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Indulging my Inner Techie

On Saturday, I did what all teachers do.

I slept in.

Oh wait.  I’m LYING!

That’s what I usually do.

This past Saturday, I got up at the same time I do during the week and drove myself to one of our local colleges.  My school district was hosting a technology expo.

Carl Hooker was the keynote speaker, and he was FABULOUS!

Borrowed (I hope he doesn’t mind) from his website.

He’s been involved in education for quite a few years and is very knowledgeable about helping implement technology into classrooms.

He was funny.  His stories were inspiring.

If you ever get the chance to hear him speak, run, don’t walk.  I don’t typically sit and attain well.  The hour during which he spoke flew by.

After his speech, conference attendees had a menu of 45-minute sessions to attend.  We simply picked what we wanted and went to the assigned rooms.  There were five different session groupings with lunch scheduled for halfway through the day (no vegan options though, so I didn’t eat).

I, along with three other reading teachers from my school, presented during the second session.  We demonstrated how we use Google applications (Docs and Forms) in the classroom.  One of the teachers talked about how she uses Chrome Books to access IXL for grammar practice and Vocaroo for fluency practice.

We received a lot of positive responses, which made this experience quite the adrenaline rush.

Most of the sessions were conducted by teachers and other district staff.  I loved this, because we weren’t listening to sales pitches.  We got to hear how our peers are using various applications in the classroom.

My favorite session was the one about TouchCast.  It is a FREE app with which you can create news-types of videos.

Did I mention that it is FREE?  I had taken my iPad to the expo and downloaded the app during the presentation.  Oh word, but I will totally be playing with this when I have time during the summer.  I’ve already decided that I’ll probably use it to create an introduction of myself for the first day of school in August.

One of the neat things about this app is that you can imbed pictures, files, and links that are CLICKABLE and accessible to those who have access to the videos.

Borrowed from a Google search…totally NOT me or my hand pointing in the picture! 🙂

 

Cool, eh?

I attended a session about using Twitter in an educational environment.  I learned about TweetDeck.  I don’t know if this is available on mobile devices, but it is available on a regular laptop/desktop type of computer.  It allows you to manage multiple user accounts, which I think would help me should I decide to create a classroom Twitter account.  I despise having to log in and out of separate accounts.

The last hour of the expo was spent with District technology personnel sitting as a panel on a stage presenting some of their favorite and most useful apps.

I was downloading like crazy, let me tell you, and by the time this session was over, my phone looked like this…

Plickers is a free app that allows for very fast and fun formative assessments.  You print their FREE cards, laminate, if you want, for longevity, and assign them to students (the same students get the same cards so you’ll know who’s card belongs to whose).  They hold the cards a certain way to answer questions, and you use your device’s camera to scan the cards while they are holding them up.  It’s a very fast process, and you can display the results on a screen for all to see.

I’d heard of this before and read about it, but it looked like too much work to set up.  I’m willing to invest the time after seeing the app in action.  I know my students will LOVE it!

One last app that I found incredibly fun was Kahoot.

It is an interactive response app/site that allows students (or anyone) to answer questions, once they’ve linked to the game via a QR code or the website.  There’s only an Android version of the app right now, but all mobile devices can access the games.  I have an iPhone, and I didn’t have any problems participating.

I could see myself using this for so many things in my classroom…bellwork…vocabulary review…an exit ticket.  The possibilities are endless!

By the time I got home that afternoon, I was whooped and had to take a short nap before dinner…

Learning new things can be exhausting!

Battle Cry…The Modern Version

Last week, the Mr. and I went to dinner.

After we left, the Mr. asked me to send Rooster a message letting him know.  Despite living in the same house, we have crazy schedules that require us to do a lot of our communicating via hand wave out the car window as we pass each other (remember that we are Rednecks) or via our cell phones.

I never heard from Rooster and grew concerned, so I checked my messages to make sure I hadn’t overlooked something.

That is when I saw it…

The message I had sent.

I started laughing so hard that my stomach hurt.

A lot.

The Mr. looked at me quizzically.

It was hard to catch my breath.

This is what I had typed…

Auto-correct had struck again.

I, in my hurried way (so normal for me) had not proofread (what a great lesson for my students, eh?) before I’d pressed the Send button.

All I could picture was the Mr. and me dressed for battle…riding off into the sunset.

At least we’d fed our fur babies first.

😀

Adrenaline Rush…of the Nerdy Kind

Yesterday, my alarm went off at 5:30.

That’s AM, folks…not PM.

Why on earth would I get up so early on a Saturday morning?

Well, it wasn’t to attend a soccer game, as in days of old when the kiddos played and we traveled many, many weekends.

Nope.

This time I got up early, leaving my sleeping fur babies behind, to attend my county’s annual Reading Conference.

Pele tried to entice me into staying home with this sad face…

It is a much-looked-forward-to event and the “go-to” happening place if you are an educator in my district or surrounding districts.

It is always held at one of the local colleges, so the venue is comfortable.

This was a special year for me, though, because I had been asked to be a presenter.

That’s right…

A PRESENTER!

At first, I ha ha’d it off (as in laughed, in case my lingo didn’t come across well).

Ok…so I didn’t laugh, but I gently declined because, as a fourth-year teacher, I didn’t feel knowledgeable enough to be presenting to other, vastly superior teachers…many of whom are my official and unofficial mentors.

My thinking changed after my school’s TOSA (Teacher on Special Assignment) trained my students how to use Google Drive.

A brief introduction of Ryan.

He is one of the most likeable, approachable young men (I can say this because I discovered that I’m about fifteen years older than him…give or take a couple of years).  Rooster was in two of Ryan’s history classes and adored him.  Ryan’s style of teaching suited Rooster perfectly.  It was very hands-on and made the kids apply what they were learning to fun tasks.

Ryan works out of the district office now to assist teachers with using technology in their classrooms, and he’s been invaluable to my growth as a teacher, sparking my thinking by the most casual comments or bits of how-to information.

We are working together to improve my students’ writing skills through the use of Google Drive and other technology…hence the training.

We work well together, and our conversation between classes the day he did the trainings (he stayed ALL DAY), led to a discussion about the upcoming reading conference.

He graciously invited me to be a part of the Google Drive presentation he was set to do with another TOSA (shout-out to Doug), and I was on board!  I didn’t feel the pressure of being a one-woman show.  I would, in essence, be the teacher testimonial to their techie know-how.

After we set that up, I was invited to do my OWN session…same material…in a second session of Google Drive.  Ryan generously offered to let me use the presentation that had been created for our session, so I took a leap of faith and agreed to do that session on my own.

Talk about nerves!

I speak better in front of a classroom of teenagers.

Heck…I know I’m not all there and a little…um…uncool.  I can get away with that with teenagers.  I am an adult, after all, and not expected to be cool.  Put me in front of a bunch of adults, and my legs turn to jelly!

Anyhoo…

Ryan, Doug, and I met a couple of times to discuss the presentation, and they were so sweet.  They sensed my insecurities and assured me that I would do fine.

Their confidence buoyed my spirits and, after writing a few notes of things I wanted to say, I walked in to the first session feeling prepared.

Look at the pretty ribbon I got to wear…

I do love technology, after all.  It’s always been a passion of mine, and teaching gives me an avenue for blending my love for students with my love for digital learning.

The first Google Drive session went off swimmingly.  We made a perfect team, and the information came across seamlessly.  Those guys are AWESOME, and the packed room of eager teachers seemed very receptive and excited as the presentation progressed.

As part of the presentation, we showed this very short video to give attendees a general idea of what Google Drive was about (we later expounded on it)…

The second session went well too.  I was no Ryan or Doug, that’s for sure, but I did my best and didn’t do too badly.

I am my harshest critic, and I can’t help but analyze myself.

A do-over would include me talking much more SLOWLY.  Unfortunately, when I get excited, I talk fast…VERY fast.  There’s so much in my head that I want to share that my words stumble over each other!

That’s why writing is good for me.  It forces me to write ONE SENTENCE AT A TIME…unlike talking, where ideas flow without punctuation and somewhat randomly.

I had a couple of chats with some lovely people after both sessions and left the college on an adrenaline rush.

There is nothing I like better than helping people.

The last few years, I’ve mostly been helping my students, but to take what I do and extend it to other teachers marks another turning point in my career…a step up and outside of myself.

I’m starting to get to the point where, now that my new teacher classwork is finished, I can stretch myself in different directions.

My natural enthusiasm for what I do in the classroom is beginning to spill over to conversations with colleagues.

I don’t do this because my IPDP says I have to in order to be “Highly Effective.”

It’s just a part of who I am…who we all should become as we learn more about our craft.

In the end, it makes us all better educators, which benefits the charges we’ve been blessed to take care of.

The Power of Student Email

Oh word, but my students have really been blowing me away lately with the way they are using the technology I have incorporated into our classroom activities!

On Monday, each student had to turn in an essay he/she had revised.  The revision counted as a test grade.

I had taken my students to the computer lab the week before to train them how to use Google Drive (more information about this in a future post).  I gave them a class period to begin typing their essays and instructed them to finish at home.  I allowed the couple of students who didn’t have internet access at home to turn in handwritten essays.

One of my girls had been absent a lot the week before, so I gave her a couple of extra days to complete the assignment.

The night before her due date, I began receiving emails from her school email account to mine.  She needed help, and she provided the introduction she had written.

We went back and forth quite a few times as I clarified instructions and answered her questions.

I assured her that I would be up late and she could keep emailing me.

She did…until 12am.  Yes, I am a night owl.  I also couldn’t leave her hanging.

She turned in a beautiful essay the next day.

My email correspondence with my students has begun to expand beyond homework help.

I received the following from one of my gentlemen on Thursday…

This guy had read his way through Marie Lu’s book series, Legend, which I’d purchased, at his request, in recent months.

Champion, which he referred to in his email, was the third installment in the series.

I guess I know what I’ll be reading soon.

Meanwhile, I had another student who was looking for Champion.  I discovered that it wasn’t on the shelf, so I sent the first young man an email, fully aware that he checks it regularly…during school even.

Sure enough, within a few short minutes, he had responded and told me that he’d do his best to deliver it to my other student’s math class.

I’m finding myself very excited at what’s happening in my classroom.

Teaching students how to use Gmail and Google Drive is opening up new avenues for discussion and self monitoring.

One of my students sent me an email after school yesterday inquiring about specific grades “I had given her” (as opposed to “her earning”).  When I got home and pulled up her grades, I was able to respond, with a full accounting.  The funniest part of her email was how she attached screen shots of a survey she had completed for an assignment…the results of which didn’t go through to the Google Form I had created.

She won that point.

You know the saying, “When you give a mouse a cookie.”

Well, in my case, when you teach kids how to use “grown up” tools, they begin to take ownership of their learning.  They begin to ask questions they are uncomfortable asking in front of big groups.  They become co-facilitators of their educational experience.

I continue to be amazed, humbled, and honored at what I get to do each day.

Back to the Routine

Yesterday morning, I wasn’t feeling well.  I suspect it was the change in my diet.  I’m back on my strict version of the Daniel Fast and eating primarily raw foods…fruits and vegetables.  I can already see a difference in my waist line, YAY, but what’s more important is that I feel better mentally.

As such, my innards are adjusting…crying foul, if you will…missing the Chick-fil-A French fries I’d been feeding them, with the excuse of “needing carbs.”

I stayed home from church because I didn’t want to up and leave in the middle of the preaching.

I made the most of my time, however, and was able to finish two weeks’ worth of lesson plans.  I’d done most of the work the evening before, but my brain had gotten tired, and I’d become uninspired.

The new morning brought fresh ideas, excitement, and energy, making it easier to finish what is usually a difficult task.

The reason why it takes me soooo long to make my weekly lesson plans is because I create a SmartBoard file, alluded to yesterday, for each week.

I don’t know what I’d do without my SmartBoard.  I group my pages by each day of the week and include everything I need for each lesson.

Putting the information in the SmartBoard software keeps me on track and acts as visual cues to my students…most of whom learn better by seeing than just hearing.

I thought I’d share one neat thing that I began doing after the school year began.

While I’d always created an agenda for each day and briefly reviewed the agenda with my students at the beginning of each class period, one of my classes mentioned that they would like to have the agenda out where they could see it.

What to do?

My mentor was in my classroom teaching a series of lessons when my class mentioned this, so she and I discussed the idea after everyone left.

I came up with what I now consider a brilliant idea…

To buy 4×6 frames and put the agendas in them.

I have a Macbook Pro…have had it for eight years now…and it can do things that a Windows-based computer cannot.  One of the things I can do fairly easily is, after exporting my SmartBoard file to an Adobe format (.pdf), select and print just those agenda pages…in a 4×6 borderless format!

Here’s one of my agendas…

I wrote this post ahead of time, so I can’t take a picture of the agenda in the frame.  I’ll do that and post in a day or two so you can see what it looks like in the frame and on each table.  I have five student tables in my room, so I make four copies (the original makes a total of 5) and place one in the center of each table.

My students love this!  Some students will run by my classroom hours before their class, take a peek at the agenda, and then run to their other classes.

At first, I didn’t include the Essential Questions; however, I later began adding them.  I refer my students to them daily as a reminder of the “whys” of what we are doing…the relevance of each task.

While it is very time-consuming to create these SmartBoard files, I will continue doing so.  This is the second year I’ve done this, and I’m beginning to be able to copy previously-created pages and dump them into my current files.

A bonus of exporting the files to .pdf format is that I can send them to parents each week.  They are amazed at what we do each day, and I have never had a problem when I’ve called a parent to explain that his/her child is missing standards-based work when he/she is tardy.

I also upload the files to Google Drive, where my students can review them for tests or if they’ve missed days due to vacation or sickness.

It was with great pleasure and a lot of relief that I placed my school bag in my car yesterday morning.  Although I’d rather not be getting up at o’dark thirty, seeing the faces of my students always brings a smile to my face.

When You Show a Student Google Drive…

Yesterday was a long day.  I stayed after school, filling in for Barb, who is the sponsor for our school’s dance team.  She had an appointment elsewhere.  The girls are angels, so I didn’t mind.

After that, I had to run a couple of errands.

I was tired when I finally pulled into the garage, but I knew I had work ahead of me.

Mr. Principal had come into my room the day before and observed me.  After giving me helpful feedback, we determined that there was a bit of documentation lacking on the “official” website that houses teacher evaluation records, so I had to get those pieces uploaded fairly quickly so those empty fields could be filled, he could put in a final rating, and finalize the observation.

This was more time consuming than I’d anticipated.  We have four dadgum domains to provide documentation for, and I couldn’t figure out what went where.  A few hours later, I finished…I hope.

As an overachiever, I suspect I put too much online.  heehee

However, in the middle of all of that work, I began receiving emails…

From my students…

Because I’d spent time the last two days teaching my students how to access their school-issued Gmail accounts.

I’d also shown them some neat features of Google Drive and had created a document for everyone to share writing resources to.

I was surprised when, on Tuesday evening, one of my students actually POSTED a link AND an explanation as to WHY the video was helpful in learning to write.

I quickly sent out a message to that class via Remind101.  If you’re in the education field and have not heard of it, visit my link.

It.

Is.

Amazing.

As you will see.

In my text alert, I praised the student who had added the resource.

She came into school the next morning and told me that her mother, who had signed up for my alerts, had gone into her room and told her how proud she was of her.

Although I think it embarrassed my student a little, I could also see pride in her eyes as I decided to show her video to my class instead of the one I’d selected.

I also proceeded to show my other classes what she had added to the shared document and waxed poetic, let me tell you.

Several students in one of my classes began adding links to their document around dinner time.

I embedded comments on the document (such a neat feature that we will use when we are doing peer editing through Google Drive).

To my utter shock, one of my students replied to MY comment on another student’s resource!

Oh heck yes!

Folks, one of the things I am struggling with the most as an educator is turning over my classroom to my students.

Common Core demands that our students run the show…with teachers facilitating.

In fact, research shows that the more control students have over their learning, the more growth they will make.

I’m old-school, though, and grew up where students most certainly did NOT teach.  Knowledge was imparted TO us, and we were responsible for regurgitating it back to them.

Watching my students get excited about the technology and hearing them say how useful it’s going to be when we go to iPads (we can dream, eh?) is making me float on air.

I started delving into Google Drive because a techie/teacher asked if I was interested in working with him and a few other teachers to incorporate technology into our classrooms with the express purpose of improving student writing.

We are well on our way, as evidenced by the conversations that are happening, face-to-face and electronically.

I am so excited at the potential that’s in store for my students and for myself, as an educator.

My First “Semi-Flipped” Lesson

Today was a good day.

It was Friday.

My students seemed to enjoy the lesson I’d planned.

I got my nails done.

I was surprised when I came across this inspiring reading reflection from one of my students…

Inspiration struck as I thought about my day and the students who had left early to attend an away game.

I called a friend for some help.

A few months ago, she and I had discussed ways to help our students, and I had mentioned flip lessons, which I’d been researching at the time.

She took my words to heart and began recording her lessons so her students could use them to study with.

When I put together my concerns about catching my students up along with knowing about my friend’s recorded lessons, I knew I had to try it out.

I opened up the SmartBoard file I had worked from all week, clicked the record button within the program, and talked my way through the lesson.

Then, I went to YouTube and uploaded the fourteen-minute video to my account.

A few minutes later, the video was ready!

The sound quality isn’t quite what I’d like.  I got too close to the built-in microphone.  Next time, I’ll use an external mike that I have placed in a drawer somewhere at school.

Still, though, I am very excited with my first recording.

I didn’t work off of a script but free-lanced, just as I would in my classroom.

I sent the link to the video in my weekly update that I emailed to parents tonight and am eager to receive feedback.  I will also post the link to my Edmodo account so my students will have access to it there.

Let me know what you think!

Happiness to a Teacher

Happiness means many things to a teacher.

It can mean a student’s mastery of a much-agonized skill.

It can mean the completion of a week of lesson plans.

It might even mean that the dreaded yearly IPDP process is finally over.

While I, personally, have found happiness in such things recently, I’d like to add one more item to the list.

See if you can figure out what I mean by looking at the following picture…

20130403-232937.jpg

As promised, two people in my district’s Media Services department visited my classroom during first period and switched out the bulb in the projector.

In true Auburnchick fashion, the bulb did not merely blow its fuse (or whatever it is that light bulbs do when they cease to shine).

Oh no.

The bulb, it was discovered, had SHATTERED inside the projector!!

Wow!

The switch only took a few minutes, during which time I continued to teach the lesson I’d been in the middle of.

When we turned on the projector, and the Smartboard lit up, I could have sworn I heard angels singing!

My students gave a round of applause.

One of my guys told the technicians, “You can play a part in our education no matter what you do!”

True statement (not to mention one very happy and grateful teacher)!

When the Lights Went Out

Yesterday, when I went into work, I turned on my Smartboard and computer, as is my routine.

Something was off, though.

At first, I thought my computer wasn’t working properly.

One look at the monitor told me otherwise.  The computer was working fine.

It appeared as though the Smartboard wasn’t lighting up as brightly as usual.

Uh oh.

I played with the projector’s settings.  The projector is mounted from the ceiling, by the way.  This makes it nearly impossible to get into it to diagnose problems.

I tried to manually brighten the screen, but nothing really worked.

Ugh.

I immediately sent an email to the technician assigned to my school, and I made do the best I could.

A helpdesk ticket was submitted, but I was told that the bulbs, which cost about $600 each, were on back order.

Ugh.

I have taught every day with that Smartboard.

When I write my lesson plans, I used the “approved” template in Microsoft Word and create a Smart Notebook file to accompany each week’s plan.  Both weekly files get added to my school’s network drive for safe keeping.

Not only do I use the Smart file to engage my students, but I use the information as visual cues for the lesson itself.

After the helpdesk ticket was submitted, I crossed my fingers.  The technician had mentioned that I teach Intensive Reading and am prepping my kids intensely in the two weeks we have left before our state reading exams.

Today, my projector was in the same condition.

I taught first/second period (all of my classes are blocked).

I began teaching fourth/fifth period.

I had already planned on spending fifth period teaching the second Reading Endorsement lesson I had created for this final certification class.  A fellow teacher was giving up her planning period to come in and film…for the second time.

So, during fourth period, I began teaching what I was teaching to my other classes during their second hour.

I turned off the lights so my students could see the internet sites I was trying to show them.

As my back was turned to the Smartboard, I heard a loud POP.  It sounded like a balloon had popped, and it scared the bejeepers out of me!

I turned around and looked up.  The power button on the projector was flashing red.

The entire Smartboard darkened.

Ugh.

What to do?!

Fortunately, my students were going to be working in stations, so I called out their station assignments, and we got down to work.

Meanwhile, the wheels in my brain were turning.

What was I going to do about that lesson plan I would be filming shortly?

I had created a separate Smart Notebook file for it.

The first plan I’d filmed had been filled with a lot of “um’s” and “uh’s” due to my nervousness and reliance on the written script I’d prepared.  Hence, the Smart file.

Which I now could not display on the Smartboard.

Part of my lesson required a punctuation highlighting key.

When the bell rang for the break between fourth and fifth periods, I quickly grabbed a large pad of paper…the kind you see teachers write on and tear off and tape to classroom walls.

I recreated the punctuation key and grabbed the highlighters I’d bought.  I added the color that the kids would have seen on the Smartboard.

I also grabbed my iPad, which I’d decided at the last minute to take to school with me, and wirelessly connected to my desktop using a free program called Doceri, which I’ve used in the past.

Doceri allows a user to control another computer remotely, so the user can be walking around a room, see what’s on the desktop via the iPad, and actually change screens or do other stuff from afar.

Though I couldn’t show my students the cute pictures, charts, and text that I would have shown them with the Smartboard, I could look at my iPad for the visual cues I needed.

I’d had the foresight to prepare hard copies of the items I had planned on showing on my screen, so my students had everything they needed up close.

Thankfully, my knowledge of “teacherly” things had recently grown to include the bit about kids needing things in front of them to manipulate…highlight…interact with, if you will.

Whew!

Those packets saved my behind!

Although I feel as though the lesson was rushed, my friend who filmed it said I did a better job teaching it because I wasn’t so tied to a script…the language flowed naturally.

Meanwhile, my angst grew because I still had one more class to teach, and this class needs to be constantly engaged to keep them under control.

I went with the flow, even when the kids were disruptive, which really had nothing to do with the Smartboard not working but with my mental attitude about my technology woes.

I was still discouraged after school.

I wasn’t sure if or when I would get a new bulb.

Then I checked my email and saw that a technician had been assigned to take the bulb out of the projector in an unused room next door and install it into mine.

The technician is supposed to make the switch first thing Wednesday!!

Yay for answered prayers!

Yay for administrators who haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be in a classroom and quickly approved the request for the switch.

I learned a few things today.

First and foremost is to never rely on technology to teach my lessons.

While I’m comfortable with the content, I think I’ve grown too dependent on the bells and whistles that my district has been blessed with.  How quickly they can go away!

A second lesson is to always have a Plan B.

I kind of did, which worked out well.

The third lesson I learned is to not let mishaps throw me off of my game.

I became quite grumpy, and it affected my ability to calmly deal with a class that is already difficult.

I allowed those kids to get under my skin today…all because my board wasn’t working properly.

Grrr.

One thing I will say is that I hope that the district finds a way to pay for the maintenance that our new technology requires.

Technology is supposed to enhance learning, and teachers can’t implement such mandates without the tools to do so.

Watching the lights go out today made me have a new appreciation for teachers of old…teachers like my friend, “Dinosaur,” who taught the good old fashioned way with paper, markers, and lots of sass.

Battery Explosion

A couple of weeks ago, I had to order a new laptop battery for my Macbook Pro.

I believe that my battery was the culprit of the issues I’d recently been having…my hard drive shutting down at random times, even completely crashing once so that I had to reinstall the operating system.  More recently, when I couldn’t click my built-in mouse button, I knew I had to replace the battery.

The last time I did so was three years ago.  That was when my entire casing was bulging.  The laptop had to go to Apple Care Support for a complete overhaul, including a fix for the casing.

At least this time, I caught the problem before things got too bad.

The new battery arrived within two days, and I was set to go.

Meanwhile, I’d set the old battery aside, unsure what to do with it…where to recycle it.

Then, a couple of days ago, I happened to glance down at the old battery…

Seeing this…

Pretty scary, eh?

That thing was inside of my laptop.

Can you imagine the damage it would have done to the rest of my computer?

Much like a mama “knowing” that her baby is sick long before the symptoms confirm it, I’m glad I was attune to my electronic baby and able to remedy the situation before things got lethal.

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