School is finally in session here in the Capital City and our students are busy settling in to new routines, earlier mornings, and getting to know their friends and teachers. When I was still in the classroom, one of my favorite things was to spend the first week getting to know my students, learning about their interests, getting their feedback on what they wanted their classrooms to look and feel like, and having them create digital collages and word clouds representing themselves.

Just as we can work hard to make our classrooms warm and welcoming, it’s incredibly powerful when an entire school gets involved and sets a theme for the year. One of the schools in our district – Sheridan Road STEM – embraced the theme of kindness this year, inspired by the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio. In fact, the entire school is reading the book and doing a book study around it, the themes it represents, and embracing the idea of being open to others, being kind to all people, regardless of their appearance, circumstance, or background. What a powerful message for our young people to hear, especially in our current political environment.

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This is a powerful message that schools across the country are embracing and using to connect with others. Some of the things being shared on Twitter with #choosekind are incredibly inspiring. I personally haven’t read this book yet, but I am very excited to participate in the book study along with the teachers and students at Sheridan Road STEM.¬†

How will you #choosekind this year?


First Days of School

Back when I was still a classroom teacher, our principal always used to email us before school the wise words of Harry Wong – “You only get one first day of school!”

Such a simple message but really powerful and a wonderful reminder to all of us to strive to set the tone for the first day of school. How do we want students to feel when they walk into our classroom? How do we want to feel at the end of the day?

Building relationships is such a crucial part of establishing a culture of trust in our classrooms. Our students need to know the adults in their lives care about them and respect them as people and as individuals.

When I taught 8th grade, my partner teacher and I shared students; he had them for English and I had them for Social Studies. We did a block schedule Mon-Thursday and then on Friday we saw all classes. So, every quarter, on a Friday, we’d combine our classes and do some team-building activities that centered around validating students and their talents, and generating a stronger sense of community. Middle school students are so great; just on the cusp of figuring themselves out but still wanting to be a little kid every now and then. They want their independence, but they also want to fit in and often conform in order to do so. I loved seeing them grow and change throughout the year.

I know a lot of the teachers in our district are focusing on climate and culture the first week of school, and rightly so. Before you can expect people to work for you, they have to feel valued and respected. It’s important to model that all voices are important, all perspectives are welcomed, and acceptance rules the day. But it’s not only crucial in the first week of school, it’s important to revisit and remind throughout the year.

What are some of your favorite ways to build community in your classroom? How do you cultivate trust all year long?

Sharing Stories

Last week I had the pleasure of working with one of my favorite people and her awesome students. She’s a reading specialist here in Lansing and last year I introduced her to the Global Read Aloud last year and she read Fish in a Tree with her students. This year, her kiddos are reading Pax, and, like me, they have all fallen in love with the story of a young boy and his pet fox.

One of the things we love about the GRA is that it allows students to make connections over a common story with people from all over the world. It’s so validating for students to be able to hear people commenting on their ideas and opinions, asking them questions, and making connections.

On Thursday, the students and I used the iPad app Shadow Puppet to create short videos about their favorite character in the book. Prior to my lesson with the students, Mrs. Jacobs had the kids draw a picture of a scene from the book that included their favorite character. They also had a script of what they wanted to say, since some students freeze up when they have to record themselves! After a quick lesson on how to use Shadow Puppet, the kids were off to the races. It was awesome to listen to their explanations about why they chose a particular character.

After everyone recorded their videos, we uploaded them to YouTube. Then I got to sit with the students and Mrs. Jacobs and talk about what they had read so far. I have read the whole book, so the students were anxious to pick my brain about what happens in the book. It was fun to hear their questions and to not really answer any of them, because no one REALLY wants to know how it ends before you get to it!

We are a bit behind the official reading schedule for the Global Read Aloud, but we are really enjoying the deep dive and discussing the book. We’d love to connect with you over Google Hangouts or Skype. Let me know!


Technology Club

This post is long overdue, so forgive me that!

One of the fun parts of my job is that I get the opportunity to work with a bunch of different schools and help generate excitement for technology and all of its possibilities. My colleague, Sarah, and I decided it would be really fun to create an after school coding club with our 2nd and 3rd grade students. We started the club in February and it ran through early April. Of course we had some snow days and schedule conflicts that disrupted a couple of our meeting days, but for the most part, we met every week.

Given that this was our first attempt at trying coding with my students, I was a little nervous about jumping in and having to create a whole bunch of lessons from scratch. In my research, I discovered the Google program called CS First. While it is designed for older students, we were certain that our kids could rise to the challenge given some support and scaffolding. If you haven’t heard about CS First, you should check it out. There are several programs to choose from – Digital Storytelling, Art, Music, Friends, Social Media, Fashion Design, and Video Game Design. CS First will send you all the materials you need to get your club started including marketing posters, lessons and directions, passports (aligned to each day’s lesson objective), and even headphones. Google also will partner you with a local “Guru” if you need or want more support.

We learned a lot in our first implementation! The kids really enjoyed the opportunity to work on computers and do something they never have done before. Also, not all of our students have computers or iPads at home, so they loved being able to create and play digitally. You can check out more about how we ran our program and some resources to help you get started by viewing my presentation below.

I’m looking forward to hosting more than one Technology Club next year. I would like to get the club started a bit earlier in the school year and maybe be able to offer it to more students. We only were able to host 20 students in our club, and it would be nice to provide more opportunities for even more kids. Additionally, we want to be able to support our younger (K-1) students. Code.org has a TON of great resources for younger kids, so that is probably where we are going to start next year with that age group.

Lots and lots of research has been done on how code can help students with problem-solving skills, collaboration, and analysis of information. Being able to provide an outlet for students to be creative and use technology to showcase their ideas is incredibly powerful for students. I’m looking forward to seeing the amazing things they will do!

Google Classroom

You guys – I LOVE Google Classroom! It is so incredibly easy to use, super intuitive, very well organized, and (almost) perfect. In case you’re unfamiliar with Classroom, it’s a Learning Management System by Google that syncs seamlessly with Google Drive and Gmail. You can also check out the video here.

I remember the days of using Google Docs with my students and trying to sort through the inevitable five or six (or 20…) “Untitled Documents” that students had shared with me. It was such a hassle trying to organize them, keep the graded and ungraded assignments sorted, share documents with students, get them to name the document correctly, or make a copy of a template I had created. Google Classroom does all this (and more!) for you.

Earlier this week I showed off some of the features of Classroom to a group of teachers at Mt. Hope STEAM. These teachers are so awesome and willing to get right in there and learn. I love that kind of attitude! The first step was giving teachers a glimpse as to what Classroom was and how it looks from the student perspective. I created a class and invited the teachers to join as students. I think it’s so important to understand the student view in any tool or device we use with kids. Just like you create an answer key or go through questions on a worksheet before you share with kids, having an idea of what Classroom looks like from their end was an important perspective for me to share. Teachers loved the ability to have a conversation with me on an assignment. I enjoyed the ease from the teacher dashboard that showed me in one view which students had completed an assignment, which ones were late, etc.

After the teachers completed an assignment, I graded and returned it to them, it was their turn to be teachers. They were able to create a class and some assignments.

Classroom allows you to add resources to any assignment. This is worth the price of admission if all you ever did was use Classroom to push sites for your students to visit. You can end the frustration of having students type a website address that they will inevitably type wrong, or put into the Google search bar rather than the address bar, etc., etc. Of course, you should definitely use Classroom for far more than this, but you get what I’m saying.

Lots and lots of webinars, trainings, tutorials, and videos are out there on using Classroom, so I won’t spend a ton of time on it. What I will say is if you are a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) school, you should totally get on board. Like yesterday. If you’re not, bug your administrator, tech director, whomever to get going. Google Apps for Education is just so great in so many ways. Not only does it help with teacher and student workflow, its an awesome way to use technology to augment and modify what you’re already doing in your classroom. The students at Mt. Hope have been so excited to work on one document with others in their classes at the same time – or whenever is convenient for them. With GAFE – as opposed to using space on a school server – students can access their information wherever, whenever, and from any device. Teachers also have this ability. It’s a heck of a lot easier to take home a computer or tablet to grade papers than to take home a stack of 180 English essays.

I’m so excited to see Classroom in action. Since I am no longer a classroom teacher, I have to live vicariously through others who utilize a tool I share with them. I sincerely wish Classroom had been around when I was teaching!