Sunday, March 29, 2015

Connecting the Dots

A * B * C    or    1 * 2 * 3

Connecting the dots used to be one of my favorite preschool workbook activities.
I was a pro - and it was so fun to see the bigger picture when the end dot met back at the beginning.

As I get ready for a month of conferences, I look forward not only to the new learning and ideas that will be gained, but also to the connecting that I will do with some great educators.

It's all about connecting the dots.

From learning - to leaders - to ideas - to new insights - and back to your classroom again.

These are the conferences I'm excited to attend in the next 4 weeks ~

Standards-Based Grading Conference at Grand Wood AEA - March 30th in Cedar Rapids, Iowa
As my district starts to enter the world of standards-based grading, I'm excited to learn about the how's and why's of where to start.

Iowa 1:1 Institute at at Iowa Events Center - April 8th in Des Moines, Iowa
My school has 1:1 Chromebooks for 3-5th graders. I was SO excited to win a free trip to this conference from an EdCamp I attended last fall. I look forward to the great array of topics and speakers that will be available.

Iowa ASCD Curriculum Leadership Academy "Assessing the Core: Grading for Learning" - April 23-24 in Johnston, Iowa
This will be a great follow-up conference to the standards-based conference from March 30th. I'm looking forward to two great days of learning from national and local speakers about the process of implementing standards-based grading. In addition, I'm thrilled to spend the two days with one of my awesome 4th grade teammates as well. :)

More importantly than learning and enjoying the few days of conferences that I have coming up, I hope to take my learning to the next step -- action.

Because connecting the dots is not's seeing the big picture that the dots merely outline. It's taking steps to implement the learning and improve my practice in light of it. :)

It all starts tomorrow..........

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Student-Teachers: The Best of Both Worlds

This post was written as a collaborative effort between Jen Houlette and Greg Armanentos from "Dash - Life Between the Numbers".

It can be intimidating at first.
A stranger in your classroom.
Watching every move.
Looking to you for advice, feedback, and direction.

Why do I allow this, or even welcome this?
Could it be that by contributing to a future educator’s ability to grow as a teacher, I’m actually benefitting as well?

A noticeable benefit to having a student teacher is the flow of new ideas, energy, and fresh perspective.

After teaching for a long time, we can get used to a lot of things and once in awhile, get in a rut. It’s nice to have a student teacher with new ideas ready to try and a positive outlook on their time with the students.

Student teachers are eager to dive right in, try new lessons, and have an optimistic attitude. Student teachers often energize the atmosphere merely with their presence as a new member of the classroom.

Student teachers are expected to reflect often, ask for advice, and adjust their lessons or approach as they learn more about the class and the students. This is a great opportunity for us to practice listening and thinking skills as well as give constructive feedback.

Even though student teachers are often stepping into a classroom that is already established in terms of relationships and procedures, they are seeing everything with fresh eyes. This can lead to “Aha” moments for both of us as the student teacher reflects on things he/she notices for the first time.

The process of working side by side with a student teacher can benefit a veteran teacher as it provides an opportunity for the veteran teacher to think and talk through the many procedures, challenges, and decisions that are made on a daily basis.

Working with a student teacher can help us reflect through each decision that is made as we explain and model our role in the classroom.

This can serve as a great opportunity for us to challenge ourselves to think about any changes that could be made to make our classroom an even better learning environment.

Having a student teacher in the room increases the number of adults available to work in small groups with students, help give feedback, and maximize teachable moments.

A chance to work with more groups of students simultaneously, assist students while the student teacher leads, or even have a chance to team-teach is a benefit to both adults as well as all of the students.

Meanwhile, the student teacher might have some similar concerns:

It can be intimidating at first
being a stranger in someone else's classroom.
Their watching of your every move.
A constant flow of advice, feedback, and direction.

Why would a teacher welcome me into their classroom? How will the students and I get along? How will I make sure to keep students growing? How will I be a benefit to the teacher? Is this the grade level I want to work with? How will I do all that is expected from my college program, my cooperating teacher, my supervisor, and still be able to secure a teaching position for the next school year?

How do we make this a rewarding experience for the student teacher?

Model Teaching Like a Pirate / Growth Mindset / Genius Hour.
Just as we want to craft the most engaging and empowering learning experience for students, serving as a cooperating teacher provides the unique opportunity to imprint excellent instructional practices on the teachers of tomorrow. It is unlikely you will ever encounter colleagues nearly as eager to learn from your example as when they are student teaching.

Embody excellence during an era of teacher-bashing.
Today's student teachers are entering a profession that is being assailed in many corners of society. They will face greater scrutiny, more consistent testing, and less career security than their predecessors. We are the diplomats welcoming them to our noble profession. They are the next ambassadors to carry the torch to future generations.

Necessitate connections with other building / district personnel.
Our student teacher will see an awful lot of us and our kids, but we want to make sure their experience is much richer and broader. We want them to learn from our colleagues and administrators, paving the way for multiple relationships and learning opportunities. These relationships will be critical when the student teacher is ready to begin interviewing to lead a classroom of their own.

Tie them into your diverse, global PLN.
Many of our student teachers may be younger and more savvy with technology, but their social media connections are usually not of the type that will prepare them for their future in this profession. You have connections with educators, authors, and leaders across the globe. Reach out to plug them in.

Offer a mentor beyond the student teaching timeline.
The student teaching timeline is densely packed with expectations and responsibilities, but it passes quickly. Rather than simply wishing them well, and sending them on their way, we can keep the relationship growing. They will likely need someone to lean on in the coming years as they transition into their career, and since we are all learners, the relationship will be mutually helpful to each of us.

Render a safe learning environment.
As the lead learner in my classroom, I make the most mistakes. We embrace errors, bumps, pitfalls, hiccups and failures as part of our relentless forward progress. Virtually everything the student teacher will face will be new, and errors will be aplenty. They might view these as obstacles, but the cooperating teacher will see them as opportunities for their growth.

After weeks of leading and learning,
reflecting and relationship-building,
energizing and equipping,
two strangers are no longer intimidated at the initial awkwardness
of sharing a classroom.

Instead, they are collaborators and colleagues on a journey to
continued excellence in education.

When given the opportunity to mentor a student teacher, consider all the benefits that can be gained by both sides of the relationship. It’s a memorable experience for every learner in the classroom.

Best wishes to our student teachers ~ we look forward 
to seeing you shine with your future students!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Reflections of an Edcamp Attendee

At this time last year, I didn't even know what an Edcamp was, let alone other terms such as Connected Educator, Twitter chat, or professional blog.

The last twelve months have proved to change that quite dramatically.

As a newbie on Twitter (lurker) I watched some great educators tweeting about some awesome ideas last March.

At the time I didn't realize that it was #EdcampIowa.

Or that it was happening quite literally in my backyard.
In my own district.
About 15 minutes away.

I clearly was not connected to what was happening around me!

Fast forward to this weekend.

I've just completed my 4th Edcamp in 6 months.

#EdcampOmaha ~ UNO Campus, March 21, 2015
#EdcampIowa ~ Central location, Ankeny, IA ~ January 31, 2015
#NerdcampIA ~ Ankeny, IA ~ October 25, 2014
#EdcampDSM ~ West Des Moines, IA ~ September 20, 2014

The conversations I had this weekend ranged from innovative & creative ways to learn in the classroom, making global connections, creating a different classroom environment, and teacher choice in professional development. I also made some great connections with other teachers & plan to keep in touch in order to enhance our students' learning.

Similar experiences have happened at each Edcamp I've attended.

Each experience has been an opportunity to......
.....view things from a new perspective
.....learn new ideas & tools for my students and myself
.....consider changes I could make in my own classroom with other passionate educators

Why Edcamp?

Edcamp is a way to...
..... to connect the dots between the things you do and the things you didn't even know were out there. share the ideas that you're passionate about.
......reflect, question, and participate in conversations.
......have a personalized PD experience.

If you've never attended an Edcamp I'd highly encourage you to do so.
It's free.
It's fun.
It's a way to share your voice.

Find your EdCamp here :)

#EdcampOmaha t-shirt 2015

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Red Dot

You've probably noticed it.

The little red dot.

To show you where you are.

On maps at a road stop. 

On mobile or online maps. 

And my favorite -- a mall map.

You are HERE.

It's not about where you've been.

It's not about how long it's taken you to get here.

It's not about where you wish you were.

You are HERE.

But you don't want to stay here, staring at the little red dot.

You're just checking to see where you could go next.

Left, right, or straight ahead?

Certainly not back where you came from.

You are HERE.

But where is here, really?

Have you looked around recently, to see where you're really at?

To notice what you love? To notice what you'd change? To notice what matters most?

You are HERE.

The next decision is what it's all about.

Where is your destination?

What is the best path to arrive there?

How will the journey go? Who will help you there?

You are HERE.

You will be THERE soon.

Enjoy the journey.

But don't forget to look for the little red dot along the way.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

#TLAP Day!

Five teachers.

Seventy-six students.

Three sessions.

What could turn an ordinary early-out Wednesday into an amazing learning experience?


On Wednesday, March 4, 2015, three 4th grade teachers along with two student teachers created sessions for students to attend that would allow them to use their thinking and learning in a new way. Using skills such as problem-solving, inner-reflection, group-work, and more, students were able to come away with new knowledge about how things work.

Inspired by the book, "Teach Like a Pirate" by Dave Burgess (@burgessdave), we created #TLAP experiences using our passions and interests to show students that harnessing the excitement we have for learning can result in a memorable experience.

We have been discussing passions all year as we have been creating passion projects (aka genius hour) so it made sense for us to showcase some of our passions through fun learning experiences.

Students ranked their choices from the list of sessions available.

The students were SO excited to make their way from one session to the next. We only wished we had more TIME because as soon as we seemed to be on a roll, it was time to switch again. One great conversation overheard at lunchtime went like this.....

"This is the BEST day!" said Ayden.
"EVER!" added Rudy.

It just made me smile. :)

And smiles are what we saw throughout the day. These pictures tell the story:

Learning about the brain and how it works!

Using Scratch to code optical illusions

Designing "I Am..." posters
We described who we are using words from magazines

Using a Makey Makey kit to play an online game.

17 out of the 20 lights that were eventually inserted into the Squishy Circuit creation

Let's see if we can get this motor to work!

One of the egg carriers in the parachute drop

Hands-on group challenges was full all three sessions!

Parachute egg drop --- did the egg survive?

Our students are now working on sharing their learning through KidBlog and other methods. It's our hope as teachers to expand this experience to the rest of the school and build an even bigger #TLAP Day in the future!

In the meantime, we'll continue to use our passion to engage students in meaningful learning experiences that help them realize their potential.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

No More Turtle Technology

When I was in upper elementary school, digital learning meant time using the Apple IIe computers. This was the highlight of my 5th grade computer class..............Turtle.

At the time I was so impressed with my work, and that is the reason these pieces still exist in my childhood scrapbook.

Can you believe I kept these from 1984?

These days, the 9-10 year olds in my class would probably think "turtle" was a big laugh. (On the other hand, creating things on Google Drawing IS fun).

This year, my school is fortunate enough to have 1:1 Chromebooks for 3-5th graders. My fourth grade class has instant access to technology tools that can help them learn as well as allow them to create and share their learning.

One of our most-used tools this year has been KidBlog. From the beginning of the year, the students were excited to create their own blog page and use it to share their thoughts, their learning, and most importantly.....their voice.

Just as this blog allows me to share my voice as a teacher, KidBlog has allowed my students to have a platform to share their voice. They have shared their own creations as well as given each other feedback. In addition, making connections with other classes has allowed my students to gain new ideas and practice digital citizenship when leaving comments for others. KidBlog has proved to be a motivating way for my students to practice both writing and reading in an authentic way.

Although my students will be on Spring Break for the official "Digital Learning Day" on March 13, 2015, we plan to work on our Kid Blog and Voice Thread projects highlighting the learning we did on our #TLAP Day this week (Teach Like a Pirate). Following Spring Break, we plan to join forces with a kindergarten class to work on and share our digital projects.

Find out how you can celebrate Digital Learning Day at