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."



Monday, November 9, 2015

Mellie Monkey - Guest post by Sarah Windisch

I hope you enjoy this first guest post on the Teacher With Tuba blog. This time I'm turning things over to my greatest adviser, biggest cheerleader, and best friend, Sarah Windisch. Not only is she my wife of 14 years, she is an inspiring elementary music teacher and technology integration coach and I'm glad she can share this story with you.
-Jim  

So, I get to guest post here on Teacher with Tuba - and that's crazy exciting.  I always get to go to the "writer's meetings" which usually happen in the car or at dinner, and do some editing, you know, in my spare time.  And of course, I get to see all the amazing tweets and people who interact with and cheer for my awesome, amazing, rockstar of a husband.

But, you guys, you have to cheer for one of my classes.  Because this week, I had some fifth graders who were completely remarkable.

First, meet Mellie.

photo by Amy Marlow - Instagram @mellieandme

My dear friend Amy and her husband Justin just finished the year-long process of adopting her from Bulgaria - she came home last Thursday.  Now, since Amy used to work at my school, #mellieday was a big deal.  All of us who had participated in a fun run fundraiser in February wore our Mad About Mellie shirts, some of us planned to go to the airport, and we were signing cards and banners to welcome them all home.


Mad About Mellie!
photo by Sarah Windisch - Instagram @slwindisch 

All of my classes were curious about my shirt, but one in particular loved it.  They loved how excited I was to welcome her home.  They begged to see pictures.  And then, someone said, "Can we write her a song?"

Read that again.  "Can we write her a song?"

The room spun a little and I held back tears.  What an amazing gift.

I grabbed a legal pad, and we all sat on the floor.  We brainstormed things that toddlers do, things that rhyme with Mellie; I shared that Amy and Justin call her "Mellie Monkey."  Then it was things that monkeys and toddlers love.  Some kids just shared words - others sang a line.  Everyone, literally everyone, contributed, felt heard - it was the most amazing thing that's ever happened in my career.

Brainstorming - all heads in!
photo by Sarah Windisch

I grabbed my guitar and strummed a few chords, helping guide the song together.  We sang it.  We recorded it.  It didn't work the first time, so I went to their classroom at the end of the day and we recorded it again.  And every time we sang it together, it was magical.  Every time I hear it, it's not just happiness for Mellie, or joy that my students understand these musical concepts we've been working on together for years, it's that these kids are kind.  They get it.

I've shared it with Amy and Justin.  And their family.  And our friends.  And now, I'll share it with you.

Presenting the world debut of "Mellie, Mellie Monkey."

Oh, so cute.
photo from Amy Marlow - Instagram @mellieandme

Thanks for letting me share how awesome my kids are with you.  I hope this warmed you the way it warmed me:  with kids like these fifth graders, and people like Amy and Justin, plus thinkers and teachers like Jim and all of you...I feel like the world is in good hands.

With joy,

Sarah (The other Teacher with Tuba)
Twitter:  @slwindisch

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Welcome to the future

According to Doc Brown's time machine, the future has arrived.
Image from Back to the Future II
The Back to the Future trilogy has always been a personal favorite. As a result, I've been looking forward to October 21, 2015 for quite awhile. I don't have a hoverboard or drive a flying car. I still only wear one necktie at a time, but the future has arrived.

Okay, I am actually wearing two neckties today,
but only because it's officially the future.
I've always imagined the classroom of the future as a place where students explore passions, communicate with the broader world, and develop their skills to be life-long learners. I've frequently experimented with giving my students more freedom and responsibility for their learning, but I always came up short on resources to make my grand plans a reality.

A little over a week ago, I learned that the EXCEL Foundation funded my "Googley E.Y.E.S (Exploration Yields Extraordinary Students): Chromebooks for Life-long Learning" grant for the second year in a row. But this time, they are funding enough Chromebooks to go 1:1 in my Advanced Learning classes. My principal handed me the grant award letter in the office, and by the time I reached my classroom I was crying tears of joy. This is going to bring futuristic opportunities to my students.

We'll start by expanding our class blog. Last year, my students focused on writing book reviews. They were able to take turns using the five Chromebooks and two desktop computers I had in my classroom to put together some great work, but most students were only able to publish twice. This year, we'll be using the blog for reflection and original fiction and poetry in addition to book reviews. With a Chromebook for each student, they will be able to grab one and work on a post whenever they are ready, the need for sign-ups and computer rotation schedules are a thing of the past.

This year we'll really be able to try out Passion Projects (AKA Genius Hour or 20% Time). I still need to work out the details, and I'm sure we'll learn a lot as we go, but I am unbelievably excited about this one. As soon as we work out the new classroom culture of using Chromebooks, I plan to devote one class session each week to student chosen and executed projects. I've made attempts in the past, but lack of access to devices has always been a hindrance. After reading Learn Like a Pirate this summer, I am convinced that giving students time to explore their interests and share with others is essential to educating students who are prepared for their futures.

Harnessing all this power for students to research, connect, and create will definitely transform my classroom. There is so much I still need to figure out, but that's what the future is for! And I'll keep you updated as I continue to experiment and refine...


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Getting ready

Another school year starts on Tuesday. Am I ready? I sure hope so. No matter what next week brings, I had a terrific week of getting ready for the new school year.

On Monday, my principal gathered our entire school staff for team building and goal setting at the North Idaho College Challenge Course. We've always had a tight staff, but it was amazing to see the trust exhibited on that ropes course. About half of us were willing to go up and try the high wires, rickety bridges, and swinging balance beams, but everyone took part hoisting ropes and working together on the ground-based challenges. It was the best start to teacher meetings I've ever experienced.

Tom Schimmer came to speak to all of our district's teachers about grading on Tuesday. He presented the idea of a standards-based mindset for grading. I really got a lot from his presentation, but the best were his explanations of summative vs. formative assessment that helped me understand the difference better than ever. We also received copies of How to Grade for Learning by Ken B. O'Conner for a district-wide book study. I'm excited to delve into this topic.


Speaking of book studies, my school staff read Dave Burgess's Teach Like a Pirate this summer. I read it the year before, but I was happy to share the experience with my staff. We had a pirate party to celebrate and discuss some of the ideas that came from reading it. Many of the teachers commented that the high school orientation of the book was difficult, but everyone came away with ideas for the coming school year. For me, the best part of our discussions was hearing about the plans to bring more joy into the classroom. The emphasis on testing and rigor has taken a toll on our kids and I'm glad to see our school focus on incorporating more fun and excitement into the good work we're already doing. I put up a Teach Like a Pirate bulletin board in our staff room with space for teachers to add notes about the ways the book affects their classrooms. I look forward to seeing what shows up there.

In addition to getting ready for the new school year as a teacher, I am the parent of a kindergartener this year. Thursday was kindergarten orientation for parents and our school's open house. Orientation was a remarkable event. My school's kindergarten team, Title I teacher, and district math coaches gave parents games and strategies to help their little guys succeed. We left the event with great information on assisting our son with handwriting, reading, and number sense. The evening's open house was a blast, too. It totally changed my perspective to experience this event as a parent. My son is lucky to have some friends from preschool in his class, because I think that helped put him at ease. He also got to meet his teacher, find his locker, and play on the playground. He seems really excited to start school next week: I'm the one who's nervous about it.

Finally, I was able to end the week with one of my favorite things: seeing and hearing live music. Sarah and I went to see Junior Brown in Spokane at Pig Out in the Park. I've loved Junior Brown's music since I was in high school. I saw him perform last time he visited the area nearly 20 years ago, when the world looked like this music video.

If it's possible, he was even better at playing the guit-steel this time around. The sounds he creates with his instrument are absolutely jaw-dropping. When we discussed it on the way home, we figured that he's had 20 more years of practice. I want to continue improving my practice as a teacher the way he has improved as a musician - maintaining my enthusiasm, experimenting with new techniques, and refining my craft. Here's to another year of practice!


Here's some more recent concert footage if you want to see what I mean about what happens with 20 years more practice!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Inspiration from #ThinkBigFest2015

Last spring I heard about a technology conference coming to Coeur d'Alene. There were promises of robots, self-driving cars, and the people who bring those technologies to life. It wasn't an education conference, yet I was excited. The Think Big Festival was outside my personal budget for these type of things, but the organizers were kind enough to offer some free registrations to our school district (which I missed out on) and discounted registration for other interested teachers (Thank you so much for that, Nick Smoot).

It was an amazing event, and it gave me lots to think about. I'm still figuring out how to bring things I learned about there into my classroom. Hopefully you'll read about those later this school year on my blog. For now, I'll share some highlights.


I took a ride in a Tesla S. I signed up too late to get an actual test-drive, but someone who did was kind enough to let me sit in the back seat. That is one incredible vehicle. I had never ridden in anything with such high performance and luxurious finish, but the engineering and ideas were even more impressive. The Tesla representative that rode along with us explained how nearly all of the components are built from scratch and Tesla's commitment to being completely U.S. made. He also had a great story about the impact of education: one of his high school science teachers took a group to visit Tesla headquarters when he was 16 years old. He was so impressed that he bought stock in the company. By the time he finished college, he had received an impressive return on his investment and was able to get a job managing the roll-out of Tesla's infrastructure in the Northwest.


On the test drive, I got to ride next to 10 year old inventor, Alexander Knoll. He is this year's Invent Idaho and I Cubed Challenge winner with his Ability App. We exchanged business cards and I got him to agree to videoconferencing with some of my students later this year to get them pumped up about inventing and participating in our school's Invent Idaho competition.

I captured the most touching moment of the festival above. Guy Fraker, one of the festival's panelists, announced that his company would partner with Alex to make sure his invention was fully funded and on the market within a year.

Aquaai unveiled their robotic fish at the conference. It is able to swim with just one motor and the company would one day like it to swim waterways and broadcast images back to shore. It sounds like social media for the aquasphere, and it's definitely something I would like my kids to experience.

Another highlight from the day of speakers and panels was hearing Burt Rutan, designer of Spaceship One. He talked a lot about going for it and doing the impossible. He said, "You  have to have confidence in nonsense if you are going to have a research breakthrough." I think that is a good reminder to honor our students' ideas, no matter how crazy they get. You never know where they might lead.

Guy Fraker was also a part of the transportation panel and he shared the story of his son with autism first seeing a video of Google's self-driving car. For the first time, his son could imagine owning a car and having the independence that goes with it.


The final day of the festival was a playground of cool technology. My son and I got to try out virtual reality with Google Cardboard and Oculus Rift. I absolutely want to get Cardboard for my classroom so students can see places like the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center from inside the photosphere. There were lots of robots including the Aquaai robot fish, homemade remote control submarines for collecting water samples, and the work of a local high school robotics team. I also got my second high-tech vehicle ride of the week when I got to see how the sensors for autonomous vehicles work in the Polysync car.

I'm so glad I attended this year's Think Big Festival. As promised, it gave me a lot to think about. I was amazed by how many innovative things are being developed locally. I would love to connect my students with those companies and individuals to help them understand that even though we aren't in the big city, there are opportunities here, and a great idea can create opportunity anywhere. Maybe something I learned about will inspire a three-act task or a project this year: I'll just have to keep you updated as I experiment and refine...


You can see some more perspectives of the event in the Storified version of the conference's Twitter activitiy.


Sunday, May 31, 2015

My students actually printed in 3D


Students watching Pinkie Pie at work
Since I first saw a 3D printer demonstration, I've been thinking about how to put that technology to use in my classroom. Luckily I was able to work out a partnership with my local library to make it happen.

Tinkercad was an ideal design platform
We kicked off our project with a visit from Nick Madsen, the teen services librarian, and his 3D printer, Pinkie Pie. He printed a mustache for our class while explaining the basic idea behind 3D printing: "It's like a computer-controlled hot glue gun that shoots out plastic instead of glue." My students were amazed, as was my principal, custodian, and many other staff members who poked their heads in the room to see 3D printing in person.

My 4th grade math class used Tinkercad to create their own 3D printed nametags. I was really impressed with how easily they could create with Tinkercad: after spending two class periods on tutorials, students were able to make their own designs in under an hour. Plus, Tinkercad worked flawlessly on Chromebooks. I gave my students some parameters on size, but the designs were entirely up to them. I also used the design process to sneak in some instruction on perimeter and area.

I uploaded using the library's Skyforge site
The finished nametags were great! Nearly all my students were happy with the way their designs turned out. I wish we had more time to use the finished products to do some measuring and scaling work, but testing schedules and end of the year field trips made that impossible.

I definitely want to do more with 3D printing next year and integrate it into more lessons. I'll start by seeking some grant money to fund a printer at our school. Our art teacher has a lot of ideas for it, too, so we'll probably collaborate on a way to bring 3D printing to our school.

The finished product
Do you have any recommendations when it comes to 3D printing equipment? Or maybe you have an idea to share on using 3D printing with elementary students. Please share your ideas in the comments below or contact me on Twitter. And I'll keep you updated as I continue to experiment and refine...

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The swinging new sounds of professional development

Since becoming my official Building Technology Leader, I've been working to provide meaningful professional development to my colleagues. I often share a new tool or idea with my staff at our collaboration sessions or staff meetings. I have made it a priority to give teachers time to discuss, experiment, and play with new technology in my sessions, but everyone seems a little reserved and hesitant and I can tell that many are much more concerned with the impending morning bell and preparing for the day to come. I knew I could make professional development more engaging and memorable. Press 'play' below, read on, and see what I mean.



Welcome to Monday Morning Appy Hour!

Care for a drink? It's okay, these mimosas are made with 7-Up, not champagne. Fire up that iPad and learn about a few new apps.

Stemware & iPads: what a combination!
The content of Monday Morning Appy Hour wasn't radically different from my other PD sessions. I shared SeeSaw, ChatterPix, Shadow Puppet EDU, and Telestory, discussed the importance of moving students from consumers to creators, and gave everyone some time to try the apps and generate ideas on how they could be used in the classroom. The attitude and level of participation, though, was a huge improvement from my past morning trainings. Everyone was having fun, and they were really discussing how they could use these tools in their classrooms.

So, is providing refreshments the key to engaging PD? I don't think so. I transformed my classroom and broke everyone there out of the expected environment. I've done it before for my students by disguising myself as a signer of the Constitution and being my own substitute teacher for the day or starting class with kindergarten-style circle time for fifth graders, but I'd never transformed a presentation intended for other teachers.

PD featuring the smooth instructional stylings of
Jim Windisch
In Teach Like a Pirate, author Dave Burgess devotes an entire chapter to transformation. In the chapter, he asks a powerful question: "If your students didn't have to be there, would you be teaching in an empty room?" Teachers are busy; they have a lot to do to be ready for the day each morning. As much as they want to learn new technology, I know my PD sessions wouldn't be everyone's first choice for that precious before-school time. This session was optional, but most of my school's staff was there. In fact, after the first couple teachers came in, received their drink and heard the lounge music, they went and grabbed others because "Mrs. X just needs to see this!" It went from a training to an event.

Making it fun loosened everyone up. They were excited to participate. The room was full of terrific conversations about giving students opportunities to create. I jumped in to support and tell some lousy jokes, but I refrained from actually doing any lounge singing. 

It was also a memorable experience. I feel like breaking away from the ordinary got the morning's content stuck in the participants' heads. Instead of having teachers ask me to remind them the names of the apps, they're coming to me to share how they've incorporated them into lessons and looking for support to take it a step further.

I'm sure this is only my first foray into transforming professional development. I'm already thinking of themes for future sessions. And I'll keep you updated at I continue to experiment and refine. 

Thank you, thank you, and especially, thank you. Remember to tip generously. I'll be here all week!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Sunday Summary: Boys & Men in Education #slowchated

After a week of discussing boys and men in education, I have even more questions than I did when I started. The biggest of those questions is how I should respond to the statistics that show boys struggling in schools. It's important to not generalize from the statistics: to continue to be responsive to the students in front of me, not the "average student" presented by the numbers. Still, the statistics concern me. How can we make school better for boys and boys better for school? Here is a selection of tweets from the week to assist you in finding your answer to that question.

I started the week with a cold opening. I hoped this question would elicit some emotion and strong opinion.
The answers ranged from uncertainty over whether this claim was true to collections of links about boys performance in school. Most responses, however, shared observations that may point to the problem.



And my first question also brought back the first reminder that we must be careful with these statistics to avoid stereotyping our students.

When I reflected on the statistics shared in my opening statement and from various tweets on Monday, I realized that I had seen many of the behavior statistics play out in my classroom (more frequent suspensions and discipline infractions related to bullying), than I had academic differences between boys and girls. That led to this question:


All of those tweets began to point at the problem, but the next ones really summed it up for me.


I've seen just as much inappropriate behavior from girls as boys, but boys are more likely to break a big school rule that results in harsh consequences like suspension. For example, bullying seems to happen equally with boys and girls, but boys' bullying is more likely to get physical and our school rules are clear that physical aggression results in suspension. Although the humiliation that can come with name-calling and rumors is just as damaging, if not more so, it is more difficult to determine when those behaviors warrant severe consequences.

After spending two days discussing the problem, it was time to look for solutions.
 Interestingly, no one mentioned something specific they were doing for boys. All of these strategies would benefit all students. The key seems to be breaking away from the traditional teacher lectures/student listens model.




Our fourth question went back to the big picture.
 Again, the suggestions were not specific to boys. When schools better meet the needs of all learners, boys' performance and school experience will improve, too.




I ended the week with a question I think about frequently as a male elementary school teacher. I've never worked (or attended) an elementary school with more than three male teachers. I've always felt that some boys get the idea that school and education is a female pursuit when they don't see men teaching classes. Being the Friday question, there weren't too many responses, but I think the one below says it all.
Male role models are important, whether or not they're found in schools. Still, this is an idea I would like to explore more, so I might dedicate an entire chat to this topic in the future.

Thanks to everyone who participated this week. I enjoyed seeing the thought put into the answers for this topic. I look forward to more discussions of big ideas with #slowchated

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Boys & Men in Education #slowchated April 6 - 11

Boys are 22% more likely to repeat a grade than girls.
For every 100 girls diagnosed with a learning disability, 276 boys are diagnosed.
For over 50 years, girls have outperformed boys on standardized tests measuring reading ability.

"The Dunce" by Harold Copping [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
At first I wondered if all of these statistics were telling the truth. As a fifth grade teacher, I never noticed a gender gap in my classroom. I've had high performing boys and girls. I've also had just as many girls as boys requiring additional academic support through remediation and special education programs. Then I thought about it some more. In 12 years of teaching, I can only think of two girls who had an out of school suspension, but every year at least two boys from my classroom were suspended at some point during the school year. Nearly every time a student surprised me with uncharacteristically poor performance on a standardized test it was a boy. The students I've hounded most about homework, my least motivated readers, my students who required in-class aides: all boys. Something is going on here. And it isn't just a problem in the United States. Finland, who is often held up as a model of a successful school system, has twice the gender gap of the United States on the reading portion of the National Assessment for Education Progress.

Photo by deradrian via Flickr
What is causing these problems? Is it the way our schools are run? A Time Magazine article suggested that teachers discriminate against boys. Do we? Or is it boys themselves? Does the development of the male brain differ so much from the female brain to account for these statistics? How can we, as educators, address these issues?

All of these thoughts about boys in school led me to think about the men in my school. I've taught at two different elementary schools and had the distinction of being the only male classroom teacher in the building. Now that I'm the advanced learning specialist, there aren't any male classroom teachers in my building. How does the lack of male teachers in elementary schools affect boys? Current statistics show that men make up only 19% of the entire elementary and middle school teaching force. Could that be part of the problem of boys' underachievement? How can we encourage more men into our profession?

This isn't exactly an opening statement for the chat since we've already been discussing this topic for two days. Every Tweet and every link is giving me more to think about. I jotted down potential questions for the week when I signed up to moderate, but all of the great information we're discussing leads me down different paths. So I won't be posting questions in advance.

Please keep sharing, and remember that the beauty of a slow chat like this is having the freedom to take time. Explore the posted links, find additional statistics and articles to share, and engage with the rest of the #slowchated community. I look forward to seeing what you contribute.

Monday (4/6/2015)
 Tuesday (4/7/2015)
 Wednesday (4/8/2015)
Thursday (4/9/2015)
Friday (4/10/2015)


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Inspiration from #NCCE2015

Image from blog.ncce.org
I've been home from the NCCE-Northwest Council for Computer Education conference for two weeks, and my head is still spinning with all of the educational awesomeness I encountered there. It was my first time at a big education conference, and I did my best to take it all in. I attended 14 sessions and workshops and kept up with countless more via Twitter. I walked every aisle of the exhibit hall, and spent all of my free time connecting with inspiring educators from around the country.

New Tech Ideas
Collaboration is the big idea in education right now. I learned strategies for managing collaborative work in Google Drive including having students experiment with collaborative documents by starting with a spreadsheet with their own assigned rows (thanks Nikki Robertson). Cheryl Steighner hosted a terrific session about Google in elementary schools. One of her ideas is to have a collaborative story that students can add to over time. She has one story that students have continued even two years after leaving her classroom! Throughout my time in Portland, I heard about countless apps, websites, and tools that I will be exploring for months to come.

Connections
As great as the official sessions and workshops were, the best part of attending NCCE was connecting with other educators. There were quite a few sessions about how important it is to build a personal learning network (PLN) through Twitter or another social learning platform. I am a full-fledged Twitter evangelist, and my time at NCCE proved why. Everywhere I went, I ran into people I already knew. We were able to jump in and discuss because we already knew each other's backgrounds. I added many more educators to my PLN so I could continue to learn from them after NCCE.

Excuse the random
photo, but the mens'
rooms in the Portland
Convention Center have
amazing artwork!
One highlight of connecting at NCCE was Wednesday's #IDedchat. We met at a swanky, 30th story bar in downtown Portland to discuss professional development. It was a little strange staring at our phones to chat online when we were in such a beautiful place with great company, but being together created a more festive atmosphere for the chat. Plus, most of us arrived early to share dinner and chat.

I also got to have a wonderful lunch with Cheryl Steighner to discuss tubas and elementary education, and I spent a night on the town with some of my colleagues from Coeur d'Alene (Kelli Ogle and Kiersten Kerr are the only ones on Twitter) and Nikki Robertson from Alabama. I also got to chat with one of the most inspiring bloggers I know, Steve Wyborney, in the exhibit hall. Those informal learning moments were the best of the conference!

Now it's time to put what I've learned in to action. On Monday, I'm hosting a Monday Morning Appy Hour at my school to share some of the iPad apps I learned, and I'm working many of the other ideas I learned into upcoming lessons. It also sparked a desire to attend (and possibly present at) other big conferences. We'll just have to see where that leads, and I'll keep you updated as I continue to experiment and refine...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday Summary: Authentic Audience on #slowchated

You can relive the entire week's chat with the Storify archive!

From hanging work in the hallway to having my students publish their own book blog, giving kids an authentic audience has been a powerful force in my classroom this year. I was happy to jump in and moderate #slowchated this week to find some other perspectives on authentic audiences.

I started the week with this question:

I was surprised by the wide range of answers. This one matched my initial thoughts on the topic:
 But these ones made me realize that there might be more to choosing a truly authentic audience:

I've been successful at giving my students an audience they have no connection with. I often share our book blog on Twitter tagged with #comments4kids As a result, my kids have received feedback from teachers I know in other parts of the country along with others who have absolutely no connection to me or our school. When we've discussed it as a class, everyone agrees that they take more care with their writing when they are truly publishing it for the world. We don't know who will read it.

I really like the idea of using people with expertise as an authentic audience. When I invited judges for my school's Invent Idaho competition, I asked a friend who is an accomplished tinkerer to view the projects. With his experience in electronics projects and scale modeling, he was able to give students feedback on their projects that I wouldn't have considered. Our district technology coach also judged. He has judged at many of these competitions, so he was able to offer yet another perspective. Going forward, I want to find more opportunities for my students to present to "logical consumers."



There are so many appropriate audiences for students, the key is getting their work in front of someone. The background photo above is a poster some of my math students made after learning about scale drawings. It's been hanging in the hall facing our playground for months, giving my students an authentic audience for their work each time students go in and out the playground doors.

I hadn't directly thought about the benefits of audience awareness before. But, I have seen my students go from assuming everyone knew all about the characters in Harry Potter and other popular series to understanding that they needed to provide that information in their book reviews. I think building audience awareness leads to developing greater empathy. It's definitely an idea worth exploring further.

A few of our slow chatters shared some great things they've done with their students. These were two of my favorites. Please follow the links to see some great student work!



Although most of our discussion was about reaching out, this was a great reminder that our classrooms have a built-in audience. When work is shared with classmates rather than created for teacher eyes only, our students get many of the benefits of having an authentic audience. Doing it successfully, though, often requires teaching what it means to be a good audience, as described in the tweets below.



I've been able to incorporate an authentic audience in my English/Language Arts classes with our book blog, but I really want to give my math students more opportunities to put their work in front of others. Here were a couple other places suggested for authentic audiences.


During Day 4, Mark Crotty suggested that it was worth examining how the structure of school affects authentic audiences. I decided to use his question for our 5th day of discussion:





I love this idea - a school so engaging that the community wants to be a part of it. By opening our doors and sharing the great work of our students, it can become a reality.

Thanks so much to everyone who participated in this week's #slowchated discussion of authentic audience. I'm excited to use what I've learned from this week's chat in my classroom. And I'll keep you updated as I continue to experiment and refine...


Monday, March 9, 2015

Authentic audiences #slowchated March 9 - 15, 2015

Image from Wikimedia Commons
I took great pride in my work for elective classes in high school: often more than I did for my academically required courses. I played tuba in multiple bands, acted in most of our school plays, competed in speech and debate, and wrote for the school newspaper. Now, of course, the fact that I chose my electives was a motivator, but the biggest difference between those classes and my others was the audience. I knew that my work would be on display for my peers and the larger community, not just the teacher. I practiced and practiced the tuba solo in the Holst Suite because I knew how many people would be listening. I carefully revised and edited every submission I wrote for the Timberwolf Times because all of my friends and teachers would read my work. I did fine on the papers that I wrote for my teachers' eyes only, but I rarely put the same type of effort into those assignments.

Coursework in the arts and many electives has always given students an authentic audience, while work in other classes is done solely for the instructor. Why? Personally, it wasn't something I thought about much until recently. In the past, I had my students imagine an audience for their writing, but we rarely wrote for a real audience. This year, I'm starting to give my students real audiences for presenting their work. I've seen how sharing their work with a broader audience motivates and inspires many of my students. Still, I know I can do more and I want to hear your ideas.

These are the questions I have in mind, but they are subject to change as you contribute ideas throughout the week.   

Q1 What makes an audience "authentic"?
Q2 How do your students create for authentic audiences?
Q3 How much audience participation do you want? How do you encourage or discourage it?
Q4 What is something you already do that could be enhanced with an authentic audience?
Q5 Where do you find an audience?
Q6 What is your "dream audience" for student work?

I'm eager to discuss this with you on #slowchated and I hope that you will take full advantage of the slow chat format. We have a whole week to find and post links, photos, and blog posts. Best of all, we have an authentic audience in each other, and audience participation is required. Ask questions, challenge assumptions, and learn from one another!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Book blog update

The Bryan Book Blog
Before Christmas break, I was at a crossroads with my students' book reviews. I had some very high quality reviews, and others that still needed some work.

Thanks to advice from Erik of This Kid Reviews Books, Pernille Ripp, and some great educators from the Maryland elementary school chat (#mdeschat) I think I've found the way forward. When we returned from break, I told my students to publish when they personally felt ready. It was interesting to see the self-reflection my students used in deciding whether or not to publish.

Students were excited to see their reviews online and read reviews from my other classes. Plus, having the work published has allowed students to collect comments on their work. On one of the first days when students were able to comment on others' work I immediately had two girls come to me for advice. They noticed one of the reviews was full of capitalization and grammar errors. They wanted to know if it was appropriate to comment about it. We talked about making the comments constructive and helpful. They were able to comment in a way that highlighted the strengths of the review while still expressing concern that the review didn't match the quality of our other published reviews.

This review of The Candymakers is one of
the highest quality examples on our blog
Due to privacy concerns, my students had to set up their blog pages with self-chosen pen names. At first I was a little worried about the online behavior that comes with anonymity. In practice, it has been terrific. When students don't know for sure who the author is, I find that they are looking at the content of the book reviews carefully, rather than just heaping praise on their friends' reviews. I've also noticed students trying new books that may have been outside their comfort zones based on a published review.

One of the most exciting things for my students has been receiving comments from outside. I've shared the book blog address with the #comments4kids tag on Twitter a few times. We've received a variety of comments ranging from praise for a job well done to questions that ask the reviewer to dig deeper. I'd love to collect even more comments, so please visit the Bryan Book Blog and add your own.

Unfortunately, I still have a few students who haven't published a book review yet. Most of these are students who recognize that they need to make improvements before publishing, but they are choosing to work on other projects when we have reading/writing workshop. I will communicate my expectation that every student publish one review to the blog before spring break. I'll be checking in with these students to see how I can support them in revision and editing before that deadline rolls around.

Having my students blog has been terrific! I love seeing how the process is evolving this school year as my students publish and receive feedback. I'm also thinking ahead to some changes in my approach for next school year when I'll be able to get started with blogging from the beginning. And I will keep you updated as I continue to experiment and refine...


Monday, February 16, 2015

Happy Presidents' Day!


A few years ago, I decided that I needed to bring fun back into my classroom. All of the pressure to perform on the test, direct instruction initiatives, and fidelity to adopted curriculum was pushing the joy out of my classroom. I happened to grow a winter beard that year and it needed some trimming by mid-February. Since Presidents' Day was just around the corner, I decided to ditch the moustache in favor of Abraham Lincoln's famous chinstrap. Next thing I knew, I was wearing my top hat and posing for pictures to share with my students. They had a laugh at my expense and it sparked some conversations about U.S. History. A fun tradition for my classroom was born.

Each year since, I've been growing "facial hair of the presidents" to celebrate the big day in February. Chester A. Arthur's friendly sideburns followed Lincoln. Then, last year, a friend sent me an inspiring article about a high school student who took photos as all of the presidents. I knew I had to go for it, but I would keep my pace of one per year. A little calculation made me realize I would be in my seventies by the time I finished. I want to complete this project before retirement, so Rutherford B. Hayes and William Howard Taft ushered in an era of double duty for me.

This year's portraits of James A. Garfield and Theodore Roosevelt probably mark the end of bearded and mustachioed presidents for awhile. We'll all have to wait for next year to see how I do at clean-shaven presidential impersonation.
The series continues:
2016 Ulysses S. Grant
2017 Grover Cleveland