Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Thoughts about developing lifelong learners

I am a firm believer that every student should find something they love about school. Our job as educators is to educate rather than entertain, but that should stand in our way of making each day the best experience we can.

I know that as students grow older, they often drag themselves to school grumbling and they can find plenty of things they dislike. However, I have also seen sparks ignite in older students as learning becomes an experience.

Yesterday, I left my school a little later than I had planned, but I still found time to do a couple of things on my way to the Central California CUE Board meeting. I stopped by to drop off and pick up with the person who had checked on some things for us while we were on vacation and then, I hit the nail salon for a long-overdue polish change (so long, I had picked polish off of at least five fingers). I sat there hoping things would move along quickly and expecting to make it to my meeting on time. The place was near empty when I arrived; however, it started filling up with people needing various salon services. A woman entered with her two children. One sat with his small electronic and chilled while he waited for his mom. The daughter sat near another customer, an apparent family friend or some such, to chat while she waited for her mom. The very friendly young woman talked with the girl, making various small talk. They sat behind me, so I have no visual, only what I quietly overhear and how I envisioned what I heard.

At one point, the conversation turned to school.
"What grade are you in," inquired the woman.
"Kindergarten," replied the girl.
"Do you like it," asked the woman.
"Not really," replied the girl.

My heart sank. I heard very little of what was said next because I got lost in thought. How could a five or six-year-old not like school? Even on a bad day, both of my kids have generally liked school. I teach middle school and have heard the older student grumbles, but they still seem to like school overall. How could this young girl already be so turned off from the idea of school? In the midst of pleasant conversation, I am accustomed to young students glowing in their reviews of school. As a mom who has seen my children struggle at times, I have always heard very positive responses from them with regard to school. In fact, last night, my daughter flipped through her "First Grade Memory Book" remembering good times with friends, learning, and her teacher.

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope everyone reading this is doing their best. As a teacher, I have good days and bad days. I try to keep those bad days in check and do everything I can to keep it a good day for my students. We should all be doing this. Frankly, kindergarten teachers are heroes. They do things that other cannot. They take young minds at the start of the school careers and prepare them to become lifelong learners. Folks, if we lose these kids in kindergarten, it will only get increasingly more difficult as they get older. Imagine what this poor girl may feel by the time she reaches middle school and high school. We have our work cut out for us.

I share a lot about making each day an EduAwesome Adventure. This is more than talk. This is more than a Facebook post or Tweet. This has become my philosophy as a teacher and as a mom. This is why I consider myself a TeacherMom. We need to strive to be engaging. We need to pull out our Educational Swiss Army knives and make magic happen in our classrooms. Will our students love every single day? Maybe not. But if we can build our resources, use tips from colleagues and edu-friends, teach across the curriculum, make things interesting, and work to reach each and every student, then perhaps we can potentially avoid our students sitting in a nail salon late one evening talking about not enjoying or liking school. We can do this. But we have to want it and we have to work for it.

By the way, I did make it to that meeting and it was a great one. I kept my nail salon experience in the back of my mind as we met. Now in a role where I not only have to reach my students where they are, but reach out to fellow educators, I think about these sorts of observations more and more. I am proud to be a part of an organization that builds up teachers who in turn build up lifelong learners. I am proud to be a part of something that is working to make each and every day an EduAwesome Adventure for students, teachers, parents, and the community. I am honored to have a place in this big world that is shaping things yet to come. Happy CUE Year! Now, get out there, hook your students, and do something amazing. They will remember you for it for a long time to come and their future teachers will thank you for sending along students who are engaged and ready for learning in all its forms.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Welcome 2018: turning rocks into crystals

At the start of each year, I pause and look back on the year behind. I do this as a parent, an educator, and as a person who always wants to do better and be better. I usually have it written sooner, but this year took a little longer to process through all of my thoughts. As 2017 entered its final hours, my seven-year-old daughter pulled out a crystal growing kit she had received from Santa. "Mommy, can we grow the crystals now," she asked. Perfect! Let's do it. We warmed and measured water together, then she dissolved the crystal mixture into it. Finally, after we poured the mixture into the designated "pedestal," she placed two rocks into. It was just after 9 p.m. and the instructions said that crystal growth would be seen within "a few hours." I looked at the clock, I looked at my daughter, and I said, "this year's rocks will be next year's crystals." She totally dug it. So did I.
And so it goes. As I look at the year ahead while 2017 flashes in the rearview mirror of my memory banks, I see great ways to turn rocks into crystals. Let's use the year ahead to make things sparkle and shine, using what we can bring along from the year gone by.

2017 ended with a major disappointment for me, so I think I will get it out of the way first. Excited with how my presentations have gone over the past couple of years, I felt hopeful about taking something new to the annual/national CUE conference in 2018. I submitted a proposal and coming off of the "high" from Fall CUE, I received a "thanks, but no thanks" email for spring. I actually was more disappointed than I had expected. With all of the fabulous proposals submitted from so many amazing educators, of course, not all will have a place on the schedule. Once I stepped back, put it in perspective, and took a breath, I felt much better. In fact, this is one of the rocks that I see growing into crystals in 2018.

Highlights from 2017 were many. I presented at the National CUE conference in Palm Springs for the first time in March. My ten-year-old and I continued to work on our "If You Give A Kid a Camera" presentation for other conferences and workshops. I presented three times last year on my own and it got great feedback. I presented at Fall CUE for the second time and while there got connected with the folks who were reigniting the Central California CUE affiliate and eventually was seated on the board, with my term starting November 30. Last January, I had a great, albeit small, edu-hike locally and did another with even more students in October. I have learned how to take data and combine it with my passion for incorporating innovative ideas into education to benefit my students while making me a better educator. My students created amazing ramps and derby cars for a gravitational raceway science adventure. My growth as an educator has helped my students grow as students. That's what this whole thing is about, right?! This is what we do in education. We learn, the teach, we guide, we explore, we grow so that our students can learn, teach, guide, explore, and grow.

Always embracing myself as being perfect in my imperfections, I realize that I have a lot more growth ahead. There were more rocks than I identified here, but I thin identifying that one will suffice as an example for the purposes of this blog post.

Let's start with Spring CUE 2018. At the time I received notification that I would not be presenting, I had already booked my airfare, booked my hotel, and scheduled my sub. All this really meant was that I would have take care of my registration for the conference. That is now done. Additionally, I get to go as an attendee only without the pressure of presenting. I like that. Best of all, this will be my first time attending as an affiliate board member which means there will be other work to do. We will need to host our affiliate meetup and reach out to our affiliate members. This is especially important this year as Central California CUE has not had a Spring CUE meetup in years. We have work to do. I look forward to being a part of that work and to networking with others. One last thing, I reached out to some former colleagues and encouraged them to join CUE and consider attending Spring CUE. At least one is planning to attend, which potentially gives me a roommate for the first time in my years attending. Taking that rock and growing it into amazing crystals!

My ten-year-old will present with me for the first time ever. We kick off our co-presenting of "If You Give a Kid a Camera" at the Tulare County Office of Education TechRodeo in just a little over a week. On January 13 we will spend the day together in Visalia, surrounded by awesome educators. Interested in attending? Get info HERE. This upcoming experience has also prompted us to get back to our podcasting. We have a couple of ideas and will use this week to record at least one and outline a couple of our other EdTechFamily ideas as the Voice of EduAwesomeAdventure. Stay tuned for more on that. At the end of February, we will again present together at ETC! in Stanislaus County. That same day, I will bring back my "Technology as the Swiss-Army Knife of Education" presentation, as well. Want more info on this great educational technology conference? Get info HERE.

I expect that 2018 will be a year of more writing and more podcasting and more connecting.
I expect 2018 will be a year of growing more as an educator and passing that growth onto my students.
I expect to see many crystals grow in 2018.

This post is less of a look back and more of a look ahead. In the words of Brad Paisley, "If you make the mistake of looking back too much, you aren't focused enough on the road in front of you." Just as when driving, though, we need to glance back and check our mirrors every now and then.

I start 2018 with a new Chromebook and a lens set to use with the camera on my phone. That means, I need to: write, connect, reach out, record, photograph, and I need to keep on this awesome path with my kids (including my children and my students). This year, we will grow the EduAwesome Adventure. Won't you come along with us?

What crystals will you grow in 2018? How will you grow them?

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Yes, you should smile before Christmas

At the end of my first year at my first K-8 school, the first grade teacher approached me as she concluded a conversation with another teacher. She said, "you, too, you know. You shouldn't smile before Christmas either."

It's an old adage, "never smile before Christmas."

The idea is that you instill fear in your students in an effort to demand respect. Me? I simply post my rules in my room. RESPECT. I ask for respect. I give respect. I expect my students to respect me, the classroom, their classmates, and themselves. I have used clip charts and other methods. It depends, to some degree (now), on the grade I am teaching. I expect respect and I give respect. The idea is that my classroom and the school in general is a place that requires respect. I believe firmly that if a student respect him or herself then that student will be able to show respect to his and her classmates.

But, I admit. I smile before Christmas.

In addition to building a culture of respect, I also believe firmly that I should build rapport with my students. To do that, I need to smile before Christmas.

You see, I am a generally happy and respectful person. If I expect the same from my students, then I should show them that part of who I am and who I strive to be.

I smile before Christmas to build rapport.

I want to know my students. I want my students to know me. I want so share music with them. I want to know what ways in which I can reach them beyond the curriculum. I want to know how to best meet their needs.

Don't smile before Christmas? Ha!

I once considered joining the United States Army. I went to a day where I learned a great deal about what I would be doing in the Army. I spent a day not smiling. At the end of it, I struggled. My friends wondered what was wrong with me. When I finally cracked a smile, it hurt. I didn't like that feeling.

I am a school teacher, not a drill sergeant. I want my students to enjoy school. I want them to develop a love for learning. I want them to want to come to school.

And so, I build respect and rapport side-by-side. In doing so, I smile, even if it is before Christmas.

If we spend only half a year being human with our students, then we miss out on something. At the very least, we miss out on half of the year. And so, I smile before Christmas.

There are days when it is a struggle. Yet, I smile.

To build that rapport means that I will smile and so will they. Perfect in my imperfections, I smile before Christmas. And, so should you. Your students, my students, our students deserve our best selves. And so, I smile. Sometimes, they smile too.

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!

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):
1. Lassen
2. Pinnacles
3. Point Reyes
Miss Hollywood
1. Lassen
2. Point Reyes
3. Pinnacles
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."