Saturday, February 25, 2017

Self-Care: that's what friends are for...

Greetings colleagues!

Yesterday morning it was 15°F in Colorado Springs. On frosty mornings, we have indoor morning duty. I was standing in the gym watching students converse with each other, and it reminded me of my own friendships growing up. My friendships as a kid were the most important connections I had with other people. My friends were my life. As we grow older, those friendships end, new friendships form and new types of friends emerge. Adult life can be so complicated!

I've realized, over the past few years, how important my adult friendships still are. I have a family that I treasure and a husband that I love, but I value my friends in such a way that they are my family away from "home" (i.e. Iowa). After reading a rather interesting article about friendships, a professor of communication in Ohio said that the three expectations of friendships are "somebody to talk to, someone to depend on, and someone to enjoy." I feel like my current group of friends fit this bill quite well.

Part of my self-care regimen has been spending more time with friends. Most of my friends are teachers, so we spend quite a bit of time decompressing from school. But we have really opened up as a group over the last couple of years, and we share close, personal secrets with each other. It is so nice to have people that I can go to for advice and support, and it is nice to be wanted to give my own input and encouragement.

So in honor of my lovely, fabulous, and marvelous girlfriends, here is an all-female playlist! 

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Taking risks

Happy Saturday, colleagues! I am going to start today's blog post with a story.

I have to finally admit something scandalous (in the teaching world): I am an introvert. I always wondered what was wrong with me, but when I started taking personality tests over the last couple of years, I finally found the diagnosis: introversion. I am excellent at faking it, at pretending to be extroverted. I struggle with starting conversations with people, but I have a friendly Midwestern face, so people often start talking to me. I smile when I'm uncomfortable, so again, it's a conversation starter. For some time when teaching, my introversion has been met with hostility, rumors, and frustration. I don't like being the center of attention, I'm somewhat shy, and I keep my personal life private. Human nature is to be social and connected. Apparently not sharing much about myself means I'm a cold person. So I struggled with collegial relationships. And I struggled.

Cue to five years ago as I am having the worst teaching year ever when I become a part of a group called TAH (Teaching American History). I've mentioned these people before. They helped me become the teacher that I am now. These people, these complete strangers, accepted me (for what little they knew of me), encouraged me to share bits and pieces about myself, and assured me that I am an influential and capable teacher (as many times as I needed to hear it). It was what I desired in my young career. I had new colleagues (from different schools) that supported me and helped guide me to my first presentation at a national conference at the age of 29.

I am so grateful for those people. They helped me make a mind shift, and every teacher knows when they've had one of those, and how it affected their career. Even so, I am still an introvert today (duh). I am better at making relationships (maturity goes a long way), and I am slowly sharing more about myself with others. It puts me in a vulnerable position, but it's necessary to evolve and develop as a teacher.

In order to evolve, I have to take steps outside my "normal" introverted personality. I did just that: I just applied to become a certified Google Innovator.

That is one scary screenshot. I did it. My application has been submitted. There is nothing more I can do but wait.

But even if I am selected, or rejected, I am proud of myself for taking that step outside of "normal." My little-introverted self is growing up and becoming the teacher that I said I would become when I interviewed at Skyview eight years ago.

So here goes... here is my application.

If someone were to direct a film about your life, what would it be called? (Maximum 5 words, 50 characters)
Just a small town girl

Transform: Share a specific example about how you are fostering a thriving innovative culture within your own classroom, school, or organization. (Maximum of 500 characters)
Five years ago, I was handed 150 iPads and said: “go!” Without training or guidance, I designed a digital curriculum for my US history classroom. I created flipped learning for students to learn basic content at home. In my classroom, students are using a project-based curriculum. Through researching essential questions, students are traveling in time, telling stories about Colorado’s past, and are creating digital content to share with the world. Through it all, I facilitate their learning.

Advocate: Link to a piece of content you've created that you think has inspired other educators.Show us a blog, a Hangout you've done, a poster or Infographic, a presentation resource, or something you're really proud of online that you'd love to share. Include your link here! (of course I am sharing my blog - I am proud of the reflections I've had this last year!)

Grow: If you could become an expert in something that you aren't already good at, what would it be and why? (Maximum of 500 characters)
One thing that I would love to become an expert at is composing music. Listening to music is one way that I meditate each day, and I wish that I could create music to which I meditate. As a teacher, I love seeing students’ faces light up when they come into my room or when they enjoy a lesson that I am teaching. I wish that I could make random strangers’ faces light up when they listen to music that I’ve created.

Your Vision: Title
Using the Past to be Present

Your Vision: Brief Description: (Maximum of 250 characters)
Students are lacking desirable qualities such as empathy, perseverance, and drive. I would like to create a curriculum that uses historical figures to nurture these characteristics.

Your Vision: Solution (We’re looking for projects that are new and innovative. Please explain how your vision is suggesting a new-to-the-world solution or offers a fresh take on an existing solution. Maximum 500 characters)
I will design character developing curriculum in which students examine historical figures who embody these absent characteristics. Through exploring the past, developing digital stories, and undergoing experiential learning, students will develop these attributes. They will learn about the past through authentic characters' stories, which enables them to rewrite their future.

Vision Deck: Link to your public vision deck.

Vision Video: You have one minute to creatively explain your problem and your vision for tackling it! Please post a public YouTube link. Think of this as a visual and interactive complement to your Vision Deck. This is also an opportunity to let your passion shine along with your vision.

Imagine you are able to have coffee with one person (currently living) who would mentor you in support of your vision. Who would you pick and why? (Maximum of 500 characters)
I would have coffee with Ken Burns. He is incredible at telling stories that people didn’t know that they even wanted to learn! He could take this curriculum and elevate it. Students are incredibly visual, and a “Ken Burns style” video would capture their attention entirely. Mr. Burns also has a way with wording stories that challenge people to think while looking deep within themselves. That would be the whole point of this curriculum!

So there it is my friends - my application out for the world to see! Now I'm hoping for an early birthday present on March 13th!

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, February 11, 2017

End of unit reflections

Hello, teachers! Sorry for the missing blog last week! I came down with a cold last Friday but felt the need to go photograph some beautiful frost in town that same day. I'm pretty sure I made myself sicker, so my mind was not ready for blogging last week :(

This morning I am reflecting on a unit that my classes completed on Friday. It was a four week unit over what I call the pre-Civil War era (1820s - 1859). For the first two weeks, students were put into large groups in which they "presented" a whole class lesson on a decade (purely giving content). For the last two weeks of the unit, the students worked individually in which they picked three events in one decade to dive "deeper" into. They used a tic-tac-toe board to pick the products that they wanted to create while also choosing the proficiency level that they wanted to demonstrate.

What worked: Most students enjoyed "teaching" for a whole class period (in a large group). They were nervous overall, but they shined in front of the class. This set them up for success in presenting in front of the whole class. I could tell that some students accessed their group presentation rubric as most students improved upon their eye contact and projection for their second presentation. I also liked that when students presented individually that they weren't required to show memorized content, but instead talked about what they created and how their events caused change (the essential question for the unit). This helped with their confidence and talking to their colleagues instead of just reading from the screen. I heard many students say that they enjoyed having a choice in their topic and product creation, and I felt having the tic-tac-toe board at this point in the year ensured the success as they were comfortable with choice (as opposed to the beginning of the year).

What didn't work: I liked the students taking on the class lesson piece, but I do not feel like I set up the students for success in their content presentations. This unit, more than any prior, made me realize how weak my students' research skills are. This could be a whole other blog topic - teaching students how to investigate on the internet. I don't feel like I train them well in this aspect, and to some extent, expect the students to come to eighth grade prepared with research skills. I know that this is wrong, and I know that my students don't know how to analyze and dive deeper online. Do I know how to teach the students to research on the internet? I'm not sure, but I feel like I need to scaffold their research better. Unfortunately, this means created focused research handouts for each topic. That is something I need to create over the summer if I want to do this unit again (and I know for sure that I do).

I need to, somehow, clean up my directions. I'm not clear if this was all on me, but my students were missing what they were supposed to DO for the second half of the unit. The students just wanted to regurgitate information, when I kept telling them to be persuasive; that they are trying to persuade someone to move to the historical location to ensure that the historical event happens (because, you know, they are time travelers). I know that when I go through their products that most of them will miss that mark.

One struggle (that I've dealt with in the past) is that the students want to make sure that they are doing the assignment "right," so they keep asking me how their product looks, they are checking in with me, and they are asking me questions. This prevented me from checking in with all of my students. I was also trying to get through their research handouts as they were working, but I could never find time. The missing feedback from me did not help the previous issue of my students repeating content instead of being persuasive.

And the BIGGEST problem with this unit is a student problem: time management. Even though I had checkpoints and due dates in place, they were not enough. The students put off their project until the last minute and then scrambled the night before presentations started. I told all of the students to be prepared to present on the first day, but in one class I had to go ask 19 students to present before I could find five students ready to go. I believe that next time I will have more stringent due dates and clearer time management strategies to ensure that their time management is on point. I heard many complaints that I gave too much homework, but it was evident that putting it off until the last minute meant that they had a lot of homework in one night! I wrote on the board how much time they had which effectively ended this complaint.

I had a frustrating week when it came to presentations, but in the end, I know that this was a solid first start to a new design for a unit. I am happy with what I created and am excited to "fix it" for next year!

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website