From the Sides-lines

Personal reflections of Marti Sides

Get to Know Them

Goal #25 for Selly Terrell’s #30goals challenge is to develop ways to get to know your students. There are many different ways to get to know your students so I’ll only mention of few of my favorites.

  • Students can write books about themselves. This can either be done traditionally with paper, pencils, markers, and crayons, or you can allow your student to use a variety of software programs to create the cover and pages of their books.
  • Students can create a timeline using significant events in their life. This can either be done on paper or using a timelining software.
  • Ask students to bring in 3-5 items that represent themselves during the first week of school. Have the students place the items in a brown paper bag. Then they can reveal the items and tell a little about each item.
  • I used to have a grid (sort of like a bingo grid) that had different characteristics in each box. Each box was worth a different number of points. Students then had to go around the class, mingle with their classmates, and find people that possessed those characteristics. At the end of the alloted time period, the students would add up their points and the person with the most would win the “game.” We always did this on the first day of school in order to get to know one another, and I would usually join the fun.
  • Allow students to interview each other and video the interviews. Then you can watch the interviews as a class. Be sure to have a student interview you as well!
  • Another variation on the video is to have a “confessional” set up in a closet or other secluded place. Allow the students to tell about themselvesin their first “confessional.” If you felt like they needed more direction, you could provide them with a list of questions that they should answer during the “confession.” As the year progresses,  leave the “confessional” set up and allow the students to use it to reflect on their learning. (Note: You will need to set up specific guidelines and rules for the “confessional.” For example, if your “confessional” is set up in a closet, you might only allow one student at a time in the “confessional” and never allow the door to be closed completely.)

Just remember that for all of the above activities, you should also do one for yourself and share. Your students want to get to know you as well! It’s important for them to see you as more than just a teacher.

To close, I’ll leave you with this video from my son, Ryley. If you were Ry’s teacher, what would you learn about him?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0Vk4j8092U

Character Under Construction

Shelly Terrell (@ShellTerrell) suggests in goal #24 of the #30goals challenge to build character in your students. Her short term goal is, “Present a world problem, tragedy, or situation to your students and have them brainstorm ways to improve the situation.”

It’s often hard for me to come up with problems that might be of interest to my students other than current tragedies and world events that they might be hearing about in the news or at home. . So I thought that it might be beneficial to present you with some organizations and groups that students could support.

  • Help end world hunger at http://www.freerice.com/. This site actually allows users to answer vocabulary questions. For each correct answer, the site will donate 10 grains of rice to the World Food Program.  While you don’t have to do much to make difference on this site, world hunger might be a problem that your students help to improve.
  • The earthquake, tsumami, and nuclear meltdowns in Japan are of major concern right now. This is definitely a problem I would have students take a look at. However, with the plethora of websites and organizations claiming to be collecting funds for the people of Japan, it’s hard to know which organizations are legitimate and which ones are not. The Baptist Global Response and International Mission Board have established a relief fund for Japan. You can mail donations to:
    Office of Finance, International Mission Board
    3806 Monument Ave.
    Richmond, VA 23230
  • An organization very near and dear to my heart is Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic at http://www.rfbd.org/.  As many of you may know, my son, Ryley, is dyslexic. RFB&D provides audio books for blind and dyslexic students.
  • Does your town have a local food bank? Perhaps you could plan a field trip so that students could learn how the food bank helps feed people locally. The remainder of the day could be spent volunteering there. You can find out more about my local food bank, The South Plains Food Bank, at http://www.spfb.org.
  • What about a local no-kill animal shelter? We have a shelter in our city called The Haven http://www.havenacs.org. The Haven is always needing volunteers and donations in the form of supplies, equipment, money, or gift cards to home improvement stores.
  • Students can also brainstorm ways to help less fortunate students at their own school or another school with food and clothing donations. We have a food backpack program at our school that provides non-perishable foods to students in need over the weekend. We also have a clothes closet for students who don’t have clothes that fit or may have a limited number of clothing items.
  • Endangered animals are another area of concern for many. The World Wildlife Fund is a great organization to support and it’s website http://www.worldwildlife.org) has a lot of information about endangered species as well as photos.
  • I’m a beach bum at heart and spend as much time as I can at the beach. It really frustrates me when I have to step over plastic bags, aluminum cans, cigarette butts, and other types of pollution as I’m trying to take a peaceful walk on the water’s edge. The Surfrider Foundation seeks to protect the world’s beaches and oceans at http://www.surfrider.org.

These are just a few examples of organizations that your students could support. After presenting students with these organizations, you could have the students vote on which one they would like to support, or separate students into groups and either assign them an organization or allow them to choose an organization.

Obviously, each of these organizations is seeking donations of some sort so students would need to decide on a way to acquire the donations. As a teacher your would facilitate this fundraiser and help your students with the necessary legwork, but this would be the majority of the project.

As a teacher, I would also make my students reflect on their journey. I would do this in a few different ways. We would probably have a class wiki where the daily class reporter would record the steps taken that day as well as any necessary information such as people contacted, websites used, or other resources of this nature. In addition, I would have each student reflect weekly on the project on their personal blogs.

Building character is an essential part of a child’s education. Many parents don’t have the time or resources to take on a project of this nature at home. But together, we can make a difference.

Classroom Technology Integration

Goal #23 of Shelly Terrell’s #30goals challenge is to share lessons that effectively integrate technology. I immediately thought of several lessons that I loved teaching.

  • From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler webquest – This is a wonderful story about a brother and sister who run away from home and hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Many of my students had never even been outside of our city much less to New York City. So I decided that my students and I would visit the museum virtually. I had the students go on a “scavenger hunt” of sorts through the museum online using the museum’s website. The students had to visit places and exhibits that the children visit in the story. It was always fun to learn about the musuem and develop a knowledge base before beginning the book.
  • A fellow teacher and I began teaming up when my daughter was a 1st grader in her class. I taught 4th grade and we decided that rather than pair our students as reading buddies, they would be paired as technology buddies. The first project that we completed together was based on the book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff. Our students read the book together and then wrote their own version of the story. They then created their version using PowerPoint (this was many, many years ago so several other great options are available now).
  • The second technology project that our technology buddies completed together was done at Christmas time and based on The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. There were many different aspects to this project, but my favorite part of the project was the digital picture scavenger hunt. We sent the students on a scavenger hunt through the school with digital cameras. They had to find items from the story and then take pictures of them. The students then sequenced the pictures in Word (again, this was many years ago and there are other software options now for this activity).
  • Even though I moved to another campus, my technology buddy and I continued to collaborate on technology projects. Last year, we teamed together learn how to write effective directions. We each sent over a digital copy of our school map via email (we didn’t want to post these online due to security reasons). My students then wrote directions for her students to specific rooms on their campus and vice versa using a wiki that we had set up. The student then reflected on their experiences using our ITV unit. They discussed together what made good directions and what could have made some of the directions better. This was a great opportunity for the students to learn how writing effective directions is beneficial, especially when you have to follow them!

Are You a Mentor?

I’d like to think that I’m a mentor. At least I really try to be. This year, I really wanted to involve my staff in using the technology that we have on our campus much more effectively, so I decided to do a “tech week” with each and every teacher on my campus.

Tech week isn’t a complicated or novel idea really. It’s simply me devoting a week of my time to one teacher only in order to help them with technology lessons in their classroom. This could be as simple as me creating the lessons for the teacher to teach because they don’t have the time to do so themselves, to me actually coming to the classroom to teach the lessons that I’ve crated. In doing so, I hope that my teachers will see the endless number of possibilties that are available to them using the technology that we have on our campus as opposed to paper and pencil.

I’ve really enjoyed tech week this year. It has allowed me to get to know the teachers and students on my campus better. It has also given me the opportunity to stretch my own limits and step out of my comfort zone in order to create lessons for younger students and try new things that I might not of tried otherwise. Many of the lessons went off without a hitch, while others could have been revamped…alot!

Sharing resources is another easy way to be a mentor. I really love my iPad because it allows me to easily email articles and resources to my school email address so that I can share it with my staff. Just in doing this one simple thing, I’ve noticed that several of my teachers have begun to try new things in their classrooms.

‘Those are just a few of the things that I do to be a mentor to my staff members.   I’d be interested in knowing what novel and unique ideas others have to help me be both a better mentor and a better educator.

Encouraging Creativity

According to dictionary.com, creativity is “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.” So how do we encourage creativity in the classroom when we are bound by traditional curriculum and high stakes tests?

As a classroom teacher, I often offered my students choices in their final products. This ensured that my students all learned the necessary skills, while, at the same time, were able to be creative with their final product. They were able to choose products that appealed to them and their strengths. Was this method harder for me? Of course. I had to juggle a plethora of final products rather than a stack of easily graded papers. Rubrics were the name of the game in my classroom. You can create customized rubrics easily at Rubistar – http://rubistar.4teachers.org/index.php?screen=NewRubric.

If you are looking for an “old school” way to encourage creativity, why not allow the students to draw and color? By the 3rd grade, students rarely get to use their crayons and markers during class. Why not allow them to use colored pens and draw the lecture rather than write traditional notes? I’m a terrible artist, but I love to use lots of different colors and draw simple shapes such as hearts, stars, and swirls.

Finally, if you’re looking for some technology infused ideas that will encourage creativity in the classroom, check out this blog post by Christy Crawford on the Scholastic Blog titled, “Cartoon Curriculum: Top Techie Sites for Digital Storytelling.” This post filled with awesome resources and top web sites that actually encourage students to use their creativity when completing assignments. You can find the post at http://blogs.scholastic.com/top_teaching/2011/03/cartoon-curriculum-top-techie-sites-for-digital-story-telling.html#tp

Sharing Resources

Goal #20 for Shelly Terrell’s #30goals challenge is to share resources. Since this is St. Patrick’s Day I thought I’d bestow a little bit of the luck of the Irish on you and share a few of my favorite resources with you. 

I love, love, love all things iPod, iPhone, iPad. So here are some of my favorite iResources. Enjoy!

Avoiding Burnout

I’m the type of person that’s constantly going…and going…and going. I make a list for everything that I do. Unfortunately, this often makes me feel stressed and unable to relax. So, Shelly’s 19th goal for the #30goals challenge was perfect for me.

This week I have really enjoyed me spring break. Even though I had a very lengthy to do list, I have been able to divide the list up and only do a little bit every day. In doing this, I have been able really relax and spend some time for myself. However, this does not always work for me.

During a normal school week I really don’t have the luxury of doing a little every day. In addition, I am attending graduate school and must attend to homework at night. So I have started trying to get all of my homework finished before the weekend (which isn’t always easy) so that I CAN spend time with my family and for myself ove rthe weekend.

I have also begun ignoring my work email when I’m not at school. This is so very important for me because this is one source of stress for me when I’m at home. I feel like I have to handle the items then and there, rather than going with the “It’ll be there tomorrow,” attitude. 

I’ve also really tried to start reading at night before I go to sleep. I always start with the Bible (my New Year’s resoulution is to read the entire Bible in a year), but I have begun to follow that with something fun and NON-educational. This is key for me because it allows me to truly leave my world and “be” someone else. I can go anywhere and do anything without having leave the comfort of my bed.

My relaxation techniques might be a bit traditional. They are by no means exciting or unique, but they work for me. They give me a bit more composure at school and allow me to function with the enthusiasm that my students so rightly deserve.

Creating Butterflies

If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.  ~Author Unknown

When I first joined Twitter almost two years ago, one of the first people that I followed was Shelly Terrell (@ShellTerrell) She was a recommendation from another friend, Krista Scott (@krista_scott), who was already a Twitter users and knew all the “good” educators to follow.

In following Shelly, I have learned so much! She continually shares amazing resources via Twitter and her blog, Teacher Reboot Camp. She also created the #30goals challenge to encourage educators to step out of their comfort zones and try new things in their classrooms.  Goal #18 of the challenge is to share a story.

I’ll be honest…I don’t have much of a story.  I’m just a regular educator who tries to continually push myself to be better than I was the year before, the month before, and the day before. One thing that has helped me to become a better educator is to create a Personal Learning Network (PLN).

My PLN consists of many different resources. As mentioned above, I use Twitter. When I first started using Twitter, I found it very overwhelming because I felt like I had to constantly check my Twitter feed and look at every resource that crossed my screen. I have learned since then, that’s it’s ok if I don’t check it all the time. One thing that I particularly like to use in order to stay up to date with Twitter without overwhelming myself is the use of Twhirl. Twhirl is great because it allows my Twitter feed to run on my desktop on top of whatever I’m working on. As I’m working, I can take glance at the feed. If it’s something that I want to check out, I do. If not, I let it go. Twhirl also alerts me if I have a mention or direct mention.

I also began reading educational blogs. I browsed through the blog rolls of a few different blogs that I already read and began to expand. I also began checking out blogs that I found on Twitter. I have found some amazing resources while reading educator blogs.

While I primarily use Facebook for my personal life, there are an abundance of resources available for educators on Facebook. If you are a bit reluctant to try Twitter, but are an avid Facebooker, then this is definitely a resource that you can use!

My PLN has been an amazing source for resources, motivation, and encouragement for me as an educator. It has helped me crawl out of my cocoon and and begin to spread my wings…and one day, I might just turn into a beautiful butterfuly!

Help Them Shine

Shelly Terrell’s 17th goal for the #30goals challenge is to help your students shine. I no longer have my own classroom, but if I did I would be sure to do things a little bit differently.

One of the textbooks that I have been reading for my graduate class is titled, “Teaching and Learning Through Multiple Intelligences” (3rd edition) by Bruce and Linda Campbell and Dee Dickinson. I never gave multiple intelligences much thought as a classroom teacher, but in reading this book, I see how important it can be to really know your students.

What I like most about this book are the little stories that accompany each chapter. The stories highlight the benefits of teaching through the intelligence that the chapter is about. For example, at the beginning of the chapter about kinesthetic learners, the story highlights a girl who struggles with spelling. Her teacher learns that she loves to dance and encourages her create dance movements for each letter of the alphabet. The girl eventually learns to spell better because she practices the words through her dance movements every day.

Each chapter also includes a definition of the intelligence, qualities that learners who possess that intelligence might have, as well as ideas for classroom incorporation. In addition, the end of the chapter has ideas for incorporating technology for this particular intelligence.

I really appreciate this book because it highlights each intelligence and the way that children learn. In identifying my own intelligences, as well as the intelligences of my own children, I’ve been able to see how important it is for teachers to incorporate lessons that cater to as many of these intelligences as possible. I realize that you cannot possibly cater to every intelligence in every lesson that you teach every day. However, you can teach to multiple intelligences throughout your day. In doing so, each child in your class will shine each and every day.

Change Your Environment

Shelly Terrell’s 16th goal for the #30goals challenge suggests making a small change in your environment to show that learning takes place everywhere. I have a great 5th grade teacher who has really embraced technology this year and stepped out of her own comfort zone in order to make learning more fun for her students.

When I first started working with Mrs. Thornton at the beginning of the school year, she was very scared of the technology that we have on our campus. I often heard the phrases, “I have to do WHAT?!” and “Why would I use that?” In October I  handed out the grade level iPod Touches and each grade level team discussed how they wanted to utilize the devices. Mrs. Thornton’s comment was, “I don’t know what I would do with one in my classroom so someone else can use mine.”

In just four short months, Mrs. Thornton’s attitude has completely changed. It all started when I emailed out that I had recorded some novels that the students were to read and they could be put on the iPods for students to listen to while in her classroom. We have a large group of struggling readers in that grade level and Mrs. Thornton saw the opportunity to give those students some extra help. She requested 5 iPod Nanos. By Christmas, Mrs. Thornton was requesting MORE iPods for use in her classroom. I gave her 5 more.

With 10 iPods in her classroom, Mrs. Thornton decided to purchase several audio books. The next time I visited her classroom, she pulled out a box of audio book CD’s and asked if it would be possible to put all of those books on the iPods as well. When I replied positively, she was so excited. Her reply was, “I’m finally seeing the need for iPods in my classroom.”

About a month ago, I emailed my campus a link to a blog post highlighting different ways to incorporate technology in the reading classroom. Needless to say, there were several ideas that Mrs. Thornton wanted to try. Unfortunately, a few of those ideas wouldn’t work on our campus or didn’t fit her needs. However, there were two ideas that were doable.

First, Mrs. Thornton inquired about blogging. We set up a time to meet and discussed her ideas student blogs. We then set up each of her classes in KidBlog since it had a great deal of security features and is easy to use for both students and non-techno-savvy teachers. :-)  I then scheduled times to teach the basics of blogging and blog safety to each of her four classes.

The day after I introduced the blogs to the students, Mrs. Thornton called me and said, “Did you forget to tell me something?” I inquired what it was that I had forgotten to tell her and she said, “You didn’t tell me that I would get all these alerts when students posted on KidBlog. I had a whole page of red email in my inbox last night!” I laughed, took this as a good sign that the students were excited about the assignment, and then asked what she did. To my surprise, Mrs. Thornton told me that she clicked the links in the email and then “did what it said.” Wow!

The other idea that Mrs. Thornton wanted to try was using the voice memo app on the iPod Touches to record students reading in order to practice fluency. Mrs. Thornton asked the teacher who was keeping the 5th grade iPod Touches if she could have just ONE iPod Touch. We tried the app out and discovered that it required an iPod microphone. We didn’t have any on campus so I ordered 5 from Monoprice. When the microphones came in, Mrs. Thronton wasted no time implementing the use of the iPods for fluency practice. Within a few days, she had asked the rest of her team members if they were using the other iPod Touches and acquired those not being used. She now uses 4 iPod Touches along with 15 iPod Nanos in her classroom daily.

Mrs. Thornton didn’t stop at blogging and iPods. Yesterday, I showed Mrs. Thornton the Kidspiration software. We searched through the pre-made templates together and she found a template for vocabulary words that matched her current curriculum and teaching method. She immediately scheduled the computer lab  so she could use the template with her students TODAY! When I saw her this afternoon the first thing she said was, “We had a really good time in the lab today. It was a really good day.” :-)

Mrs. Thornton has completely blossomed this year with her use of technology in the classroom. She has gone from not believing she needed it and thinking it wasn’t relevant for her classroom instruction to being willing and open to trying new things with her students. She’s excited about our next adventure, Flashcard Machine, and now says, “I feel empowered!”

How’s that for changing an environment?