before the students in order to model while also keeping control of the class. Because they don't have time to learn the technology, they do not use it. I've realized that part of my job is supporting teachers in the use of the application. This can be done through a screencast or YouTube tutorial. 
2)  They do not know how to use an application, and even if it looks cool, they do not know how to apply it to their content. This prevents them from creative insight which helps think outside the box. I started putting together a spreadsheet of ways to use various web applications with the four core contents to help promote innovative thinking. 
This document is still a work in progress (it is woefully incomplete).

Until teachers start using me as a resource, I will use my time to create documents like this to get teachers to use my time! :) I hope that more teachers will come to me to think through their unit and use technology applications. I said this before, but my principal's goal was to have every student access technology once a week. This can happen as long as teachers are bringing Chromebooks and iPads into the classroom (or are going to the lab).

Thanks for reading. We go on FALL BREAK next weekend, so I'll see you in three weeks!

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Give the kids homework this weekend...

Did I get your attention? Did you click on this article because you saw the title and felt like you needed to argue with me? Good. So here's what I'm talking about.

As a broadcasting teacher, I want students to tell stories. I want them to report news stories, I want them to design creative stories, and I want them to figure a way to make people connect to others' stories. To help students tell stories, I have to know how to tell stories as well. I try to tell stories through my photography. Because I've been a photographer for so long, I'm constantly looking around me for the stories I want to tell. If you're not observing your world, you'll miss it.

How else do I tell stories? Snapchat.

Yes, seriously guys. I use Snapchat. And I LOVE IT! My favorite social media app? Snapchat. I wish more of my friends and family had Snapchat. It's probably because I think I'm funnier than I actually am. But I love letting people see small glimpses into my world. I used to love Facebook because it was people sharing pictures and videos of their lives. That is why I love Snapchat today.

What is Snapchat? It is a messaging app that sends only pictures and videos in which you can add filters and text to the image. You can decide how long people can see the picture (up to 10 seconds) and you determine who you send the picture to. You can also create a story where people can view the image/video an unlimited number of times for 24 hours. To find a friend (or vice versa), you have to have their cell phone number or their username.

Snapchat got quite a bad rap when it first began because the users were using the app to send explicit pictures. I feel like that's changed since its infancy, but then again, my friends aren't like that and I don't add random strangers to my account.

So how do I use Snapchat to tell stories?
This is my cat Ombre. He loves going outside, but he also likes climbing trees to chase squirrels. In the past, he will come running to the door when it opens, and it's often hilarious. I KNEW he was going to jump when I came to the door, so I had my camera ready for filming. When I didn't know is that he was on the dining room table. As I'm walking towards the door, he jumped really far from the table to the door and jumped as high as he could (we've seen him jump five feet high before). I added text to the screen which Ombre "bumped" so it just added more humor to the video. After I took this video I was laughing SO hard. It just sums up my cat in 10 seconds.

So, back to the original topic of this post - give your kids homework this weekend. Have them use Snapchat (or the video/camera feature on a device, or even have them draw if they don't have a device) and have them tell a story about their weekend or their life. Take the first 2 minutes of the day for five days and have the students share their stories. You learn more about the students and they learn more about each other. Isn't that how you build a community in your classroom?

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Again, I think I'm funny. Here is a taste of my Snapchat feed...

Saturday, September 16, 2017

First Broadcast Reflections

Happy Saturday ya'll! I must say... I am starting out the weekend right! I'm sitting in a coffee shop, blogging, drinking a latte. The weather is PERFECT today - slightly sunny with a cool breeze. Fall is starting to appear along the Front Range of Colorado. I went to yoga last night, so I am super relaxed (and a little sore). All of this, part of my #selfcare regimen, helped me forget an exasperating week and prep me for a fantastic weekend.

Why have I been agitated? Well, my students put together their first broadcast. Guys, this is hard. I didn't realize how difficult it is to wrangle thirty 7th and 8th graders and get them to FOCUS, and I've taught middle school for nine years! There were all sorts of issues this week with some students being absent (i.e., everyone in one group was absent on the SAME DAY!) and another group having footage being "deleted." These two groups did not meet the Thursday deadline for their broadcasting segments, and it STRESSED. ME. OUT.

I care a lot about how other people perceive me. I'm really good at pretending that I have thick skin, but it is razor thin. I don't care if my co-workers like me, but I want them to respect me and see the genuine work that I'm creating. Not having a broadcast put together Thursday troubled me. I was worried that we would not have a satisfactory show put together or that there wouldn't be a final video at all! I was so stressed out that I couldn't sleep. I fell asleep fine but woke up from a horrific nightmare around midnight Friday morning. I read some news and played Sudoku and made myself tired again. But as I laid back down on my pillow, my mind started running. It would not turn off. So I got on my Kindle and finished my book, but then realized it was 4:30. I figured I may as well get up.

As I showered Friday morning, I thought about my ridiculous behavior. I'm putting this pressure on myself. No one has higher expectations for me than me. This is my first time producing a broadcast and people will give me some slack. But I was still stressed Friday morning, and I know I took it out on my students.

Did the students get the broadcast put together? Yes. How was the broadcast? Just fine.

Have I learned a lot in one week of putting together a broadcast? Of course! And even though this was my first broadcast, I've had some wins. I love the script that I put together - it helped all of the students, over three classes, put together a cohesive show. I feel like I gave the 7th graders (good kids - very eager) a sufficient amount of training (iMovie, Garageband) so their segments were on par with the veteran 8th graders. And last, but not least, I had a lengthy conversation with all three classes about why deadlines exist. 1st hour found out the hard way because the broadcast was not finished by their class. They didn't have anything to watch, and they did not get to provide any feedback on the finished show.

This is all a work in progress, but I still love this new job. Thanks for reading. I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Apple Teacher Training

Welcome to your first three-day weekend, colleagues!

On Friday I put on my first training as the technology specialist in the building! My principal wants me to work with non-1:1 teachers in the building, but right now, the 1:1 teachers do not have a technology instructional coach nor have they received any training. Even though I'm not "supposed" to work with the iPad teachers, I don't want to leave them in the dark. I was in that position for the last five years, and I still see myself as an iPad teacher.

After a bi-monthly meeting with my principal in which I told her about the lack of support for the 1:1 teachers, she asked me what I could do to help. I offered to run a training for new iPad teachers, but that conversation turned into outlining a session for all iPad teachers. Together we felt that it was essential for our 1:1 teachers to be highly qualified in their technology use in the building. The first step was to have the teachers demonstrate their proficiency through the Apple Teacher training.

I recognized that I needed to become an Apple Teacher first. This was, surprisingly, easier than I thought. I started with the Mac badges first, then completed the iPad badges. It took me around two hours to complete all sixteen badges. There were some tricky questions built in, but because I've used Macs and iPads for quite some time, I knew the answers or guessed efficiently.

As I took the assessments, I followed along with Apple's iBook materials and designed a "cheat sheet" for my colleagues. The cheat sheet didn't have any answers to the exam questions but instead prompted them through what they need to know HOW to do. So yesterday, at 8 am, my 1:1 colleagues came into my classroom to take exams. Armed with their iPads, Macs, and coffee, they got down to business. I wasn't really sure how much I needed to guide them. I had them open the cheat sheet, walked them through the first part (iPad starter guide), and had them begin the first exam. I told them that they could work at their own pace and just let me know when they had questions.

What's funny is that most of them finished in a decent amount of time, but then decided to take the Mac badges as well (not required). Some of them even decided to take their level 1 Google Educator exam! On the feedback survey, the teachers all agreed that it was a good use of their time, they appreciated that it was iPad focused training, and they all agreed that they want further training and collaboration time. Sounds like a win to me!

Thanks for reading. I'll see you in two weeks :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Help me help the teachers.

Happy Saturday, colleagues!

I'm all over the Colorado Springs area this morning. I was "hired" to take pictures at a local bike race (after they caught wind of my photography Facebook page), so I'm taking my talents to South Beach (i.e. on the road).

So with that, this will be a short post. I am putting together a training for new 1:1 iPad teachers at Skyview next week. I want to increase their iPad familiarity by demonstrating how to use applications in their content areas and demonstrating how technology can help them increase the depth of knowledge (DOK) of their lessons. I put together this handout for teachers.

See anything missing? Help me help them and fill out this survey!

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Sharing my love for Screencastify!

Hello there colleagues! This week, in my new job, I found that Screencastify is the greatest thing in the world. Seriously. I don't think I could do my job properly without it!

I learned about Screencastify during a Google Summit in 2016. I know my husband mentioned it to me once or twice (as he uses it quite a bit for his job), but I never saw a reason to use it in the classroom. I tried screencasting feedback for students on projects, but they were cumbersome to make (Really? 150 videos?), and the students rarely watched them. It was a risky attempt, and it crashed and burned :)

What I found Screencastify most useful for was "how to" videos. Whenever students would get stuck on a problem, I would make a screencast for solving the issue. Instead of answering the same question 300 times, I would point them to the tutorial video. The students did not care for it because they just wanted me to give them the answer, but over time, they were trained.

Now teachers, on the other hand, value their time. They know how busy they are and how they do not have easy opportunities to visit me over and over. Tutorial videos are wonderful for teachers because they can access them on their own time, can watch the video as many times as they need, or they can completely ignore the video and pretend that I did not e-mail it!

We have had some weird technology issues in the district... such a great way to start the year! I realized that I was answering the same question over and over. I helped one teacher, who is not super tech savvy, log in to the firewall and create a bookmark to the firewall. I realized that it would be helpful to ALL teachers if they knew how to bookmark the firewall website as well.

After sending this video to the staff, many people stopped me to say "thank you." It feels good to know that my video helped!

When meeting with my principal about my job, and what it entails, she told me that I should be coaching non-iPad teachers in the building. Her goal is to have every student touch technology once a week. It is a lofty goal, but I think it can be possible as the year goes on. One thing that prevents me from co-teaching and modeling for teachers is that I have three broadcasting classes in the morning. I have to find a way to work around this, and Screencastify is working for me!

I have a 7th grade teacher who is having his students make iMovie trailers about books they are reading. He was able to figure out, on his own, how to use iMovie and how to teach his students how to use iMovie. But he wasn't 100% sure how to have his students turn in their trailers because they are using an iPad cart, not 1:1 iPads. Screencastify is not available for the iPad, so I did some Googling to find a work around. Someone online mentioned taking screenshots step by step, then screencasting the pictures on the computer like it is a video.

Worked like a charm, and the teacher said it was beneficial for both him and his students!

The last way I recently used Screencastify is to teach my students the ins and outs of iMovie. My students have been filming and are in the process of editing. Most of the 8th graders took broadcasting last year, so they knew quite a bit about editing. All of them, however, said that they learned something new from these videos. And for the students who are taking broadcasting for the first time? They learned a ton!

I just can't say enough good things about Screencastify, but I forgot the most important thing - it's free!

Thanks for reading. I'll see you next week! 

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Successful "back to school" nights with 1:1 devices

Good morning, colleagues!

I. Am. Exhausted. It's been a long two weeks in my new job, mostly because I was required to attend three "back to school" nights for the three, grade level iPad teams. This was my first time attending three different grade level meetings, and it was an experience!

When I first starting teaching 1:1, we did not have a special back to school night for 1:1 students and parents. We still had parents attending our traditional back to school night with the entire staff. It worked okay, but parents had a lot of questions, and the teachers did not always have the answers. We, as a 1:1 staff, realized that we needed to place more importance on meeting the students' and parents' needs when it came to the iPads. So three years ago we started having separate  1:1 back to school nights.

They were a disaster. The first year we were in the gym, and no one notified the custodial staff that we were having a special event? The custodial staff turns off the air conditioning at night to save electricity/money. So we had more than 150 parents sitting in a gym with no air conditioning. It was miserable. So last year, we notified the custodial staff AND decided to meet in our classrooms. Unfortunately, the air conditioning still could not keep up, and it was hot... not as bad, but still terrible.

So this year, we split 6th, 7th, and 8th grade nights, and held the meetings in the cafeteria which is the coolest room in the entire building. We held the 8th grade meeting first, and it still did not go well. What were the biggest issues? 1) The wifi was unable to process so many people on devices in one room. We had an open wifi so that students could log into their devices. I have a suspicion that parents and students also connected their personal devices (hey, free wifi!). We found out later that we really can only have 90 devices connected per Meraki box. We had two boxes set up in the cafeteria but then discovered that one was not fully connected by an IT specialist. WHOOPS. 2) Most of the 8th grade parents had students on a 1:1 team since 6th grade, so they didn't need all of the information they were given. They were itching to get out of there, but our principal was planning on a 90-minute meeting.

So after a not great night, my principal, our 21st C specialist, and I got together to discuss how to make this better. We knew we needed to have it figured out before our 6th grade meeting. The good news is that I feel like we finally mastered the formula! Even one of the 6th grade teachers agreed :)

#1: Parents were given the iPad when they came in the door. This was not any different than what we'd done in the past, but we had directions on the screen for how to log in to the iPad. This meant that the wifi was not overwhelmed with too many devices at once.

Parents also filled out a questionnaire once they got connected.

#2: Teachers presented information about their classes. My principal told them she wanted the teachers to present, between the four of them, for 30-45 minutes. LOL. By the last night, she told them to talk for no more than five minutes each! Parents had access to their presentation slide deck, and if they had questions, they could stick around to address the teachers.

#3: I went over logging in directions one more time and explained why the questionnaire was necessary. I then told parents that they could stick around and get logged in, or they could finish at home. Then I dismissed them to check out. We finished the 7th and 6th grade meetings in less than 60 minutes (compared to 90 minutes for 8th grade). Getting the parents out promptly was incredibly important.

So, if you are starting 1:1 teams in your school or you haven't held a special "back to school" night for your 1:1 teams, I encourage you to think about trying this next year :)

Thanks for reading. I'll see you next week! 

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Story Spheres!

Colleagues! I'm back!

I cannot believe that a new school year has started. It has been overwhelming being in this new job, but boy has it been positive! Many teachers have wished me luck, told me that they believe in me, and have already asked to meet and build their tech knowledge.
What has been stressing me out is designing this new broadcasting curriculum. Teaching Social Studies is easy. I've been doing that for eleven years, and I don't have to prep much to start. Teaching something new is probably good for me because I am way out of my comfort zone! This year I am working on being comfortable with being uncomfortable.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a Google Summit here in the Springs. My very first session was with Jessica Loucks (who is ah-mazing). She presented 360° storytelling with Street View and Story Sphere. I just recently received a grant from the Edcamp Foundation and was able to buy 30 Google Cardboards and 15 phones. I KNEW that I wanted to incorporate VR, but wasn't sure how to do it. 

I finally figured out that I wanted to start with Story Spheres in my class so that students could a) learn more about storytelling and b) tell me/the class about themselves. I started with a video from Khan Academy/Pixar in a Box. The video talks about telling stories that are exciting but make people feel how you feel about your story.

Then I had students access this great PDF about major master plots. I told students that they were going to write a story about themselves (so I could get to know them) using one master plot. I told them that my story was plot #13: maturation. 

How do you create a Story Sphere? I first wrote my script about what I wanted to say. I then went on Street View (on an iPad) to find 360° photos of the locations in my script. I saved the images to Google Drive, downloaded the images to a computer from Drive, THEN uploaded the photos to Story Sphere (it is much easier than it sounds!). Inside the web app, you can upload hot spot recordings so that students can hear from you as they "visit" these locations. I just used the voice app on my phone, then e-mailed the mp3s to my school e-mail where I uploaded them to Story Sphere. Students viewed my Story Sphere, through VR, on the first day of school!

Needless to say, the kids thought this was SO COOL. When I told them that they were going to be telling me a story about them using a Story Sphere, they were all in!

They have taken quite a bit of time to create, partly due to me trying this for the first time, partly due to some tech issues in the building, and partly due to my students' lack of tech knowledge with iPads and new software. Even so, the kids still bought in and were excited to share their stories with each other. I'm hoping on Monday that we will get some Story Spheres actually created so I can tweet them out. 

Thanks for reading. I'll see you next week! 

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Summer breeze... makes me feel fine!

Welcome colleagues! Well, it has been QUITE a year! I cannot believe that I survived and that the year actually went by quicker than I thought. Though I had many ups and downs, this was easily the best year of teaching I've ever had. I'm starting to feel like I understand HOW to teach. Ironic considering I'm not teaching history next year...

Since it is the end of the year, I wanted to reflect on my #oneword2017 challenge and also talk about my summer goals.

#oneword2017: I blogged back in January about my New Year's resolutions. One of my #sunchat blogging collaborators mentioned that maybe my word should be self-care. I took that idea and RAN with it! Ever since taking on self-care as my mantra, the past six months have felt magnificent. And it really was little ways that I started taking care of myself which made a big difference. I bought a new Fitbit and have been working out consistently. I made a switch to a low FODMAP diet which has helped with a lot of my health issues (and dropped my "healthy" weight down three pounds). I uploaded my photography to our TV's Chromecast, so our TV is like a photo gallery. I've read 24 books this year, got caught up with Game of Thrones, and am obsessed with The Handmaid's Tale. I've spent quality time with friends this year, visited my sister in Pennsylvania twice, and missed the last two days of school for my nephew's graduation. My self-care goal has changed my mindset for the better!

Part of my self-care regimen for this summer is preparing for my new job. I know that people have messaged me, inquiring about what my new job entails. I will be a part-time broadcasting teacher and part-time technology specialist. As the broadcasting teacher, I am responsible for teaching students to use digital equipment to become engaging storytellers. The select seventh and eighth-grade students are responsible for putting together "Skyview News" once a week. I have BIG shoes to fill, and I am nervous and overwhelmed (but of course excited). I feel like I'm back to my first year of teaching where I was one step ahead of the students, but that's not a bad thing! As the technology specialist, I ensure that desktops, Chromebooks, and iPads in the building are available and ready for the teachers. As far as I know, I will also be responsible for building curriculum and training for the staff (and potentially district staff) so that our school continues to move forward.

Other goals for the summer?

  • I'm presenting for the first time at a Google Summit! I'm presenting on visual essays, which I talked about a couple of weeks ago. I need to put that presentation together... and practice! I despise public speaking, but I have to get over it, right?
  • Take more pictures. Duh. And submit my photos to the Iowa State Fair. They're printed... I just need to MAIL THEM.
  • Build a Google Sheets course as part of the POWER Zone Innovators curriculum. Still figuring out what to teach, but it's always good to get my name out there!
  • Continue to build my educator digital portfolio. If I want my students to see the purpose of their own portfolio, it is only fitting to have an example.
  • Hopefully, take a vacation in July. Maybe Mexico

Thanks for all of the support over this last school year - it's hard to believe that I've been blogging for almost a year! Enjoy your summer, and I'll see you in a couple months... or maybe sooner if I'm feeling inspired :)

And because it's part of my self-care regimen, enjoy this summer playlist... on me!

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, May 27, 2017

"In these trying times..."

Good morning colleagues! I am sitting on my parents' couch, back in Iowa, drinking a cup of coffee on a terribly foggy morning. I am in town for my nephew's graduation from high school... my nephew who was born when I was a little freshman in high school. I'm just getting all the feels!

My nephew attended a local public high school (of course, rival to my high school - Go J-Hawks!) that went through some notable public turmoil over the last two years. As a teacher, I was blown away by what happened. As a former resident, I didn't know the principal or the entire situation, but I knew enough to know that his forced resignation was devastating to the students. He was someone that built relationships with EVERY SINGLE STUDENT in the building of 1600 kids.. The class of 2017 made a decision about their graduation celebration - they did not want to hear a speech from the superintendent, but instead wanted to hear from the people they loved and admired. The students led the graduation, had the interim principal and counselors speak, and they voted on a keynote speaker. The class of 2017 chose Stacey Walker, Washington alum, and the current Linn County District 2 Supervisor.

This is Stacey Walker. Unfortunately, I had to steal this image from Twitter because there is NOT a creative commons sourced image of him! This is not at all surprising as he is from Iowa. *begin sarcasm font* Nobody famous is from Idawahio, right? *end sarcasm font* As I am sitting in the LONGEST graduation I have ever sat through to support my nephew (and I'm silently making fun of the teachers sitting next to the graduates), this man gets up to speak. My niece and I look at his speech and immediately roll our eyes. It is two pages long, single spaced, with what looks like 10 point font.

But when he opened his mouth, my niece said, "He sounds like Barack Obama!" And that he did. I was instantly engaged, impressed, and inspired! What blew me away, even more, was that he graduated from high school in 2006 FOUR YEARS after me.

Even though I have one day left of just teacher check-out, I wanted to inspire the rest of you through your remaining school year. I want this speech to remind you WHY you teach and HOW you influence and motivate your students every day.
This opportunity has caused me to revisit my formative years. Not just those glorious four years I spent in high school, but the time leading up to it as well. I was born to a single mother who raised me and my younger sister on the southeast side of Cedar Rapids... These were the places others referred to as the ghetto. We relied on food stamps and food drives, and other welfare programs just to get by... When (my mother) left that day, I would never see her again... After learning of her death, my sister and I went to live with our grandmother... I stand here today because she lived. 
It is important that I share my story with you this afternoon - the stories of the people whom I hold dear - because I hope you'll do it too one day. I hope that you will pay homage to those in your life - parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, and friends - who helped to get you to this point. No one can do it alone. We all had a little help getting here, and we all will need a whole lot more going forward. 
When you go from place to place, you will be encouraged by friends and caring adults to pursue noble careers... However, I implore you: seek the path that sets your soul on fire. Pursue your truth and your passions, and do good by others in the process, and surely, your life will be one of purpose and satisfaction... (w)e should recommend career paths that align with our values and our passions...
How do we make this happen... The answer is you. All 278 graduating seniors are here today and your peers across the country will soon have the opportunity to put your smarts and your energy to good use and make an impact on your community... Your partisan affiliation will never matter as much as the content of your character. What matters most is what's in your heart.
In these trying times, you are the greatest hope for a better future... We will rely on your curiosity and idealism which will lead to great discovery... This work is difficult. But no one here is asking for a break. That's not what Warriors do. We don't pray for easier lives. We pray to be made stronger women and men. We don't seek easy answers or cliched wisdom. Instead, we seek the challenge of the impossible...  
There is more work to be done in this imperfect world, and we're all relying on you. Let your thoughts - the chief glory of man - and your heart - the vital organ of morality - light your path, forever. 
Go forth, dream big, work hard, and change this world for the better.

"Be the change." I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Visual Essays

Greetings colleagues! I am writing to you this week as I'm finishing up my LAST unit of the school year! In fact, it is my LAST unit as a Social Studies teacher (for now). I recently accepted a job as the broadcasting teacher and technology specialist in my school. I'm excited but super overwhelmed. My job is going to look so different next year that I cannot picture it right now. This summer - it's so close!

But I digress. The unit that we just finished up was over Reconstruction in the United States. Yes, the Civil War is quite significant, but Reconstruction certainly changed the United States for a good 90 years or so, plus has lingering consequences today. To get my students to understand its impact, I had them do the DBQ Project's Reconstruction DBQ while also doing a case study on a modern case of racism (within the last five years). I felt it was important for students to see related connections - it also makes history more relevant!

The culmination of each DBQ is a 5-6 paragraph essay. I'll be honest; it's the end of the year, and I definitely didn't want to grade another essay! So I had my students do what I call a "visual" essay. This is when the students follow the same process as creating an essay, but in the end, they take the writing process and create something visual. The best three applications that I've found for creating visual essays are Piktochart, Spark Page, and Canva. For this unit, my students used Piktochart.

We spent four days going over the DBQ packet. The students analyzed four documents to answer the question, "North or South: who killed Reconstruction?" They completed the DBQ packet by filling out an outline in which they responded to the question with their opinion, and used evidence from the documents to support their answer.

They then took their outline and turned it into a Piktochart.

Did this go well? Yes! It was great for the end of the year, the students appreciated learning about something that connected to present-day, and though the Piktochart iPad app is lacking in some usability, they enjoyed trying a new app and liked the creativity and choices that it offered.

This week I'm encouraging you to try something new, maybe fun, and definitely engaging with your students. Think outside the box and get your students to connect to your content!

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The most beautiful sentences in literature

Hello, colleagues!

Are any of you counting down how many days of school left? No? Me either, although I keep hearing this number whispered in the hallways, "15."

It is times like this that I need a dose of inspiration to make it through. I am currently teaching a unit on Reconstruction, and the students are pretty into it. The students find it fascinating how racist the North was during that era... that it was not just the South hampering Reconstruction efforts. So at least, I hope, I will have their attention (and may just inspire them) for the next two weeks.

Though my class is working through a sound unit, I need more motivation. The weather is too beautiful (Spring fever is alive and well), I am thoroughly exhausted from track season, and the thought of two months of freedom is sucking out my soul. I woke up this morning with these words in my head, "I am, I am, I am." I decided to share with you some beautiful photography and beautiful words to get you through your Saturday, your weekend, or your last few weeks of school.






Namaste. I'll see you in two weeks :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, April 29, 2017

You gave students choice... and it bombed... what? It's time for a reflection.

My co-worker and I just finished our cross-curricular project, and boy has it been a unit! We were quite euphoric with how it turned out, and were glad that the project was more of a success than we anticipated. One thing is nagging at the back of my brain - how did giving students choice work? Was THAT successful?

To answer that question, I am going to jump into "story time" and travel back to last summer. Right before the school year began, I attended a GAFE (Google Apps for Education) conference here in Colorado Springs. I was pushed by many of the attendees and presenters (in a good way) to update and elevate my curriculum this current school year. The big "buzz word" was choice: giving students a choice in your classroom. And I believe it, and I believe in it, so I tried to provide my students with choice (to give them a voice). It was a complete and utter failure.

Sometimes I wonder why teachers and teacher bloggers don't talk more about their failures, and, when giving advice, don't always talk about what might go wrong. I feel like I had a preconceived and naive belief about how choice and flexibility would transform my classroom. I would liken this to all the feels that teachers get when watching Robin Williams' speech in A Dead Poet's Society.

That was going to be my classroom this year... I was wrong. What I failed to take into account, and what I was never pushed to question, was who the students were that I had coming into my classroom. My students had eight years of traditional schooling. Often times, in my own opinion, I did not see rigor and high expectations in their previous classes. Students, in the past, did not have the option to make their own choices and did not have the capacity and maturity to make wise decisions on their own. This led to a very rough beginning to the school year (no Robin Williams moments here!) and a lot of reflection about what best meets my students' needs.

So... I gave my students choice... and it bombed. What are the next steps?

Number one: don't give up! So it didn't work this time. Why didn't it work? Figure that out, then don't do that again. It is okay to fail, but do not punish your students if the failure is one you.

Number two: figure out what your students need. Many options or open flexibility can be overwhelming if it has never been an option before. I know that when I start my next school year, I need to survey the students about their previous schooling. This will then drive HOW I teach in my classroom. I can decide how much choice I offer from the start.

Number three: start small to large. Start by giving your students two or three possibilities (not unlimited), then expand from there. I run a more project-based class so I can start with open selection when it comes to a type of project (Slides, Explain Everything, iMovie), then over time, students can have a choice when it comes to topics and content. Ideally, by the end of the year, the students have complete discretion in the classroom to display their voice.

Number four: take your time. If you realize that students still don't have the maturity to have choice, then do not give them that option. Make sure they are ready to move to the next step. Do not set up your students to fail.

As I said at the beginning, now that I've done this big project at the end of the year, was giving choice beneficial?


It was due to my failures at the beginning of the year and reflecting upon WHY there was failure. It was also dependent on me slowly adding in more choice as the year went on. I also feel like we gave students good options when it came to historical figures and project presentation options for this unit. 

Was it perfectly successful? No, not quite. Both my colleague and I learned a lot doing this project for the first time and have discussed changes that we will make. We still saw students choose the easy options, and I still need to figure out why they didn't want to push themselves. 

But I can see how choice works in my classroom and am excited to see it work even better next year. Keep the faith! Thanks for reading. I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website