Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fun Ideas for Spatial Reasoning

The last few weeks have been so busy as I know they are for everyone. Grad school, being a teacher, and Christmas makes for the most crazy month of the year.

All teachers know that in the week or two before winter break the kids are so full of energy and excitement, it can make for chaos.  I try to do some fun, hands on things and creative projects in December to harness some of that energy and excitement into something productive.

One of the skills in Math I really want to work on this year is spatial reasoning.  It is a skill that is easy to overlook, but one that many kids today I think lack.  I am finding many students even in middle school still struggle with underdeveloped fine motor skills and spatial reasoning.

Well, I found this project on TeachersPayTeachers that looked like a lot of fun.

The project is for the kids to design a model of the North Pole and build a 3D model of their design.  The packet also comes with Language Arts extensions to do some writing assignments and a presentation. We used it for math, so we just did the design and the model.  It also had a great alternate assignment to use the South Pole for the kids who do not celebrate Christmas.

They came out really cute though, and they had a lot of fun with it.  It was a great hands on project that required logic, creativity, and spatial reasoning.  They have this whole big list of requirements to meet that really challenge them.

My next goal in the Spring is to some type of project with Architecture.  I am hoping to incorporate some real world examples and maybe some photography and end with building something.  How do you incorporate spatial reasoning in your classroom?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Resources for Flipped Learning

Did you read my last post that summarized what blended learning was?  If not, you should check it out.  Well, one of the more common forms of blended learning is flipped learning.  Many schools and districts are experimenting with flipping some of their lessons.  The idea behind flipped learning is having your kids watch videos of lessons or lectures at home or on their own time, and then you can use class time to do projects, discussion, and practice.

Getting started with flipped learning can seem overwhelming. The idea of having to create a ton of your own videos and then find a way to easily share them with your students seems daunting.  I thought I would share a couple easy suggestions to help you get started.

Resources for Videos Already Made

These are suggestions of websites that already have a lot of videos and you can search them for ones that might apply to a lesson you want to teach.

WatchKnowLearn - WatchKnowLearn is pretty easy to search.  They have a pretty big selection of videos by lots of different subjects and domains.

LearnZillion - LearnZillion focuses on Common Core resources so the videos are for Math and Language Arts.  Most of them are short, engaging, and pretty easy to understand.

KhanAcademy - This one is obvious.

StudyJams - I really like Study Jams for Math and Science.  The videos are short and animated,  They are a little cheesy, but they are good for summarizing information and making it easy to understand.

Resources for Creating Your Own Videos

Creating Animated Videos 

Below are resources for creating short, animated or photo-based videos.  These seem like they would be fun and engaging.




Creating Videos with White Boards in the Background

The iPad has a lot of great apps for this, but for web-based options here is one:


Storing Videos

A lot of websites have file size limits, so some of them can be tricky to use.

Youtube - This is probably the most obvious and easiest option.

Schooltube and Teachertube - These will have more protected backgrounds than Youtube, but I found they had file size limits that did not work with what I needed.

Edpuzzle - This is my favorite solution that I found.  We use Edmodo and this ties into our Edmodo account.  I can upload videos without a limit.  I then assign the videos to the kids on the day that I want them to watch them, and it gives me a progress update on how many people have watched them.

What are your favorite resources for creating and storing videos?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

What is blended learning?

Since I work in a blended learning environment, I thought it might be good to share some information on theories and models of blended learning.

What is blended learning?

Blended learning is essentially a blend of a traditional school and online learning.  Usually, online learning courses are used at a physical school location and blended with face-to-face instruction and small-group student interaction to personalize learning for students. HERE is a post from Blackboard with some overviews of different definitions.

What does blended learning look like?

Blended learning is considered by many to be the future direction of education. As technology leads to an ever-increasing globalized world, we want students to be prepared for the 21st century.  One of my first introductions to the ideas behind blended learning was Sir Ken Robinson's ted talk on "Changing Education Paradigms."

Now to better understand blended learning, it is good to understand some of the different approaches to this new form of educating students.   You can find a good article to summarize them here HERE.

Clayton Christensen in his book Disrupting Class explains the need for disrupting innovation.

Sustaining innovations are meant to improve existing models of doing things, where disruptive innovations offer something new or a completely new way of doing things.  You can read HERE for more information about Christensen's ideas on these two types of innovation.  It is not that one type of innovation is necessarily better than the other.  Many times in industries both are needed for different purposes and in different situations.

In the world of blended learning, some models are considered sustaining innovation and some are disruptive innovations.

Sustaining Innovation Models of Blended Learning

The Rotation Model

  • Station Rotation
    • This model works really well in a workshop (reading, writing, or math) approach to teaching.  Students rotate through different dedicated stations, with online-learning being one of those stations in the classroom. 
    • Other stations would be small-group instruction, games, projects, centers for practice, etc. Stations are usually all completed within the self-contained classroom.
    • Stations require a lot of modeling, scaffolding, organization, and routine. 
  • Lab Rotation
    • Students rotate through stations, but one of the stations is a computer lab for the online learning. 
    • In the lab, students work at a more individualized pace through usually reading or math content/practice. 
    • Labs are supervised by an assistant, not necessarily a certified teacher. 
    • This frees up the teacher to spend time doing small-group instruction without having to focus as much energy on classroom management because not all students are in the room at the same time. 
  • Flipped Learning
    • This approach is one of the most common "buzz words" in teaching right now.  
    • Many schools and districts are transitioning to flipped learning.In this model, usually students watch videos of a a teacher lecture at home and then come to class to practice and apply the concepts from the lecture.  Thus, the normal process of lecture in class and homework done at home is "flipped."  The "homework" is done in class.
    • Be careful not to over-use this approach because watching too many videos at home for too many subjects could quickly get to boring.
    • Difficult in schools where students have limited access to internet at home.
  • Individual Rotation
    • In this approach to rotations or stations, not all students may have the same rotations or online courses.  
    • Teacher can assign and use as needed.

Disruptive Innovation Models of Blended Learning

The Flex Model

The private school I work at would be considered a flex model.  We use online-learning content created by vendors to deliver the instruction in some courses.  We pair this with small-group projects, some face-to-face teaching, and a lot of individual tutoring. Students in the same classroom may work at different paces and levels, providing a lot of opportunity for acceleration.  We also have other courses where more of the instruction may be directly from the teacher, and we use technology for enrichment, practice, application, student engagement and choice, and demonstration of learning.

The A-La-Carte Model

In this model, students may take just certain courses completely online to supplement other face-to-face classes they take at a physical school.  This can be a good option when a school does not provide the particular course that a student wants or needs in person.

The Enriched Virtual Model

This version of blended learning is used in often in graduate school programs (like Executive MBA programs) for their online courses.  Much of the content is taught and discussed online, but the class will have required face-to-face classes periodically to enrich the online content and provide opportunity for face-to-face discussion or a project. At the collegiate level, this option provides flexibility for individuals who are pursuing further higher-education while working.

Have you used any version of blended learning in your classroom?  How do you use technology to help differentiate in your classroom?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Getting Started with Socratic Circles

I am always looking for ways to build critical thinking in my classroom.  One of the teaching strategies I wanted to try this year was socratic seminars or the socratic circle. I have used literature circles and other small group discussions and a lot of whole group discussion over the years, but I have never used socratic circles.

My first introduction to some form of the socratic seminar was in graduate school.  I studied Business at  Texas A&M for my undergrad so there was very little discussion.  Most of my classes were hundreds of students, so the classes were primarily lecture. For my Masters, I studied Humanities with a focus in Literary Studies.  In most of my classes, we had a book or section of a book to read every week.  Then, when we came to class, the professors expected us to lead most of the discussion.  They would pose questions, but everyone was expected to participate and offer critique.  Participation was usually a chunk of our grade for accountability. I thoroughly enjoyed most of my classes.  Because it was Humanities, often our classes included people of various ages and backgrounds with different interests and specialties.  It always made for interesting discussion.

I started preparing to use Socratic Seminars by reading Socratic Circles by Matt Copeland.

There are different ways to approach Socratic Circles.  One of the more common approaches is also sometimes called Fishbowl discussions.  You divide the class in half.  Half the class sits in an inner circle in the center of the room, and the other half sits in an outer circle. The inner circle discusses a text and the outer circle observes. The outer circle gives the inner circle feedback on the discussion afterward.  There seem to be a couple different approaches.  You can have the outer circle give the questions to the inner circle to discuss.  You can have one person in the outer circle observe one person in the inner circle.  You also can just have the outer circle generally give feedback to the inner circle.

You usually have everyone read the same text.  It often is a short piece of text, so they are forced to analyze very closely.  You can use for History, Science, Math, Poetry, Nonfiction, Fiction, etc. You could use the discussion more as a debate or to work on persuasion.

My classes are small.  So I still divided my class in half.  Half sits in a circle to discuss while the other half sit in their normal tables.  I had each group have a discussion leader.   The discussion leader came up with questions and helped keep the discussion moving.  Discussions were usually 10-30 minutes.  The group observing had to take notes on the discussion and give feedback afterward. My 8th graders discussed short stories during class, and my 7th graders discussed sections of Walk Two Moons. As Walk Two Moons has two different plot lines, I had each group focus on a different plot line for the discussions.

After each discussion, we discuss what went well and what could have gone better.  What I am enjoying about socratic seminars is that the learning and even most of the guiding of the learning is placed in the student's hands. I only jump in with questions when I feel they have not gone deep enough or elaborated enough.  However, I have found I really do not have to jump in very often at all. Each discussion has gotten a little better than the last because they have learned from the feedback they have received from one another. In a very short time, they have gotten so much better at giving feedback and receiving feedback.  Usually students are either rude or afraid to give constructive criticism.  My 7th graders this next weeks are finishing their final essays on Walk Two Moons, so I am excited to see if the ability to give good feedback translates to giving good peer feedback on writing.  They also are getting better at thinking on their feet and speaking up with confidence.

Variations I Still Want to Use This Year with the Socratic Seminar:

1. Use a smaller text like nonfiction articles, poetry, or small excerpts of a text.  Great practice for close reading!
2. Break into smaller groups and then come back as a larger group to discuss. 
3. Have the outer group create the questions for the inner circle.
4.  Discuss creating higher-order thinking questions as a class. 
5. Have students help create a rubric for the discussions.
6. Have an outer circle student observe an inner circle student very closely, and then they switch.
7. Try Socratic Seminars in another subject.

Things I will do Different Next Year To Get Started:

1. Do a lesson on Socrates first.
2. Set up the norms for the discussions a little better.
3. Discuss creating higher-order thinking questions before starting the discussions.

For more ideas on Socratic Circles, check out my Pinterest Board on the Socratic Seminar.   Have you used socratic circles in your classroom?

Monday, October 27, 2014

October Spelling and Vocabulary Menu - Freebie

When I loved up to 7th and 8th grade this year, I decided we would work through some SAT vocabulary words for our vocabulary this year.  I found a book with SAT vocabulary words and divided the words into 12 lists.  They have around 35-40 words per list.  I am giving them about 3 weeks to work on each list.

I am most interested in their ability to understand the worlds in context and apply the words. For this month, I decided I wanted to give them some creative options for using their words in writing assignments.  (There are less opportunities for thematic, seasonal assignments in middle school).  I created a vocabulary menu to be made with any vocabulary or spelling list.  I love choice menus! They turn in their assignments today, so I am excited to see what they came up with.  Click HERE to get a copy.

What do you use to give your students choice in applying their spelling or vocabulary words?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Dallas Blogger Meetup

Yesterday, I went to went to a blogger meetup here in Dallas.  It was fun to meet some other bloggers in person.  The blogging world and Teachers Pay Teachers (and probably Pinterest) have changed the reality of education for so many teachers.  You can find exactly what you need almost instantly.  You can find so many great teaching ideas, lessons, and freebies.  We now have an almost endless supply of great resources and inspiration.

When I started selling on Teachers Pay Teachers two years ago, my goal was just to make enough to cover what I spent on my classroom.  The first few years I taught I was always spending way too much of my meager paycheck trying to supply my classroom.  I rarely do things half way and teaching was no exception.  Teachers Pay Teachers has been a wonderful source of extra income toward expenses for graduate school and my classroom, as well as an outlet for creativity.

Anyway,  I had so much fun meeting other teacher bloggers yesterday and being reminded how much I appreciate TpT and this community of educators. 

We went to Bucca di Beppo, which always has yummy Italian food. They had cute mason jars waiting for us with a Texas sticker, wash tape, and a list of everyone's instagram names. 

It was so much fun to get to know some other bloggers.  It is so much work to put something like that together.  For His Glory did a wonderful job.

There were so many prizes.  I won some pens and a super-cute Vera Bradley tote bag.  Who can't use another tote bag?

How was your weekend?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Making Writing an Authentic Habit in the Classroom

As an educator, I believe it is important to strive for authenticity in the classroom.  Learning should have meaning and reflect what happens in the real world.  Finding ways to apply skills to the real world can be difficult.  Approaches to teaching like project-based learning are a wonderful way to incorporate real-world application.  Now, I wish I could tell you my classroom was a masterpiece of project-based learning, but I am striving for authenticity, right? I truly do want to incorporate more PBL this year, but that is another story.

Learning should be authentic. 

What I want to share with you today is about writing. By now, you may know I am working on my PhD in Educational Psychology with a focus in Gifted Education.  One of the things my advisors have been encouraging us to do lately is to set aside time every day to write.  This is nothing new.  I have heard this in creative writing classes and from other graduate professors before. However, that does not mean I have actually implemented this habit in my life.  The hardest part about writing every day is figuring out the time that works best.  My schedule is crazy hectic between work and school. I just started this week and have decided to set aside 20-30 minutes every morning to write.  For me that means, I will probably write most mornings between 5:30 and 6:00am.

To become a better writer, you have to practice.

To produce writing, you have to set aside time every day to write. 

Choose a time.  Be consistent.  Just write. 

It got me thinking.  I want to be a better writer.  I want to actually produce writing.  I want my students to be better writers.  We need to make time for writing...writing without pressure...writing without due dates.  Now, don't get me wrong.  We will have assignments.  We will have due dates, but writing needs to be a regular and authentic habit in my classroom.  Writing needs to be a time to allow for creativity, risk, flow of ideas, and authenticity. 

In the past with my elementary students, I have usually done 5-10 minutes of journal writing.  I find this is a great way to help kids get used to putting ideas down and get over the perfectionism of every sentence having to be perfect. I usually did this almost every day.  This year with my middle school students, we have a block schedule.  Thus, we only have Language Arts twice a week.  So we will only be able to set aside a dedicated space for writing twice a week.  Now, I don't want you to think we haven't been writing.  We have been doing more formal writing assignments, but not necessarily every class. 

I started thinking about how I wanted to collect my own writing every day.  I would rather type it.  I know I do not need 10,000 Word documents.  I thought about storing my journal entries in Evernote, which would work well. Then, I remembered a website I had looked at a couple years ago, but I never ended up using in my classroom.  Penzu.  Penzu is an online writing journal.  Now, if I was writing something super personal, I may not store it online. But for writing for grad school or even writing drafts of blog posts, I think it is a fabulous place to store entries.  With Penzu, you can customize fonts and backgrounds.  They even make the page look like notebook paper, so it feels like a journal.

I decided I wanted to try Penzu with my students this year as well.  I signed up for Penzu Classroom for a teacher account.  This way, I can view their journals and even send them assignments.  I can even comment on their assignments within Penzu, so I am excited to try it out.  Yesterday, I got everyone signed up for accounts. Most likely, I will still have them publish final drafts in Word.  We will use Penzu more for pre-writing, brainstorming, short journal entries, and free-writing. If students do not lock their journals, they can even view one another's journals.  I am thinking this could work well for peer feedback.  We will have to see how it goes. I'll let you know. I also gave my students the option of using Penzu or having a paper journal.  Almost half of my students chose a paper journal, and the other have chose to use Penzu.

You can view a video on Penzu Classroom below.

How do you make writing authentic in your classroom?
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