Monday, November 27, 2017

How We Talked to an Author 2000 Miles Away

I am currently working with our second grade to create book commercials that will be posted in our local public library as well as our school library.  I worked along with one of our teachers to do this project last year, but we wanted to make the project bigger and better for this year.  I'll get to the whole project in a future post, but today I want to focus on our author chats.

Over the summer, I contacted Nepris about our project.  If you've never heard of Nepris, you should hop on over there right now and create an account.  They will connect you and your class to a professional who can talk with your class about whatever topic you are discussing.  Think of what your next unit will be about.  Would you like to talk to a person who works in that field but don't know the perfect person to chat with? Don't worry. Nepris will set up a video chat with a professional so your kids can learn more from an expert.

Nepris connected us with Tricia Stewart Shiu who is an award-winning author, book reviewer, and motivational speaker, living in the Los Angeles area.  I had never heard of Ms Stewart Shiu before but I can honestly say she has quickly become a favorite in our school.  I have now been a part of two sessions with her and have a third scheduled in a couple weeks.  

Tricia has everything you could possibly want in a guest speaker for your class. She knows her profession well.  She understands the writing process and how to promote books and is able to communicate these skills to our students.  Not only is she knowledgeable, but she is able to bring that knowledge to the students' level.  Some people may accidentally talk over the heads of primary-aged students, but Ms Stewart Shiu doesn't do that.  She knows her audience well.  Finally, she is enthusiastic about her work and genuinely loves to talk to the kids about it. As we know from working with kids, enthusiasm is contagious.  As she displays her excitement about writing, the kids start to pick on that and get more excited for their projects too.  

I'm so glad that I was able to connect with Nepris and with Tricia Stewart Shiu.  I encourage you to find your professional expert today!


Monday, February 13, 2017

Blending Math Class

Since Christmas, I have been working alongside Mrs. Justice to help personalize learning in her 5th grade math classes. It's been an interesting ride trying to find practices that best fit her students and her style.  We're nowhere near ready to call this a completed project, but we've come so far already. I wanted to blog about where we've been and the direction we're going.  Hopefully by the time school lets out I can create a post about how we've totally personalized learning in 5th grade math.

Station Rotation Model
When I first started visiting Mrs. Justice's room, she already had a station rotation model in action.  Students spent time in three stations each class period -- small group, individual, games.  With my presence, we were able to add a fourth station -- technology.  Since it's really hard to get meaningful work done with four rotations a day, we rotated through the four stations over two days.

The big question at the time was WHAT technology to use.  We use Envision Math at our school, and they have a website with student activities. The original goal was to use that site for the tech station, but it just wasn't conducive for personalized learning. So, we went with MobyMax, a site I use with younger students.

What is great about MobyMax is its personalization.  Before you do any work in math, you take a placement test that figures out your holes in learning and gives you lessons to help fill those gaps. Another thing MobyMax does well is review math facts in an app called Fact Fluency.  However, as students continued learning missing skills, we realized there was obvious things missing with MobyMax.  For one, it lacks a lot of bells and whistles. While a second grader may not realize the difference, a fifth grader will visibly react to "the MobyMax voice" and less than optimum graphics.  Another thing that tripped us up was the lack of flexibility.  If a student bombed a kindergarten skill in the placement test, the only way to get past that skill was to go through all the lessons and practices -- even a retest didn't solve the problem.

We had to find something else.

Flexible Learning
Our simultaneous searching lead various places with great blogs and articles, but we hit pay dirt when Mrs. Justice found Mrs. Meehan's math website for a couple reasons.

For one, this led us to the Engage NY curriculum which is something Mrs. Justice was familiar with from her previous school.  She printed out the modules and used them to revamp her entire approach.  Students were assessed and given a starting point in the curriculum based on their assessments.  This helped students start exactly where they need to learning.

We also found the resources for blended learning page, and that opened my eyes to a whole new set of math websites I didn't know existed.  For now, we've landed on Zearn as a favorite.  In Zearn, students are placed in specific lessons by the teacher but are scaffolded through the process from there. Each lesson has warm-ups, fact practice, a video lesson, more practice, and a wrap up that will teach a particular skill. And, say good-bye to freaky voices.  Zearn has actors who play the part of teachers on their instructional videos.

That leads us to our next blended learning model, which I'll call flexible learning for lack of a better name.  Students are expected to learn in three modes:
1.  Small group instruction.  Some students are required to spend 10-20 minutes with Mrs. Justice each day.  Others are expected to check in face-to-face a couple times a week to make sure they are learning the new content.
2.  Individual work.  Students are given paper lessons to work on in class and are expected to complete 3-5 a week.  If questions arise, they can ask peers or a teacher for help. As mentioned above, students are given papers each week based on how they have performed on assessments so they are personalized to an extent.
3.  Technology.  While we really like Zearn, we also have left the door open for them to continue with MobyMax or use DreamBox (a site they had been using since the start of school). Each of these sites enable personalization based on performance and allow students to move at their own pace.

And the room looks different than it used to look too as evidenced by this panoramic picture I took.



Math Menu
Moving forward we want to work toward a math menu model, where students will be able to choose each day between main dishes, side dishes, and desserts.  These will include some of the pieces mentioned above but will also include creating and playing math games and creating and watching math videos to name a few.  We'd also like to open up a few other math programs to students as well. (Click the link for my most recent ideas.)

We are constantly reading up on new ideas, so if you have an idea, web site, or blog you could recommend, please send it my way!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

2nd Grade Book Commercials

Inspired by this great article, I set out with Mrs. Zureick in second grade to make book commercial videos.  We hit some hiccups along the way, but I'm really happy with the final product and how we grew through the process.

Step One:  Selecting a video production tool.
In the article, Mr. Buetow's class used Adobe Spark for their videos. I immediately fell in love with Adobe Spark for its look and ease of use and wanted to run with it.  Sadly, Adobe has a 13 and over policy for its users.  We discussed the possibility of creating a generic school account that students could access. Sadly, that plan was not approved at the district office, so we had to look in other directions.

That search didn't take long at all. With three WeVideo projects under my belt, I felt comfortable using this platform.  While I would have liked the animated look from Adobe Spark, WeVideo is an excellent and easy program to use for 30 second video spots.  (Feel free to click here, here, and here to read about our previous projects.)

Step Two: Read the books and write the scripts.
I didn't help with this part of the project, but Mrs. Zureick's class spent a lot of time in the school library reading books that may interest younger students. Then, each student wrote up commercials for two books. Using markers, they created their own cue cards to read on camera.

Step Three: Getting pictures.
This turned out to be a minor hurdle to jump over. When I started working with the first two kids, I realized they needed to take pictures of illustrations in the books.  I spent a while trying to teach myself how to take a picture using a Chromebook webcam and get that saved into WeVideo on the fly (while wondering how I would teach it to 30 2nd graders) when it hit me that we have a small stack of iPads assigned to each grade level.

In the end, we took pictures with iPads, plugged the iPads into Chromebooks, then loaded them directly into WeVideo.  That added a couple hours to the project, but it worked just fine.



Step Four: Recording and editing the videos. 
When I started working with students on this project, we were in the library.  I loved the bookshelves in the background, so we made sure that all our "production studios" had a set of bookshelves we could use.



WeVideo is literally so easy a second grader can do it. As you'll see in the example videos at the end, we had three elements: a video of students talking, three pictures from the book, and background music.  Once we got cooking we could do multiple videos at one time and crank one out in less than 15 minutes.

As you can see in the picture, we tried to work in small teams.  I never felt that I had to have control of the Chromebook or the cue cards. I was quite fine with kids helping kids. It worked great! When I was being observed by my principal I made sure one of the best helpers was there working alongside me.  That was a positive part of the observation -- I had a protege working with me.

Step Five: Get rid of last names.
Our school policy is to not post student last names online.  Our librarian made the realization that WeVideo automatically displays the video creator's first and last name.  We had to scramble together notes home asking parents for permission to use the videos.  Just before we started deleting videos, WeVideo came through and showed us how to change the names. Whew!

Step Six: Publicize the videos.
The final step was to make these videos available to other students.  We are doing this two ways.  One, the links to all the videos will go into our school-wide computerized library catalog. So, when a student goes on the webpage for that book, she can view a video commercial about that book.  Two, QR Codes will be printed on labels and affixed to the inside cover of these books.  This will give students instant access to our book commercials.




As I wrap up, I'd like to thank a few people:
  • Jesse Buetow not only wrote the article that gave this project life but was willing to answer questions for me from the outset. 
  • Debbie Schroeder is our school librarian.  She's been on top of this project from the moment I sent the email out to the school. She's excited to get more videos created by more students. 
  • Tina Zureick is not afraid to do something new and has invited me into her room on more than one occasion.
  • The guys at WeVideo bailed me out of a jam. They were willing to help me with questions -- again -- that I could have probably answered myself if I didn't go into "freak out" mode. 
Here are a couple of videos for you to enjoy.



Friday, January 6, 2017

Wrapping Up Narnia

Our journey through Narnia has concluded, but I thoroughly enjoyed blogging alongside the students.  At the start of the book, each student chose one of the Pevensie children to "become." At various points during the book, the students had to blog as that character.

This was a great activity for a number of reasons.

  • It was a great introduction to blogging.  I was surprised how few kids actually knew anything about blogging.  However, they all were able to experience the process and see how it's done.
  • Writing from the point of view of a character is hard to do.  This was more than a mere summary of the story.  Students had to think like that character.  
  • This was not just writing to satisfy the teacher.  Students got to read each other's blogs and make comments.  
I found that once students had one or two blog posts under their belts, I was an obsolete member of the class. I would still make an appearance but was not needed for support much after the ball got rolling.  That's what education is about -- helping students learn new skills so they can be independent.

We also added the vlog concept, using WeVideo and green screen technology.  This was completely new to all of us, so it was a lengthy process. After a few days of recording, re-recording, and editing, the process was complete and most kids got a vlog look that was somewhat convincing that we were standing in Narnia.

Here are some of the better blogs to see what the students were able to create.
http://thestoryofedmundslife.blogspot.com/
http://adventuresofsusan2.blogspot.com/
http://thequestofmysteriouslucy.blogspot.com/
http://thepeterway.blogspot.com/

And here is my blog from the perspective of Tumnus the Faun.
http://chroniclesofafaun.blogspot.com/

I'd like to thank Ms. McGuire for letting me be a part of this project.  It was a blast!



Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Green Screen Practice

As part of our Narnia blogging experience, we wanted to give the students an option to create a vlog entry as well.  So, the other day, I asked for volunteers.  "I need two students who are done their assignment for the day and are ready to do something crazy."  (Amazing how that motivates kids. "Something crazy" has to be a good thing. Right?!?!)

I took my two students in the hall and explained what they were doing, and almost immediately one of them commenting about the background.  After all, cement blocks painted white is not a Narnia-inspired look.  So, I started exploring the options of using a green screen.  

As it turns out WeVideo has a green screen feature, AND our school owns a small green screen! It was a match made in heaven! 

Last year in my previous school, I co-taught a couple media production classes for middle and high school.  But, by saying "co-taught" it just meant I helped by managing and organizing the courses.  I actually had no idea how to do half the stuff the students were doing.  So, I missed the green screen lesson completely.  Fortunately, WeVideo makes it super easy.  

Below are two promos that I created for the entire vlog experience.  The first was shot with my iPhone 6 (front camera) and the second was shot with my Chromebook webcam.  




We showed the first video to the students today, and they were pumped! They were certainly excited to see me with the mountain background AND they can't wait to start using the green screen.  This will be fun!

Now, I'm experimenting with using (finding) lights to make a more consistent green color on the screen.  While the phone camera did a better job, I'd much rather not use it for all 50 videos.  So, I want to make things work on the webcam for a usable video experience.

Stay tuned.  Good things to come.  Of course.

And, if you want to watch 27 seconds of utter cuteness, you need to watch this...

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Show Me How

I stepped into Ms McGuire's room to help with their blogging project, and it didn't take long for the students to start asking me questions about how to do things on their blog posts.  After a few minutes, I realized there were going to be a lot of questions about text wrapping -- something I don't really do on my blogs.  I just plop a picture down in my post and don't worry too much about the aesthetics of the page.  (Who knows? Maybe that's why I don't get a lot of hits.)

I explained to the class that I would start googling that question and we'd deal with it by the end of class.  Then Lindsey popped up.  "You mean, you want to do this?"  I looked at her computer and -- by golly -- she was doing text wrapping with her picture.  "Lindsey! How did you do that?!? Show me how!"

It may seem like a little thing, but when the dust settled I realized how that attitude feeds into a blended learning concept.  Back in 1994, when I started teaching, I was the final source of knowledge.  Well, the textbook and me -- we were an ugly tag-team match up.  If I didn't know the answer to a question, I would get all red in the face and flustered. It was like the deodorant commercial -- never let them see you sweat. I never wanted to show any mental weaknesses.  Not knowing was akin to not being qualified to be the teacher.

So much has changed now, and I feel completely comfortable not knowing something. In fact, I'm cool with asking a 10 year old how she accomplished something I can't.  Cause it's all about learning and growing, and I'm glad I could model that for 25 fifth graders.

And, just to show you I can now text wrap.... here's proof.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Blending Narnia...

What is it about your job that geeks you out? For me, it's those moments when a teacher invites me into her room and gives me carte blanche to do something cool.  I'm still quite new at this school and in this role, so I get excited when doors fly open for me.

This happened for me about a week ago, when I popped my head into Ms. McGuire's 5th grade room.  She pointed at her stack of new copies of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and said, "Get thinking about how you can help us with these." WHAT?!?!

Let's back up a few decades to my formative years.  I was never into reading as a kid.  I read what I had to read for school and occasionally found books that I liked to read.  But I was never what I would consider a reader all through my childhood.  That changed during college in my Children's Lit course.  One of our required readings was The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and my eyes were opened to the awesomeness of books.  I have never been the same since.  Because of that trip to Narnia, I have battled for Middle Earth, lived through numerous national dilemmas, and solved countless murders, not to mention exploring the human mind, educational philosophy, and human nature through non-fiction.  Would I like to help with this class's trip to Narnia?  I couldn't sign up fast enough!!!!

The problem really boils down to how to use technology when teaching such an epic novel.  Since Google searches weren't much help, I had to come up with my own epic idea.  After pondering for a while, it finally hit me!  The students could blog the journey through the wardrobe as one of the Pevensie children!  

From there the idea moved pretty quickly.  I read the first couple chapters and created my own blog as Tumnus the Faun to give the students an example to work toward.  It was fun to design the blog as if a faun was writing it, keeping the focus of the book in mind.  I'm still toying with the idea of continuing the blog throughout the course of the book or just keeping up one post as an example for future years.

Yesterday, the students started their blogs, and I'm just geeking out over bringing my passions of reading, blogging, and edtech together as we read one of my favorite books.  Stay tuned, and I'll have student examples soon.  


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