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Showing posts from September, 2014

@TeachThought Day 30: What I Would Do (As A Teacher) If I Wasn't Afraid

My last Reflective Teacher TeachThought post for the month of September asks me what I would do (as a teacher) if I weren't afraid. The answer would normally be that I'm too afraid to allow students to be self-directed learners.
I'm able to cross that off of my list, however: my Effective Teens students are just beginning Genius Hour!
I've been teaching Effective Teens for six years now. I think it is an amazing character education program and I've added a lot (including a service-learning component) to enhance it. The need arose last winter, however, to revamp the curriculum this school year and that thought filled me with some anxious moments. I was worried about what I could do to (meaningfully) change the curriculum but keep the most essential elements of the class intact. After researching and thinking (and thinking) the idea hit me--the gift of time that this change precipitated allowed me to implement Genius Hour
I am so excited by the possibilities this …

@TeachThought Day 29: My Journey as a Teacher

I have been teaching for 18 years now (technically 19, I took one year off after my second child was born) and I have changed in many ways but the core of who I am as an educator has remained the same.
I began teaching during the mid-1990s, a time of prosperity in Michigan. There have been many changes in Michigan since that have directly impacted public education here and times have been tougher. I see a resiliency in educators, though, and we face these struggles knowing that our students need us now more than ever. 
One of the greatest changes for me as an educator occurred during the first ten years of my career--I became a Mom. I was a good teacher before, I am a much better teacher now. I always showed empathy for my students, it's an ingrained quality. Having my own children directly impacted me, though, because I see every young person in my classroom as someone's son or daughter. That reality was profound for me and effects my decisions, both big and small.
I now val…

@TeachThought Day 28: The Technology/Curriculum Connection

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Today's post centers around the issue of whether or not technology should drive curriculum. I hadn't read all 30 daily Teach Thought topics when I answered this question earlier in the month, on September 12th. The goal should be that curriculum should drive the technology usage in the classroom, not the other way around.
Teachers should use a variety of methods to teach the standards, skills and concepts necessary for students to learn in their subject area. Technology needs to be one way to help students learn--it can't be the only way. Technology is amazing and dynamic but needs to be harnessed and filtered through the content. My district is utilizing the SAMR method to integrate technology into teaching and I feel this is a reasonable way to start slow and ultimately transform my teaching.  

I am striving toward the Redefiniton phase but needed to work in the Substitution phase just this week so that I could see what an on-line discussion (my first) would look like. …

@TeachThought Day 27: The Importance of Weekends and Holidays

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I'm sure teachers everywhere are in total agreement with me when I say that weekends and holidays are vital!
Weekends during the school year are all about catch-up: I get extra sleep, a chance to grade work and plan, get up-to-date on my household chores and grocery shopping, I have longer workout sessions and make time for fun, too.  
Saturdays and Sundays also give me extra time to be a Mom and enjoy my son and daughter's soccer and basketball games. I love to watch them play and enjoy being kids! It's revitalizing and strengthens our parent/child bonds.
Holidays are critical because there is usually an event during the time off and that's a chance to make new memories with family and friends. We have traveled during some holiday vacations and when I come back to school I'm refreshed and energized.
Both weekends and holidays allow me precious time to reflect and think--this is key to making me a better person, parent, friend, and teacher.  Reflection, I've r…

@TeachThought Day 26: Three Favorite Go-To Sites

I have mentioned websites that I use often but because today's post asks for a few more go-to sites I will share three more I now refer to: the TeachTCI webinar page, the Cult of Pedagogy, and Pinterest.

I have known about TCI since I was a student teacher and their approach to social studies education is outstanding. I use the webinars to find ideas to make my teaching more exciting and relevant for my students.

I have recently learned about the Cult of Pedagogy and I really like their education articles and videos. I am frequently searching this site for explanations of buzz-worthy topics.

Pinterest is an absolute go-to site for education. When I want a resource or a new way to utilize an idea in my classroom I see what's been posted on Pinterest. (I have posted pictures, as well.) It's a wonderful place to find lesson ideas, information on Genius Hour implementation, and even tips on how to decorate my classroom! #reflectiveteacher

@TeachThought Day 25: Ideal Student Collaboration

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What does student collaboration look like? I often ask this very question of my students and their answers are insightful. They feel student collaboration should occur when students are facing one another and making eye contact. When I ask what student collaboration sounds like they mention student conversations should remain on-topic, respectful (especially when disagreeing on topics and issues), and all students should use low voices. 
I feel their views are spot-on. I also believe student collaboration should center on higher-level, open-ended questions. Project-based learning (see yesterday's post) is ideal, in my opinion. Giving students the chance to work on real-life issues will prepare them for the 21st century. 
Middle school students need the chance to practice social and content vocabulary and collaboration allows this to occur. I am taking a risk tomorrow and have my classes complete an online discussion for the first time. This will be the perfect teachable moment to…

@TeachThought Day 24: An Intriguing Trend in Learning: Project-Based Learning

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Today's blog entry is to write about a current trend that I want to know about. I am definitely intrigued by Project-Based Learning. 


Project-Based Learning (PBL) is a real-world approach to group activities in the classroom and I would like to make it a bigger part of my curriculum. 
Curriculum relevancy has always been a goal of mine--I want students to know why social studies knowledge is essential to being a productive and effective member of society. PBL addresses content and applies it to real-world situations. Critical thinking skills are also emphasized. 
I feel that PBL would make class even more fun and interesting for my students and it's an achievable goal. #reflectiveteacher

@TeachThought Day 23: How I Involve the Community in My Classroom

Today's focus centers on how I meaningfully involve the community in the learning that takes place in my classroom. 
I involve parents in the History-related field trips my students go on, two examples are the field trips to Greenfield Village and Civil War Day at the Troy Historical Museum. We are lucky to have great parent turn-out. Our parents are supportive and willing to share the day with us, especially since they probably won't have the opportunity to chaperon for many class events while their children are in High School. The parents enjoy themselves and see their children learn History at the same time.
One way I meaningfully involve the community in my History classroom occurs during the annual Veterans Day speaker panel I help coordinate. The History teachers and I reach out to our parents and ask for Veterans to come in to speak to each of the History classes, on or around Veterans Day. 
The participants are mostly the parents and grandparents of current 8th Grader…

@TeachThought: My PLN and What it Does For Me

My Professional Learning Network is growing bigger everyday, thankfully! I enjoy working with and learning from educators (and administrators) representing all content areas, grade levels, years in service, and subject areas. 
I believe firmly that learning comes from a willingness to share ideas, period. For example, I learned a valuable classroom management technique from a 6th Grade Language Arts teacher during an observation many years ago. If I wasn't willing to be open-minded I could have dismissed the technique because I teach 8th graders. Instead, it was a valuable teaching moment for me.
Last week I was fortunate to attend a school improvement meeting with leaders from the six secondary buildings in my district. I had a fabulous day interacting with and building upon the ideas these six teams brought together. I cannot wait to see what will come of the groundwork and synergy produced at this meeting!
I believe that technology has allowed my PLN to grow. I am connecting w…

@TeachThought Day 21: Bringing my Hobbies and Interests into the Classroom

My reflection today centers on how I bring my hobbies and interests into the classroom. 
I enjoy crafting--it's cathartic and I feel renewed when I'm creative. I have made some items for my classroom that make it more homey (but not too "girly" or cute--I need to be mindful of the boys in my classes). 
I love music and art history and try to incorporate them into my US History curriculum whenever possible. Two examples are the soundtrack from the movie "The Patriot" and John Trumbull's Signing of the Declaration of Independence. I also play U2's Pride (In the Name of Love) to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 
I am a sports fan and bring in articles to share with my Effective Teens students related to concepts we study. An example would be the article I shared about a former Detroit Tiger All-Star baseball player that was demoted to the minors a few years ago when he wasn't producing on the field. This athlete made the best of the situation…

@TeachThought Day 20: Student Work Curation

The topic for today's post centers on student work curation. I like the archival connotation of the term curation, that is truly what we do (and/or have our students do).

My curation is usually results in hanging items on the wall in class and out in the hallway. I will also tweet and blog student work. The curation I would like to focus this post on is the student curation that occurs in my middle school.

The middle schools in my district have a very well-crafted portfolio project for the three years students are in middle school, thanks to our district's Language Arts teachers and Teacher Libarians. The program is called APT to Succeed--the acronym stands for the types of student work that goes into the portfolio. Students should have a sampling of Academic, Personal Management, and Teamwork artifacts represented. (We help students find examples for each of the three components.)

This impressive program has been well-honed through the years and culminates with a 8th grade p…

@TeachThought Day 19: Student Self-Reflection

Self-Reflection is essential to growth. Today's post asks educators to reflect on how students think and learn in their classrooms. Three powerful methods I use to encourage my students to reflect are exit slips, self-grading, and the I Used to Think But Now I Think Visible Thinking routine.
Exit Slips are a great end-of-the-hour activity. I do daily slips that may simply ask students to state the most important piece of information they learned in the hour and explain why or the most important event from the week's classes, and state why. Exit slips enable me to easily check to see what students are retaining and they get an opportunity to practice the claim-evidence skills that are so important in social studies education.
Having students grade themselves on activities is incredibly insightful and their grading is often harsher than I grade! (I, of course, have final say but I value their insights.) They have to cast a critical eye on their performance and effort and these …

@TeachThought Day 18: Teaching Philosophy Metaphor

Today's challenge was to come up with a metaphor for my teaching philosophy. This week is particulary busy for me and the thought of creating a metaphor is daunting! Here are my thoughts:  I feel that teaching is sculpting.  A sculptor gains access to a block of, for example, marble. The sculptor can see the general makeup of the marble but won't know what's inside until the actual chipping begins. Any generalizations the artist may have about the marble might turn out to be just a generalization when work begins. Sculpting is messy, precarious at times, and hopefully exhilerating when he or she views their final product. I view teaching similarly. I can make assumptions about the makeup of my classes but I have no idea what the year will hold until I actually begin. (Those assumptions can be detrimental, as well.) Teaching is messy and not always clear and structured. (That's ok, in fact, that can be wonderful--there is nothing like teachable moments). Finally, both…

@TeachThought Days 16 and 17: Teacher Superpower/Today's Most Challenging Educational Issue

***I am combining yesterday and today's blog posts--being a Mom took precedence yesterday*** Today's (September 16th) reflection is to think about a superpower I would want to have for my classroom. There are several that would benefit me (cloning myself comes to mind) but my most pressing challenge in my classroom this year is my inability to communicate well with my non-native speakers. I would therefore like to be able to speak many languages. This would enable me to help my ELL students navigate US History, especially since they have little to no prior knowledge of US History to draw from. The academic language is often intangible, especially when discussing politics and government/civics. If I would be able to explain the nuances of government to my students they would have a much easier time grasping the academic content. Day 17: The Most Challenge Issue in Education Today I feel the most challenging issue is standardized testing. The idea is very important: we should …

@TeachThought Day 15: Three Strengths

Today's post is to write about three strengths I have as an educator. 
One strength is my natural curiosity. I love to learn and I do everyday in class. It may be a new viewpoint on a topic we're discussing or a new tech gadget my students shared with me--it doesn't matter what it is, I know more today than I did yesterday. This keeps me young and eager to see what tomorrow holds. Learning is powerful and it's something I thrive on.
Another strength is my patience. I am by no means perfect but I've learned to succeed in classroom management through patience. I respect my students and they sense that. They know that I want to be there, with them, learning together. I give them opportunities to own classroom routines and we work as one to achieve our goals. I am do not yell, I have no need to. It's not always easy but they appreciate how I work to make History (or Effective Teens) relevant and interesting for them and that goes a long way when it comes to classr…

@TeachThought Days 13 and 14: EdTech and Student Feedback

TeachThought Day 13: My Top Edtech Tools
I have a few edtech tools I frequently use and recommend: Edutopia, Smartboard Notebook Software,  and two sites from the National Archives.
Edutopiais an outstanding online resource for educators. I subscribe to their newsletter and there is always something new and relevant for me to learn and use in my classroom. It is simply outstanding. 
Smartboard Notebook Software: this software is vital to my teaching. I organize topics for both US History and Effective Teens (the leadership class I teach) through Notebook. I am able to embed links, video clips, interactive maps, and other resources electronically. Without it I feel that my Smartboard would be nothing more than a very large computer monitor. The software helps me achieve my goal of student smartboard utilization, as well. They love to use the board and this is another opportunity to promote student-centered learning in my classroom. Smartboard also has a SmartTech Exchange for teachers t…

Day 12: What My Teaching Will Look Like in the Next Five Years

I envision tremendous changes for me as a teacher within the next five years. My district has implemented a student tablet program this school year and even though I am not significantly impacted by this new initiative now I will be in less than two years as the program increases in scope.
I am excited about this endeavor but I am also nervous because there will be many changes for me and for my students. I envision a near-paperless school day and that is nearly incomprehensible to me. There is going to be a significant learning curve and I need to keep reminding myself of the idea that has been reiterated by our district technology leaders: 
The curriculum should drive the use of technology, not vice versa.
If I keep this thought front and center in my mind I will be able to navigate these changes smoothly and gracefully. I was fortunate enough to receive a smartboard a few years ago and I can't imagine teaching without one now. I have tirelessly worked to make it an indispensab…

TeachThought Day 11: My Favorite Part of the School Day

Today's post took some thought for me to answer. I am a morning person and my initial thought was to say the best part of the day was the beginning of the day but that's not true. The early morning is actually quite stressful for me: I need to wake up and get me, my son and my daughter ready for the day and out the door while simultaneously providing an nuturing home environment that will allow them to feel ready to achieve great things at school. I then have a long commute that takes me on busy highways--not my idea of fun. 
My best part of the school day is actually about halfway into my first class period.
The halfway point of my first class period is the point of the day when I can feel my class is hitting their groove and our learning is flowing. I can see how accurately I've predicted the amount of material we can cover and dive deeply into without overwhelming them. I can sense where we will find a natural ending for the period and I will then be able to wrap up wi…

TeachThought Day 10:All About Me

Today’s TeachThought post: All About Me
Five random facts about myself: Fact one: I have a fraternal twin sister and I am five minutes younger. Fact two: I hosted aradio show at a very small radio station on campus when I was in college. (It was an awesome experience!) Fact three:  I can speak German (I’m not as fluent as I used to be, though). Fact four: I am a World Record Holder. Three generations of females in my family are part of a world record event that brought awareness to the World War II-era bomber plant my Grandmother worked at during the war. (I even have a certificate!) Fact five: My favorite color is turquoise.
Four things from my bucket list: 1. I want to travel to Hawaii. 2. I want to write a History book. 3. I want to be in a band. (I’m not seeing this one happening!) 4. I want to learn to speak another foreign language—Italian or French.
Three hopes for the year 1. I hope that my students will grow as critical thinkers. 2. I hope that they will find their voice and increase their confi…

TeachThought Day 9: My Biggest Hidden Accomplishment

Today's post is to write about my biggest teaching accomplishment that no one knows (or cares) about. The one accomplishment that comes to mind is that I teach and learn with passion and gratitude because I truly understand how important an education is and how fortunate I am to have one. I was the first person in my immediate family to graduate from college and it's something I'm extremely proud of. I have overcome obstacles from a very young age and my successes are a result of my hard work and an amazing mom that did everything in her power to ensure my dreams could come to fruition. I worked my way through college and appreciated everything I was given and everything I earned. Teaching with passion and gratitude is my greatest teaching accomplishment and this spirit carries out into my classroom. #reflectiveteacher #teachthought

TeachThought Day 8: The Contents of My Desk Drawer

Today's TeachThought reflection is an interesting one: I need to examine the contents of my desk drawer and infer what these contents mean. My desk drawer is full of colorful items: post-it notes, highlighters and colored pencils and markers of every shade, stickers, even colorful paper clips. These contents make it clear to me that not only do I find color important in my life but I use it for many purposes. The organization color brings to my teaching is necessary--I hand out different colored post-its to my three History sections when we complete an "exit ticket" and assign a different colored paper clip to student groups when they need to jigsaw to a new group. I require students to highlight their persuasive writing at the start of the year so that I can differentiate between their claim, evidence and reasoning (using three different colors). There is one exception to my color usage, though: I never grade assignments in red ink. Color, to me, simply makes life …

TeachThought Day 7: Most Inspirational Colleague

Today's post is to reflect on who my most inspirational colleague is/was. I have given this some thought over the past few years and realized there are five professionals I consider to have been my strongest mentors and role models. Through reflection I can pinpoint how dramatically my career has been altered (always positively) through their influence and I will be forever grateful. The colleague I would like to focus on in this post is Deborah Parizek, my cooperating teacher.
Good luck brought me into her classroom. My university was adamant that intern teachers not know their cooperating teachers and placed me with her. I knew when I walked into her classroom for my interview that she was special and I was thrilled to be able to work with her. Debi taught me so much and she is always, many years later, in the back of my mind when I plan curriculum, lessons, and assessments. I can say that she is the best social studies teacher I have ever known and I am so fortunate to begin m…

TeachThought Day 6: What Does a Good Mentor "Do"?

A good mentor does many things but I think their most important role is to be an unfailing advocate for teaching and demonstrate that vision to their mentee. New teachers need to have believers in their corner. Education is exciting, messy, affirming, and frustrating—mentees must have someone to rely on during the tough times. They need a veteran that has seen the good and the bad but can still say that both of them are in the right profession. There are so many well-meaning people that will try to talk a newer teacher out of classroom teaching. Young teachers deserve to work alongside educators that will guide them through the difficulties and share in their successes, as well.  #reflectiveteacher #teachthought

TeachThought Day 5: Classroom Photo

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This photo represents of one of my most exciting endeavors of the year: I am, with the help of our school's Teacher Librarian, starting Genius Hour with my middle school Effective Teens students. The photo shows my bulletin board, ready and waiting for the light bulb project proposals these innovators will choose as their focus. I am very happy with the board, I do not like that it's empty!  These students' "big questions" will be an ever-present reminder of the ability we all have in us to be life-long learners. #reflectiveteacher @teachthought #geniushour

Day 4: What I Love Most About Teaching

I've taught the same US History curriculum for 18 years and I can honestly say that the subject matter NEVER GETS OLD. I absolutely love providing opportunities for eighth graders to stretch their thinking and make their minds work in new and exciting ways, often instilling a passion for history in them like I have. I thoroughly enjoy planning lessons and finding new ways to deliver material. One example of this is by incorporating Visible Thinking routines in my curriculum. I learn so much through the young historians in my class--they keep the material fresh for me and I am grateful!

TeachThought Posts Days 1-3

Day 3 Observation GoalI will work on having my students take on even more responsibility in the classroom. I will do this though increased student activity choices and roles. Giving students this opportunity allows their leadership skills to shine! #reflectiveteacher @teachthought Day 2: new technologyI would love to try a 3D printer and see how it could possibly fit into my curriculum. I believe that once I see it in action I will find ways to use it to make History come alive for my students. #reflectiveteacher @teachthought TeachThought Day 1I have decided to take on the Reflecting Teaching Questions 30 day blog challenge developed by @teachthought. Day 1 asks us to list our goals for the school year. I develop goals every year and ask my students to do the same but I've never posted my goals before. This year's goals are for balance and to increase my use of technology.  My first goal is for me to be aware of all of the roles in my life and to strive to spend equal time in th…