A Positively Techie School Year

The countdown of days is on the board, students are more chatty than usual, and the scent of a sweaty, almost sixth grader hits you when you walk in the room…

It’s coming quickly to an end.  A school year with my little family of fifth graders.  I have spent more waking hours with these kiddos than my own children and I love them all dearly.  I have learned all about their lives, I know their mannerisms, their little quirks, their strengths and their weaknesses.  I look forward to seeing them each and every day.  It is amazing how much a child grows and changes in ten months.  It’s amazing how educators grow and change in a school year…

The end of the school year means a time to reflect, a time to think about the next little family of students that will be coming my way in the fall.  What worked, what didn’t, what I can do better, what I will try new next year?  The questions, thoughts, and ideas keep swirling in my head.  As much as I don’t want this year to end, I can’t help but think about how I can be a better teacher, learner, facilitator, and leader next year.

The biggest change for me this school year was turning my classroom into a flexible learning space.  It by far was THE BEST idea I had all year!  The positive response from the parents, students, and other staff members was overwhelming. The students tell me how much easier it is for them to learn in my classroom because “they don’t feel confined”, “they are comfortable”, “they can focus on their learning and not on the fact that they are sitting where they don’t want to sit”.  The thing about my classroom is it’s not only about the furniture.  “Flexible” was more of our motto all year.  WE were flexible.  Students had the choice of where to sit any time of day.  They had to make the right choice everyday to ensure they got their work done.  To my amazement, the majority of the time, they made perfect choices for themselves!  I gave them the power to take some control of their learning and they used their power wisely.  Next year, I already have plans to make a few changes and add a few fun pieces of furniture (and hopefully ditch my desk – if I can find it a new home).

I was able to teach all the fifth graders during a designated “tech time”.  I worked with students on projects dedicated to Social Studies, Science, and Language Arts as well as a few techie lessons to build their technology tool kit.  We had Mystery Skypes, wrote blogs, and worked on many projects including a few of my favorites the “Shark Tank” project, a Mother’s Day video, and a digital memory book. Our local Apple Store in Oak Brook, IL. sent out two members of their Creative Team to lead workshops to teach the students about the Apple apps on their iPads. The team came out several times throughout the school year and helped the students create a digital memory book.  This “book” is a memoir of their life from birth through fifth grade.  It includes photos, video, student created background music, and a voice over of the students telling their stories and memories for each year of their life.  These are truly going to be memorable keepsakes for years to come!

Mother’s Day Project

Towards the end of the year I started an Innovation Club and began the creation of the weCreate Lab at our school.  I met with K-2 graders and 3-4 graders to introduce them to technology tools that will be available to them next year in the weCreate Lab.  My favorite item is the ozobot robots.  I LOVE how ANYONE who can draw a line can make the robot move from one place to another.  I am also loving the fact that students build on their expertise and eventually code on the computer to lead their robot from one place to the next.  I spent a few sessions with Snap Circuits and littleBits.  The students easily caught on and understood how everyday items get their power through circuits.  I gave students challenges to make the light dim, make the fan turn on, and turn a light different colors.  It was rewarding to see how the students, even Kindergartners, kept trying and didn’t give up until they figured it out.  The excitement and joy they showed when they finally met the challenge was awesome!  The last couple of sessions we will be exploring the Makey Makey Kits.  Students this year got a taste of the new technology tools available to them, but next year, we will really be able to dig in and go through the whole design thinking process.

Subscribe to John Spencer on You Tube!

I want my students to be risk takers, therefore I hold myself to that same standard. Each year I try new things. Either I expand on what I’m already doing or I try something completely new. A couple of new ideas didn’t work out quite as I planned.  This year I tried The Global Read Aloud for the first time.  The Global Read Aloud is a global phenomenon created by the amazing Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp.   Books are chosen each year and classrooms around the globe read the same book and connect to discuss the book through Edmodo, blogging, Skype, etc.  I set up 2 classes for my class to connect with and we actually did connect with one class.  It was not easy to get all of the assigned chapters read each week and the class that we actually did connect with didn’t participate much.  I love the idea behind The Global Read Aloud, but I also feel that in order for it to work both classes need to really commit to participating fully.

Next year I want to improve on so many things.  I want to schedule more Mystery Skypes.  After the first Mystery Skype I ever did, I never wanted to give another map worksheet.  The amount of authentic geography learning that happens during a Mystery Skype is astounding!  Everything I know and have used on Mystery Skype I got from another amazing educator Paul Solarz @PaulSolarz.  I planned on participating in blogging challenges with my students, but I didn’t.  That will definitely be on my goal sheet for next year.  I also want to learn and use Google Classroom to it’s fullest potential.  It was a helpful tool to send out and collect assignments however I know it could be used for so much more!  I follow Alice Keeler on Twitter @alicekeeler.  She is THE ONE to turn to if you want to know anything Google.   I will be researching all things Google as well as work on getting my Google Certified Educator Levels 1 and 2 this summer.

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 8.31.41 PM

Of course I have some new things up my sleeve that I can’t wait to try next year. I am super excited for Breakout EDU to arrive.  This is a game that promotes collaboration, teamwork, problem solving, the list goes on.  The goal is to unlock the box in a specific amount of time.  There are several different scenarios with clues to a mystery that needs to be solved.  You work together to solve the mysteries and unlock the box.  I want to start the year off with a Breakout EDU game at one of our Institute Days.  This way, the staff can see first hand how students can build bonds through the collaboration and teamwork involved in opening the box.  A PERFECT back to school activity!!

I am looking forward to connecting Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards to activities in the weCreate Lab and designing some novel engineering activities. I also signed up to receive the Idea Box  from the James Dyson Foundation.  I am excited to learn more about Hyperdocs and create some for the upcoming school year.  I want to tip my toe into gamification and figure out what it is all about. I am sure there are things I don’t even know I want to learn about.  The summer days are a great time to learn more about amazing ways to integrate technology into the classroom.   How are YOU growing as an educator this summer?  Is there something you want to learn more about?

I am looking forward to spending time with my “real” family, sleeping a little bit later in the morning, lounging by the pool, and going for long, quiet walks.  But I will also be thinking, designing, creating, learning, and doing everything I can to be…well – better.  

Now that… Is Positively Techie!

Breaking Down the Walls

It is a beautiful Saturday afternoon and I am sitting on my front porch.  I have a beautiful view of one of the best parks in my town and it is bustling with children playing, tennis players grunting, and people walking the track.   I am feeling pretty darn happy and well, lucky…  First of all, I completed my Masters Degree in Educational Technology this summer so I have a lot more time on my hands to enjoy afternoons like this:))  Second, I am quickly approaching a school year that I will be spending a good portion of my day doing what I LOVE… working with students on projects and integrating technology into all subject areas.  Last but not least, I was fortunate enough to present some sessions at our district’s professional development technology day.

I co-presented a session with one of my amazing friends – who in my opinion (and many others) is a complete stitch!  Not only is she caring and compassionate towards her students, she is one of the hardest working teachers I know,  one who is always willing to take risks and try new things, she is also extremely entertaining!  I had a GREAT time preparing our presentation together and an even better time presenting with her.  Please follow her on Twitter @JenPierson1.  Our presentation was about creating a “Global Classroom”.  We talked about Author Skype, Mystery Skype, Blogging, Twitter, and something new we are both trying this year, The Global Read Aloud.   Click on the links to find out more about these programs to help you create a global classroom.  Here is a link to our presentation with a bunch of info, links to resources, and some funny teacher ecards from someecards.com :)) I will talk about these topics in more detail as the year goes on!

The next two sessions I talked about student blogging.  I have a strong passion for student blogging in the classroom.  I started blogging with my students in January of 2014.  Right away I could see the amazing changes in my students as writers.  They were more motivated, engaged, and actually tried to produce better writing!  I attribute all of those positive changes to the fact that they were writing for an authentic audience.   Now, students aren’t just writing for a grade, me, or their parents.  They are writing for their peers and if you do enough “PR” for your student’s blogs, the whole world!  Each year I set new goals to add more to my student’s blogging experience.  This year, I am going to connect with other classes through Quadblogging.com.  This is a service that connects you with three other classes from around the world and you each take turns commenting on each other’s posts.  I am really excited to start this and will keep you posted!!  This will definitely show my students there actually IS an audience out in the real world who wants to read their writing.  I really am excited!!!!  Other ways I have ensured an authentic audience would “find” my student blogs is through Twitter.  If you use #comments4kids and include a link to your blog, there is a good possibility, but no guarantee that your students will receive comments. I have used this hashtag on numerous occasions and finally had a connection at the beginning of the school year.  A group of college students were assigned by their professor to make comments on my student’s blogs.  The smiles and excitement my students felt was priceless!  I have also found authors on Twitter, Facebook, and through email and invited them to read book review posts my students have written.  I had two students last year whose author actually shared their iMovie book trailer on their own website!  Now that truly motivated the rest of the class to write more and more!!  I highly recommend you try blogging with your students.  Here is a link to my presentation with loads of ideas for blogging in all subject areas and a ton of resources.  Also, check out my iTunes U course called “Blogging in the Classroom” for a step by step guide to get you started blogging in your own classroom.  There are permission slips, rubrics, and links to all of the resources I have used to get me started!!

I always felt a little guilty, asking my students to blog and share with the world their ideas when I wasn’t doing the same.  It feels great knowing I can model and share my experiences with my students this year and I hope to motivate them more than ever through my example.

Now that is Positively Techie…