Reflections

#OneWord 2018 – Joy

My word for 2018 is JOY.

Overall in life, I’ve been trying to be better balanced between my personal and professional life, take more time for myself and the people I love, and be more present each day. It hasn’t been an easy journey, and it’s far from over yet.

I picked JOY as my 2018 word because it represents something I’ve found that’s missing from some parts of my day. There are tons of happy moments, smiles, and things I enjoy doing; however, I notice myself frequently just going through the motions.

Joy is an attitude, not a feeling.

I love teaching, I love my kids, I love what I get to do every day. Some days, I find myself trudging along, planning lessons and grading, and trying to get from Monday to Friday–I forget to stop for a moment and enjoy the ride.

I’ve spent the better part of the last year allowing others and situations to dictate how I feel. I get frustrated or hurt because of what people have done to me, said about me, or done around me. It’s not up to them to dictate how I feel about situations, or about myself.

I am bringing back my own joy!

One way I’m going to seek out joy each day is by keeping a gratitude journal. Each night, I’ll write down at least one good thing that happened that day in my Passion Planner monthly calendar. This will help me reflect back on all the great things happening, rather than get stuck in the teeny tiny annoyances.

Another way I’m going to bring my joy into my daily life is by making sure I am keeping my life in a better balance. This balance includes work and home, as well as my physical, mental/emotional, and social health. (Yay health triangle, for all my health teacher friends!) I’m going to be intentional about scheduling time for all of these! Part of my personal weekly reflection will look at how I have taken care of all of these areas.

I’m looking forward to whatever 2018 brings, and most of all, keeping an attitude of joy!

books

What I read in 2017

2017 was a good year for books. I finished a total of 55 books! Here’s the breakdown: 26 audiobooks, 29 books (8 books, 21 ebooks). The two major categories I read this year were YA (21) and Nonfiction (20). Surprisingly, I only read 3 edu-books this year.

This year I kept a bit more data than I have in the past. Previously, I just listed the books I read. Now, I’m keeping track of completion date, number of pages or hours (although I usually listen to audiobooks on 2x speed, which I take into account in my data), format, and genre. My favorite part of all this data is the graphs I create to go along with it. I like the visual trends for genre and books completed each month. Click here to make a copy of my book tracking spreadsheet for your own use.

Here are some of my favorite books I read this year: (they’re in chronological order

1. Heartless (Marissa Meyer)

I love love love the Lunar Chronicles, and Heartless was just as awesome. This one is based on Alice in Wonderland, which brought in some of my childhood magic. I’m a bit sad it’s not part of a series, because I’ve loved everything she’s written!

2. Caraval (Stephanie Garber)

For my Breakout EDU fans, this book will be a hit! It has the magic of a full-scale Breakout EDU game, as the main character is trying to find her sister before Caraval is over.

3. My Not So Perfect Life (Sophie Kinsella)

I keep coming back to this book all year, thinking about how we portray ourselves online versus the reality around us. The reality is all too real!

4. Yes, And (Kelly Leonard & Tom Yorton)

This was recommended by my dear friend Jess Loucks, and her keynote is based on improv. This isn’t an improv how-to book, but rather the ideas behind improv and how they can make us better creators and collaborators.

5. The Inexplicable Logic of my Life (Benjamin Alire Sáenz)

This story is fantastic, complex, and heartwarming. It addresses the real issues around us, including life, love, and loss. He also wrote Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which I read in 2015 — bonus for my Hamilton Nerds, the Aristotle & Dante audiobook is read by Lin-Manuel Miranda!!

6. Fueled by Coffee and Love (Mari Venturino)

I can’t blog about 2017 books without talking about this, I’m still so proud of myself for pulling together Fueled by Coffee and Love. It’s a collection of teacher stories written by teachers all around the world! Please pick up a copy for yourself and a teacher you adore–all proceeds go to classrooms!

7. The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)

This book hit the world by storm when it was published in February 2017. I finally got a copy over summer, and binge read the entire thing in just a few days! It’s heartbreaking and eye-opening at the same time. It really framed police violence and BLM in a way that is accessible to a wider population. I highly recommend this book!

8. Hidden Figures (Margot Lee Shetterly)

I listened to the audiobook, then watched the movie (*gasp* I watched a movie!). So good! I’ve always been a huge space fan, and in middle school I wanted to be an aerospace engineer; however, why am I just now hearing about Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson et al now?! They were left out of history, and I didn’t even know to look for them.

9. Classroom of One (Doug Robertson)

Another gem by my friend Doug Robertson. One of the three edu-books I read this year, and it was by far the best! It prepared me for my first guide teacher experience, and helped me become a stronger and more reflective teacher overall. I highly recommend this to anyone in education!

10. Turtles All the Way Down (John Green)

This is my second favorite John Green book (first favorite is Will Grayson, Will Grayson). This new one definitely didn’t disappoint. I appreciate how much it dove into anxiety and how it affects Aza’s life–but, it’s not forced or overdone.

I’d love some recommendations on books you think I’d like. Please leave me a comment below!

Reflections

2017 in Review

2017 has been an okay year. Just okay. Not the 100% fearless year I was hoping for, however I had some phenomenal opportunities to learn and grow thanks to some fantastic friends. One big thing I learned is that being fearless isn’t a heroic feeling, sometimes it feels like the worst thing ever because I’m doing what’s right, not what’s easy.

Where I Was (December 2016)

  • I was getting more involved in presenting around California and the rest of the country. It is always fun to travel and meet new people!
  • I was contemplating where I want to be in 5 and 10 years. (Spoiler: I still don’t have an answer…)
  • You can read more about where I was a year ago in my 2016 in Review post.

Where I Am (January – December 2017)

  • In January I transformed the old lab desks in my classroom into whiteboard desks. My students love using their desks to diagram science concepts and provide feedback.
  • I started Virtual Vikings, a monthly BathroomPD newsletter for my school–it has been a huge hit!
  • I got closer to fantastic individuals, Meagan Kelly and Aubrey Yeh. I can confidently say these two push me beyond where I think I can go, and are constantly sources of real and honest conversations. They’ve taught me to dig deep and address how I’m feeling, why I’m feeling that way, and take a step back before making a decision.
  • In March I was awarded CUE’s Emerging Teacher of the Year and in June I was honored with an ISTE Emerging Leader award. Both of these are humbling, especially knowing there are many other deserving individuals. I am grateful that someone took the time to nominate me.

    maricue
    Receiving my 2017 CUE Emerging Teacher of the Year award
  • In July, Fueled by Coffee and Love: Real Stories by Real Teachers was published (buy yourself a copy on Amazon here!). I loved collecting stories from teachers all over the world, and sharing them with you all. (Volume 2 to be published in 2018!)
  • I keynoted my first EdTechTeam summit in November in Redding, CA. This was definitely an opportunity to be fearless. I was nervous, but also felt confident knowing I had fantastic people supporting me along the way.
  • One of my favorite classroom things in 2017 has been my weekly science lessons with our mod/severe special ed class. I adore their teacher, and I love coming in and doing science with her class. Last spring, we did a unit on plants. This fall, we did units on 5 senses, nutrition, and chemical reactions. Next year, we’re looking forward to integrating some of her class into my class for labs and activities!

    each finger has a different texture: hard, soft, squishy, rough, and smooth
    5 senses activity with my favorite mod/severe class
  • This fall, I had my very first student teacher. It was an incredible growth opportunity for both of us–I supported her as she began her teaching journey, and she forced me to be more reflective on why I make certain classroom decisions. We debriefed everything! And, it got me into more friends’ classrooms, not just to say hi, but to observe and learn.
  • Personally, I did a much better job of keeping balance this year! I created rest habits by not working on Sundays and doing less school-related work at home. Meagan, Aubrey, and I came up with our “work rules” to keep us accountable. Being less stressed is definitely a journey, and I’m actually enjoying the ride. In order to rest more, I’ve renewed my love of crocheting; my favorite part is that I can’t play on my phone or computer while crocheting! Double win!
    each fingertip on this hand cutout has a different material for hard, soft, squishy, rough, and smooth

Where I Am Going (2018 and beyond)

  • One of the biggest lessons I learned in 2017 is that I need to be intentional about surrounding myself with people who have my back, are willing to ask me tough questions, and will support me no matter what. In turn, I have had the opportunity to be that friend in return!
  • I look forward to continuing to present and share my love of edtech with all y’all.
    I’ll keep blogging. I wrote about 2x a month in 2017, and I’ll either keep that pace or increase it slightly. Speaking of blogging, I’m moving my blog over to WordPress in early January…stay tuned!
  • I’m looking forward to reading lots more books in 2018. There are a bunch of debut YA novels I already preordered for 2018! (I’m always taking recommendations for any and all books.) I finished 56 books in 2017, including 26 audiobooks and 30 books. I’d like to read at least this much in 2018.
Google Forms, Reflections

Seeking Feedback from Students

Every year, I ask my students for informal and formal feedback on what they like about our class or a specific activity. Sometimes this is as simple as a warm-up question (read about my daily check-ins here!) or an exit ticket, and other times it’s a more involved survey with Google Forms.

My two years of teaching, I didn’t survey my students until the last week of school. I quickly realized that was silly because it didn’t benefit my current students, only the future students. The next year, I did a fall and spring course evaluation survey. In the next few years, I’d occasionally throw in a mid-semester survey too.

In addition to these surveys, I also have my students complete a reflection in their Interactive Notebook, and I include a question on their favorite and least favorite activity from that unit.

This semester, I decided to formally survey students at every grading period: two progress reports and at the end of the semester. The day after each major lab or activity, I included a question for feedback (Example: Did you like the ______ lab? Why or why not?) in their daily warm-up questions.

Additionally, I took on a student teacher at the end of August. She was willing and excited to be included in the Progress Report #2 and Final Course Evaluation surveys too. For these, we used “go to section based on response” so her class evaluated her in one section, and my classes evaluated me in a different section.

Progress Report #1 Survey
On the first Progress Report, I asked students to assign themselves a grade based on how many Mastery Tasks they’ve mastered (blog post later about my adventures with mastery-based grading). I quickly learned that I needed to explicitly teach them how to reflect, how to provide feedback, and how to support a claim with evidence (+1 for science skills!). Progress Report #1 (make a copy)

Progress Report #2 Survey
With the next progress report, I did a slightly better job scaffolding this reflective process for my students. I still had students who didn’t quite grasp how to support their claim (grade) with evidence (number of Mastery Tasks mastered). In both progress report surveys, students confused their justification with their satisfaction on their grade. Nonetheless, I found their insight valuable in how I communicate information with students. One of the questions is “Do you know how to see comments on Google Docs & Google Slides on your iPad?” because in the first 12 weeks of school, I was surprised that many students did not know how to view comments I left on both Docs/Slides and Google Classroom.
Progress Report #2 (make a copy)

Final Course Evaluation

Overall, students feel supported as learners, valued for their ideas, respected as an individual, encouraged to do their best, and safe to be themselves.
Student feedback on Fall 2017 Course Evaluation. I learned I need to dig
deeper to do a better job valuing students’ ideas and providing them
a safe space to be themselves.

On the final course evaluation, I used this less of a grade reflection and more as an evaluation of the whole class. On this one, I gave students the option to be anonymous. With this evaluation, I asked students to give feedback on what they like and don’t like in our class, changes we can make, and how I support them in our class. I take this feedback very seriously, and I will compile and share the overall trends with my students at the beginning of second semester. Additionally, I asked students for their feedback on Mastery-Based grading. The majority said they like it; those that said they didn’t like it at all talked about their unhappiness with their own grade on the “What improvements can we make to Mastery-Based Grading?” question.
Final Course Evaluation (make a copy)

I really appreciate that my students are willing to tell me what they like and don’t like about our class. My classroom must reflect their needs and wants–sometimes it’s hard to put my expert ego aside, but I value their ideas and I know how to separate rude feedback (very rare! And, none so far this year) from constructive criticism.

I look forward to continuing these frequent reflections next semester!

NBCT, Reflections

Takeaways from my National Board Certified Teacher Journey

My National Board congratulations letter

It is such a huge accomplishment that I can now say I am a National Board Certified Teacher! This has been a challenging journey, and I put in many long hours planning, prepping, compiling, and editing. And, it was worth it!

I first heard about National Board Certification during my credential/masters program, and I liked the idea. I put that aside, started teaching, and forgot about it all. In 2015, I got an email from my district about getting into a National Board lottery to have the district pay for me to go through the program. I was selected, and attended the San Diego County Office of Education support workshop. SDCOE offered both in-person workshops and online support through the two-year process. I was excited to have this support, but was quickly disappointed that it seemed disorganized and overall ineffective.

So, I took matters into my own hands and pushed forward. I spent a significant amount of time studying the components to figure out what they were asking, planning lessons, and completing incredibly detailed reflections.

Here are some of my takeaways from the National Board Certification process:

1. I am a good teacher, even if I second guess myself and my ideas. As I planned out my lessons and skimmed through the reflection questions, I kept doubting my lessons, not feeling like they were innovative or student-driven. On the positive side, it made me really consider and reflect on classroom practices, and push me to design better lessons for my students.

I spent many long hours planning, writing,
and revising. Thankfully Ollie kept me company!

2. The video reflection, Component 3, was one of the more challenging and rewarding sections. Recording myself teaching is something that makes me nervous, although in a productive way. When I video myself teaching, I really have to be “on” all the time, and it makes me clue in to every little thing I do and say. I am much more present and reflective when I have the Swivl set up!

3. I’m grateful I chose to do this over 2 years. It was a lot of work, and while do-able in one year, my sanity thanks me for doing it in 2 years. The first year was Components 1 and 2, and the second year was Components 3 and 4. The component were recently revised, and I was in the first certification year to complete some of the new requirements. Overall, I can say it all four components were relevant to my teaching practices.

4. I wish I had gone through this process with other people I know. It started that there were 2 other people at my school who were going through National Board, but both of them dropped out halfway through. The SDCOE support system was a nice backup; however, for me, it does not replace friends or colleagues that I can bug and bounce around ideas.

5. I’m grateful for this experience. I don’t need a fancy certification to know I am a good teacher, but it’s always rewarding to earn such recognition for the hard work I put into my teaching.

If you’re considering going through the National Board Certification process, let me know!

GSuite

Fun with Google Slides

You may have noticed a pattern that I absolutely adore and love Google Forms and use them daily in my classroom. In the last year, I’ve discovered a deep admiration for Google Slides. Not only are Slides my go-to for projecting the warm-up questions, posting instructions during class, and direct instruction (sometimes I use screencastify to create in-class flip videos!), but also I’ve transitioned quite a few student assignments over to Slides.

We are 1:1 iPad, and the Google Slides iOS app is easy to use. It doesn’t have all the features of the web version, but it has just enough that we need on a regular basis.

Slides with Students
This year, I’ve transitioned all of my science labs to Slides. Instead of giving students a Google Doc to edit, or a PDF to work on in Notability, I’ve moved everything to Slides.

I love using Slides because it chunks down the lab into manageable parts. Instead of students staring at a long Google Doc, feeling overwhelmed at everything they are being asked to do, we can focus on one slide at a time. Bonus: I’ve noticed a positive difference in my students’ lab behavior–they are more on-task because they know exactly what they need to get done!

I was using Docs last year, and we had trouble when trying to insert pictures, especially in data tables. Students had trouble cropping images or making them easy to see. Slides is an excellent solution!

If we were on Chromebooks, I would extend this by using the Screencastify extension to have students explain what they did and what they learned in the lab.

Here’s an example of a Heart Rate Lab and Paper Airplane Lab we did using Slides. On the Heart Rate Lab, you can see I color-coded the different steps, making it easy for me to quickly check that we’re all on the same slide.

Slides for Teacher Creation
A few months ago, I blogged about Virtual Vikings, my #BathroomPD newsletter I create for the staff bathrooms at school. I change the page setup (File > Page Setup > Custom > 8.5 x 11) to make it printer paper size.

I use Slides to create handouts for class, including Cornell Notes (here’s my template!), I love how easy it is to add in and format text and images. It also makes it quick to print class handouts (I use analog interactive notebooks).

Master Slides
I’ve just started diving into master slides, thanks to inspiration from friends like Michele Osinski who is a pro! I’m still figuring it all out, but I love that I can customize my Slides templates to make it easy for specific layouts and formats. Here’s a quick video (I didn’t make this one) that explains more.

What are your favorite ways to use Slides?

GSuite

How to Structure Student Discussions with a Walk and Talk

This blog post was originally featured on Kids Discover on September 13, 2017.

You know those days when the kids are getting a little squirrelly? The days where the side conversations get the best of the quietest kids and even the smallest distraction gets us all off track? It’s time to get the wiggles out while being productive.

It’s time for a Walk and Talk!

I teach in San Diego, California, and the weather is generally pleasant outside. We can easily go outside for this activity. This also works inside around the perimeter of the classroom (you might need to push the desks toward the center) or quietly up and down the hallway.

A Walk and Talk is a structured partner discussion where students are given question cards to answer with a partner while walking on a specified path. They walk toward a set location, such as a pole or tree, then turn and walk back. You can incorporate an instructional assistant or parent volunteer into your class activity by setting them as the turnaround point.

Set-up
Start the class with a lab, activity, or guided reading assignment done in class. When I’m planning this activity ahead, I will create a list of questions or task cards, then pre-write them on index cards. The questions can be a combination of a review of what you’ve covered in class and how your students will prepare for the upcoming assessment or presentation.

When this activity happens on the fly because of extra time at the end of class or an energy surplus, I’ll ask students to write the questions on index cards themselves, based on what we’ve covered in class.

Before we go outside to our Walk and Talk location, I will randomly assign students a partner. Flippity Random Name Picker is my favorite randomizer tool. Then, we quickly review our class expectations for the Walk and Talk and for outside class work.

The Walk and Talk
We all walk outside and students line up next to their partner and I stand facing the head of the line. I hand a question card to each person in the first pair and wish them luck. The first person answers their question on the way to the turnaround point (about 20-30 steps), then they switch roles and the second person answers a question on the way back to the line. I wait about 10 steps between each pair, which helps prevent extra distractions.

Once the partners return from their walk, they get back into line. When they’re back to the front of the line, I switch their cards for new questions and we repeat the Walk and Talk. I quickly check in with each pair as they return and exchange cards, asking, “how did it go?”

Typically, we do three rounds before returning to class.

Debrief
When we go back inside, students take some time to share something they learned from their partner or found interesting. This happens either out loud, or as a quick-write on paper or as a question on Google Classroom.

The Walk and Talk is an excellent preparation or reflection tool for larger research projects, essays, and Socratic Seminars. My students love the opportunity to go outside and work, discuss with a partner, and move around.