Saturday, December 15, 2018

5 Most Popular Posts of 2018!

Good morning colleagues! We're getting down to the wire here before Christmas break. We still have a week left of school, but due to Christmas eve being on a Monday, and traveling next weekend to see family, this is my last blog post of 2018! Where has this year gone?!

Per tradition last year, after being inspired by Catlin Tucker, I've decided that my final post of the year will recap my top five most viewed (popular) posts on my blog. It's not too much of a surprise to see my top five as they were all posted before summer break and all had content that was relevant to all and/or was a "hot topic" in the news.

Post #1 (21 Jan 2018) 
In this post, early this year, I blogged about how our district implemented digital portfolios. I provided some links to resources about using digital portfolio with students. I also talked about how digital portfolios can provide your students with a voice and with choice (they pick what's on their site, and they reflect upon their decisions and learning). I briefly discuss my own digital portfolio and why it works for me. Then I end by mentioning how a student could graduate with 13 years worth of work. THAT is powerful! 

Post #2 (21 April 2018) 
In this post, I write out the alphabet, A-Z, and next to each letter, I discuss a potential problem with digital learning. Some examples include distractions, managing time, plagiarism, xenagogue (yep - I even thought of an X word!). Technology can provide so much support in our classes, but it can also be a nightmare and a downfall! I hope that this post helps people, who are thinking about implementing technology into their curriculum, problem solve BEFORE the issues happen! 

Post #3 (13 May 2018) 
This post focused on how my grading policies have changed since I first started teaching. Things that I have changed include no zeroes, late grades, or "fluffy" grades, more formative assessments, and my take on why behavior does not equal achievement. This whole post stemmed from me being frustrated by ineligible students not being able to compete in our big track meet. 

Post #4 (28 April 2018)
In April of this year, teachers across the US went on strike to get better salaries and conditions (for themselves and their students). Our district did not go on strike, but our state did have an educator rally at the state Capitol in Denver. This post focused on my experience going to the rally with my educator friends and WHY I marched at all.

Post #5 (5 May 2018) 
This post is focused on six steps to help you create meaningful work in your classroom. As you start to burn out as a teacher, you have to make changes to your personal and professional life. I can't tell you how to fix your own life (except to take care of yourself), but the six steps helped me remove myself from a burnout situation. I also provide ways for you to support your students in making good work in the classroom which puts the bulk of the work on the students instead of on you! 

To end, I just want to wish you all happy holidays! As always, thanks for reading (especially throughout the past couple of years!) I will return on 12 January 2019!!!

- Rachel

Sunday, December 9, 2018

A self-care Christmas list!

Good morning colleagues! There are only two weeks left before Christmas, and I realized I haven't done a self-care post in a while. I figured... why not combine the two? So here is a Christmas list with some of my favorite self-care products!

For relaxing on the couch

  • Kindle Paperwhite - currently $99 (regularly $129): I am a voracious reader. It's in my Bails blood! I always scoffed at people who used e-readers. I preferred to have a real book in my hands that I checked out from the library (thank you very much!). Then I found out that you can check out ebooks from the library, so I put the Paperwhite on my Christmas list a couple of years ago. Thanks to my generous in-laws, I am in LOVE. Not only do I check out books from the library, but I also stash books that I find for free online (you know, for a rainy day...)
  • Twinings Earl Gray tea - $3 (available everywhere): Within the past year I had my first taste of a London Fog latte, and it CHANGED MY LIFE. I always thought Earl Gray tasted disgusting, but with some steamed milk, vanilla syrup, and a sprinkle of homemade vanilla bean powder, it is the BEST. If you're a tea drinker, especially a tea latte drinker, you have got to make one of these! 
  • Fuzzy socks - price varies: Do I have to explain why you need a good pair of fuzzy socks? Have you ever spent the entire day in your pajamas on the couch? Bonus points if it has a cat or a llama on it!
  • America Needs Teachers mug - $12: Oh Raygun... I love you! I'm all over this website because they make hilarious Iowa stuff. They are also entirely unhinged liberals, so they are pro-LGTBQ, teachers, women, science... basically all of the things I am "pro" of as well. I have to shout out this mug because the people reading this blog are teachers... duh... 
  • IKEA lamp - $12.99: A - this lamp emits more light than you think; B - this lamp has a reading lamp attached; C - it's twelve bucks. SOLD!
  • Spotify subscription - $9.99 a month ($14.99 a month for 6 accounts): I may have been an unsavory music downloader once Napster was created. Since paying for Spotify, I haven't downloaded a single song. It's incredible - I just want access to all of the music. And Spotify has almost every song you've ever wanted to listen to!

Getting to the gym

  • Fitbit Versa - $149 (not sure how long this price will last): Fitbit put the Versa on sale for Black Friday. My Charge 2 was cracked and wasn't very good at keeping my heart rate during an intense workout. I bit the bullet and upgraded to the Versa. I am SO glad that I did! It's waterproof so I can track my swims. I also trialed it with a spin session, and it kept my heart rate the entire time. Because it has a larger watch face, it can show me all sorts of notifications. I can be updated with breaking news, and sports score alerts!
  • Zella leggings - price varies: People rave about Lululemon, but I'm too cheap for that. I'm obsessed with Zella instead. Their leggings are just thick enough for great coverage and fit, but aren't too thick for significant sweaters like me! They're so flattering on any body type, and no matter how much my weight yo-yos, I've worn the same pair for 5-6 years. They last after repeated washings! 
  • Yoga towel - $38-$58: These hot yoga mat towels are not cheap, but they're so good! They have some beautiful designs, and on the backside of the towel, they have little grippy buttons. When you are super sweaty, and you lay down for locust pose, you will be glad you have that towel!
  • Camelbak water bottle - $10: There are cheaper water bottles out there, but I'm partial to the "podium" series by Camelbak because they are easy to drink out of while on the bike, but they also don't leak (after repeated dishwasher washings)!
  • Clif bars - price varies by store: These bars are filling and relatively cheap. The flavor is also good, and though they aren't gluten-free, they are okay with my gluten intolerance. 

To pamper yourself

  • Mighty Patch blemish patches - $2.50 for 6: I don't get much acne, but when I do, it comes in like a hurricane! Put one of these patches on your zit for six hours and it sucks all the white stuff out of the zit. They're pretty amazing. I will wear one overnight, but other people swear you can wear one under makeup. They work either way!
  • Dr. Jart Cicapair Cream - $40: Though this cream isn't cheap, it's been a GAME CHANGER for my face! I have a lot of redness when I don't wear makeup. My face is super dry and is easily irritated. I also blush very easily (or get red face when I'm warm, workout, or drink). I don't like putting a lot of products on my face. BB cream works relatively well (especially when paired with a redness-reducing primer), but sometimes I need something quick in the morning. A little bit of this cream goes a long way. I received a .5 oz sample in a Birchbox. I've used it almost every day for two weeks and probably have another 5-10 days left in the container. It is thick, but spreads easy. It covers all acne and definitely evens out my skin tone. It looks like I'm wearing concealer and it reduces all redness. It's absolutely amazing!
  • Blistex Medicated lip balm - price varies by store: I love Burt's Bees, but I've recently found this lip balm. It works well with my dry lips, but also adds a little tingle (I'm guessing due to the medicated piece?). It also has 15 spf sunscreen in it, so it's great for track season when I'm outside all afternoon.
  • GlamGlow Thirstymud - $25-$80: A little bit of this hydrating mask goes a long way as well. It doesn't look like a traditional face mask, so I use this product more like an overnight moisturizer. I think it smells fabulous and it makes my face really soft. When I've completed a hot yoga session, my face is sunburnt, or my face is just super dry, this is my go-to product.
  • Gold Bond Radiance Renewal - price varies by store: I got a sample of this in a beauty box, so I tried it on my new (at the time) tattoo. It was perfect for the dry, irritated skin! I bought a bottle and now won't look back. It's really good, thick lotion. I use it every day on my dry hands, and if the rest of my skin is looking a little rough, this lotion smooths it out. It's that good.
  • SinfulColors Nail polish - price varies by store: This is cheap nail polish that I stand by. They have crazy cute colors and the price is solid. Pick up a bottle for your next girls night in!

"Hitting the hay"

  • Vanilla Sleepytime Tea - price varies by store: I love Celestial Seasonings tea, but I am partial to their sleepytime tea. Drinking a mug makes me cozy and dozy! I recently tried this vanilla flavor and I'm obsessed. It's SO good.
  • Nature's Truth Sleep Spray - $6.99: A few sprays of this on my pillow and I'm ready to pass out. It smells like frankincense and lavender. I love it!
  • Foam mattress topper - $25 for queen size: This mattress topper is cheap, but it works! We have a decent mattress, but this topper makes it that much softer. I want to curl up and stay in bed all day!
  • Fuzzy blanket - $40: When eight of my college girlfriends came to visit, I went out and bought some new blankets for the house. Now that they're gone, I put this blanket on our bed. It's cute and cozy, and the cats goes crazy for it. It's perfect for snuggling and it's soft on the face when you're tucked under the covers.

And with that, I hope you find something great for yourself on this list! Thanks for reading... I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel

Saturday, December 1, 2018

My Relaxing 5

Good morning, colleagues! I am part of a teacher blogging group, and one teacher, Mari, encouraged us to blog about our "relaxing 5." This stemmed from Brian's post about "Putting Yourself First." As teachers that have stressful jobs, we need to find ways to relax and take care of ourselves. I always likened this to airplane rules - put the oxygen mask on yourself before your child. You can't be a good teacher and take care of students unless you care of yourself. This blog post is all about the five things that I do to relax after a long day (or week) of teaching.

Read a book. I've blogged before about my love for reading. I'm currently reading book #51 for the year. Reading is often how I wind down before bedtime. I make time to read each night from 8 - 8:30. I change into my PJs, spray my pillow with sleepy spray, and tuck myself in under the blankets. If I'm lucky, one of my cats will join me on the bed. Once I've read for a half hour, I'm usually sleepy and ready to go to bed. It's also a way for me to let go of my day and "escape" into another world for a while.

Meet with friends and grab a drink. I have fabulous friends here in the Springs, but because most of us are stressed-out teachers, we don't meet up as often as we should. Sadly, last week, one of our friends passed away (she was also a former colleague and my mentor during my first year at Skyview). The week of Thanksgiving was rough, to say the least. We've all discussed how we really, really need to get together more often, whether it's for a game night, a movie night, happy hour, dinner, or coffee. No excuses - these ladies are my people, and I want to enjoy every moment that we can together.

Take some photos. I am an amateur photographer. Recently I've been taking pictures of my travels (Steamboat Springs, Iowa, New York, Belize, Guatemala), but I know that I need to get out more often and take local images. I've recently been lucky in that someone posted on Reddit about a cool bridge in town. I went out to take pictures of the bridge, and it was super snowy (instead of pretty fall leaves). It was also foggy, so I drove to Garden of the Gods to see what it looked like. It ended up being a lucky opportunity because the conditions were stunning. BUT I made the time to drive around and take pictures. I NEED TO DO THAT MORE OFTEN!

Attend a hot yoga session. Literally, all I can think about is how hot I am. I cannot think about my day, about tomorrow, or about anyone else in the room. I'm purely focused on not dying. Then, once done with the session, I feel detoxed and relaxed. I also feel like I can conquer the world!

Listen to music. This sounds pretty normal... but I'm kind of a weirdo when it comes to music. Do you make a ridiculous amount of playlists for specific feelings? Probably not. But I do. Sometimes I can calm down and relax when I recognize my emotions and then build a playlist with songs that will change that mood. Need a good cry? Boom. Relishing your summer? Enjoy. Unwinding on the back deck? Cheers. Happy about something? Dance it out.

These are #myrelaxing5. What are yours? I'd love to hear them in the comments because I'm always on the lookout for #myrelaxing10 or #myrelaxing20.

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

- Rachel

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The day before a break

Good morning colleagues! I hope you are all feeling rested, especially since many of you (myself included) have this whole next week off from school!

Yesterday I was thinking about how it was the Friday before a break. My broadcast students always watch the broadcast on Fridays so that a) they actually view their work and compare/contrast it to other students' work and b) they look critically at all segments and provide feedback. The broadcasts range between 10-25 minutes and this week timed at around 15 minutes. I knew that between watching the show and filling out the feedback form that the students would have about 15 more minutes of class. What could I have the students do during that time?

Isn't that a common problem... what to do the day before a break?
I was lucky... Thursday afternoon I was digging through folders on Google Drive and stumbled across something I did with students last year: brainstorming ideas for future broadcasting segments. I knew that my current students are equally as creative, so I gave my students time to brainstorm in small groups and come up with ideas for the broadcast. They came up with some great ideas including new and exciting segments for the "Christmas broadcast."

Here are some other ideas for what to do the day before a break:
  • Peer feedback. When I taught Social Studies, I was obsessed with DBQs. I would make the due date the day before a break so that I could grade their essays over break. The day before time off was perfect for the students to use a peer review day before turning in their compositions. 
  • Educational game. I didn't particularly enjoy assigning a test the day before a break, but I never minded reviewing. Playing Scattegories or Taboo where the topic deals with what students recently learned (whether that week, unit, or semester) get them thinking about and discussing content information. At the same time, students are being competitive and (hopefully) having fun. 
  • Blogging. Have students blog about what they will do over their time off. You could have students make a short video using Adobe Spark Video or post on Flipgrid. Get kids talking about their lives then have students talk to each other. Use the last day, when kids are often in an excellent mood, to build up your classroom community.
  • Video writing prompts. Ask students a very open-ended prompt and have them answer using a video application. Adobe Spark Video works well with Chromebooks and Explain Everything works well with iPads. Students can be as creative as they want. Post student work on your blog, website, or YouTube. Offer extra credit over the break to students that watch and comment on others' videos.
  • Sketchnote. Use the day before a break to teach students how to sketchnote. If you've already shown your students the basics, give them an open-ended prompt (or a topic like "Christmas") and have students design a sketchnote about the idea. 
  • Podcasts. If you have a couple of days, have students write a creative story. You can make it about your content or about the holiday that students might celebrate. Students can then use Garageband (an example) to record their podcasts. If you want to take it up a notch, have students design their story like an "old-timey" radio show. 
  • Goosechase/scavenger hunt. Get students up out of their seats and out of the classroom. Send them on a scavenger hunt where the clues are content (or holiday) based. 
  • Reflection. Use the day before a break to have the students update their digital (or non-digital) portfolios. Give students time to study and think about their work, then post a reflection about what they've learned/how they feel about their work. 
These are just some ideas that I've done, seen, or heard about. Please don't just show a movie before a break... think outside the box and get your kids to be creative! 

Have a happy Thanksgiving! I'll be back on December 1st!

- Rachel

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Canva comes through again!

Hello, colleagues! I was thinking this week about the secondary part of my job, being the technology specialist for the building. I love being able to provide answers and training, but I hate that people aren't coming to me for answers or training. It's usually just answering emergency questions, which is fine but doesn't utilize my time very well.

So I decided that, on top of creating the tech tips newsletter once a month, that I would also start sending "digital extensions" of the newsletter through e-mail. I decided to do this after a conversation with another teacher. She stopped me in the hallway and asked how many e-mails I currently had in my inbox. I told her that I have five e-mails in my inbox. She let it slip that she had 14,000 and she needed some solutions to clean up the inbox. She wanted to know what I did to get to such a low number.
  • I snooze e-mails that I need, but not in that exact moment, to return to the inbox at a later time. I use snoozing as a reminder technique as I remember to reply to an e-mail or remember a field trip when I need to remember.
  • I use filters to automatically delete e-mails that I don't need. I don't need to read e-mails to the whole staff with weekly newsletters (because it doesn't affect my classroom) nor do I need to know who's going to Saturday School (because my students don't have missing assignments to make up). Those e-mails go immediately to my trash and don't clutter my inbox.
  • I use labels to automatically mark e-mails I need to read. All admin have a bright red tag next to their name, so I know I need to read those e-mails immediately. Labels also help with archiving e-mails because I know not to delete them, but "save" them in an "external" folder until I do need them. 
What I did for this teacher was use Screencastify to make a screencast explaining how to do all of these things in Gmail. As I was creating the screencast, I knew how handy it would be for the entire staff, but I also know my team enough to know they wouldn't watch a 10-minute video with helpful explanations.

So I used my old go-to, Canva, to create a handout that would work for teachers in a time crunch.
New Gmail by Rachel Jeffrey

I didn't think that the infographic did quite enough in telling teachers HOW to follow through on these ideas, so I made quick 5-45 second no-audio screencasts that shows the viewer what to do.

I hope it helps! I believe in decluttering your life and cleaning/organizing your email inbox is one way to do that (primarily as a teacher)! 

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

- Rachel

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Finding a love of reading

Hello, colleagues! I recently digitally subscribed to the New York Times (they were running a promotion for $1 a week). I've been reading the news quite a bit in the last four or so years, so it only made sense to pay for a digital subscription for not only news, but opinion articles, recipes, and even a mini daily crossword.

I was reading last week when I came across an opinion article called "Why Are We Still Teaching Reading the Wrong Way?" As a teacher, I knew I had to read it. The article talks about how teaching phonics is the best way to teach students how to read, and because it's so intensive, most teachers ignore the best approach. Of course, there was a response article today in which readers wrote about how they learned to read with some responses supporting the original opinion article, and other responses refuting it.

Reading the original and response articles made me think about my own love of reading. I enjoy reading as much as almost anything. I don't remember learning to read, but my mother says that I picked up reading before I went to school. I know that she was a stay-at-home mom that read with me. I know we didn't have cable until first or second grade, so I the tv I watched was mostly PBS educational kid shows (Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, Reading Rainbow). Other than watching tv and playing outside, I remember reading... a lot! I grew up in a small town of 600 people with not a lot to do. My godmother (really my grandmother) was the librarian of our small town library that was two blocks from my house. I spent all of my free time there reading. I was reading well above my age since I eventually ran out of books to read that were "appropriate" for my age (e.g. reading John Grisham at age 12).  I fell in love with books at an early age, so I still love reading.

That is not, however, the case for most of our students. Why is that the case? I believe that part of it is due to students not knowing how to read, some of it is students not being able to read what they want, partly due to students being busy all of the time, and of course due to students being distracted by other things in their lives (e.g. social media, their cell phone, etc.).

So how can we get kids to enjoy reading again?

  • Create a bedtime routine where you read every night. This is one of the biggest changes I made in my life within the last few years. I made the conscious decision to go to bed an hour before I wanted to fall asleep so that I could devote 30-45 minutes of time to reading. By reading this much each night, I read approximately one book a week. That is why, on my Goodreads reading challenge, I've challenged myself to read 52 books in a year. I've already read 48 books this year. 
  • Let kids read what they want to read. I read what I want. I enjoy reading trashy beach novels and suspenseful thrillers. I don't always enjoy reading about history... I need a break from what I teach! My husband doesn't enjoy reading very much, but when his monthly Wired magazine arrives, he reads it cover to cover... sometimes more than once. I feel that should be the same for students. They should be able to read magazines, or story books, or a John Grisham novel that is well beyond their age. 
  • Be a good example and read yourself in front of them. Part of the reason why I read so much as a child is because my parents read quite a bit when I was young. My dad would often sit in "his chair" and read at night. My mom would lay on the couch and read during the day. When my parents read, the TV was off. There was nothing else for me to do but read alongside them. 
  • Limit technology. It was different when I was a child than what it is like for my students today, but as I said in the previous paragraph, the TV was off when my parents were reading. Now, if I read, I will turn off the TV and will silence my cell phone. Before bedtime, I will read and then post on Instagram right before falling asleep. It's become a habit over the past year. 
  • Swap music for an audiobook. Install Audible on your child's phone so they can "read" while on the bus, or, if you drive them to school, turn on an audiobook instead of the radio. I'm not the biggest fan of audiobooks because I get distracted, but my husband loves podcasts and audiobooks much more than reading.
  • Help bring books to life. I've always tried to read the book before watching the movie because a) I love spoilers and knowing what happens and b) I want to see how it comes alive. My sister and I recently saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway. I hadn't read the screenplay yet, so I read it on the plane. I was so disappointed when I read it and was worried that seeing the play live wouldn't live up to my expectations. Boy was I WRONG. It was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. Now I want to reread the screenplay AND go see the show again! 
  • Stash books all over. Growing up, we had a huge bookshelf in the hallway that had a lot of books on it. Now, on my Kindle, I try to find free books to download (currently have 21 classics and 33 random books). It's all about having options and variety. That keeps me interested in my current novel because I want to finish it and start a new one!
  • Conquer the log. This probably looks a little different for students, but I love logging my books on Goodreads. Because Goodreads is "Facebook for readers," I can see what my friends are reading. This has helped me find so many interesting books that I never would have found otherwise. Goodreads also recommends books based on what I've read, so the more I read, the better the recommendations!
I hope, through this list, that your students (or you, or your kids) will start to enjoy reading more. I want everyone to have the same love for reading that I do! 

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

- Rachel

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Google Expeditions

Good morning colleagues! I'm back after a luxurious two weeks off from school and ready to talk about a training session I ran this past Thursday with the staff.

I'm assuming that most people reading this blog have heard of Google Expeditions. If not, Expeditions is an application that allows students to travel the world using virtual reality. As the teacher, you can guide your students through these tour with pre-made, scripted text that helps you talk to the students about what they are seeing. In your classroom, you have six options for running Expeditions.

I will admit when I was asked to present to the teachers that I was nervous. Technology doesn't always go over well in my building, and I wanted to ensure that what I demonstrated was relevant and engaging for the staff. Initially I was going to present one application while providing teachers with an opportunity to learn about a different app if they so choose. But while I was designing the training, I realized how perfect Google Expeditions was for the staff. Basically, every content can be covered through the variety and quantity of expeditions available.

I've been obsessed with organizing information into hyperdocs recently, so I put together a hyperdoc for the teacher to access the materials. I also divided the hyperdoc into a beginner, intermediate, and advanced level (so that everyone was covered during the training).

I started off the training by having the teachers actually USE Google Expeditions. I received a grant from EdCamp last year and use the money to purchase Google Cardboards and inexpensive phones. I had the Cardboards and phones out, ready to use when the teachers walked into the library. I used the ultimate teacher tool - the hook. Yesterday I took the teachers to American Samoa, Mars, Hong Kong, and Machu Picchu. It worked "hook," line, and sinker. The teachers immediately responded positively because they, as adults, thought virtual really was SO COOL.

I briefly walked them through the hyperdoc: what Google Expeditions is, the six ways to access Expeditions in their classroom, and the available Expeditions. I then answered questions that they had, then gave them 20 minutes to play. The teachers were all over the app (whether by playing on Cardboard again or on their iPads searching the variety of Expeditions).

I knew that the training was a success when one very excited, but tech-resistant teacher checked out the Cardboards and cell phones to use in her class next week. I was STOKED! My former mentee also chatted with me about integrating the Gettysburg Expedition in his class by checking out the iPad card from the library and how excited he was for the students to "see" Picket's Charge.

If you haven't checked out Expeditions or how to use Expeditions in your class, please do. It's amazing what 15 minutes of virtual reality can do to change the environment of your classroom.

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Sunday, October 7, 2018

What inspires me?

Good morning colleagues! I am back for one last blog before our two weeks of fall break (thank goodness - we're all exhausted). Well... once again, I was not selected as a Google Innovator. Was I surprised? No, not really. But it still feels like a low blow.
So to change my mindset, especially considering #oneword2018, I have to look forward and remind myself... why do I teach? Why am I still doing this after 13 years?

A quick side note, this is my tenth year teaching middle school. Whenever people ask what I do, and I say that I'm a middle school teacher, I either get a crazy look or a sympathetic look. I've never gotten anything else. And even though this job is sometimes insane, I don't need the wild look or sympathetic look because I enjoy my occupation. I still want to come into the building day after that. I do this because I believe that my job is integral.

I believe that education has a purpose in society, that our job is to educate future generations to be well-rounded, productive citizens. I think that my role as a teacher is to facilitate students learning. My goal every year is to make my students better people. I do that by providing students with a voice and a choice as often as possible. I want students to take ownership of their learning, and for that to happen, students have to "buy in" to what they are doing in the classroom.

What keeps me going? What makes me come back to my classroom every day? My students, plain and simple. I love seeing them grow and mature. As a broadcasting teacher, I now have students from 7th to 8th grade. It's incredible to see how much they change from August of the 7th grade year to May of their 8th grade year. The students start to look at the world differently and begin to understand their place and who they are.

What inspires me day after day?
  • Conversations: On Wednesdays, I meet with a small group of teachers. We consider ourselves "coaches," but in different ways (interventionists, technology, English language, and our actual instructional coach). We discuss best practices and proven instructional strategies. We talk about how to move our colleagues and how to implement change. I also have great conversations one-on-one, randomly, in my classroom or a coffee shop. I love to talk about education and learning. It leaves me with my thoughts about how to implement change and growth mindset in my classroom. 
  • Learning: I enjoyed school as a kid, so it's no surprise that I'm someone who loves to learn. I learn while reading Twitter, reading books, having conversations, or through taking classes. We have professional development through the district that has provided me with great ideas, but I've also done online mini-courses that have given me great ideas. It keeps my classroom "fresh" and different each day and every year. 
  • Creating: I love learning and conversations that lead me to design unique curriculum. I do enjoy creating curriculum - thinking about what I want my students to know, which standards I'm covering, and how my students will use their learning in the future. I want to continually adapt and change my curriculum to meet my students' needs. Students will keep evolving... how can I keep up with them? How can I ensure that they become well-rounded citizens? 
  • Taking risks: Using new technology and ideas in the classroom leads to failure. It is a risk. But the more you do something, the better you get. If you try once and fail, do you give up? Maybe I'm just stubborn, and that's why I continue to take risks as a teacher. I know that I need to meet my students' needs and that's not going to happen if you don't try something new. 
As you "fall into fall" (the days get shorter, and we get closer to winter break) try to remember WHY you teach. What happens when you "fall"... how do you get back up and keep going?

Thanks for reading. I'll see you back here on October 27th!

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Reimagining Education

Hello, colleagues! Happy weekend!

Last Friday I was perusing Twitter, as I am wont to do, and I stumbled across an article from Singularity Hub. I had never heard of Singularity Hub before, so I went to their about page to learn more who they are. They wrote Since 2008, Singularity Hub has offered daily news coverage, feature articles, analysis, and insights on key breakthroughs and future trends in exponential technologies as well as highlighting how they’re being leveraged for social impact and utilized to tackle the world’s grand challenges. So... seems like something that's right up my alley! The article itself was focused on reimagining education in the exponential age. SH interviewed Rohan Roberts, the author of the book Cosmic Citizens and Moonshot Thinking: Education in an Age of Exponential Technologies.

Some highlights from the interview:
  • Classifying the skills that machines should bring to the table and what humans should contribute to the partnership is key.
  • Any curriculum worth its salt would focus not on content but on developing critical survival skills, such as leading by influence, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurship, effective communication, analyzing information, and curiosity and imagination.
  • We’d need to focus on future fluencies that are based on problem solving, creativity, digital citizenship, media, and collaboration across networks.
  • The days of the teacher as subject expert and fount of information are numbered. In addition to being cross-curricular specialists, teachers will need to be guides, counselors, mentors, and facilitators.
  • If we acknowledge that human destiny is to become a multi-planetary species and that our future lies in the stars, then we’ve got to start training our students to have discussions about who we are, where we are headed, and what we want to be. 
I found the article interested as it entwined my philosophy of education with some futuristic science! It also got me thinking... what skills did I learn in school that I still use today? My answer is very little. I grew up while education was still very much listen, memorize, regurgitate, forget. There are bits and pieces that I still remember from school, but nothing of real value that I still use today. So what skills are we teaching students that they are going to use when they're 34? I'm hoping that the answer includes some of the bullet points above.

In my classroom, students:

  • Choose different "occupations" each week: producer, director of photography, audio engineer, on-air talent, or editor. Students know what they need to do in these roles. This allows each student to lead, but also to follow. They have to communicate and collaborate together to ensure that a broadcast is developed every week. 
  • Are all pre-production writers in that they have to plan and write the script and design the corresponding camera shots. Students must be creative to engage their viewers, but they must also critically think about how their video will appear to others.
  • Are sometimes absent, so a group must be capable and take initiative when that other student is missing. They know they have to "pick up the slack" because they have an upcoming deadline that doesn't budge.
  • Learn about local and world news. My advanced broadcasting students are designing two stories for the broadcast - the first is about a local narrative and the second is a feature outside of the United States. Students will have to research, check sources, analyze information, and conduct interviews. They have to be flexible especially when preparing to do a phone interview with a complete stranger. I am hoping by exposing them to local and world news that they will think about who they are as a student, a member of the community, and a US and global citizen. 
  • Design a social commentary video. Students will pick a social topic important to them, provide commentary and information on the subject, and suggest solutions to solve these social issues. 
I've realized in my (short) time in education that I am no longer the only person/thing that knows anything or everything about a topic. Students today have access to the internet, their classmates, and their own brain. I don't know "everything" anymore, so I knew that it was time for me to take a step back and have students take ownership of their own learning. My job, as a classroom facilitator, is to provide structure and a safe environment while also providing students with resources that will help guide their knowledge.

My last thought on all of this is something that happened to me last weekend. My husband has been craving eggs benedict. I'm by no means a top chef, but I like to cook and work in the kitchen. So I went online, searched how to poach an egg, found a website tutorial from Alton Brown (who I know is a renowned chef), and learned how to poach an egg. I Snapchatted how everything went, and on my first go, I had one formed egg and one runny egg. Did it still taste delicious? Of course. And the next day, I tried it again, and I successfully poached two eggs for my avocado toast (#millennial). I realized that I learned how to do something new, with a facilitator, I tried and failed, but then I tried again. 

So think about this... what are you still learning today? What do you want your students to learn as well? How can you reimagine education? Thanks for reading :) I'll see you next week!

- Rachel

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Google Sites updates

Good morning colleagues! Let me ask you a question... how do you find out about updates to your favorite websites and applications? For me, I learn about it through Twitter. One would think that's the quickest way to find something new, but with the new Twitter algorithm, you don't always see updates in real time. Plus, I follow 200 some people (and now view their likes in the timeline) so Twitter gets to be pretty messy. I know that I should also follow the Google Blog(s), but I don't check my RSS feeds in Feedly as often as I should...


Did you know there were changes to Google Sites?! If your answer is "yes," then good. You're in the know. If your answer is "no," outstanding. You're right there with me :)

I figured out there were changes to Google Sites when I went to update my digital portfolio. I update the "What I'm Reading" page quite often, but never noticed the big, new, honking icons on the editing side.

So, of course, I get curious and actually read through the G Suite blog. Phew... layouts have only been available since August 14th. Wait... it's September 22nd. It's been a MONTH?!

So I did what any "normal" teacher would do... I wanted to see how these layouts work. And let me tell you, these new layouts make your Google Site look AWESOME!

I tried to make my Site look as professional as possible before the layouts, but I thought it was pretty challenging. I liked that I could hide a page from navigation (i.e., it would not appear in the list of sites on the top navigation bar), but the only way to link to all of the subpages was through a list. It didn't look bad, but it didn't seem professional. With the new layouts, I was able to update my Tech Training page with images (using the built-in Google Search for commercial reuse images) and descriptions of what the viewer will find on the page. The pictures are professional, high-quality, and relevant! I also updated my professional presentations page by keeping the same "list" layout by adding an image and description for each page but changing it so the picture and text switch alignment on each row. Finally, I updated my Broadcasting student work page by adding buttons for our Instagram page and Youtube channel instead of having them as links on separate rows.

Even though I'm stoked about my own professional page, I think I'm more excited about how these layouts can be used with students! I know that Skyview is slowly moving towards accepting digital portfolios, so this isn't something that I would introduce yet. I do believe, however, that the 8th graders should be using these layouts to their benefit. We'll see... another goal for the future. 

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

- Rachel

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Google Innovator Round 2

Happy weekend, colleagues!

I blogged a year and a half ago about doing something scary and outside the box for me: I applied to become a Google Innovator. And I was rejected. I'm not going to lie, it was a blow to my ego. And it took me a year and a half to be ready to try it again. I mean, I basically had to slap myself in the face and say, "GET IT TOGETHER!"

So I did it again. I applied to be a Google Innovator.

I will say that I feel less confident this time than last because the questions they asked were very open-ended. To be honest, I don't feel like the questions were written in such a way that the people reading my application will know much about me. But it is what it is, right? I'm definitely prepared to not be accepted this time.

So what is the committee looking for? I think they want passionate, driven, and hard-working teachers, but it seems like they also want teachers that are outside the box, creative, open to change, and forward-thinking. I know that I fit that mold, but so do a lot of other teachers! Am I more innovative than other teachers? Yes, but there are plenty of other teachers that are more innovative than me. I just hope that my passion shines through!

My submission responses
Question 1. If your life had a theme song, what would it be? Up to 5 words, 50 characters
“Don’t Stop Believing”

Question 2. Explain (1) how you came up with an idea for change, (2) how you went about implementing the change, (3) how others responded to the change, and (4) how you measured outcomes. In looking back, what things would you do differently? Maximum of 500 characters.
1. I was inspired by my PLN to start a tech tips newsletter. 2. I didn’t ask for permission; I made the newsletter and posted it in the staff bathrooms. 3. My colleagues are resistant, so it hasn’t made a recognizable shift YET, but innovation is happening in small pockets. 4. I’m measuring success through teachers moving away from “sage on the stage” teaching to providing choice and voice. I wouldn't do anything different. I’m taking measured steps to move the staff towards innovation.

Question 3. Give 10 examples of things you would put in a box to give teachers around the world to transform education.
1. An iPad
2. A Chromebook
3. Green fabric (for a green screen)
4. Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess
5. A Twitter account
6. A ticket to an EdCamp event
7. Motivational quotations
8. A blog
9. Pictures of non-traditional classrooms
10. A list of metacognition educational questions 

Question 4. Advocate: Link to a piece of content you've created that you think has inspired other educators. Show us a blog, a YouTube or webinar 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!  

Question 5. Grow:  If you could choose any new talent to have, what would it be and why? Maximum of 500 characters. 
If I could choose a new talent, I would be more spontaneous. I can be spontaneous in my classroom, but most of the time, I am very deliberate and calculated. I am observant and well aware of my surroundings, but I feel like it would be nice not to worry so much. And when one is spontaneous, possibilities are endless. They don’t let anything pass them by, and they choose to live for each day. No moments pass them by, and they live surrounded by beauty and inspiration. It an exciting aspiration! 

Question 6. Brief description of a challenge that you’re facing. We are looking for big thinkers who are inspired and undaunted in tackling the most difficult challenges in education. Describe a challenge you’re currently facing and why it matters. Focus on the challenge and avoid posing any solutions at this point.  [Maximum of 250 characters]
An issue I've encountered is students’ lack of awareness of local, US, and world news. Students do not watch or read the news on a neutral platform, but instead, hear about news through hyperfocused social media (if that).  

Question 7. Focus on Your User: Who is affected by your challenge and how would addressing this challenge improve their experiences? [Maximum of 250 characters]
Students, teachers, and the greater community are affected by this problem. Addressing this issue improves student awareness of the local and global community. Students then discuss with their families to improve their awareness as well. 

Question 8. We are looking to have innovators who are tackling a variety of challenges across all seven elements of our transformation framework. Which element does your challenge most resonate with? Vision, Culture, Technology, Funding and sustainability, Community Engagement, Learning, or Professional Development.

Question 9. Innovation Video: You have 90 seconds to creatively explain a difficult challenge in education, why it matters, who it affects, and why you are well-positioned to tackle the challenge in an impactful way. Please post a public YouTube link. This is also an opportunity to let your passion and personality shine. Don't forget to change the share settings so we can view your video.

Crossing my fingers! I'll see you next week! 

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Going all in on hyperdocs!

Hello, colleagues! I've been working quite hard this year on streamlining my curriculum through the use of hyperdocs. It is by no means perfected, and I still have more work to do throughout the years, but I feel like what I've created is a great start and can help you in your classroom!

So first off... what is a hyperdoc? Hyperdocs were created by three women in the Bay area: Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton, and Sarah Landis. They wanted to provide their students with a way to be curious and explore problems instead of just consuming information. A hyperdoc often looks like a Google Doc with a whole bunch of links, but it is actually so much more! The point of the document is to have students engage, explore, explain, apply, share, reflect, and extend their learning. Basically, the document covers all of Bloom's Taxonomy or the four depth of knowledge (DOK) levels.

What am I doing with hyperdocs this year? As I said previously, I wanted to streamline my curriculum, clean up my broadcasting I and II curriculum, and also design curriculum for a new class: advanced broadcasting. I use backwards design (Understanding By Design) to plan out my units. I start with the end goal in mind, then plan out all of the steps necessary to get to the end goal. I wanted everything for the unit to be in one location and include all of the objectives that I am using with my students. A unit hyperdoc will look something like this:

How are the Hyperdocs working? I think they're going pretty well! Students are responding well to the documents (not that they know any different), and they are well aware that everything is in one location. Funny enough, they've enjoyed the different colors that I've made them in - I heard a student say, "What color is the document this time?!"

My goal for the year was to have every unit in a hyperdoc (BOY curriculum for broadcasting I and II and all units for advanced broadcasting). I would like to build hyperdocs for each week of broadcasting, but that's a work in progress that may not be accomplished by the end of the year. They're not a priority because I have to make new hyperdocs every week, every semester, every year. I just have to change the links, which is time-consuming, but is also not a priority... not yet.

I also know that my hyperdocs are incredibly basic. They are interactive, but they aren't as engaging as I would like. I need to add images, and I also need to add some extra pieces to make my hyperdocs more:

  • Exploratory: students aren't exploring a topic as thoroughly as I'd like. This probably should be done through screencasts, Youtube videos, and readings. 
  • Reflection: I have the students fill out a feedback form after watching the broadcast each week, but each of the units also needs to have a part where my students think about their learning. I could do this through Padlet, but I want it to have more meaning instead of just being "another step" in the process.
  • Extended learning: I'm not entirely sure what to do here, at least for a broadcasting hyperdoc. Part of the issue is that my classes are only 45 minutes, and we're definitely set to deadlines. It's almost like we don't have time for this piece. Instead, the high schools should take on this piece (or my advanced broadcasting class should). I need to think through THIS step. 
  • Critical thinking and problem solving: these two pieces are built into my classes already, but I don't necessarily feel like they are built into the hyperdocs. Once again, I am still thinking through this step... potentially for next year!
So what is the next step beyond just broadcasting? I've been asked to run two teacher "Tech Thursdays" in which I provide training for the staff. I sent out a Google Form to find out what teachers would like training on. I then took the responses and started designing training hyperdocs. They are currently WOEFULLY incomplete, but I'm not presenting until October 25th, so I have time to complete them and make them interactive!

I do wish that I learned about hyperdocs while I was still teaching Social Studies. I definitely would have designed similar hyperdocs to what I am doing right now. I think it would have provided sufficient context for my students when it came to learning about a) historical information and b) how everything "fit" together.

Thanks for reading! I hope this week's blog gave you a little inspiration to check out hyperdocs and potentially use them in your own classroom! I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Goals for iObservation

Good morning, colleagues! The school year is in full swing with a three-day Labor Day holiday! Can't believe that I've had four weeks of four-day work-weeks in a row! (A tiny bit ridiculous, right?!) Now that the school year has really started, it's time to set goals for the school year and for our growth plan.

Our district uses iObservation, which is a professional growth website designed by Learning Sciences International. LSI is partnered with Marzano evaluation tools which is what our district uses. I just completed my growth plan for the year with two goals.

1. My focused element is #2: tracking student progress. I'm pretty sure that this was a goal I used in the past, but I did a pretty terrible job with it as a teacher (and saw little growth with my students). Now that I'm in my second year as a broadcasting teacher, I really want to see improvement from my students to have strong broadcasts throughout the year. My plan for tracking student progress through formative assessments is as follows:
  • The first broadcast is set for September 14th. On the 14th, after watching the broadcast (and potentially throughout the following week), I will conference with students individually. I will show them their first scale grade, discuss their baseline knowledge of broadcasting, and have them set a specific broadcasting goal (one goal for improvement and a discussion about their strength to be in). I will post these goals/strengths as post-its on my classroom cabinet where they can see them at any time (necessary for the third bullet point below!)
  • I will check in with students three times through the remaining semester: October 4th, November 9th, and December 14th. I will be charting students’ scaled grades on individual progress reports and on a whole class report. When I conference with students on those days, we will discuss their progress on their goal and strength, and we will discuss their progress compared to their colleagues’ progress. 
  • We watch the broadcast every Friday, so I will add a question to the feedback form where they reflect on their progress towards their goal and strength based on that week’s video. 
  • At the end of the semester, students will post on their digital portfolios with their best and their favorite segments from the semester. They will also publish their individual progress report and reflect on their goal and the strength for the semester. 
Is this a lofty goal? Maybe. But I think it could make for real progress with my students in my class. 

2. My personal goal is to work on building my advanced broadcasting curriculum this year (as it is brand new and I'm making it up as I go). I'm turning my curriculum into interactive hyperdocs so that the curriculum is available to them as we go through the units. It will take me all year to build the hyperdocs, so I'm hoping to have the hyperdocs all completed by the first day of the last unit of the year, April 8. Example of these hyperdocs:

The lovely thing about our growth plan this year, different from previous years, is that we are reading The New Art and Science of Teaching book together in our large team meetings. It gives real purpose to our meetings (instead of meeting just to meet) and gets us thinking and talking about the Marzano elements. I'm also glad that we are only focused on one target instead of three (in previous years). I really feel like I can use my growth plan, for the first time in thirteen years, to actually see growth in my class instead of checking something off the list. 

As your school year gets into full swing, think about what your goals are for the year. Are they personal? Are they professional? And also think about the purpose of your goals - are they for you, for your students, or for the "higher-ups"?

Enjoy your three day weekend! Thanks for reading! I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Who are you?

Hello, colleagues!

I was chatting with a friend, confidant, and close colleague earlier this week, and we were having a conversation about education and burn-out. It definitely tied into what I blogged about last week! We were discussing that teaching is what we do, but is not the only part of who we are. We were both stressed out and sharing our frustrations. I mentioned how I missed two days of school because I was in New York City! Context: my sister and I are ridiculous Harry Potter NERDS, and she got two tickets to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I told her that whenever she got tickets, I would fly in and be there. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Was I supposed to say no because the school year already started? Yes, I am a teacher, but I am also a nerd and a traveler. I want to see beautiful things in the world. I wasn't sad that I missed school for a fantastic opportunity - I was stressed because I had a lot to make up because I was gone.

If we let teaching take up every piece of our humanness, then we cannot escape when education goes south, when we have a bad day or week or month... I finally figured this out like three or four years ago. Someone told me that if I died tomorrow, there would be another person to replace me.

I would implore you, as part of your self-care routine, to figure out who you are and who you want to be. Being an educator cannot be the only person that you are.

I am a wife. I have a husband who is also a teacher. We have to make time for each other because we're both teachers and education can take up a massive chunk of our time if we let it. We have hobbies together, and we have hobbies that don't match. He is my confidant, he is my person. Without him, I would lead a lonely life.

I am a daughter, sister, and aunt. My family means more to me than almost anything else. If they need me, I should be able to drop everything and get to them.

I am a friend. My friends are my Colorado family. They are the people that make me laugh and get my introverted self out of the house for a drink or a movie.

I am a photographer. I see the world slightly different than the average person. I know how to capture the beauty around me and share it with the masses. I am in my happy place, by myself, with a camera in hand.

I am an out-of-shape athlete. Sometimes I need to spend an hour in nature. Sometimes I need to spend an hour in a hot yoga room. Sometimes I need to spend an hour in the pool. In each of these cases, I tune out everything else around me and focus on the task at hand. The "assignment" might be to not break an ankle on a rock, to not vomit while attempting camel position, or do a perfect streamline off a wall with a powerful dolphin kick.

I am a musician. I can sing. I have perfect pitch. I have specific songs that will change my mood no matter what and I have songs that will make me dance the moment I hear them. Music transforms me in a way like nothing else.

I am a pop culture junkie. I like to read the news and also the "hot goss." I want to be informed so that I can converse with others. I troll Twitter for seriousness and hilarity. I enjoy seeing what celebrities are wearing to movie openings. I fancy taking Buzzfeed quizzes and sharing my results with others.

I am a traveler. I want to see the world. I want to photograph beautiful places. I want to try new foods, and I want to experience new cultures. I love being from Iowa and I love living in Colorado - I have a distinct idea of where home is. I want to, however, experience more than just home base.

This weekend, make a list. Decide who you are and what is essential. Take care of yourself and remember that you are a teacher, but you are also so much more. Thanks for reading! I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website