Friday, August 31, 2012

My Favorite iPad Teaching Apps

I posted a couple days ago about a new app that I want to start using this year and got a couple questions about any other apps that I use.  I am very much still learning how to incorporate iPads into the classroom, but these are a couple apps that I like.

I probably could go into tons of details about each of these apps, but there are people that have already done awesome jobs of writing about them so I'll just give you a link over to read more.  Check out the links, some of them have videos of the app in action to really give you a good idea of how it works.

If you are lucky enough to have a class set of iPads then I'm terribly jealous of you...but also you must download this app.  Nearpod lets you create an interactive presentation and then send it to you kids' iPads.  You control the pacing and decide when to move to the next page.  The part that's so incredible though is you can add things like multiple choice questions, open-ended questions, videos, and quizzes right into the lesson and receive instant feedback.  The kids will do the activity and then send their answer to you and you can see their results before moving on to the next page.  When I picture a 1:1 classroom, this is exactly what I picture.  Talk about student engagement.

You need to see nearpod in action to really get the full idea.  Go read tons more about Nearpod here.  The only limitations here are that it seems that this is only on iOS devices for free.  There is a web app, but that requires a monthly school suscription.

The next one is another one that has the potential to really engage kids.  A bonus is that Socrative is available on iOS, android, and the web so it's more easily used.  This is student response system that also allows for instant feedback.  Kids can answer different types of questions and you can see who said what.  This would be fantastic to incorporate into lessons to do frequent checks on understanding.  There are also some quiz options in here that are awesome, one option is game that is set up like a race that you can project onto a screen.  Kids move by answering questions correctly and they can see them self and everyone else moving.

Check out more about Socrative here.

Mind maps are something that I really want to start doing this year.  I was inspired by this which I found on Pinterest and came from Runde's Room.  At the moment I would really like to try to create a mind map for each unit and this app would be a great way to do that.  This is one that I think I will be able to implement using the one iPad that I have and projecting it.  This app makes really cute (which of course I like) looking graphic organizers and I like that the parts can be moved around as you add more.  The part that really sold me on it though is that when you create a mind map, the app automatically creates an outline with the information and you can switch back and forth.  I think there are a lot of ways this could be used.

More about Inspiration here on their website.  I have the free version which has been great for me so far, but there is a also a paid version for $9.99.  It's a little pricy for me, but could be worth it depending on how you're going to use it.  It looks like the paid version will get you tons of more options. 

This is one that I love and recommend to students all the time.  It's a flashcard app that is available on iOS and android.  The app and accounts are free and there are a few ways to use it.  One way is just on your own.  Kids can download the app and either create or search for flashcards on a topic and then use them to study.  The app tracks your proficiency on each set of flashcards so kids can see how they're doing.  It also gives you the option to study using all cards or just the card that you got wrong last time which is cool.

What is really cool about Study Blue though is the social media aspect of it.  There are SO many sets of flashcards created that you can search and easily find ready made cards on almost anything.  As a teacher though, you can create classes.  You could have your kids all join the same class and then they could share cards and study materials with each other.  Imagine giving each kids a small topic and having them each create like 5 cards and then they can all share their cards and have a complete study guide to use.  Awesome.

Read more about it here.

This is just a notebook writing type app that I love.  I have a stylus pen that I use with this app to just write stuff down and take notes.  You can also import pictures into the app so you can import problems or worksheets into here.  I like that you can create custom papers to write on out of a pdf so I have created various graphs, coordinate planes, and number lines that I can pull up quickly.  It's got options to change pen color, size, and use highlighters.

I use it a lot when I'm helping kids one on one.  Instead of just using tons of scrap paper, I'll do examples in here to show them and have them work on problems here.  If you have a class full of kids though and you are lucky enough to have a set of iPads you could create an activity and have them do it in here.  Notebooks can be exported to e-mail, dropbox, evernote, or printed out (if you have a printer hooked up) so you could also have kids submit their work digitally.  

This is one that I paid for and never regretted it.  I use this tons for my own stuff so I also didn't buy it just for school, I really get a lot of use out of it.

There are a few apps that do something similar but I like this one.  It measures the noise level of the class to let them know when they're being too loud.  Great to just project up on a screen.  You can set the sensitivity in the app to control how loud/quiet is acceptable.

There's a million timers out there, so this is just the one I'm liking at the moment.  It looks like a digital sand timer and you can watch the sand running out.  Beeps when time's up.  You can change the color of the timer too which of course I like.

I also have a bunch of math focused apps that I'll write about in part two of this post tomorrow.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Classroom Management Part 2: Offense

This is the part of classroom management is the part that I feel I've gained with experience.  I have learned how to better relate to and interact with kids and it has worked wonders on my classroom management.  These suggestions are more like offensive strategies.  They are not so much reacting to bad behaviors, but how to prevent them.  In my opinion, having a good relationship with my kids is the absolute best way to avoid bad behaviors.   If they respect and understand me then they are less likely to misbehave for me.  These are my suggestions on how to develop the kind of relationships that will help to avoid problems.

Make sure that you listen to kids

Be very careful and aware of the way that you talk to kids.  I try not to talk down to them, but instead talk with them just like I would talk with an adult or peer of mine.  If a kid closes his notebook in the middle of the lesson and puts his head down I could walk over and tell him to take his notebook back out and pay attention.  I don't do this.  If I'm in the middle of teaching, I'll ignore it until I get a break.  Then I'll go over and instead of starting by bossing him around, I sit down and ask what's going on and if everything is ok.  Sometimes they'll tell me that they don't feel well or have a headache or something.  Sometimes this is true, but sometimes it's code for either "I don't undertand" or "I'm bored." (knowing the difference comes from knowing the kid)  If this is the case then I'll tell them that what we're doing is really important because I want to make sure they understand what's going on and I'll ask if I can help them.  I'll suggest that we work on the next part together.  The key here is just to not automatically start attacking kids because they will just shut down and you'll get nothing.

Listening to kids also means when they do something wrong.  Let's say two kids start arguing with each other and you give them both detention.  One kid starts saying they didn't do anything and it was the other one's fault and you say, "I don't want to hear it.  I saw what happened."  Kids HATE this kind of attitude.  I've heard kids say so many times that they got in trouble and the teacher didn't even listen to them.  It makes things so much worse because this is exactly when they start to fight back.  They want to tell their side of their story.  You don't necessarily need to believe everything they say but I really believe you at least need to hear them out because they deserve it.  

I prefer to do this after class.  I tell them that I will absolutely hear what they have to say, but ask if we could do it at the end of class.  I will try to really listen to the kid and say something like, "I understand that it made you really mad when she said that, but you need to understand that when you yell back then you just end up getting in trouble too.  Next time, maybe just wait and tell me what she said.  That way she'll get in trouble and you won't." And then I'll have a similar conversation with the other kid.  They both end up feeling like they were listend to and feel like I'm on their side which is what they want.  They just want to feel like they matter and aren't going to be brushed off.  

Get to know the "difficult" kids best
Most kids misbehave for a reason.  If you can figure out why, then you will be golden.  You will find that if you can do this, the kids that are terrible for everyone else will be good for you.  When other teachers talk about how terrible that kid is, it will seem like they're talking about a completely different person than you know.  To do this, I just ask simple questions about their life.  You'd be amazed how much you'll learn if you just ask the right questions.  As soon as a kid feels like you're interested in their life, boy do they like to talk allllll about it.  And from that moment on, you're no longer just the teacher that stands up in the front of the room you're someone that they have a more personal relationship with. When you ask them to do something, it's not just a teacher asking it's someone that cares about them and there's a huge difference.

I had a girl this past year that was off the wall.  Nothing worked with her so one day I asked her to come have lunch with me.  Not as a punishment, just to talk.  She was thrilled for the attention.  I asked about her family and who she lived with and her siblings and all that type of stuff.  That girl became my best friend after that.  She still misbehaved in her other classes, but she was much better in mine because she started to feel like I cared about her.  What's awesome about this is that eventually it can start to carry over to other classes as well.  After I developed that relationship with her I started to ask her to behave in her other classes, and asked her to do it for me. It worked because she didn't want to let me down.

Same thing with a kid in my summer class.  From day one he was trying to figure out what he could get away with.  Gave me attitude and all that stuff so I knew immediately I needed to focus my attention on that kid.  I moved seats and put him right up front.  I'd make small talk with him about random things and in no time he behaved better in my class than in anyone else's.  And not only did he behave, he became incredibly helpful and one of the hardest workers in the class.

It may not be as easy with all kids, but this is one suggestion that I feel really strongly about.  A lot of times the worst kid in your class is the one that needs someone to care about them most.  They act up because they're used to everyone writing them off, and if you are the one person to not do that they will love you for it.

Be understanding and let kids feel like they "won"
I let kids win small battles all the time.  It makes them feel like they have a say in things and usually it makes them get their work done.  I can explain this better using some examples.
  • A girl that would sometimes ask if she could do her work in the hallway.  She'd take a clipboard and go lay outside in the hallway on days where she didn't feel like being in the room.
  • A boy that would sometimes put his head down during class but then he'd come during study hall and make up whatever he didn't get done in class.
  • I have a purple butterfly chair in my room that I'll let kids sit in if they ask.
  • A few kids that preferred to leave their books in my room instead of going to their lockers so I made them their own area on my shelf.
  • A boy that for some reason always wanted to use my pen/pencil/highlighter instead of his own.
  • A girl that would occasionally want to sit on the floor to do her work.
  • A boy that would sometimes opt out of group work when we were doing stations or something and always had the option to work alone and not move if he decided.
These are all small things that honestly make no difference to me.  I could say no just to show that I'm in charge, but really what's the point?  As long as they end up getting their work done and not distracting other people I'm pretty much ok with anything.  My general policy is just that they need to ask me.  And if I say no, I'll give a quick explanation why not.  Always respect them enough not to pull the, "because I said so."  I find that my kids know me well enough to know that I only say no if there's a good reason and since I explain why they very rarely fight the no.

Now with all of this stuff going on, my classroom is rarely the "model" classroom that you'd imagine.  I think I'd call in a state of "controlled chaos" and I like it that way.  I don't take things too seriously because I want to enjoy my kids.  It makes my job so much more fun to not have to be a dictator in my room.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Exit Tickets

I found this on Pinterest and knew immediately that I was doing it.  The idea originally comes from  Cortney at Once Upon a Substitute and is another "why didn't I think of that" type ideas.  I like exit tickets and a long time ago I designed ones that looked like real tickets.  I like to keep a stack of them photocopied so they're always ready if I need them.  Sometime I might plan to use one, but they're great to use when the lesson goes quicker than I expected and I need to fill a few minutes at the end of the period.

This takes the idea of keeping them on hand one step further. Laminate them and make dry erase exit tickets!  This way I always have them on hand, and I'll never have to make more copies.  Why didn't I think of this??

I created these blank tickets and printed enough for a class set on cardstock paper.  At the moment I'm considering printing more so that I have enough for each student, that way I won't have to read and erase them each period.

[Update]: I ended up printing out enough tickets for each of my students.  Often when I collect exit tickets I don't look at them until the end of the day so I decided that making a class set and trying to read and erase them each period just wasn't reasonable for me.

I laminated them all...

then cut them all apart.

Classroom Management Part 1: Defense

Classroom management is possibly the most important skill to master as a teacher.  You can plan awesome lessons, but if kids won't behave then they aren't going to be successful.  I don't claim to have mastered it, but I am better than I was when I was new.  Kids will spend the beginning of the year trying to figure you out, especially if you appear to be young.  They will test you to figure out just how much they can get away with.  It's really interesting just how perceptive they are.  

Kids are very honest.  I've had many conversations with kids about their other classes and it's so interesting to hear how aware they are of their teacher's weaknesses.  They know exactly what they can get away with, exactly how to make the teacher mad, and most importantly they know which teachers have no control over the class.

These first three points are more defensive strategies.  They are how I deal with incidents that happen in my room.

Pick your battles
I know that everyone has probably heard this before but it really is super important.  There are teachers out there that pick at kids for everything...every. single. little. thing.  To me this is a power trip, they are just trying to prove that they are in charge.  Kids do not respect this.  They aren't going to behave if they feel like this, they are just going to try to make you miserable.

In a room with good classroom management, there is no power struggle.  Instead everyone feels like they are winning.  How to accomplish this is the challenge.  This is one of those things that I think comes with experience.  You need to be both assertive and easy going at the same time.  

I will address something in two cases.  
  • If causes other students to become distracted
  • If it is hurtful or rude to another student
I pretty much let everything else slide.  If a kid is sitting and singing to them self but it doesn't seem to be distracting anyone then I don't say anything.  If I notice kids looking up with that irritated look, then I address it.  With things like this, it's usually enough to just quietly ask them to stop.

For the most part, I find that kids respect my style.  They know come to know that I'm really laid back and easy going, but there is a line and when they cross it then there's going to be problems.  It lets me have a lot of fun with them but still be serious when necessary.

Be firm and consistent
If you tell kids that the next person that talks is going to get kicked out or detention or a phone call home or whatever, you MUST follow through.  If you tell kids that tomorrow you're not going to give any warnings and you're just handing out detentions, then you have to do it.  Don't threaten kids with something you're not prepared to follow through on.  Empty threats show kids that they can get away with things.

This is the part that I had the most difficulty with as a new teacher.  I was always good in school so getting in trouble was the worst thing in the world for me.  Because of this, I always felt really bad giving out consequences to kids.  I distinctly remember giving detention to a kid my first year and letting him talk me out of it because he promised he would be good.  Oh silly new teacher, you are so gullible.  This kid totally figured me out and from then on knew that he could get away with whatever he wanted.

I've learned that it is very possible to be firm without coming across as mean.  I'll usually give kids a "I need you to stop talking across the room and focus on your work.  This is the second time I've asked and if I have to ask you're going to need to come for lunch detention tomorrow."  I don't say it in an angry way, just in a very matter of fact way.  This way, if that kid does it again I explain that they knew the consequence, but made the decision to continue so because of that I have to give them detention.  I don't listen to the whining and complaining that ensues, I just tell them that they made the decision.  This is also where my classroom expectations come in.  I use them as my backup so the kids can't argue that they didn't know what they were doing was inappropriate.

Deal with things promptly
This is related to kids trying to figure out what they can get away with.  Ever have a kid that calls out something totally off topic in the middle of class?  They're testing you.  They want to see what will happen.  If it's harmless, I'll usually just laugh.  If it's truly distracting or rude though it needs to be dealt with immediately.  That kid needs to know that behavior will not be tolerated.  I'll usually give them the teacher look and say something like "that's enough."  If they start to argue back or say they didn't do anything or fight with me I'll ask them to step outside.  What's important is not to engage that kid in an argument.  This shows that kid that I'm not going to fight with them and it shows the other kids that I'm not going to tolerate being spoken to like that.  

I'll give it a few minutes and then when I have kids working on something I'll talk with the kid for a minute in the hall.  I will let them know their behavior is not appropriate and then explain that it is distracting to other kids.  I tell them that I can't allow them to talk to me that way because it makes other kids think that it's ok and I can't do my job if kids think that.  Sometimes this will result in a detention or further consequence, but sometimes not.  I try to be really nice when I go out too.  I'll talk to them in a very casual tone and before they come back in I make sure they understand that we're ok. If possible I'll even try to make them laugh to ease the situation.

In an ideal world, I would never need any of this advice because my kids would all be angels.  We all know that's not realistic, but a big part of my classroom management philosophy deals with how develop the kind of relationship with my kids so that I do cut down on incidents.  Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow where I'll explain some of those strategies that I use.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Designing Instructions & Foldables

A lot of people have asked how I come up with foldables or where I find them so I'd like to explain my thought process.  I gave examples yesterday of how much better I think my notes are now and I think the act of creating the foldables is what has helped me.

When giving notes I used to fall victim to having kids just write and write.  I would just keep going with a topic and throw it all onto the same page because I thought all the info belonged together.  When making a foldable for a topic I start by thinking about how many chunks of information feel natural and then I choose a foldable with that many parts.  By doing this, it stops me from rambling and helps me get to the point.  Even the act of having to think about how many parts there are helps me to focus on what's really important.  I aim to give students enough information so that the idea is complete, but not so much as to get distracting.

Take integers rules for example.  They naturally break into four parts so I just chose a four part foldable and split the information up accordingly.

Order of operations also has four logical chunks, but is more sequential so I chose a four part foldable that accomplished that.

I never pick a foldable because I think it's cool and then try to find information to go in it.  I always pick the foldable that makes sense for the information.  Sometimes a topic don't lend well to a foldable so I just wouldn't use a foldable in a situation like that.  I'm not using them for the novelty or fun of it, I'm using them when they help to enhance the content.

Here are two pages where I opted out of using a foldable and instead chose to just write down the steps on the process of what we were doing.  I could have put the different steps into a foldable but I didn't think it really added anything to help understand the idea better so I skipped it.

A major change is also which students I design instruction for.  When I used to give notes I think that I was designing instruction for my model students.  Ideally, if the kids pay attention then things should go well.  And for the motivated kids, it does work.  They pay attention for the whole period and take all the notes and write neatly and all that good stuff.  I could feel like I did a good job because I gave good notes and if a kid didn't get it then it was their own fault.  I feel bad even admitting that I used to be this way, but it's only in hindsight that I realize what was going on.

Instead, I now try to design instruction for that unmotivated student.  I've come to understand that student much better and I continue to try to figure them out.  If I can come up with something to engage them and get them involved, then I really know that I have been successful.  My top kids will most likely succeed either way because they are self-motivated. The other kids are the challenge and it is my job to reach them.  If I ignore them and just put the blame on them so that I don't feel bad, then I am not doing my job.  They need and deserve a good teacher just as much, if not more, than the top kids.

So what this means in terms of choosing foldables is that I try to make as much as the lesson interactive as possible.  I can't talk for 40 minutes because I'll lose them.  So when I'm splitting up information I try to break it into smaller parts and try to come up with tasks I can have the student do.  This may mean a discovery type activity, but sometimes it's just as simple as having them cut and paste the examples themselves.

For example:

On the outside of the flaps I gave them the definition and I could have just as easily given them the pictures too.  The examples were something though that I thought they could do.  So instead of just copying down the picture from the board and not thinking about it, I had them cut out each graph and decide where it belonged.  It was just a quick little thing, but it broke up my "lecture" and got them active.

This is something I aim for with foldables.  I don't want to give a foldable where it's just me talking for 40 minutes telling them what to write.  This certainly might happen every now and then, but I don't want it to be the norm.  Instead I try to come up with parts of the foldables that I can give them and part that they can do themselves.

In my integer foldable, I give them the rule and then they create their own example problems.  It's another thing that just breaks up the period so that kids can't just zone out.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Proof that the ISN has changed the way I teach

I have said before that the Interactive Student Notebook completely changed the way that I teach and I've certainly expressed my thoughts on the ISN plenty, but I haven't quite showed what exactly changed in how I teach.

At the end of the year a couple years ago I knew that I wanted to do ISNs the next year.  I kept a couple kid's binders so that I could see what they looked like by the end of the year and to figure out how I could improve upon them.  So let's compare the notes that I used to give to what I give now and I think it will be crystal clear how much ISNs have improved my teaching.  (I just chose one of the binders to use as an example to keep it consistent.)

I have always been an organized person.  Even with a regular three ring binder I had kids keep a table of contents so that they could find things.  This worked ok for kids that liked organization, but it didn't really help the other kids at all because it didn't force them to be organized.  If they didn't feel like filling out the table of contents then they just didn't.  And since it was in a binder, things fell out and got lost.  Here's an example of what I mean:

Table of Contents BEFORE
Now this is a binder I kept at the end of the year.  Notice the table of contents stops in October. Awesome.  Clearly this idea didn't work out too well.

Here's an example of some notes on scatter plots from that year:

Scatter Notes BEFORE

This makes me cringe.  Is that bad or what??!  And I don't blame the student one single bit, this is on me.  I could blame the kid (like so many people do) and say they should be a better student and pay attention and so on, but it's my job to make sure that kid is engaged and interested.  So this kid started out copying down my little pictures and then started to write some of the examples, but then stopped.  Maybe I went too fast or maybe it just wasn't interesting.  That's a problem.  The other problem is that I gave them the examples and told them where to put them.  If I recall correctly, there were like two or three examples under each type.

Now let's compare to the ISN scatter plot page. (which I talked about here)

Scatter Plot Notes AFTER

This has pretty much the same info, but it's just so much better and there was SO much more thinking going on with this versus what I did before.  The only thing that I gave the kids is the definitions.  They matched the graphs and they were way more engaged in sorting the examples than before.

Ok this next one is bad.  These were my integer notes.  I thought that I was being helpful by typing them out because I used to have kids write down this stuff and it ended up a mess.  Instead, I figured that I would give them the rules and have them record the examples.  Oh and I also went through this in ONE DAY because it should have been a review for them!

Integer Notes BEFORE
The biggest problem was the fact that I rushed this.  The information on here is good, it's just not presented in an interesting or easy to read way.  I think that it could be difficult to really find the rules on here and when things aren't easy to use, kids aren't going to use them.

Here's the foldable I give now. (more info on it)

Integer Notes AFTER
Integer Notes AFTER

No contest.  But what I think I really need to point out, is that all of the information is identical to what I gave before.  It's the same amount of explanation and examples, but just changing the presentation completely refreshes this whole thing and turns it into something WAY more useable.

Here's another one on linear relationships.  Again I thought that I was doing a good thing by typing out a frame for their notes and having them add in the content.  On the back were four tables where they had to graph and label each linear or non-linear.

Linear Relationships BEFORE

Compare to now. (more on this page)

Linear Relationships AFTER
Linear Relationships AFTER

Another example of the same information presented in a much better way.  I get way more student engagement now and I feel like the students get a much better explanation of the idea.

I wish that I could have compared the student binder to student ISN but my goal for the ISN is for the kids to use it as a reference guide so I don't ever want to keep them.  The kids' notebooks really did look really good though.

Overall, starting to use foldables and the ISN just forced me to really think about what I was doing. I find that I put more thought into lessons because my focus is on making them interesting, interactive and easy to understand. For me, giving regular "notes" isn't really an option anymore so when presenting new information it's not even something I consider. When planning I put a lot of effort into creating things that can be used as a true how-to guide instead of just writing down information so they have it. Tomorrow I'm going to go into some more detail about my actual thought process when creating new pages and foldables so stay tuned.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

TeacherKit- Something New

I got an iPad this year and am unsure now how I ever lived without it.  I wasn't sure that I needed it because I already had a computer, smartphone and an iPod touch but it is just so much more convenient than using any of those.  So towards the end of the year I started to use the iPad in school and tried to figure out ways I could use it.

My goal for this year is to start using the app TeacherKit.  I played around with a little last year (it was called TeacherPal then) but didn't really take advantage of what it had to offer.  This year I want to start off the year using it because I think it has the possibility to make my life a lot easier and help me in a few of the areas I'd like to focus on improving in.  So my intent is not to sound like an advertisement, but my hope is that if I talk about all the things it can do here, it here it'll force me to really use it as much as I want to.  And if anyone else has an iPad maybe it can help make your life easier too.

I started tonight by setting up all my classes.  My classes are pretty small so it's wasn't too difficult to enter them myself.  In a larger class though I would have the kids take turns entering their own info.  

How cute is this the main screen?  I love it.

A weakness of mine is learning names.  It takes me forever.  With this app, I can create a seating chart that includes the student's picture.  For now I used their school picture that was in the computer already, but I may give them the option to take a new one.  Since I put all of them in today I have actually already started to learn them and I won't even meet them for two more weeks!

I think that I'm going to also use this app instead of the info cards that I've used before.  I can have kids enter their e-mail address, their parent's e-mail address & phone number into the app so I can just pull it up when needed.  What's also cool is that this is totally customizable, I can choose what info I want to ask them.  I'll probably include things like what school they went to last year and a couple other random things.

Once I have that info in there I can use it to get in touch with someone if needed, but what's cooler is that the app can send out mass e-mails to all students or all parents.  At the beginning of the year when I send home the course guide to be signed I plan to have parents opt in or out of the e-mail list.  Since it uses the mail app, as long as I link my school e-mail to my iPad the e-mail will be coming from my school e-mail address which is good.

I also want to use this to take attendance.  Kids can only have a certain number of absences and lates before there are consequences so I need to make sure to take careful attendance.  With this app, I can set up my seating charts (that will include their photo instead of the cartoon) and then just take attendance by tapping the empty seats.  What might be the best part is that I can easily track absences because each kid will have a notification by them with the number of times they've missed my class.  Also really cool is that the absence codes are customizable, so you could also include late or things like the nurse in addition to just present/absent.

This app can also track behaviors, both good and bad.  I like this, but I'm not quite sure that I'll use it yet.  I'm trying to focus on one thing at a time.  For now, it's easier for me to write that stuff down in my student record binder, but we'll see.  Oh and there's a gradebook.  We use an online gradebook program though so I won't be using the gradebook aspect at all, but it really seems like the app has a lot that it can do.

It's also free which is awesome.  Completely free, not like a lite version where you will eventually need to buy the full one.  I think this would be awesome to bring into a parent meeting.  Instead of having to print out a bunch of stuff it would all be in there ready to pull up.  I think that good record keeping makes meetings go really smoothly.  Parents love details, they want to know exactly what is happening and I think this is a good way for me to do that.

Does anyone use this app by any chance?  I would love to hear about how you like it.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

ISN Prezi

A few months ago I finally started playing around with Prezi and fell in love with it.  Clearly it's so much more awesome than powerpoint.  I made this presentation that I plan to use to introduce ISNs to my classes this year.  I hope that my kids find it more interesting than a regular slideshow.

PS...In case you can't view the embedded Prezi here's a little bit of what it looks like :)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Three Ways I Grade ISNs

Improving how I grade ISNs is one of my goals for this year.  I think that grading them is important because I want kids to take them seriously.  I have a few different things that I did last year, but I'd like to improve upon them for this year.  I did three different things last year.

#1 Collecting Them

So this is the most typical way that I've heard that people grade ISNs.  Collect them and grade them. I've done this before using a rubric (which I no longer have unfortunately).

I like this way because it really holds the kids accountable for their books being complete.  I feel that the grade is a accurate representation of what they have in their ISN.  The problem, though, is the amount of time it takes to grade them.  It's just not something that I could do that frequently.  I have seen people use a stamp to help with this and I think that's a good idea so I plan to do that this year.  I need to find some more specifics of that idea though because I'm not 100% clear on how it works.

#2 Scavenger Hunt Quiz

This is like the opposite of collecting them because it's so easy to grade.  Before using ISNs, this was the way that I would usually check kid's notebooks. I like this way because it's easy, but I feel like their grade is not quite as representative of everything that is in their notebook.

#3 Open ISN Quizzes

Now this one might be a little stretch on grading their notebook, but I kinda group it in there.  When we are learning a new skill I like to give short 3-5 question pop quizzes every few days or so.  These take place as their do now and I let them use their ISN on the quiz.  They are being assessed not only on how well they know the skill, but on how well they are able to use their notebook as a reference guide.  I like this because ultimately my goal is not that the kids write down everything and have a complete notebook, but that they are actually able to use it.  Since the quizzes are unannounced, I hope that in encourages the kids to keep their notes up to date.

I also like these frequent quizzes because I want kids to stay up to date with their learning.  I don't like it when a kid doesn't realize they are struggling until after they fail the test.  Ideally homework would accomplish this type of self-assessment, but kids just don't take it seriously.  Grade-wise I don't count them for very much at all, but their value lies in keeping me and the students up to date with where they stand on the topic.

For this coming year, I would like to continue using all three of these assessments.  I'd like to come up with a plan though so it's easier for me to make sure I really do it.  At the moment this is what I'm thinking:

  • Weekly: Open ISN Quizzes
    Use these frequently as we are working on new skills
  • Marking Period Halfway Point: Scavenger Hunt Quiz
    I think that I'd like to have this count for less points that the full collect at the end of the MP
  • End of Marking Period: Collect ISNs
    Since this grade will be the most complete assessment of all the work they did, I'd like to have it count for the most points
I have heard a lot of people talking about having the kids grade each other's ISNs, but I just don't think I can get behind this quite yet.  I am sure that it is fantastic, but I feel that if I'm giving a kid an actual grade for something that it is my job to assign that grade.  I guess I just don't entirely trust anyone but myself.  If someone were to ever dispute a grade I feel like I wouldn't have any ground to stand on if I had to say that I had another student grade it or had the kid grade it them self.  I think this is one of those cases where different things work for different people.  I've heard lots of good things, but it's just not for me.

So the part I need to work on though is how to make collecting them as easy as possible on myself.  I'd love to suggestions on this if you've got any!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Everybody is a Genius

This post is about where my blog name came from.  I'll warn you now that it's kinda a long one.  For some reason this post has been the most difficult to write because it's personal to me.  The idea behind this quote means a lot to me but it was hard to actually put into words.  For the past month I kept writing parts and then coming back and a couple times I thought maybe I'd just scrap it and keep this one to myself.  I finally sat down and just finished so here goes...

This is so much more to me than just a quote that I like.  I had kids that changed things for me a few years ago and made me realize why I’m a teacher.  Months after they left me I came across this quote and it just summed up exactly what I was thinking.

I think that all kids have some area that they are a genius in, yet so many of them don't realize just how talented they are.  For some of them, it may take years for their talents to develop, but what truly impresses me is how talented some of them already are as 14 and 15 year old people.  Over years that they've spent in school, however, they have ended up under the impression that "smart" means good at school.  If you aren't good in school and getting good grades then it automatically means you're "dumb."  Kids see things as very black and white, no grey area.  They overlook how good they are at certain things because they aren’t the things that are traditionally valued in school.  I hate this.

In school we value things like organization skills, ability to follow directions, complete homework, language skills, and other things along those lines because that's what makes a good student.  For a long time this was my mindset.  I wanted kids to be good students because that's what school is for.  I didn’t see the grey area myself.

I know now though that there is a huge grey area.  It's great to be successful in school, but it's not the only important thing.
  • I have a kid that can take a car apart and install new audio equipment and think nothing of it, but thinks he's "dumb" because he struggles in school.  
  • I have a girl that can't sit still and spends the whole day frustrated because she keeps getting yelled at to behave, yet she's amazing on the basketball court.
  • Kids that were raised in spanish speaking homes that can fluently converse in a second language at 13 years old but think that they’re stupid because they aren't that great at reading and writing in the language.
  • A boy that says his mom doesn't even bother to come to conferences anymore because she already knows what the teachers are going to say (that he's lazy, that he's unmotivated, that he could do better), but that kid makes the morning announcements for every soccer game because he's so good.
  • A kid that can care for an infant from after school until bedtime on a daily basis but thinks he's just going to keep failing because he can't get homework done.
  • A kid that is a professional DJ who can write up a contract and manage his own business but he puts his head down as soon as he doesn't understand something because he's used to giving up.
...and I could keep going.

I am so incredibly impressed by them on a daily basis yet they think that their skills are no big deal.  They are so talented, but think that they aren't "smart" because their talents don't quite lie in academics.

I’m probably never going to be great at basketball, soccer, or any other sport.  I’ll probably never change the oil in my own car and I’m most likely not going to be fluent in another language.  I'm 28 and I don't have a baby to take care of and there's absolutely no way I could have done it at 15.  I do happen to be good at math though.  Math is my thing and these kids each have their own thing.  Who's to say what’s more important?  Honestly, the skills that these kids have will probably be more useful in the real world than my ability to solve an equation.  I’m not saying math isn’t important, I’m just saying it’s just not the only important thing.

In recent years I’ve come to realize just how important it is to take a real interest in these kids' lives and to try to help them feel good about themselves.  I try to go to as many of the the sports games as possible and let them tell me about cars, or taking care of their siblings, or even what to do when you're walking around the streets of a bad neighborhood.  If we overhear someone speaking spanish I ask them what they just said.  They tell me about how much formula to feed a baby and what time is best to feed them if you want them to sleep for the night.  Those are the things that those kids are experts in and I want them to feel proud of themselves because they should be.  I try really hard to show these kids how impressed I am by their talents and that in certain areas they are so much smarter than I will ever be.

If a kid spends years getting beaten down and discouraged, eventually that kid is going to stop trying.  I can't even blame them for this.  If you spent 10 years feeling like the dumb kid how can you really be expected to keep trying?  These kids have decided that no matter what, they are going to fail because they just aren't smart enough to succeed in anything.

Once that kid doesn’t feel so much like the dumb kid anymore you will notice that they start to try a little bit more.  The way I try to make this happen is by talking to them and finding out what they are passionate about.  Once they start to realize that I care about them as a person (and don't think they are just another "dumb" kid sitting in my class) they start to put in some effort for me.  I start to become someone they trust so that when I tell them that I truly believe they are smart enough to solve a particular problem, they start to believe it too.  And I’m not doing it solely because I want them to do well in my class.  I’m doing it because it literally breaks my heart to have kids think that they aren’t worth anything.  They are geniuses and I want them to believe it as much as I do.  

When it came time to name this blog I couldn't think of anything.  I really think the name was the hardest part.  I tried to come up with something math related or maybe something with "interactive" in there.  I tried to come up with some play on math words and had nothing.  I just kept coming back to this quote because it reminds me how I feel about teaching.  It's special to me because it reminds me of the many special kids I've had that have taught me so many things.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Last Classroom Post

I'm finally as done with my room as I'm going to be.  I still have a couple things to hang up on the walls and need to do something with the front two bulletin boards but I'm going to wait until the first couple teacher days back to deal with that.  Even though school doesn't start for two weeks, I feel like I can relax now that this is taken care of.  

Front of the room

My office area

Part of the supply area

Back of the room

ISN Supply Area

Scavenger Hunt Icebreaker Bingo

In the past I've never really done icebreaker activities since I have always had kids that knew each other...sometimes I actually wished they didn't know each other so well.  This year I am teaching freshman, sophomores, and seniors in various different classes.  The school is one where kids come from many different schools so I'd like to try to do something for the freshman that most likely won't know each other.  If you remember my back to school plan, this is one of the things I am planning for the second day of school.

In organizing my files, I came across this one that apparently I found before and entirely forgot about.  I wished that I know where it came from (computer says it was created 8/12/2009).  I'm like 99% sure that I didn't make it up, but I tried to look online and I can't find it anywhere.  I like these scavenger hunt activities because it makes them talk to different people, but I like this one even more because it is a good mix of math and non-math type questions.  I also like the fact that it requires them to write the answers down in the boxes, not just get someone to sign.  I plan to tell them that I will participate too..I have my eye on the calc question :)

I'm not quite sure how I want to structure the game though.  I don't really want to say first to get five in a row wins because I think that could happen fairly quickly and I want to give them a chance to talk.  So here's where I need some advice.  Has anyone done this type of an activity before?  If so, how do you play?  What have you found to be successful?

ps...If you'd prefer a copy that is editable, here's the powerpoint file (but all the fonts probably won't work).

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Top Five Pieces of Advice for ISN Beginners

Beginning anything new for the first time can always get overwhelming.  It seems like there are a lot of people starting Interactive Student Notebooks for the first time this year and I imagine it must be especially intimidating seeing all the amazing ideas people are sharing.  As with anything new, things are more manageable when you focus your energy on one thing at a time.  These are some bits of advice I have for anyone that has not used ISNs before, in an effort to help you decide where to focus your energy at the beginning and where not to.  These are based on the way that I use my ISN and what I think is important.
  1. Be sure that you understand WHY you are using an ISN and be sure that you are doing it for the right reasons.  I have seen people use them because other people are doing it and that's not a good enough reason.  There is no one right reason though.  Spend some time reading through the theory behind ISNs.  They are not just a cool way to take notes, there is a significant amount of meaning in the way that things are set up.  You need to understand this in order to get the best use out of them.  One reason I use an ISN is because I wanted students to be able to use their notes as a reference guide.  Using an ISN has done that for me.  I have started to present notes in a more clear fashion that addresses multiple learning styles.  The other reason I use it is because using the left-right model has encouraged me to come up with activities and questions that require a higher level of thinking than I was using before.  This allows me to better understand what students are thinking and their level of comprehension.
  2. Take the time before school starts to come up with a routine for HOW this is going to work in your classroom.  This is where you should spend your summer prep time.  An ISN is a very tactile way of taking notes which means that there is a lot of hands on stuff going on.  You need a way to make this run smoothly.  Kids will need access to supplies, papers will need to be cut/folded very often, trash will be created and it is up to you to figure out how to make all this happen as easily and effortlessly as possible.  You don't want to spend 15 minutes of your class time teaching students how to fold and cut paper because that is time that could be spent on something better.  Will this happen every now and then? Absolutely...especially in the beginning, and that's ok.  But just make sure that eventually it doesn't anymore.  You want the focus of your class to be on your content, and the foldables just a way of delivering it.  To do this, you just need a solid system in place.  I would suggest that you try to put as much of the responsibility on the kids as possible to make things run easily.
  3. Don't get overwhelmed trying to plan out every single foldable and page that you're going to do before school starts.  This is where you're going to drive yourself crazy when you could put your time to better use.  I tried last summer to make my ISN ahead of time and tape everything in and what ended up happening was that as soon school started a blank one because things ended up changing.  If you want to make some things early, I would suggest keeping them in file folders (according to unit) until you're ready for them. That way, when you reach a certain unit you can pull out that file and look at the ideas you came up with.  The problem planning too far (and taping them in) is really just that things will usually change and you need to be flexible.  You'd never sit and try to write all your lesson plans for the year so don't try to write an entire table of contents or make an entire ISN.
  4. Don't drive yourself crazy if you don't always come up with phenomenal pages.  If you stick a worksheet on a left page then so be it.  If you run out of time and don't get to the left side on a particular day, oh well..try to come back to it another time.  If one of your foldables doesn't work out at all, just make a note to fix that for next year.  Your ISN isn't going to be perfect but just try to do your best and keep your "why" in mind.  As long as you accomplish the goal you had in mind then consider it a success.  I had a lot of pages that I loved and plan to do again, but I also have a handful that I plan to improve for this year.  As I use the ISN with a new course this year I expect the same to happen.
  5. Teach your kids how to use their ISN.  Most kids are used to taking notes, but I have found that most kids are not used to ever looking at those notes again.  You will need to teach your kids how to do this.  After we take notes on a topic, I try not answer questions on that topic.  Instead I will help the kid to look it up in their own ISN.  This teaches them the value of their ISN.  Eventually they will begin to look things up on their own and in my opinion, that is the true value of the ISN.  Kids need to be taught everything and this is no exception.  You can't assume that they know how to properly use it as a reference guide unless you teach them.

Note: History Alive made the ISN as well known as it is today.  This is the company (TCI) explaining them a little bit and here are some videos discussing them.

Monday, August 20, 2012


Bingo has always been one of my go to review games.  It can really be played with any topic and most kids enjoy it.  An added bonus is that for me, it usually ends in the period ending and the kids begging me for just one more problem, pleassssse.  And how often do you really get kids begging for more math problems??!

So bingo itself is nothing new, and I've been playing it with kids as long as I've been teaching, but it wasn't until this year that I figured out a way of playing that I am really happy with.

Until this year, I would put up one problem at a time (using the overhead, smartboard, projector or whatever I was using at the time), have the kids solve and then mark off the answer on their board.  I'd move onto the next problem and repeat.

What I do now, works so so much better for me.  I start off using Kuta to generate a worksheet with all the problems I want to play with.  I do 24 problems and then I just go through to make sure no answers are repeated.

I print out a worksheet that looks like this and takes me all of like 5 minutes to make and an answer key with all 24 answers.

Next I open up my BINGO template that I use for every game and type the answers into the boxes at the bottom so the board looks like this.
When the kids come in they get the board and as their do now they fill each of the 24 answers into a box above wherever they want.  Then when they're finished I give each one of them the worksheet with all the questions.

So instead of giving the kids one problem at a time, I give them all of the problems right up front.  Then to play I use a random number generator on the smartboard to randomly choose numbers from 1-24.  As we pick numbers I jot them down on the board to keep track of what's been picked.  Sometimes I'll have a particular problem I want them to do so in that case I'll just give them a number to do.

The kids then solve that problem from their worksheet and mark off the answer.  I keep the answer key with me in a clear plastic sleeve and use a dry erase marker to mark off the answer that was just picked. I don't have to try to solve any problems, or make a list of answers or anything.  Then each period all I need to do is erase my answer key and start fresh.

What's nice about this is that there's no kids screaming at me not to take down the problem if they're not done since they have the problem on their paper.  It's also really nice for the kids that finish a problem quickly because they'll just start to solve other problems.  They have no idea what number will be called next so they may or may not be doing one that will be picked but they feel like they're getting ahead of the game which they like.  

For the most part I only play one game per period (45 mins) and the timing has always worked out.  I'll just keep playing until we get like 3-5 winners.  We don't usually finish the worksheet so then their homework will be to finish.  If the test is the next day they I'll also send them home with a copy of the answer key so they can check their answers.

I like doing 24 problems because that way the kids know that every answer should be on their board somewhere.  If they get an answer that isn't on the board then it means they made a mistake so there's that element of self-assessment.  Another option though to mix up the game would be to make a worksheet with more than 24 answers and then have kids choose 24 numbers to write on their board.  That way not everyone will have every answer on their board and it would make the game last a little longer if the problems are quick ones.

So does anyone play BINGO differently? I'd love to hear the logistics of how other people make their game work.  I feel like everyone else might already be playing like this and I was just really late figuring it out...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

You must wait...

I spent tonight trying to organize my school files.  I had them spread out over three different computers plus dropbox and it was so frustrating trying to find things.  So in organizing I came across something funny that I thought I would share.

This is from parent teacher conferences.  A few years ago I taught a lot of honors kids which at my school always had the most parents come.

Even though I always kept my conferences to the five minute limit, everyone would always comment that they had waited so long to see me.  The next time conferences rolled around I hung these up going down the hallway above my chairs. No more comments other than on how accurate the wait times were.  :)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Trash to Treasure Desk Chair

I am so excited for this project!  I wasn't crazy about the desk chair that is in my room so I've been playing around with this idea for a little while now.  I've mentioned before that I'm obsessed with HGTV and Nate Berkus and one of the things I watch them do allll the time is reupholster things and make it look so easy.

I will admit that this was not my first time doing this so I did have an idea that it was doable.  Last summer I did a similar project.  I decided to take apart my desk chair and cover it with grey polka dot fabric.  It was pretty easy and since all I did was staple the fabric over top of the current fabric it was completely non permanent.

So fast forward to this morning.  I was in Philly for the weekend and on a whim I decided to check craigslist for a cheap chair.  I found one for $5 that was still available.  Sweet.  Next I headed over to fabric row (which happened to be walking distance from where I was) and found exactly what I had in mind, but it was $15 a yard which was a little more than I wanted to spend so I kept walking around.  I ended up going back because I really did want it and the chair was only $5 so I figured could swing the $14.  The fabric is a grey and white chevron thick canvas material.  It's seems really durable and great for a chair.  So as she cuts it she finds a "spot" and says she'll take $10 for it if I'm ok with the "spot"!!!  I say "spot" because for the life of me I really can't find a spot anywhere.

Picked up my $5 chair on the way home.

Now for the fun part.  I used a power screwdriver and took off the seat and arms and the back part just snapped off.  The front part wasn't removable.

Next I laid the pieces down on my fabric and just out around them.  I wasn't all that careful because the back of the pieces aren't going to be seen so they didn't need to be pretty.  (Note the paws of my helper in this soon as you lay anything down on the floor she wants to lay down on it.)

Now the next part I only did because I purchased this chair.  To make sure that the fabric contours to the chair nicely, I sprayed the pieces with spray adhesive and smoothed down the fabric.  (If you want this to be non permanent, don't do this part).  Then I just used a staple gun to staple down the edges.  For the curved back piece, I couldn't staple into it so I just used spray adhesive for the whole thing and it worked great.

These four pieces I did like this and then I just did the same thing on the seat part that wouldn't come off the chair.

Next all I had to do was screw the pieces all back together.  This was really the most difficult part of the whole project, and it wasn't really all that hard.  So that's really it!  

And the finished product is this beauty...

And here's the before and after just to compare.  The plastic chair parts are still grey too, it just looks a little dark in the picture.  It looks really nice with the fabric.  

For $15 I am seriously so in love with this chair.  I want to just sit in it all day.  And just for fun, here's a close-up of the fabric to show off how pretty it is. :)

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