Wednesday, June 22, 2016

#IDedchat: Summer reading June 22, 2016

This week, I'll be hosting #IDedchat along with Sarah Windisch. It's summer, and that means we finally have time to sit down and read. I know my summer reading is always a mix of professional books, KidLit, pulp novels, and internet articles. Even though my to-read list is endless, I'm still always looking for recommendations.

Tonight, let's give each other some recommendations for summer reading. We will try to just have an open discussion and just throw out ideas from our own diverse reading lists. Think about the questions below to guide our discussion, and Sarah and I will throw them out throughout the chat if we need to keep the discussion moving.

I hope you'll join us tonight, and I really look forward to hearing your recommendations!

Summer Reading
June 22, 2016
7 p.m. PDT / 8 p.m. PDT / 9 p.m. CDT / 10 p.m. EDT

Some of these questions come from a chat that I hosted for the gone, but not forgotten, #slowchated

What are you currently reading?
Which book do you most recommend for other teachers?
What is your all-time favorite book?
 Share something you read as a student that sticks with you to this day.
Why did it make an impact?
Share something you read that inspired a change in your practice this school year.
 Share something you have read and are still digesting.
 What do you most want your students to read?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Edcamp Cd'A is coming.

Things have been really crazy for me for the last couple months. When I presented at the Coeur d'Alene Education Partnership's State of the District event, I said that I wanted to bring the Edcamp experience to our region within the next year. Before I knew it, Edcamp Cd'A was coming together. It will be the first Edcamp in North Idaho, and I can't wait to see how it goes. I'm working with a terrific team to put it all together, there is just a lot to do before it gets here. If you're in the area, I hope you can join us.

Edcamp Cd'A
May 14, 2016
9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Lake City High School

Monday, February 15, 2016

Presidents Day 2016

Last year I said that I would be switching to clean-shaven presidents and doing two portraits a year. So, without further ado, here is one portrait of a bearded president. I guess that's what I get for putting it in writing.

This year's portrait was inspired by this photo of Ulysses S. Grant taken by Matthew Brady circa 1870
Accessed from The Miller Center Presidential Portrait Gallery

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Inspiration from #IETA16

My head is still swimming from all the education awesomeness I experienced at my first Idaho Education Technology Association (IETA) Conference. Between the sessions, exhibit hall, and networking, it was one of the best conferences I've attended. Rather than leaving with a mile-long wishlist of technology, I have ideas that I can use in my classroom and share with my colleagues.

I was lucky enough to attend along with my wonderful wife, Sarah Windisch. Since we're both always looking for ways to improve our schools and classrooms, the learning never stopped. We're still talking about all of the things we're inspired to try out.

Monday opened with Darren Hudgins' keynote presentation "The Merchant of Someday." He highlighted just how rapidly access to information and communication is changing the world.
Although the world has changed immensely in the last few years, schools have been much slower to adapt. He challenged us to use our vision of someday to guide us as we sell learning to our students. It definitely set the right tone to kick off a technology conference.
I also got to learn about Hyperdocs from Lisa Highfill on Monday. The basic idea of Hyperdocs is to create an all-in-one digital document that gives students the instructions and resources to explore and learn on their own. Then students can share the basic information with each other online leaving your class discussion time for making meaningful connections and digging deeper. This was my biggest takeaway from the conference. I'm putting this right to work in my classroom for third grade literature circles. I also loved hearing about Lisa's Teachers Give Teachers Twitter account. It's basically a repository for re-tweeted free resources from other teachers. It's a great concept, and I hope it really takes off in Idaho.

The #IDedchat crew got together Monday night. Discovery Education hosted a nice reception for the group and it was fun to spend some time with my usually virtual PLN.
My favorite Tuesday session was almost another keynote as Rushton Hurley talked about making memorable projects. He encouraged us to get students asking interesting questions.
When students are interested, they're willing to produce excellent work. In addition, constructing a memorable project sets the stage for greater student learning.
The rest of the second day was full of great ideas, too, but the highlight was the IETA Teacher of the Year award. It went to a fourth grade teacher from my district who has done some amazing things with technology in her classroom. I always look forward to learning with her at our district technology meetings. Congratulations, Kelli Ogle!

There was so many things at IETA that I want to bring back to my classroom. It will definitely keep me trying new ideas through the rest of this school year and beyond. And I'll keep you updated as I continue to experiment and refine...

For #IETA16 learning, check out Janet Avery's Storify of Day 1 and Day 2.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The big 10K

Illustration by Sarah Windisch
At some point this week, the Teacher With Tuba blog reached 10,000 pageviews! It's hard to believe I've been able to share with so many of you over the last two years. Before I joined Twitter and started blogging, reflection on my work as a teacher was an entirely private activity. I didn't believe the things I did were worth sharing to a larger audience than the students in my classroom. Then I saw this:

I realized that sharing makes all of us better. I've learned so much through reading others' blogs and discussing the posts I've written. Thank you so much to everyone who reads the Teacher With Tuba blog and interacts with me. It's helped me and my students to reach greater heights. I look forward to continuing to learn together for a long time to come.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Recent reads

Christmas break is a great time to recharge my batteries, reflect on how the first four months of the school year have gone, and re-tool for the rest of the year. This year, it was also a great opportunity to read some of the middle grade books that have generated a lot of buzz this year.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

The most checked-out books in my classroom library are graphic novels, so I'm always on the lookout for good ones with well-developed characters and engaging story lines. Roller Girl did not disappoint. This story of a girl's first experience with roller derby during the summer between elementary and middle school is one of the best realistic fiction graphic novels I've encountered. I especially like how the protagonist, Astrid, demonstrates perseverance through the trials of roller derby camp. It also deals with many of the changing friendship issues that I see kids encounter as they transition to middle school.
I can think of a lot of my kids who I'd recommend this to. I have a feeling that I won't get the chance, though, because it will fly off my shelf before I can.

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

I was intrigued by Circus Mirandus since I first saw an image of the cover almost a year ago. I've heard great things about it since, but I didn't know what to expect when I started reading it. The story follows Micah Tuttle as he sets out to find help for his dying grandfather by finding the magical circus from his grandfather's stories.
I loved the way this story showed the love between a boy and his grandfather through the stories and experiences they shared. The scenes at the circus created a nice blend between realistic fiction and fantasy. I really enjoyed reading this, but felt like there was a little unfinished business at the end of the story that left me unsatisfied. Still, this is one I will heartily recommend to students. I this is a book that could get some of my single-genre readers to broaden their horizons.

The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This book was a surprise. I just recently heard about it at #titletalk and on a couple end-of-the-year favorites lists. My public library had it in their digital check-out library, so I gave it a try. The War that Saved my Life  may be the finest young-adult historical fiction I've read. Born with a club foot, Ada has been isolated from the world by an unloving mother. When the children of London are evacuated to the countryside as the threat of German bombing raids increases, Ada is able to start a new life when she and her brother are taken in by a reclusive villager. The author uses Ada's lack of experience with the outside world as an opportunity to thoroughly explain historical concepts that will probably be unfamiliar to young readers.
As good as this was, I won't be able to add it to my classroom library. There is some strong language near the end that will keep it off my shelves. Still, it's a terrific book and I wouldn't be surprised if it won this year's Newbery Medal.

I hope to read a lot more middle grade books in the coming year. My school library recently ordered some of the other buzzed-about books from 2015, my to-read list from my classroom library is long, and there are sure to be some to add to my list in 2016. I look forward to hearing what my students and PLN recommend!

Purchases made at my links to Amazon provide me with a small compensation that I use to purchase more books for my classroom library. Although I greatly appreciate purchases made through my links, I encourage you to support a local bookstore if you have one available.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

That time I taught kindergarten

One thing I love about my job is I never know exactly what to expect. I teach six very different groups of third through fifth graders each day and they always surprise me with their ideas. I never would have guessed the biggest surprise of my career would be a phone call from the office last Tuesday.

"Jim, would you be willing to sub in kindergarten today? I know some of your reading switch classes are canceled due to today's benchmark assessments, and we can't find anyone to take Mrs. C's class."

I've always liked kindergarteners...from a distance. Throughout my teacher training and time substitute teaching I taught all subjects and worked with tons of high school, middle school, and elementary students, but never kindergarteners. I honestly have a terrible fear of stepping on them. I'm 6'3" and the average kindergartener is somewhere around three and a half feet, so it's within the realm of possibility that I could accidentally crush one under my size 12 Doc Martens.

But I'm part of a team. And it was my son's class. I didn't want him and his classmates to be without a teacher for the day, so I said yes. I'm glad I did.

Kindergarten is a pretty amazing place, and I learned a lot in my day teaching there. These are some of my big take-aways:

I read Mig the Pig's Big Book at carpet time
It's all about community. Every activity in that kindergarten class started with carpet time. Students sat close together and listened to me explain what we were going to do. They were in a safe place to ask questions and clarify their understanding before they tried something new in the classroom. When they had free choice at the end of the day, the kindergartners naturally worked together on activities like puzzles and games.

School should be joyful. I equate music with joy, and kindergarten is a musical place. I didn't get to sing the color songs or the Handwriting Without Tears songs in my day as a kindergarten teacher, but we did get to do "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes" and I even made up my own "Let's All Come To The Carpet" song to the tune of the old movie intermission song.

Routines give the day a rhythm. This is the first year our school has had all-day kindergarten. It's a long day for those guys. I know my little guy frequently falls asleep on our way home from school. Mrs. C has built a great schedule for her students. They do their reading and math in the morning with breaks for a snack, recess, and wiggle time. After lunch they have some quiet time before afternoon recess and specials. Then they have free choice time before gathering together to wrap up the day. Everything got done without feeling rushed.

Fun at free-choice time
Learning through play is best. When it's time for independent work in kindergarten, a lot of it is done through play. Students cut out rhyming words and scooted them around trying to match them to pictures. During free-choice time at the end of the day, kids picked all sorts of games, puzzles, and other activities to work on and they learned while doing it. I frequently hear upper grade teachers say there's no time for play with all of the pressures of testing and standards. Heck, I know I've said it. Kindergarten teachers are under a lot of pressure, too. They're expected to get kids reading and ready for the demands of first grade, but they still recognize that play is often the best way to learn something.

Kindergarten teachers are magical beings. I had a great time teaching kindergarten for one day, but I was exhausted at the end of it. I was so impressed by the culture of Mrs. C's class and the way the kids, classroom assistants, and volunteers got things done in there. I've always had a lot of respect for kindergarten teachers, but after walking in one's moccasins for a day, I am absolutely amazed by what it takes to be a good kindergarten teacher. I am overjoyed that my son is in such a great class.

I haven't started using pocket charts with the big kids.
I've taken those lessons back to my classes. This week, my students have done more learning through play. In fact, I used games to collect data for some math assessments. I've been using more music in my classroom. I haven't called my kids to the carpet with a song, but we've been listening to appropriate background music - "Switched on Mozart" with a robot challenge and college fight songs with sports problem-solving. I'm still working to improve the community and rhythm in my classes, but I need to keep experimenting to make that work for my 45 minute classes.

Teaching kindergarten for a day was completely worthwhile. I knew a lot of my son's classmates before, but now every kid in that class greets me in the hallway or out at recess. I feel deeply connected to a part of the school that seemed quite distant in the past. The best part, though, was my son's comment at the end of the day. He said, "I'm sad Mrs. C was sick, but I'm kind of happy about it because you got to be my teacher."