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