Songify Your Classroom

It has been quite some time since I last blogged. I’m hoping to ease my way back into it and start contributing more. It seems like life always gets in the way but as a fellow staff member in my building always says, “Excuses don’t produce results”

The other night I came across an app for the iPhone called Songify. Essentially it allows you to record a message, ballad or whatever you want to say and then turn it into a modern hip hop style song. Needless to say, I was having a blast even though I am not able to carry a tune in a bucket.  (Those of you who were at the Ed Tech Karaoke event at ISTE11 know all to well how awful my singing was during my rendition of Welcome to the Jungle! What was I thinking?) After I finished attempting to create a song for my wife (she was not impressed ) I began to think of how this app could be used in the classroom. Here is what I came up with:

1. At the beginning of a class period you could narrate a set of directions/reminders or a sponge activity for students and use Songify to turn  it  into a musical masterpiece.

2. Students could use the app to record a song relating to the vocabulary or content that is being studied.

3. Students could use Songify to share a little about themselves as a fun way to break the ice and get to know each other at the beginning of the year.

This app has the potential to bring some fun into the classroom. I think that the more students equate learning with fun they are more apt to get excited about school and learning in general.

I would love to hear other ideas for using Songify in the classroom.

The Evolution of a Lesson Plan: From Academics to Attitudes

What strategies do you use to help students take on a more positive mental attitude?  How can we help students extend this positive frame of mind to other areas in their lives?

Last Thursday I had several meetings throughout the day in which I would be out of the classroom and a substitute would be running the classroom.  As a result I designed a lesson that required students to work independently on mastering a set of vocabulary terms for our WWII Unit using Toolbox Pro the LMS system that I use.

Basically the original plan was for students to work independently and quietly to master the practice quiz that I had assigned.  You can see a sample of the quiz here: Practice Quiz for CH 26 WWII (Works in FF or IE explorer but not Chrome).  Students can take this quiz as many times as needed but the final goal is to get a score of 100% withing the given time.  after students complete a practice quiz they then go back and see which terms they missed study the word list and when they are ready they retake the quiz.

At the beginning of the day students worked through the activity quietly and independently.  Some students achieved the goal while others came close and some were struggling.  When I was back from my meetings and reentered the classroom I noticed through body language that the kids were bored and not excited.  I had an idea:  The remaining class periods would compete against each other to see who could get the highest percentage of students that reach the goal of 100%.  There were some rules and guidelines that I set forth modifying them through out the day:

1.  When a student achieves a score of 100% they then become a coach/mentor for the others who are struggling – they were to help the others master the vocabulary

2.  During a practice quiz session students could not seek help from a student mentor/coach or look at their word list.

By the end of the day I saw a complete turn around as there was this buzz of energy, excitement and enthusiasm in my classes.  Although they had to independently master the practice quiz they were working together to help each other succeed.  My high students that always quickly reach the goal on the practice quiz immediately got up and began coaching the other students –  taking through each of the definitions and sharing ways to remember the content.

The icing on the cake for me was when one of my struggling students who has not been passing reached the goal of 100% on the practice quiz with the help of her peers.  there was this screech that could be heard down the hall as she jumped out of her chair with excitement.  There was a spark in her eyes and a genuine smile of happiness on her face. This is a prime example of why I teach. These successes don’t come along everyday so I was ecstatic to see someone who has been struggling throughout the year and showing very little interest in the subject have success coupled with excitement. It just made my day.

In the end this is what I observed with my students:

Leadership: The higher achieving students showed leadership by taking the initiative to help their peers who were struggling.

Persistence: When students first start taking a timed matching quiz they usually get a very low score the first few times.  I reassure them them that this is alright and low scores are not a measure of intelligence.  I also have the kids take the practice quiz the very first time without looking at the vocab list first.  This way it helps them to determine what they already know.  When a student tells me with a distraught face that they only got 16% on their first try I tell them that is excellent and they already know some things!  They only failures are those that don’t try or those that just give up.

Positive attitude: I also observed that one of my classes kept focusing on the short amount of time they had to complete a practice quiz.  They seemed to complain more than study and try again.  Another class that was very successful did notice the time limit but their focus was on trying to reach a goal and they saw the time as a challenge rather than a burden.

When I brought my classes together at the end of each period for a short debriefing I asked them what was different about this activity than the timed matching quizzes we have been doing for the last few months.  Essentially they told me that nothing was different about the actual activity but when framed as a competitive team challenge it became more exciting.  I concluded by sharing with them that attitude is everything.  A positive mindset goes a long way towards being happy and successful.  A simple shift in perception led to a lesson that was fun, engaging and met with a higher success rate.

If I can teach my students that looking at life’s challenges , academic or otherwise, can be overcome more easily with a positive mindset, then I think they will be more successful in life. As a teacher, I feel it is part of my job to help my students be better equipped to meet those challenges of an uncertain future.

So how to do you promote a positive attitude with your students and encourage them to transfer this to the real world?

Nothing Like your Network and a Little Music to Lift Your Spirits

The last few weeks have been extremely busy for me and as a result I have been OTG (off the grid) and not really active with my online professional network. I have also been struggling with a cold and have started loosing my voice a. Last night I realized that I needed to change my lesson so that I was not talking as much in class. I was also tired and just wanted to go to bed. I was having a hard time coming up with lesson ideas other than have my students watch a movie and take notes. I really wanted them to be actively engaged and thinking.

So with some guilt I jumped on Tweetdeck and asked for ideas. I felt guilty as I have not been a contributor for the last couple of weeks. Sure enough within 20 minutes I had 4 different suggestions and I could feel my energy level increase – the ideas started flowing again. My problem now was not what to do with my students but which activity I should try. I had a lot of great ideas to choose from.

I ended up going with a song suggested by @historytunes called “Here to Amerika” At first the plan was to use this just as a warm up but it ended up being a full 40 minute discussion. It was great to see so many of students enjoying the song, reflecting on it and sharing with each other. This ended up being one of those rare days where my students were engaged and I fed off of their energy.

Setting Up the Lesson

I prepped my students by asking them to define immigration in their own words. I like to start with basics to build up confidence and give my lower students an opportunity to contribute.

We then moved to a brief discussion about immigration in the news today. I asked my students to share what they have heard recently. After a few minutes of the kids pointing out some of the issues in the media today I pointed out that many of these issues were on the minds of people in the US in the late 1800s/early 1900s.

Then I had students take out a sheet of paper and explained that I wanted them to take notes while listening to a song I was about to play. I aksed them to try to figure out the topic and message of the song and to write down any questions they may have or any lyrics that catch their attention.

After listening to the song I asked what they thought of it. Most said they liked it. I asked them to share some of the things they had heard and it just turned into a wonderful discussion that was different for each of my classes. My students even picked up on the variety of musical styles that were included and explained that it was a reflection of the variety of cultures entering the United States. Another class had a great discussion around metaphors.

After some time talking we listened to the song a second time with the lyrics in front of them. I asked them to write down anything new that comes to mind and I also asked them to list any push or pull factors mentioned in the song in a chart similar to the one below:

Push and Pull factors

I also noticed that after giving my students the lyrics many started signing along! In my 13 years of teaching I have never had kids break out in song in class other than Happy Birthday. This was awesome!

All in all it was a great day! My students were actively participating, sharing and having a good time. I am so grateful for my PLN and the resources they share every day. At times it is overwhelming for me to keep up with it all but I find that I get energized again and new ideas emerge because of the sharing that occurs. I can honestly say that without a doubt the people that I collaborate with through Twitter have helped me to become a better educator.

I want to give a special shout out to @historytunes, @kyteacher, @mguhlin, @agins213 and @woodenmask – these are wonderful people who were extremely helpful last night when I was struggling to come up with new lessons for my students.

Educational Conference Hashtags

The last few days I have been following some great conversations  on Twitter coming out of the several conferences happening all over the country. Many of these tweets have a hashtag associated with them so that people can easily follow tweets associated with that conference.  When I tried to dig a little deeper to find out more about a particular conference it was not always easy to get more information.

First, I searched for a hashtag in Tweetdeck which resulted in a new stack showing only tweets with that hashtag.  I tried looking for clues and links to the main conference website but was unsuccessful.

Second, I asked my PLN if there is a service that allows me to get more information on a particular hashtag and @tgwynn suggested that I try these services: TwubsTagalus and What The Trend. These services are great and can be very useful but the problem is that someone needs to go in and define the hashtag for them to work.  @Krista_Scott also shared an excellent page on hashtags from Cybrary Man’s Educational Websites. Here there is a list of common educational hashtags and several links to services and articles on hashtags but there was still no quick and easy way to get a definition for a hashtag.

I’m still looking for a fast, quick and easy way to determine the definition for a hashtag.  In the meantime I started a Google Spreadsheet to collect some of the more prominent educational conferences happening right now and throughout the rest of the summer.  If you know of a hashtag for a current or upcoming  educational conference please add it to the spreadsheet.  Hopefully we can create an “at a glance” resource to help everyone out.

If you have any suggestions or resources for researching hashtags I’d love to hear them!  I keep wondering if I am the only one  just “not getting it”

A New Beginning

This is a long overdue yet much needed post.  Attending ISTE in Denver this year has really opened my eyes to a lot of things.  I have been inspired and have experienced things that would not have been possible without the Newbie Project.

I don’t even think I could adequately express in words the gratitude I feel towards everyone that made this experience possible.  Turning my thoughts into words is something that I struggle with (which is another reason this post is long overdue).  I’m always trying to make sure I don’t “cheapen” how I feel with overused phrases that sound generic.

First and foremost I would like to thank Beth Still the founder of the Newbie Project.  She has been extremely patient with me throughout the entire year.  At times, my questions would not stop (especially about flying since I have never flown before attending ISTE) to the times when she needed my input and I was slow to respond because my classroom workload was overwhelming and demanded much of my attention.  Beth not only put an immense amount of her personal time into promoting and raising money for this project, but she put a lot of her energy into the planning process as well.  Beth is very dedicated and passionate about improving education.  The countless hours she put into the Newbie Project as well as reaching out and helping others in her PLN just amazes me.  Beth has been a great mentor – pushing me beyond my comfort level and challenging me throughout the year.  She has supported me in my feeble attempt at blogging to testing out new web tools and projects with my students.  I would not have grown professionally as much as I have this year if it were not for her.  Beth provided me with an opportunity that I will be forever grateful for.  Thank you Beth.

To everyone in my PLN, as well as my friends and family that provided financial and moral support I thank you!  My experience at ISTE was wonderfully chaotic and amazing.  I would also like to apologize if I met you at ISTE and did not thank you in person.  I think I was in a daze half the time and overwhelmed (with lots of new ideas) to the point where I was not always thinking clearly.  In retrospect I wish I had taken Beth’s advice and planned out more of the sessions I wanted to attend which would have helped alleviate that problem (Yes, Beth I know – you told me so).  I still can’t believe that a bunch of people I barely knew (at the time) made donations to send someone like me to ISTE – all I can say is WOW, I am one lucky guy!  Not only lucky to be able to go to ISTE but also lucky to be a part of a network of educators that truly care about teaching, learning, and most importantly, the kids.  I have learned so much from all of you!

In one sense I am sad the Newbie Project has come to an end for me and I wish I was still interacting with my PLN face to face in Denver but at the same time I see this as a new beginning.  I have already began dreaming up new projects for my students next year and I hope to keep my PLN updated on how they turn out in hopes that I can give back at least a little of what I have received.  This has been one awesome journey for me which would not have been possible without the help of Beth Still and my PLN – THANK YOU!

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Licensed under CC - created by ARendle on Flickr

Online PD Presentation

Today I gave a short presentation sharing my thoughts and ideas regarding online professional development (PD) with members of our district in-service committee. Overall I think it went well. Everyone seemed receptive of my ideas as there was some great conversations that resulted. I think the game plan is to do a trial run of these online pd programs. One concern that came up during our conversations was how to track and document all of the PD that comes in from online learning from a fairly large staff (I think we are around 400 in our district). This could be a very time intensive task.

Another service called PD360 was also showcased. This is a pay service but seems to have a lot of potential. It was more formalized than what I was presenting and much of the online learning would be asynchronous – watching small video clips and writing reflections. The content of the PD 360 seemed to be more focused on instructional strategies.

In contrast the information I presented emphasized synchronous learning opportunities and i get the impression that there is more of an emphasis on technology in the classroom.

The general consensus was that both of the venues would compliment each other nicely and meet the variety of needs of our staff.

I am really excited that I had the opportunity to collaborate, share and learn with other educators in my district and am hopeful we can move forward with this new model of online PD in our district.

My Crazy Idea for Online PD

visualtweets beth visutweet

My Crazy Idea for Online PD Presentation

I have an experiment that I’d like to conduct, and need the assistance of my PLN to help pull it off. I would like you to take a look at the questions below and tweet your replies to one of more of them. It is essential to use the hashtag #onlinepd so I can aggregate the tweets using a tool called Visual Tweets. I first saw this visualization tool used at Educon 2.2 when Michael Wacker used it during his session on how to implement direct instruction in online classes. I plan on sharing your tweets this Wednesday when I go before the district staff development committee to present my ideas for including informal online PD for teachers as part of our program for professional development. VisualTweets will run on a screen as the meeting is getting underway. This is something I have never done before and welcome any comments, ideas and suggestions you have.

Here are some guiding questions for you to ponder/think about:

  1. What would a district program utilizing online PD look like?
  2. How should teachers document their online PD experiences?
  3. What experiences have you personally had with online PD?
  4. What are the benefits of online PD for teachers?
  5. What are some great resources for online PD?  Please include links to services/groups/blogs etc.
  6. Where can teachers go for free online PD?
  7. What have you learned about online PD?
  8. What does the research say about online PD for teacher?
  9. How would you define or describe online PD for teachers?
  10. Do you know of any great quotes/comments about online PD?

Later in the week I will write a follow up post to share all of your ideas so that others who are exploring the option of online PD can benefit. I’m hopeful that my district will be able to create a model for other schools to follow.  Please share your thoughts as you think of them on Twitter.  I will tweet the call for help several times over the next few days and would appreciate the retweets as well as your thoughts.

Rising Star Looking to Shine? By Beth Still

The following post was written by Beth Still. Her district is beginning the search for a new administrator for next year. From what Beth has shared with me this sounds like an exciting position for the right person.

ESU13, a service unit in western Nebraska, is expected to make an announcement very soon that they are seeking to fill the position of high school principal for their alternative education program. This is a truly unique position that is ideal for a rising star who is looking to make their mark in education. As I said in the original post, I hope we end up with the next Chris Lehmann. We need someone energetic, creative, and brilliant to help maximize the potential of our three schools. The administrator of this program is responsible for three different and completely unrelated programs:

* an alternative high school that serves the needs of up to nearly 50 students
* a educational program that is housed in a juvenile detention center
* an brand new online school that is slowly gaining momentum

Many of you know me as bethstill on Twitter. I am using my blog, Nebraska Change Agent, as a tool to help promote this position at my school. If you are an innovative and visionary leader then you owe it to yourself to drop by my blog and read the full post. There is much more to this position than meets the eye. If you are full of great ideas, but cannot put them into practice because of strict filter issues or a reluctant staff, then this might be the fresh start you are looking for. Our philosophy is to open the filters up as much as possible and treat mistakes as learning experiences. ESU13 has a clear vision of the future of education in Nebraska, but they need the right people on board to make that happen. Could you be the one? There is only one way to find out.

Requirements to be certified as an administrator in the state of Nebraska.

A Night of Discovery and Exploration

Tonight I took my son – a kindergartner – to the second “PTO Family Science Night”  at Big Flats Elementary School. Armed with a flip camera I was going to capture my sons excitement as he got to see some of the live animals scheduled to be there.  Little did I know that I was going to be just as amazed at the event as well.

In addition to the live animals (the owl, American Alligator, hedgehog and variety of snakes and turtles) there were stations to learn about fossils, bugs, plants and the human body.  There were also physics exhibits covering all sorts of topics.  These stations were interactive and engaged the kids in many different ways.

The PTO, Elizabeth Scaptura (school principal),  Tanglewood Nature Center and the Science Discovery Center, along with several other organizations, put on an amazing event.  What really impressed me was that there were high school school students running many of the booths.  They were well informed and excited about what they were doing.  Several of them were former students of mine and that really struck me as they were now teaching my own child.   These high school kids were applying what they had learned in the classroom to a real world situation.  It added value and relevance to their education.  It gave the kids an opportunity to practice the skills they had learned in the classroom.  Not just science knowledge but the skills of  interacting with kids and adults, presentation skills and volunteering their time.  Even though the focus of the evening was science this was an interdisciplinary experience for those students.

There is a community service requirement at the high school which is wonderful.  Students that volunteered at this event were able to fulfill part of this requirement.  Community service creates a climate of opportunity for teachers and students to come together and host many more events like the one my five year old absolutely enjoyed this evening.

I just want to thank everyone that came together to make this event happen.  This is the kind of learning that we need to promote in our schools.  We need to create real world events and activities that not only deepen academic knowledge but also helps students to develop character and give them a sense of purpose.

This is how I envision education and it has got me thinking:

How can we structure our schools so that students, teachers and the community can come together on a regular basis to create authentic and meaningful learning experiences?




Educon 2.2: Reflections on a Renaissance in Teaching & Learning

Wordle: Educon 2.2

This was the first year I have attended Educon and needless to say I had a blast and learned much from this truly unique event.  I have attended several conferences over my twelve years of teaching and have never experienced anything like this.

One thing that I noticed was the sense of community even with complete strangers.  I got in on Thursday night and immediately went to dinner with about 10 people in what is called a “tweetup”.  People from all areas of the US and in many different fields of education gathered for good food and conversation.  We had open, enjoyable conversations about teaching and learning.  I felt welcomed and comfortable enough to ask questions and share experiences with these wonderful and amazing educators!  I also felt humbled to be around so many smart and enthusiastic people at one time.  Similar experiences happened throughout the conference – before the keynotes, at all meals, during the sessions and so on.  It was difficult for me to keep up with all the new people I had met but I would say that the sense of community was a common thread throughout the conference.  I have been to several conferences where I have not met one single new educator.  My guess is that social networking played a big role in this sense of community.

Being at Educon also validated everything that I do on Twitter.  I was able to meet people in real life that I have collaborated with virtually for months.  Going to this conference helped me realize that spending time on Twitter is productive and essential to my growth as a professional.  It is an avenue for new ideas to help keep the content fresh and to keep me passionate about teaching the same content from year to year.

Educon was like remixing a video on YouTube – taking ideas from educators from all areas of education and remixing them, modifying them to fit my needs as a teacher in upstate New York.

I also enjoyed having positive conversations.  Generally people did not gripe about administration, standards or school filters.  People tended to focus on what they were doing with their students in their schools.  This is very uplifting and more productive.

I just see Educon 2.2 and conferences like it as a renaissance in teaching and learning; a celebration of what we as educators do – something that renivents how we as learn as teachers and breaks down barriers.  Educon is a shining example of how learning can be fun, exciting and fluid.  I had a great time learning and making new connections which has reignited my passion for teaching and learning.