Saturday, July 15, 2017

EdTechFamily podcast July 12 edition

In the Voice of EduAwesome Adventure, the #EdTechFamily comes together and shares thoughts on different topics of interest. In this episode, we discuss what we would take on a trip if we could take only two items (one tech, one non-tech).

What are your two must-have items when traveling?

Listen to "#Edtechfamily Talks Tripping Items" on Spreaker.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Adventures in budgeting with students

As educators, we are always looking for new and different ways to teach our students the skills they need and will need once they reach "the real world." As curricula continue to develop to make things such as math more real world applicable, we can continue to build our ideas. We do hear when people say things such as, "will you teach real skills such as creating a budget and balancing a checkbook?"

Let's Invest!

One lesson I developed for the 2016-17 school year included math skills from multiple chapters from within our chosen curriculum and gave students a chance to apply those skills. I assigned my Pre-Algebra students an investment project.

The first piece of the project included researching the Down Jones Industrial Average, NASDAQ, and the S&P 500. I created a Google Doc in Google Classroom for the students to see the steps outlined for them. You can see that here. Once they built a foundational understanding of the markets, students began working with their imagined $10,000 budget. They needed to research different stocks and then determine which ones they would select to invest in and then follow them for two weeks. Students needed to keep documentation in a Google Sheet. I created a bare bones Google Sheet that I also attached to the assignment in Classroom. The idea was that this Sheet would give them a jumping off point, but they would need to fill in blanks and add additional fields to complete the expected task. You can take a look at this here. Next, students were to write a summary sharing what they learned about the stock markets, what factors seem to impact changes in stock prices, and give a general overview of their learning. The last step included creating a presentation in Google Slides to show how their stocks performed. They then presented these in class, in a sort of meeting of investors. This final step (the actual presentation) is the step I hope to develop more for the year ahead. I hope for it to have more of a Wall Street feel rather than "just another classroom presentation" feel.

The majority of the class met my expectations and I was pleased with their ability to look at interest rates, fluctuation in stock prices, and the ability to calculate the rates of change for their investments. While they worked on their investment projects, we covered additional material, specifically percentages. For example, we calculated tips.

The Investment Project can be developed differently, adapted, and changed to fit the needs of different classes, different students, and different circumstances. I believe firmly in constantly updating and improving lessons and projects, just as I do for my PD presentations.

All Aboard!

As I wrote about yesterday, we can teach some very important life skills to students by taking them out and introducing them to things such as public transportation. What if we took it a step further? We can also build budgeting skills into a transportation trip or create an "imagined" vacation opportunity to also flex their budgeting muscle.

Option 1

Adapt the tools from the above Investment Project: Google Doc, Sheet, and Slides. Outline for students what types of public transportation they will be using. Give them the websites to get fare information from those sites. Ask the students to create a budget for the trip. They will look up fares for the different modes of transportation, as well as budgeting for activities around the use of these modes of transportation. Perhaps they want to go to a baseball game, a play, or an amusement park. Perhaps they will make it a shopping day or keep it simple with lunch out. Students will need to come up with how much each person will need to budget for the trip and justify the expected costs. Along with this, they can also look up time tables and create a time budget. What time will they leave? What time will they return? How much time do they have to get from the train to the subway, for example?

Option 2

Again, adapt the tools from the above Investment Project: Google Doc, Sheet, and Slides. Give students a budget: $500, $1000, $2000, or whatever seems reasonable for your expectations for the assignment. For this vacation budget, they will need to look at planes, trains, and automobiles. Again, they will look at fares and schedules/time tables.. They will design the vacation and the related budget, including activities for the trip and duration of the trip. How many people will go on this trip? If the budget for one person or for their entire family? Students can then use Google Slides to present their vacation plan in a sort of travel agent role. Once all vacations have been presented in the class, students can complete a Google Form sharing which vacation they would choose and why. Budgets will be submitted for review, as well. This combines a budget assignment with a travel project I had students do in seventh grade science a few years ago. Be a travel agent and sell your classmates on your proposed trip while also working on developing skills in budgeting.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Adventures in public transportation with students

A school I worked at previously takes a trip to San Francisco every year to see a play. The eighth grade class uses both Amtrak and BART.

The school I work at currently does a transportation trip. The eighth grade class uses Amtrak, BART, a cable car, and a ferry. I added a pedi-cab to my list on the trip this year. It was a first for me and so worthwhile!

Recently, my 10-year-old son and I headed into San Francisco to see a show. We drove partway then used BART. At the BART station, he said, "mom, let me show you where we need to go." A few days earlier, he had gone with his Tio into the City for a Giants game. They used BART, so now he feels he has become an old pro and is happy to show others what to do and how to do it.

Most recently, my two children and I used CalTrain to get from South San Francisco to King Street. It was worth every penny for the ability to sit back and relax.

These are among some of the very important life skills young people need to learn. Not all of them will get it at home, though some will. Eighth grade is a wonderful time to explore and teach public transportation. While the San Joaquin route for Amtrak will remain in place for now, there are several routes potentially on the chopping block if proposed budget cuts are approved and implemented. This is unfortunate. I hope that Amtrak and other modes of public transportation will remain available. In fact, I would like to see more of them. I saw recently that the ACE train will offer service to Modesto as part of a planned extension of service. What a great thing for this part of the Central Valley.
Read more about the plans here.

Other life skills we can teach students as they work their way through skills:
*Building/planning a budget
*Investing tips and strategies
*How to purchase tickets for transportation
*Visiting local attractions (zoos, plays, parks, etc)

I also enjoy introducing students to our National Parks. I do this with virtual hikes, among other tools. If you're keen on digital BreakoutEDUs, check out this one on our National Parks. It's fabulous!
CalTrain
BART
Amtrak

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tips from an adventurous TeacherMom

Note: This particular post will appear here and on my review blog (Bek's Bites: Reviews You Can Use)

We are halfway through summer and our travels have only just started, but we are off on adventures and have discussed some ideas to make our experiences better, but also ideas to share with others in hopes we can help them enjoy their own adventures. These adventures may be family vacations, class field trips, or learning adventures. Heck, they may be all three rolled into one.

Travel as an investment

My grandfather would question my choices sometimes, but he eventually understood them generally and any time I could figure out a way to save some money, he would support it. The only one he never agreed with me on was my decision to rent a car on one of my trips to visit him. There was a trip where he supported my decision to rent a car, too, though. I travel to conferences and I travel with my children. It just makes good sense to have one help the other. I have joined rewards programs for Southwest Airlines (Rapid Rewards), Dollar Rental (Dollar Express), Days Inn (Wyndham Rewards), and my very favorite of all Hilton Honors. Every time I travel, I earn points, save money, save time, and find myself happier with the overall experience. Rapid Rewards with Southwest and Hilton Honors are the two I use most and have, as a result, benefited from most.

I only fly once or twice a year on average. but it adds up eventually. I have now twice used points to save on my airfare. I also appreciate the ease with which I can work with Southwest. When my grandfather died a few years ago, I had planned a trip to see him and instead that trip became a one-way trip to help my parents. Southwest was gracious and kind to work with in changing my travel plans. We worked everything out over the phone and there were no penalties. I can fly Southwest most anywhere I want to go or need to go and they do not charge for my checked bags. Their app is pretty fabulous too. As a tech-loving teacher, finding an app that works with relative ease is important too. I love that I can fly into Ontario Airport, rent a car, and drive to Palm Springs for the CUE National Conference. It saves me some money overall and the drive is beautiful. Side note: my two favorite airports to travel to and from right now are Sacramento and Ontario. Ontario is much easier to travel through than LAX.

I do stay in hotels several times a year. Last year, I stayed so much I earned my way to Gold status with Hilton Honors. This is a huge plus. This allows me to take advantage of additional perks here and there. Everything from little snacks to bonus rewards points to full breakfast. We have stayed at one hotel in particular so much that we have gotten to know people at the front desk, as well as some of the servers and managers in the restaurant. We treat them with respect and they always go above and beyond to make sure all of our needs are met. Because of that, we return to the same hotel whenever we need a place to stay in the San Francisco area. I have become better versed with how to shop for deals on rooms and I always book directly through Hilton, using my Hilton Honors information. If I don't find exactly what I am looking for on the website then I call the corporate number and if I still don't quite get what I am hoping, then I know I can call the hotel directly and often they are incredibly helpful.

By streamlining my preferred choice of air travel, rental cars, and hotels, with each trip, I am saving up toward future travel. This means my travel for conferences helps my adventures with the kids and vice versa. I view my traveling for conferences as an investment, but really, I am investing in several ways. One, the obvious, I am investing in future travel. Two, I am investing in myself as I continue to grow as an educator. I learn from others, collaborate with other educators, share some of what I know, and ultimately our students benefit. So, the third investment is the investment I make in my students and students elsewhere. Four, I see all of this as an investment in my own two children. We have started our #EdTechFamily podcast where we share ideas from a parent/teacher perspective as well as a child/student perspective. We grow together as lifelong learners.

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying, "Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn."

This is my approach both in my classroom and in my home. We are all on this learning journey together and the investments I make in our travels keep the learning going.

Get Outside

The perks of being a rewards member for airfare, car rental, and hotel stays are all nice. But there is so much more to see in the world. When we get outside, we learn so much! My children and I enjoy camping trips throughout the year, including at the NorCal Renaissance Faire in the late summer/erly fall. We also enjoy hiking. Sometimes I invite students and families to meet us on hikes and sometimes I record the hikes to take back into the classroom for different activities.

Hiking highlight of 2017

Last week, we added a new hike. We visited Point Reyes National Seashore. We stayed in a lovely little cottage about 15 minutes from the Bear Valley Visitors Center. My kids worked on adding another Junior Ranger badge to their collection and we enjoyed a short hike on the Earthquake Trail. This trail features information on earthquakes in general, the San Andreas Fault, and the 1906 earthquake. We saw where Point Reyes shifted about 20 feet as a result of the 1906 earthquake. The kids took turns reading the information posted around the trail. This trail offers just one of many hiking opportunities in Point Reyes. We returned to our cottage and enjoyed a light lunch outside before setting off on the next adventure.

This time, we left the car behind and walked a short distance to Chicken Ranch Beach. A nice trail leads from the road to the beach. We took off our shoes and enjoyed the sand between our toes, though this beach has some pretty rocky parts to it as well. Those rocky parts don't feel so nice on the bottoms of your feet. Still, we dipped our toes in the water, observed interesting shells and rocks, taking only photographs and leaving everything behind for others to discover. As we learned back at the visitor's center, Point Reyes has igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks. We discovered a rock on the beach that had quartz and obsidian in it. When we finished on the beach, we made the return trip back up the trail to the road where we made observations of interesting growths such as lichen. When we returned to the cottage, we made a quick and easy dinner.

The cottages at Point Reyes offer a nice, relaxing place to stay. We enjoy cooking our own meals and appreciated having a kitchenette. Though it was a little more "bare bones" than we expected, we managed to make our meals and enjoy them just fine.

As we drove down Highway 1 toward Stinson Beach after departing, we had a chance to talk some and compare experiences. Here are the rankings (so far):
CD
1. Lassen
2. Pinnacles
3. Point Reyes
Miss Hollywood
1. Lassen
2. Point Reyes
3. Pinnacles
TeacherMom
1. Point Reyes
2. Lassen
3. Pinnacles
Though, all three of us could shuffle those rankings on any given day. I factored in the drive for mine which is the only reason Lassen ranks lower for me. I shuffled my list multiple times. The nice thing with all three of these adventures is that they all offer something unique while all having something in common that we three love: geology!

We will return to all three, but since we have already done two trips each to both Pinnacles and Lassen, we have set Point Reyes to the top of our list for next summer.

What's the tip here? Find something you like, find a place that offers it, and take that adventure. Also, never stop learning. Learn with your kids because it is fun. Learn for yourself because you can. Continue learning always! Take the trips and treat them as investments. Trust me, it is all worthwhile.
Whether you are hiking a new trail or watching a baseball game, get out there and make the investment.

Remember the words of Socrates, "Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel."

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Adventures in history: Weaving Hamilton into learning

The musical "Hamilton: An American Musical" caught on unlike anything I remember. I know getting tickets in New York proved difficult, then getting tickets for the touring production seemed difficult, and expensive, as well. The music is catchy. Even those who don't necessarily care for rap, find elements that they like. It has something to catch attention of young, old, and middle aged folks as well. The highlight as an educator, of course, is that it can catch the attention of young people. In that, it can help spark a special interest in history, specifically, a very important time in United States' history. Lin-Manuel Miranda has written about seeing the multiple generations in the audience. He wrote something great that can be used an exceptional teaching tool.

How many of my fellow educators have heard students claim, "I hate history. It's so BORING!"? Perhaps it is less the subject than the manner in which we teach it. We can get students excited about history. Now more than ever, I find it important to hook students on history. We need them to learn the people and events that brought us to where we are today. As I shared with students throughout the 2016-17 school year, our nation's history begins not with the Declaration of Independence in 1776, but has roots back into ancient civilizations. I made connections for the sixth grade class, pointing out key elements that will connect to their learning in eighth grade U.S. History and referred back to sixth grade historical topics with my eighth graders. It builds and builds.

One way that we can hook our students and make history interesting is to draw on music, theater, and promote creativity.

Weaving songs into the birth of our nation

Throughout our study of the birth of our nation, I worked in songs or parts of songs from "Hamilton." Admittedly, even I know the musical better and some of our nation's history better than I did at the beginning of the school year (and I was a political science/history major). Looking back at how I used it last year as I look ahead to the 2017-18 school year, I already see ways to use it more and differently. We talked about the American Revolution. We looked at key figures in the birth of our nation. We discussed the location of our capital. We talked also about the establishment of our financial system. We could really dig into so much using music as a hook. That may be some of the obvious ways to use it. I will now look at a couple of ways to reach beyond history lessons.

One student selected a piece from "Hamilton" and learned it for a speech meet our school holds. He worked and worked with it, then performed it wonderfully. (Admittedly, it can be difficult to not rap some of the lyrics when the intent is to deliver a speech, but it can be done. In fact, it can be done well.)


"They'll tell the story of tonight"

Toward the end of the year, we used "Hamilton" as part of our History Alive performance. Our school does an annual dinner and sixth, seventh, and eighth grade classes each do a performance. Historically, the eighth grade class did a Colonial dance (specifically, the Virginia Reel). I knew coming into the school year that I wanted to do something with the students using "Hamilton" and knowing that we had the History Alive dinner to look forward to, I saw a golden opportunity for awesomeness. I started talking about it early in the year to get the students thinking about it. I had ideas for choreography in my head early on, but waited to really work on it until closer to the event. This allowed the students to invest some of their own ideas into the development of their performance. The students started with the traditional Virginia Reel then transitioned into their version of a "Hamilton" number. Admittedly, I found myself feeling a little nervous about how it would all come together during rehearsals. Yet, I could see how it would come together and then, it did! It came together beautifully! These 15 eighth graders did an outstanding job. I was so proud of the performance they did and they definitely were telling the story of that night. I have already started looking ahead to next year's. Yes, it will be a little different than this year's.

Your school may not have a History Alive night, but using classical dances and songs from "Hamilton" can offer your students an opportunity to immerse themselves in a creative outlet that supports some of their learning. Have a class party and do the Virginia Reel. Assign students different songs from "Hamilton" and encourage them to choreograph their own performances. Assign students songs to present as speeches or even rap if they feel comfortable enough doing so. Or, nudge them slightly into that area where the magic happens, just outside of their comfort zone.

I assigned students to different sides of a debate then they had to debate the issue in class. They had to be familiar with both sides of the argument because I would not tell them which side they had to debate until the day of the debate in class. This is an area I am looking to make a change for next year. Using the Cabinet Battles for inspiration, I plan to assign students to a side of an argument then have rap battles as debates.

"Who tells your story?"

You can use this musical as a foundation for language arts assignments as well. Having used "Hamilton: An American Musical" throughout the year, I developed an end of year project for the eighth graders using it as the foundation. I called it the "Legacy Project." Students looked at their years at our school, specifically their final year to examine what their legacy at the school would be after their departure. They also wrote about their hero before getting into their story of how they would be heroes and who would tell their stories. This project included an essay and a WeVideo project. Students looked at their own heroes, but also turning to reflect on themselves and their own stories took some effort. They produced some good work and then shared their projects with the classmates. Next year, I will combine this year-end project with something I did a couple of years ago: "Through the eyes of an eighth grader." What does this mean exactly?

I will give the students a year-long assignment to take photos and videos throughout the year in order to capture the year through their own eyes. Then, that will all be built into their legacy projects at the end of the year. It will, of course, include small deadlines throughout the year. I greatly look forward to seeing how and what the students do with this. For now, I'll have wait for it.
(See what I did there?)

Rise up: Building a theme

I start building my classroom theme over the summer. For this year, I went with a great super hero theme. I know I could have done more with it which would have resulted in a better use of it by the students. Down the line, I will likely revisit the super hero classroom theme. Next year's theme will be rooted in....wait for it...
"Hamilton: An American Musical."

Final thoughts:
What I saw happening was nothing short of magic. I saw students evolve from "history is boring" to wanting to learn more. I saw students invest time into learning more simply because they wanted to learn more. They sought out more information on historical figures that have less prominence in the history textbooks. Seeing this with my students was exciting. I also saw it as a #TeacherMom as my (now) 10-year-old son can tell you more than I could have at his age about American Revolution battles, military leaders, the financial system development, Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and Thomas Jefferson. I knew Burr shot Hamilton in part because of a "Got Milk?" commercial and only learned about Lafayette later. My son can recount details and has now plans to read a biography on Hamilton as he gets ready to start fifth grade. "Hamilton" can be used across grade levels. Use it with older elementary students, use it with middle school students, use it with high school students. Explore it and find how it works best for you and for your students.

And, like a British canon: BOOM!

What did I miss? How have you incorporated "Hamilton" into your teaching, your lessons, your projects, your classroom?

Please note: "Hamilton: An American Musical" includes explicit language. There is a clean version of the soundtrack available if you prefer. Become familiar with the soundtrack before incorporating it into your teaching and use your judgment on how best to use it with your students.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

It's time to rethink pacing guides

"Learning isn't supposed to be fun," declared a student one day. Shocked, and a little sad, I struggled for a moment with how to respond. How did we get here? I have always prided myself on making school interesting and learning fun. It has taken me some time to really process that. How could we possibly reach a point where a student declares that learning is not supposed to be fun.

"Mommy, I didn't finish my math because it was too stressful," said my first grader as I spoke to her on the phone this week. I suggested she talk to her teacher. She replied, "but we have a test today." Why is my first grader so stressed about her math learning that she shuts down in the midst of homework. Why does my first grader even have homework?

My #TeacherMom sense has been off the charts. What I do as a teacher impacts the way I parent my children through their schooling, their homework, their struggles, and their successes. What I do as a mom impacts some of the things I do as a teacher. How I design certain assignments, instruct my students, and how I guide them through their learning. I have often described myself as a Facilitator of Learning, rather than saying, "I am a teacher." Interestingly, during a keynote address at the 2017 CUE National Conference, George Couros suggested we do not describe ourselves in a single manner, but cover all aspects of what we do. I am more than a Facilitator of Learning. I am more than a TeacherMom. I am more. And so are my students.

Over the past few months, I have looked at pacing guides and the perceptions educators have of them. After my son struggled to keep up, I inquired about whether a pacing guide was in place. I was informed that "a very rigorous pacing guide" was followed by teachers. This stopped me in my tracks. Was this a good thing? I am not expected to follow a pacing guide, but I am familiar with the material that I need to cover between the first and last days of school. Currently, to cover percents (in their various forms), I have worked with my students on guiding them through a project in which they learned about the stock markets. I have taught them how to calculate percentages, but in the context of real world applications.This is important for a number of reasons. The top of my list is the age-old question, "when will I use this in life?"

If students can see real world applications for the things we teach, then they will take a stronger personal interest. If we make things personal and interesting, they will want to learn what we teach. If we stick to rigorous pacing guides, worksheets, and practices of drill-and-kill, they will lose interest and struggle to keep up with what we teach. I say this as a teacher, and as a mom. When my son was two-years-old, he already demonstrated a strong interest in math. He pointed out patterns and counted in multiple languages. As Jo Boaler pointed out in her keynote address at CUE National Conference on March 16, "No one is born a 'math person.'" My son had this strong interest and rapid development in mathematics because he found it interesting. Did we do math flashcards with him daily? No. He watched "Team Umizoomi" and loved the way the show made things interesting. Developing his math abilities was the result of relating to what the show covered and finding it interesting. "Mom, I got As and Bs in math in kindergarten, first, and second. Now I get Cs," he said to me just this week. In fact, he went on to say he's afraid he will ultimately end up getting Ds and Fs. He almost sounded as if he found that possibility to be inevitable. My heart shattered. This boy loves math and has a lot of ability in it. He just doesn't work the problem "fast enough."

"Speed does not equate with intelligence," Boaler said Thursday.

That is worth repeating: "Speed does not equate with intelligence."

 So, why do we grade based on a student's ability to complete a set number of problems in a set number of time? There has to be more because, as Boaler said, "speed isn't working." We need to foster growth and innovator mindsets. This is the the theme of this week's CUE National Conference. There is a reason why I did not get this post written as soon as I had responses to my Pacing Guides Survey. I see now that the reason is, I needed to be in this environment and hear the things I am hearing here and now to put this all together.

Fifty-percent of respondents to my survey said that pacing guides hinder student achievement. Fifty-percent also indicated that pacing guides help instruction. How exactly is this possible? If pacing guides hinder student achievement, then are they really helping instruction? While I understand that aspects of instruction may be positively impacted by having pacing guides in place, if students fall short of reaching goals or learning, then there is a gap that we must close.Our students deserve better. Perhaps a guideline for what should and can be covered can remain in place without a full, "rigorous" pacing guide. I understand that teachers want to have an idea of what they should cover, but we cannot sacrifice student achievement and creativity in the process. There has to be a better way. When a first grader shuts down because she is too stressed by the math homework, the problem is not the student. The problem is the pressure put on the students to perform in a certain manner within a certain time.

If we all have to be on the same page in the same book on the same day at the same time, we are forgetting a very, very important thing. Every student is unique. Every student deserves an opportunity to succeed. One respondent said, "When you have kids that are extremely low or even high, pacing guides are useless. It doesn't matter that I should be teaching fractions, if they can't understand whole numbers. The same is true for high kids, if they already know it why should I make them do it again." This is key. Instead of teaching to a test, or a pacing guide, we need to teach students and address their individual needs. I understand that teaching individual students becomes more difficult when you have between 30 and 50 students in a classroom. However, surely we can find a way to prioritize our students and make learning a fun, engaging experience. From a survey respondent, "I believe behaviors could be better if the teacher could pace to students needs. When the student is not understanding then they act out."

In regards to the impact on classroom management, another respondent said, "The more rigid the pacing guide the harder management was." Another said, "I look at them more as a true guide now than I did early on in career and now let my students learning set more of the tone, speed and direction."

The consensus among educators who responded to the survey also seems to include that pacing guides severely limit the possibility of student creativity. If a student feels limited or rushed, the student will likely not produce their best work. Ask yourself this very important question: Is the goal to cram in as much information as we can in a short amount of time or is our goal to teach our students and guide them through this journey?

Given that most pacing guides come from the top down and are implemented at the district level, it certainly poses some difficulty for teachers. This will not change overnight. In the meantime, we can attempt to be a positive force in working toward change. I hope that more administrators have a chance to take a good strong look at what works best for students and adjust course accordingly. Something has to give at some point.

For now, we as teachers can try to do what we can in our own classrooms to nurture creativity and foster ideas that will lead our students in the direction of attaining success. I am thankful to be in a place where I can have students making investments, calculating tips, creating book trailers, and spreading their creative wings as they learn to fly and will one day soar. Every so often a student may question as to why we have decided to make learning engaging and fun, but ultimately they will see the benefits for themselves and one day, we may actually do away with the thinking that learning should be "boring." We will minimize stress for the first graders struggling to get their math homework done and we will go beyond the standard fourth grade mission project when implementing PBL in upper elementary classrooms. Folks, there is more to life than speeding through some math problems and answering questions at the end of a section of reading. See what your students need and guide them accordingly. Foster creativity whenever you can. Take learning to new levels. Our students deserve our best so they can achieve their best.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Last call for pacing guide thoughts

Please take a few moments to respond to these brief questions about pacing guides. Your responses are greatly appreciated. Please share with other educators, as well.