Thursday, August 13, 2015

Blogging Challenge Day 13

Reflective Teaching: A 30-Day Blogging Challenge For Teachers

Day 13: Name the top edtech tools that you use on a consistent basis in the classroom, and rank them in terms of their perceived (by you) effectiveness.

For anyone keeping track, I've missed some days here. I'd apologize but I was out doing more fun things so no apologies! And maybe this wasn't a great day to come back to because I've written about this before but oh well. Also, like I've said before I'm extremely picky about edtech. I won't use it if it doesn't enable me to do something better than I could do without it. So while things like edmodo, plickers, or socrative are extremely cool they just don't have enough pay off for me. I teach small classes so it's not hard to get quick feedback from each kid. So if you're looking for some new, undiscovered edtech tools I'm sorry to say you won't find it here. These are the tried and true ones that you probably already know about and use.

So in order, these are my top 5 at the moment that I actually use.

  1. Dropbox Nothing has made my life easier than dropbox. I got a promotion that gave me a lot of space for free for 2 years and after that I signed up for an account because I saw the value in it. It's on all of my computers and devices and I use it pretty exclusively instead of any hard drive. I know everyone says google drive can do the same thing but for now I just still prefer Dropbox.
  2. Remind101 I wrote about this one last week or so but it's worth mentioning again because it's definitely at the top of my list. It's just one that makes my life so much easier. I seriously use it all the time. I started using it to text the homework so they didn't forget but now I just use it for any little thing. I also run a club where I need to stay in touch with kids I don't teach so it's perfect for passing on information to them, telling them when meetings are, or when I need help with stuff. I send a text and within minutes kids show up to help with whatever I need. Sidenote: I do know that it's only called Remind now, but I like the 101. It makes it super hard to search for help or things using just Remind since it's a common word.
  3. Weebly I use this for my class website and it's great. I used to use Yola and really liked it but one of the new teachers last year suggested this one and I think it's much better. It's simple to use and so far I haven't come across anything it can't do that I need.
  4. IXL I use this one pretty often because the kids generally like it. It doesn't offer rich open ended questions but I think it's good for skill practice. My district has a subscription so that's really where the value is for me. I wouldn't use it as much as I do if I only had the trial accounts. It tracks everything and progressively makes the questions more challenging as the kid progresses. The kids usually like when I give them a handful of sections to choose from and let them work on the areas where they need work.
  5. Google Drive It's not far enough up on the list to top Dropbox, but still has a place as one of my most used. I probably love using Forms the most. It's the best, quickest way for me to gather information from a group. Sharing and being able collaborate on Docs and Sheets has been very useful to use with my club officers. I'm also liking that Docs can be saved to PDFs and I like their attempt at offering to convert Docs to Word documents but it still doesn't work seamlessly enough for me.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Blogging Challenge Day 6

Reflective Teaching: A 30-Day Blogging Challenge For Teachers

Day 6: Explain- What does a good mentor “do”?

Initially when I read this I thought of a teacher mentoring another teacher. In New Jersey part of getting our teaching certificate is going through a year of mentoring. A more experienced teacher gets assigned to each brand new teacher to help them out. The mentor teacher gets a stipend to do this, some districts pay for it and in others the new teacher has to pay the mentor them self. (sidenote: I'm actually quite curious if this is a common practice across the other states? Or if not, what do you do instead?) I'm actually not too sure of how many good mentoring relationships I've seen. Most new teachers that I've seen haven't had official mentors that end up being all that helpful. Also I've never officially mentored another teacher so I can't really speak from the other side.

So what I'd guess is a good teacher mentor would do is to just really to support the new teacher without being condescending. And I think that new teachers are an especially interesting bunch of people to mentor. As a brand new teacher we're put in front of a group of kids who we have to seem like an expert in front of, even if we're far from being experts. Sure we're most likely an expert in the content, but that is also like the smallest part of teaching. So it seems like a lot of new teachers end up having a hard time really asking for help and admitting that they don't really know quite what they're doing yet because they feel like they have to be experts already. Consequently, a lot of times I've seen new teachers that feel like they need to come across as if they already know everything. By the way, I think I was a "new teacher" until like year 5 and I was definitely one of those people that thought I knew way more than I really did so please don't feel like I'm criticizing anyone.

And I'm not trying to fault anyone. Being a new teacher is a tricky business. Seem too insecure and the kids are going to pick up on it and you'll lose your authority. Come across as too authoritative and the kids will pick up on that too, they'll realize you're new and over compensating and they won't respect that either. And honestly, I don't really know what the answer is. I was pretty bad at classroom management for quite awhile. My 5th year was the year I finally really got the hang of it. Kids see right through us. I've talked at length with kids about this stuff and trust me, they pick up on every little thing.

Sorry, I went off on a bit of a tangent here but what I'm trying to say is that mentoring a new teacher is tricky. We think we know more than we really do so we're hesitant to really listen to someone trying to tell us what we should be doing. We think we've got this under control. And since I've never done it I guess I don't quite know what the right answer is!

When I think of a good mentor though, I think of the cooperating teacher I had when I did my student teaching. She never directly tried to tell me what to do or teach me how to teach. She made me feel way better than I probably was at the time. She got really excited about new things that I tried and made me feel like I was doing a good job, which made me want to keep trying. She acted like I was her colleague instead of someone that was there to learn from her. I definitely wasn't her equal, but it felt like it.

She had a phenomenal relationship with her students so I learned this just from watching. She never talked down to the kids, she joked around with them, she was always smiling. I can't remember her ever really getting super angry or yelling or threatening anyone but the kids still all behaved for her and respected her.

So in the spirit of advice, I'll share some of my favorite bits of "new teacher advice" I've found. I've come across these on pinterest so you may have already seen them but there's tons of advice there and I feel these ones ring especially true. And if you are new, my biggest bit of advice would just be to keep an open mind. Try to be the expert in front of your classroom, but find some experienced teachers that you respect and try to learn all that you can from them. Don't ever feel like you can't admit that you need help because as teachers we're usually a pretty willing and helpful bunch.

If you recall, in the beginning I said that initially when I read this I thought of a teacher mentoring another teacher. But then I rambled on about that for far too long and never got to the other part I was going to talk about- which is mentoring students. So perhaps I'll save that for another day because I have quite a bit to say on that too. Or maybe I won't get around to it, who knows!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Blogging Challenge Day 5

Reflective Teaching: A 30-Day Blogging Challenge For Teachers

Day 5: Post a picture of your classroom, and describe what you see –and what you don’t see that you’d like to.

This is what my room looked like on June 16 right before I started to pack stuff up for the summer. These are not the nice, clean, staged pictures that I posted last August before all the kids came. These are closer to the reality. You'll notice my desk is messy. The tables are filled with stuff. Posters are falling off the walls.

I don't really know what I'd like to see, I'm pretty happy with how it all worked out. I loved my new room this year. Having the sitting area behind my desk was my favorite part I think. It was a very comfortable room to be in and we had a lot of fun there this year.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Blogging Challenge Day 4

Reflective Teaching: A 30-Day Blogging Challenge For Teachers

Day 4: What do you love the most about teaching?

Well this one is easy, the kids! This has always been my answer to this question, but this year it rings more true than ever.

I started this blog the summer before I started at the school I'm presently in. I had taught for the previous six years in middle school, two years in 7th grade and then four years in 8th grade. When I taught 8th grade graduation was always bittersweet. Sure the kids drive me nuts at times but it always made me sad to see them go. Being in 8th grade, they were going off to high school and it meant not seeing most of them again.

So in moving to high school and teaching underclassmen I was excited to not have this happen. And then my first year here I got the most awesome group of sophomores. And it was great because they weren't going anywhere! (do you see where this is going yet?).

So for all three years that I've been at my school I've gotten back this same group of kids each year. And I teach small classes, so it's been a small class of around 10 kids. This year they weren't required to take math but I asked to teach an elective math course and most of my group of kids signed up to take it. We joked through the year that I was the Mr. Feeny of their group. Towards the end of the year they'd ask if I was sure that I wasn't coming to college with them. I taught them in class but also for the past three years some of them also spent lunch in my room, we started a bunch of school spirit stuff the school never had, we did community service (voluntarily just because they wanted to), many of them joined the club I run, they stayed after school to do work with me, they came to hang out in the morning, they had designated cubbies in my room that they used instead of lockers, helped me out countless times, and the list goes on and on. They've stayed in touch via e-mail each summer with anything exciting that happened. When they had issues with other teachers they came to me and I stood up for them. When they were upset or frustrated or just in a bad mood they came to me. When they were really excited about something they came to me. Whenever I needed help or came up with some crazy new idea these were the kids that were with me. And when I got the most frustrated, it was also probably because of them.

Pretty much every teacher and counselor that has had this group talks about how they're just the best kids ever. They've been a teacher's dream and I'm so grateful to have been able to be their teacher for so long. Graduation this year was very tough. If I thought that seeing my 8th graders off was hard, it was nothing compared to this year. I opted to write them letters as a way of saying goodbye. They signed my yearbook and wrote me letters. There were tears (theirs and mine). I had expected that graduation itself would be hard but what was harder was the morning. They got to leave school at lunchtime and almost all of them came to say goodbye to me before they went home. It was one of the hardest things ever.

So that's what I love most about teaching. I know people say that great groups come along all the time, and as one leaves you usually get another one. We'll see how true that is. But I know that I've been doing this for almost a decade now and I've never had a group like this. Next year won't be the same without them but I'm looking forward to hearing about all their next steps.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Blogging Challenge Day 3

Reflective Teaching: A 30-Day Blogging Challenge For Teachers

Day 3: Discuss one “observation” area that you would like to improve on for your teacher evaluation.

Well I think this one goes back to my goals for the year. It's also something that we (in NJ at least) are required to do each year. It's called our Professional Development Plan (or PDP because we love acronyms). At the end of the year we look at our final observation and choose two standards that we'd like to improve further on and then outline a plan to do so. 

So below is the standard I chose: 

Standard 5. Teachers reflect on their practice 
A. Teachers analyze student learning. Teachers think systematically and critically about student learning in their classrooms and schools: why learning happens and what can be done to improve achievement. Teachers collect and analyze student performance data to improve school and classroom effectiveness. They adapt their practice based on research and data to best meet the needs of students. 
This is the evaluation criteria: 
  • Distinguished: Recognizes the need to improve student learning in the classroom.
  • Developing: Provides ideas about what can be done to improve student learning in their classroom.
  • Accomplished: Thinks systematically and critically about learning in their classroom: Why learning happens and what can be done to improve student achievement.
  • Distinguished: Provides a detailed analysis about what can be done to improve student learning and uses such analyses to adapt instructional practices and materials within the classroom and at the school level.
And this is the personal goal I created:
Refine standards based assessment methods in the Algebra 1 and Geometry courses. Create assessments with scaffolding to represent the different proficiency levels to better help the students and the teacher determine a student's level of understanding and what they can do to improve.

Really it's just the same thing I said a couple days ago about how I want to improve what I'm doing with SBG. A little more specifically, I'd like to try to start doing something I heard at a AMTNJ workshop this past January.

A group of teachers and administrators presented a session on Standards Based Grading. They had switched over as a district and worked together to develop a consistent system that they're all using. One thing they stressed was the need for collaboration. Or maybe not the need per se, but how much easier it made it. I attended the session with an awesome teacher from my school who had heard about SBG from me, but wasn't completely sold on it quite yet. The session got him a lot more excited about it though and now he wants to implement it next year. So this will certainly be a help for me. We're both teacher Algebra 1 & Geometry so having help with both will be super helpful.

My big takeaway, however, was the way that they designed their quizzes. Up until then I had put on a good mix of questions for each skill and graded over all their understanding. There wasn't a real system, just whatever I felt like belonged. What they do though, is more of a template for skill quizzes. All of theirs have five questions. They start their designing with the middle question and make that the most basic level of proficiency. Then they create two questions that get progressively more basic, and two that get more advanced. So instead of just a mix of basic questions, they have scaffolded quizzes. First of all, it makes it easier to write quizzes this way. I did it for the rest of the year and really liked it. Second it makes it easier to grade. By including the basic questions it makes it easier to determine if a students has some sort of idea of what they're doing, even if they're not yet up to being proficient.

I'm hoping that this will be manageable this year being that I'll have someone to work with and less courses to keep up with.