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

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Moving away from mindless

Hello, colleagues!

I read an excellent blog post from Bill Ferriter. It really made me think about my curriculum; what is worthwhile and what is mindless. 
"Inane tasks are the norm rather than the exception to the rule in the lives of students. It’s reading truncated excerpts of obscure non-fiction works and answering multiple choice question after multiple choice question. It’s solving questions 14-33 on page 86 of the textbook and showing your work. It’s making YET another PowerPoint for YET another class — and then delivering YET another five minute presentation to your peers on some topic that you are going to forget before the end of the month. Worse yet, inspiring tasks are like white rhinoceroses: Oddities that are rarely seen, long remembered, and hunted by darn near everyone."
I have to say - no one is complete at perfecting their curriculum. No one "has it down" and no one is doing it right all the time. Every teacher knows that at some point, there will be mindless tasks in the classroom. But as Bill said it, it should be an exception instead of the norm. 

So this morning I was thinking about how I can change mindless tasks in American history into something greater. 
  • While learning about the federal government of the US, instead of just learning about the differences between a Presidential Proclamation and an Executive Order, have the students read and analyze two important documents: Presidential Proclamation No. 2537 and Executive Order 13769. Have students watch interviews with those interred in Japanese-American internment camps during World War II and with green card holders who were turned away at the airport in 2017. Then have students blog, create a Twitter thread, or design a Snapchat Discover story about how the federal government impacts an "everyday" American citizen.
  • Instead of making students memorize the fifty US states and capitals, have the students pick five states they have never visited. Students then use Yelp and TripAdvisor to see what they can do if they visit the capital. Students then design five interactive Google Maps with the five places they would visit in that city with information, reviews, and photographs.
  • When studying American Indians, instead of mapping the geographic cultures and doing a Venn Diagram on the similarities and differences, talk to students about how the Plains tribes would use every part of the buffalo in their lives. Talk about how each part was used, and if you have a local museum (like the Pioneers Museum), bring in artifacts for demonstration purposes. Then have students keep track of everything that they throw away for a week. Give students the opportunity to brainstorm and work together to repurpose the waste into something they could use in their daily life, or how they could remove that waste completely from their lives.
In the end, I think the goal of teaching is to interest and motivate our students. This does not happen every day, and it does not happen all the time. I deal with 110 beings every day, plus myself, and we have emotions and home lives that sometimes get in the way. However, if we can move them away from the mindless more often than not, then I think we're doing all right.

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Thinking outside the box

Good morning colleagues!

My class is currently one week deep into a cross-curricular American Civil War project with Language Arts. The students have done some overarching research on important historical figures during the war, found the characteristic that this person best exemplifies, and have started designing their "improvement hour" project.

Yesterday I had the students fill out a Google Form about how they are doing on their project, and any stumbles that they had. I used the data results to guide the students needing to be spoken with immediately, which students I could meet with that day, and which students I could meet with the next day. It allowed me to prioritize my conference order.

One student had this answer, and it made me pause.

Though what she said is both encouraging and discouraging, I am happy for a few things. I am glad that I saved a project like this for the fourth quarter. Though my classroom style is not typical, my school is quite traditional. It took a lot of breaking down walls and barriers this year to get my kids ready. A project like this would have bombed in the first quarter. I am happy that I am doing this project at all. Those that read my blog often know that I am not having the best year. I refused to let myself get in the way of me having my students do something that benefits their present and future. I am glad that I am giving my students something with many choices. They are getting to decide what they do and how they do it. I had a quick spark of inspiration last week and also added that the students combine their project with something they are passionate about. I have seen more "buy-in" as the project as gone on.
I am happy that I have this on my wall. I never pointed it out to students, but I've been pointing it out a lot this past week (especially the "this is too hard"). I said to one student, "I know you never look at it." He said, "Actually, I've looked at it a lot." Boom! I consider that a win :)

I think where I'm going with all of this is that this project has been reassuring. I am glad that I decided to elevate the Civil War unit. It is a challenge, but it is pushing my students outside the box and is forcing them to think in ways that they might not have thought before. This is authentic 21st-century learning that demonstrates the relevance of history while preparing them for the future. This has been the most creative, innovative unit that I've created, and I am proud of my students, my teammate, and myself.

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Sunday, April 9, 2017


Greetings colleagues!

I was browsing Feedly when I stumbled across a post from Katie, a 7th grade English teacher, talking about what you are currently listening to, eating, etc. I thought this would make for an interesting post!

Reading: The Girl who Came Home: I'm only about a third of the way through this, but it's an interesting concept. There are two plotlines intertwined. The first part is a flashback to 1912 as a young Irish woman, Maggie, travels on the Titanic to the United States. She is joining family there and is planning on starting a better life. The second plot line deals with her great-granddaughter Grace in the "present-day" of 1982. I don't regularly read many non-fiction history texts during the school year as I deal with history every day. It is, however, a nice change of pace to read historical fiction that is well-written.

Watching: I just finished both Big Little Lies and got caught up on Game of Thrones, so I'm in a post-tv watching funk! I need to get caught up on season nine of Doctor Who before season ten starts in a few weeks!

Eating: It's 9:45 am Mountain time, so I just ate my "go-to" breakfast: southwestern eggs, rice, Cholula, mustard, avocado, and a little bit of cheese. It's my go-to breakfast because I can make it quickly, it's filling, and it tastes good (at least to my tastebuds).

Listening: As I'm blogging, I'm listening to my movie score soundtrack. Whenever I do anything school related, I cannot listen to anything with words. I'm too observant to not pay attention to my surroundings, so it either has to be silent where I am working, or the only sound is music with no words!

Loving: I recently bought a Charge 2 Fitbit, and I am LOVING it! I had a Fitbit in the past, but it was part of the recall because many people (including myself) were burned by the material. So I switched to a Garmin Vivofit. I've had it for the last three years, so I wanted something new and flashy! It is more interactive, plus the Fitbit community is pretty impressive. I have many friends here and family back home that have them, so we're in constant competition with each other. I enjoy the continuous heart rate monitor, the silent reminders (including a move reminder every hour), and that I can start different types of workouts (hikes, yoga, treadmill, weights).

Planning: One thing that I'm planning right now is getting my master's degree. I am still in the early stages, but I know I want my masters in educational/instructional technology. It just makes sense based on where I am in my career, where my focus has been the last couple of years, and where I see myself headed in the future.

Waiting: I am currently waiting on May 25th. This is not because it is my last day of school, but it's because it is the day my nephew is graduating from high school! My school district believes in family first, so I was hesitant to ask to be absent for the last two days of school. That is usually a big "no no" in school districts, but I was pleasantly surprised that my principal was supportive of my absence. I am quite excited to head back to Iowa and see my family, and celebrate with them for four days!

So there you go - you just got a little insight into my #currently moments! Thanks for reading. I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Designing an Interactive Google Map

Good morning colleagues! I was not planning on blogging today, but I wanted to share about my awesome Spring break while ALSO demonstrating how to create an interactive Google Map!

In Drive, create a new map

Title your map, then add a layer and title

In your locations layer, click the pin, search for your location, and add to map

You can change the color and icon of your location.

In locations, add a second location. You can add an image and text description of your location.

Click on the "directions" icon. This will add a new layer where you can search from point A to B.

Change your map sharing directions so that everyone can see it!

And of course, here is my map of my break. Enjoy!

I hope that you could see a way to use these maps in your classroom, and I hope this was helpful in walking you through how to create one. Thanks for reading. I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Creating digital stories

Hello, colleagues!

I have not had a great week. In fact, turning 33 hasn't been pleasant so far. We've had a rough week of testing, and I found out that I was not accepted to the Google Innovator Academy. Whenever I have a crisis of conscience, I like to reflect on myself, my curriculum, in this case, my application, and my future in education. It's hard not to be bummed even though I knew it was a long shot. It was my first attempt, and I don't think I presented how innovative I am as a teacher. One thing that became apparent to me is that I have to put myself out there. I have good ideas, but I need to present them. I can no longer let my introversion get in the way of my big and bright future. So with that, I am going to share a unit that I just finished with my students: creating digital stories.

What is a digital story? To me, a digital story is a story made digital. Seems simple enough, right? I'm not a Language Arts teacher, but I want to my students create historical stories. I want them to be creative but historically accurate. I don't want my students to retell history but instead present something in a new and different way. I'm not letting my students create stories over whatever they want, but they do have a choice in what they create.

So here is a quick and dirty version of creating digital stories in your American history classroom
1. Have the students choose a topic. In my class, they picked from a list of Colorado historical and modern topics. Students chose their top nine, and literally, everyone was able to get one of their top choices.
2. Have the students briefly research the subject (5Ws) in order to find three characters (real people) involved in their topic.
3. After researching further, have the students pick one person that they will investigate. This individual will be the students' narrator (does not matter if male or female).
4. Have the students find an abstract idea that best fits with their person. It could be a "good" or "bad" abstract idea; in the end, they are using this open-ended concept to create an essential question that guides their story.

5. Have the students design a plot line that tells a STORY, not the personal history of this person. I told the students that their story could take place over no more than five years.
6. Have the students design their script. The script is the expanded version of the plot line entirely written out in first-person. The idea is that the student embodies their character as the narrator.
7. Have the students research to find images that they will use in their digital story. Students were required to find a new image every ten seconds. A minimum of eight of their images had to be found from Library of Congress, the Denver Public Library, or our local Pikes Peak Library District.
8. Have the students upload their images to iMovie in which they will recite their script over the images as a narration.

These are some of my favorite projects over the years...

This is a solid project that my students have done for six years. They really enjoy diving into Colorado history, they love having choice, and they enjoy designing iMovies. But a word of caution...
Thanks for reading. Because of Spring break (for two weeks!), my next blog will be on April 8th! I'll see you then :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A day in the life...

Good morning colleagues! As part of my #sunchatbloggers group, we were tasked with creating this week's blog about a day in the life of an educator. I actually voted for this topic because I thought it would be interesting to look at my day versus another teacher somewhere else in the United States!

My day usually starts at 5:00 am. I am a morning person, but I am slow to wake-up. The first thing I do is get on my phone (SHOCKING, I know) and read through the news. I have a Google Pixel XL that has Google Now accessible when I swipe right. I've curated my "interest feed" there, so I am getting the latest political, tech, and local news. Then I go to Twitter and Palabre (my RSS feed app) and read updates there. Then I get up and get ready for my day.

School here starts at 7:45, but we are expected to be in the building by 7:20. I try to get to school between 7:00 and 7:20 because I like to read and respond to e-mails before school begins. I am also pretty lucky because 8th grade has morning plan. That allows me to eat breakfast and drink coffee during first hour while grading or setting up my room. I outline my curriculum in advance, so I am not "planning" for my day unless I come up with a brand new idea that I want to use.

That is my typical schedule, but on this day, I didn't get a plan because I had other things that I needed to do. Our district was having staff development the next day with various types of training. One of the instructors asked if I would put together a "passion project" presentation for a "speed dating" activity. I spent my plan time putting together a presentation on my most recent obsession: Boomerang for Gmail.

We actually have two plans, but, usually, the second hour is taken up by meetings. I had an IEP meeting that was also a transition meeting for the student going to high school next year. This conference lasted until right before my third-hour class.

In class, I taught students how to find primary source images for their digital stories. I spent my day walking students through Library of Congress, local libraries, and Creative Commons images. I literally spent my whole day talking "at" the students while they searched for pictures. It was a process, but the students learned a lot (and will hopefully think twice before stealing images from Google Images).

I've blogged about self-care quite a bit this year, and part of my self-care regimen is leaving school at school. I've been good this year about spending only an hour after-school working. It has taken me much longer to grade and get work back to the students (still trying to figure out real-time feedback in an efficient manner), but my stress levels have gone way down.

Another way to help my anxiety is by going to the gym or yoga studio right after my hour of after-school work. I've been pretty focused on going to the gym two days a week and the yoga studio four days a week. For the first time, I was able to do a difficult pose (camel position). I could tell my dedication to self-care is paying off!

The last two ways that I relieve stress after a long day of school is an hour of tv and a half hour of reading before bed (at 9 - I am a morning person, remember?). One of my favorite shows, Underground, just came back. If you are remotely interested in American history, it is a fantastic show, and the first episode was INSANE and unexpected! I haven't read any interesting books lately, but reading on my Kindle Paperwhite before bed has helped me read 14 of my 52 book goal for the year!

I finally feel like, after eleven years of teaching, that I am starting to figure out how to have a good day, both at school and home. Thanks for reading about my day as an educator. I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, March 4, 2017


Hello, colleagues!

I'm going to share an idea that I had this week that I'm pretty excited about. Every spring, eighth grade American history teachers partner with their Language Arts teammate to do a Civil War research paper. We've done this for the past eight years that I have taught here, and it's a unit that just doesn't excite me. I don't hate the project, but I am not a fan of the content or the fact that the students create a research paper. Civil War technology is not compelling; I cannot get excited about it in any capacity (and it includes photography, and I LOVE photography). I also don't want to grade 110 research essays after I've already had the students write three analytical essays throughout the year.

Every year I want to elevate the project. I'm not trying to make it better, but am more focused on creating something that works for my students and for myself. The lightbulb went off this week when I was thinking about my Google Innovator project. I decided that I wanted to do a "trial run" with this unit. If I do or do not become a Google Innovator, I believe in character education and want to continue to elevate my content.

So my plan is to have the students research a person from the American Civil War.

They will investigate the person and find a characteristic best demonstrated by this individual.

I then want the students to take this personality feature and try to emulate it in some sort of genius hour project. My thought is that it will lead to community building, whether in the classroom, in the school, or in the community of Colorado Springs. For example, say they choose Clara Barton who was a nurse. They pick the characteristic of selflessness. They emulate Clara Barton's selflessness by performing random acts of kindness for a stranger for a week. I'm still thinking this all through, but I want them to address my unit essential question: How can we emulate the best of the past? I'm also thinking about finding primary documents for them to access through Actively Learn, and they will continue with flipped learning.

This would only, however, take up my portion of the unit. So for my Language Arts counterpart, I was inspired by a colleague who sent me a Pinterest pin about a wax museum project. I asked my colleague if she would be interested in having the students research these people (together; we have a shared wall) then present their wax figure in her class. She just ate it up!

I tried to create an eclectic bunch of people to study because I'm hoping through this project that the students emulate the best of the past and also see themselves in history. I'm not sure if I could ask for anything more.

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website