Reflections

Geocaching: Inadvertent Adventures as a Beginner

When was the last time you were a total beginner at something? 

This past week, I tried something completely new to me: Geocaching! I’ve heard about this for years, but I was never curious enough to actually try it. It wasn’t until ISTE this past June that my friend Wanda Terral, a super geocacher, gave me a little spark. I downloaded the app, and made a mental note to try it over the summer.

I tried Geocaching!

According to the Geocaching website, “Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.”

geocaching
Geocaching! Download the app and get started!

Finally, last week, I got up the courage to go out and try it. I did a little bit of basic research first (here’s a good place to start), like, what am I supposed to do when I find it? (Answer: open it, sign the logbook, then put it back. Easy enough, right?) Then, I played around with the app for a few minutes before I left home. There was one located about a 10 minute walk from my house, at a local park!

Ollie wanted to come too, so we walked (insert doggie head-tilt at the word walk) to the park together. I oriented myself to the park layout, and figured out where-ish the geocache would be located. Then I searched. And I searched. And I searched. And, I sat down and stared at my phone. What do these things look like? How hidden will it be?

And it was a lot harder than I expected

I almost gave up and walked home. I felt ridiculous, slowly walking at the edge of the park and staring into the bushes. There were other people at the park, surely they all thought I looked strange, walking near the back edge of the park with my dog. In fact, I walked halfway back to the street, before turning around. I felt defeated.

That’s when I realized, THIS is how it feels to be a total beginner at something! It feels awkward, embarrassing, and distressing. I took a deep breath, did a bit more how-to research, pulled up the app again, and used the GPS tracker to get within about 5 feet of where the geocache was supposed to be hidden.

But, I persevered, and I was successful!

Ollie geo 1
Ollie says, “Mama, what is this?!”

Then, I peeked into the bushes, and dug around a little…and found it! It was hooked to the fence, hidden by some leaves, but obvious once I saw it.

I couldn’t stop smiling! I did it! That feeling of exhilaration–I haven’t felt that in SO long. It’s like the first time you are successful in an escape room or Breakout EDU; you know you worked hard, and now you have a great pictures to capture that moment. Plus, the journey felt way more important than what was inside the box/can/container.

I was so caught up on that feeling, I only took a few pictures–all of them Ollie + the geocache!

Then, I reflected on my experience

On the walk home, between meeting new doggie friends, I asked myself a few questions:

  • Would this have been less scary if I had someone like Wanda with me to guide/coach me through my first geocaching experience?
  • Would this have been more fun (and less awkward) if I brought along a friend, even if they’d never tried it before?
  • Was the seemingly endless discomfort erased once I was successful?
  • What needs to happen for me to try this again?
  • How often do I ask my students and colleagues to “just try it,” but then leave them without support?

Even though it’s uncomfortable, it’s good to be a beginner every once in a while. This experience helped to remind me that we all have to start somewhere.

I didn’t go out geocaching to intentionally experience being a beginner, or have all these feelings, or write a blog post about it. I thought it would be something cool to try, and I also expected it to be easy, like walking up to a PokeStop in Pokemon Go–as in, it would just be there, and I’d say “yay!” and move along.

Ollie geo 2
Ollie loves it when he gets to come on adventures, like walks!

I’m sold, and I’m definitely going to try it again. Who wants to go with me? There are lots in San Diego. Or, if we’re traveling at a conference/summit/workshop together, let’s go on a little adventure.

Ok, and seriously, if I’m not already happily nerding on this experience, I also learned that the term for a non-geocacher is a…muggle! Yes, as in, Harry Potter.

GSuite, Technology

Advice for Becoming a Google Certified Educator Levels 1 & 2

It’s crazy to think I took the Google for Education Level 1 and Level 2 tests in summer 2015. 3 years ago! These tests had just been re-released after a complete overhaul; I intended to take them in late 2014, but they were taken down to get their makeover. Since they expire every 3 years, so retaking them was on my summer to do list.

My Level 1 and Level 2 Journey

When I took Level 1 and Level 2 for the first time, I spent time going through the Level 1 fundamentals training and Level 2 advanced training on the Google for Education Teacher Center. I really took my time with each unit, mainly to build confidence. Going in, I had most of the skills I needed, but I was still incredibly nervous! For each test, I took about 2.5 hours out of the 3 hours allowed.

Taking Level 1 for fun at a bar with some friends! We all passed 🙂 

I ended up taking Level 1 again in February 2017, after hosting an EdTechTeam Level 1 bootcamp at my school. A bunch of my friends were meeting to take the test, so I joined in and took it under my school email. Yes, we took it in the corner at a bar (arranged with the manager ahead of time, especially to make sure wifi was stable.)! And yes, we brought our own power strips. And yes, it was a lot of fun!

Going into the tests this summer, this biggest difference for me was confidence. Since taking Level 1 & and Level 2, I’ve gone on to become a Google for Education Certified Trainer (November 2015) and Innovator (June 2016, #COL16!!). I also facilitate bootcamps for EdTechTeam. Sure, I was a little nervous, because after all, it is a test! However, I also have lots of experience to draw on, which I used to remind myself it would all be ok! This time around it took me about 55 minutes for Level 1, and 75 minutes for Level 2. It took much less time because I knew what to expect and didn’t second-guess myself, not because my skills are that much better.

My advice for taking Level 1 and Level 2

  • Prepare with other people: I highly recommend the EdTechTeam bootcamps. Either attend one in your area, or fill this out to bring one to your school/district (you can even request me to come to you!). I wish I had this opportunity when I was preparing the first time to get a feel for the test, receive helpful advice, and build my confidence. — And no, I’m not getting paid to say this.
  • Find a happy place to take the test: I’ve taken the test solo at home in a quiet room and at a loud bar. Both times, I had minimal outside distractions. Yes, the bar was loud, but it was just background noise, not someone talking directly to me. Phone went on “do not disturb” and I closed all the other tabs.
  • Set up your space: Get something to drink, have a snack handy, use the bathroom before you begin, connect to power, stretch, etc before you sit down to take the test. Your webcam is on the entire time for security, so you don’t want
    to have to run to get something in the middle of the test.
  • Take wiggle breaks: I stand up every 30 minutes or so to wiggle around. I angle my laptop to keep my face in view, because test security. A mini dance party keeps my brain from getting too tired.
  • Smile!: Remind yourself to smile before, during, and after the test. You’re a hard worker, and these test are kinda fun! No matter what, pass or fail, remember to smile!

If you don’t pass the first time, don’t get discouraged! Make a note of the topics or tools that gave you the most difficulty, find a buddy, and work on them. Challenge yourself to use that tool at least 3 times before retaking the test.

Have tips for Level 1 and Level 2 first-timers? Leave a comment with your best advice!

 

Reflections

ISTE 2018 Reflection

I am currently in Post-ISTE Recovery Mode, and finally have enough energy to reflect on the past 5 days. When I think back to my ISTE 2016 and ISTE 2017 experiences, I realize just how crazy these adventures are.

Spent a great morning with Martha, my YEN Scholarship Mentee! 

One of the coolest parts of ISTE this year was being a Young Educator Network Scholarship Mentor. Each year, ISTE awards 10 conference registration scholarships to local teachers. Mentors are paired with these scholarship winners, and we spend Sunday morning getting to know each other, orienting our mentees to the overwhelmingness of ISTE, and pass along some advice. I emailed with Martha before ISTE, and loved finally meeting her! For those of you attended ISTE or followed along with #notatiste18, please take a minute to fill out this form–I’d love to collect your advice and takeaways for ISTE 2019 newbies!

When I attended ISTE 2016 in Denver, that was my first time meeting many of my friends. Reflecting back, I’ve come so far both personally and professionally. It’s hard to attend these conferences, and not feel many new feels–some of which are uncomfortable. Since my past 2 years’ reflections have covered a lot of the ISTE basics, I’m going to take a different spin this year. Below are some of my growth areas over the last 3 ISTE conferences.

Be in the Moment

Life goal, achievement unlocked! I got to be the Pear Deck pear for 5 mins!

There is always so much going on at ISTE! When we say “yes” to one session or social, we’re saying “no” to at least one other thing we really really want to attend. Remove FOMO (fear of missing out) from your vocabulary, and enjoy where you are, and who you’re sharing this experience with. If you’re #notatiste, celebrate that social media allows you to learn along with us at the conference.

A big shift for me this year was I didn’t worry about finding all the people, only to run off to find someone else minutes later. I enjoyed some smaller group adventures and even some one-on-one adventures! I loved this quality time with great friends!

I’ve learned not to stress about what I’m missing, and instead focus on hugging the people I’m with! And, I’m so grateful I did. I have fewer pictures from this trip, and more happy memories.

It’s Ok to Feel Impostor Syndrome

Every single person presenting at the conference is a human, just like me. Some get gigantic stages, and some are attendees. We all bring value and expertise in our own ways. And, we all had to start our learning process somewhere. As I have shifted my classroom to mastery-based grading, I have also shifted my outlook on my own learning to mastery-based.

Presenting on #PottyPD at the EdTechTeam booth.

I had the opportunity to present at the EdTechTeam booth for 20 minutes on #PottyPD. Even though I’ve presented and keynoted around the US, this made me super nervous. The night before, I had a dream that I had to go up completely unprepared. Typical teacher, right? I’m grateful for a few people who offered words of encouragement and hugs before I took the stage.

I have to remember that when someone has The Microphone, they have put hours and hours of work into learning and preparing to get themselves where they are today. I can’t compare the start of my learning journey to the middle of someone else’s! In the past (ok, honestly, happens all the time now, but I’m better at identifying it!), I my inside narrative would tell me that I’m not good enough. With a shift in my mindset, I realize it’s all about putting in the hard work.

Tired and Happy

One cool part about joining a bunch of friends in a different city is spontaneous adventures! A highlight of ISTE sightseeing was visiting the Willis (Sears) Tower and taking fun pictures in the glass boxes. The wait to get up was long, and thankfully I had some great friends to chat with.

Willis Tower SkyDeck with incredible friends!

With all the fun and adventure comes balance. I packed a healthy lunch for myself each day, plus extra food to give to friends. It brings me so much joy to keep my friends fueled. I didn’t do a great job of staying hydrated, but got better as the week went on.

Now, I’m home and excited to enjoy my 3 weeks of unscheduled summer!!

Reflections

Tips for Preventing the Teacher Summer Slide

A few weeks back, there was some Twitter buzz on what good teachers should or should not do with their summer break. Should we be learning as much as we can, preparing for our new students, and collaborating with our PLN? Should we be 100% unplugged, relax with our family, and not think about school until the night before we go back? Last summer, I wrote about Navigating the Sea of Shoulds, and pushing back against all the things we should do.

We all have our own summer priorities and ways we want to spend this time off. The key here is to find what works best for each of us to ensure we reach the first day of school with our whole and rested selves!

La Jolla Cove
One of my first summer outings was catching the sunset at La Jolla Cove!

I reflected on my school year in last week’s blog post, and mentioned that it was a stressful and emotionally draining year. I didn’t quite realize the full extent until now, as I am struggling to come out of the fog. As much as I have relaxed at home and traveled to present at conferences (all of which help me decompress), I still feel the weight of the year.

As educators, we worry about kids and the “summer slide” where they lose some content knowledge during their time off. My district has only 6 weeks off for summer–a decision made before I entered the district 7 years ago, and presumably to help mitigate the summer slide.

What we don’t talk about is teachers and the summer slide! I know my audience is mostly friends on Twitter, so maybe this doesn’t entirely apply to this crowd, since we all embrace a growth mindset and are seeking opportunities (via Twitter) to grow as teachers and leaders. Nonetheless, how can we make sure we are intentional with our time, even during our summer break?

My take? I’m going to take the same advice/summer assignment I give to my students!

Read a Book

This one is easy. You don’t need to tell me twice to go read a book! I’m hoping to read a mix of YA lit, education books, and nonfiction this summer. Plus, I’ll sprinkle in a few audiobooks during my plane flights. Even with all my travel so far this year, I’ve only finished 2 books.

My summer “to read” stack!

And, I admit, I’ve been watching more TV than I usually do–with new seasons of Masterchef and Food Network Star (really, the only two shows I regularly watch!), lots of baseball games, and the World Cup.

I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on some of my summer books on my book blog!

I want to return to school with a few more recommendations for my students. And I hope they have some for me too.

Give Someone a Hug

When I give this homework assignment to my students, I’m met with some incredulous looks. Yes, yes, I am asking you to go hug someone! Yes, it can be me!

This assignment is less about the hug, and more about seeking out people who we value, trust, and enjoy being around.

I’ll be at ISTE next week. Come find me, give me a hug, then let’s take a selfie!

Go Outside

It’s so easy for me to spend an entire day sitting on the couch, mindlessly scrolling Twitter, eating ice cream, and reading books. I know there are plenty of people out there that “go outside” is second nature. It’s like, third nature for me (if that wasn’t a thing, now it is). I have a hard time getting myself there, but once outside, I’m happy!

Zoo adventure with my friend Nick! 

One of my favorite places in San Diego is the San Diego Zoo. With my membership pass, I can always bring in a guest for free. When I think about ways to get myself outside longer than walking my dog, hanging with the animals at the San Diego Zoo or San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and learning about endangered species sounds like an excellent idea! And, this leads me to my next point…

Learn Something!

Summer is a great time for learning something that interests us! I don’t assign my students summer reading or experiments for science. Instead, I want them to spend this time learning something new on their own. We are surrounded by so many sources of knowledge, from videos, to the internet, to local museums, to family members.

One great thing about San Diego is that different museums in Balboa Park are open to San Diego residents on Tuesdays (see the schedule here). I’ll be around for a few Tuesdays, and I look forward to visiting some museums.

I know I owe it to myself and my future students to take care of me. It feels 100% selfish at times, but I know ultimately this investment will pay off down the road.

How are you resting and recharging over summer?

Let us know in the comments below 🙂

Reflections

2017-2018 School Year Reflection

It has been quite a year. I just finished year 6 of teaching, and I know I’ve grown quite a bit. I am grateful for some fantastic leadership opportunities through the Teacher Leadership Book Study, Teacher Leadership Academy, and speaking and various conferences.

When I look back at my goals for the 2017-2018 school year, I know I accomplished a few big goals.

Social Media

I did a better job of incorporating social media into my classroom, both through interacting with students and by allowing students to take over posting responsibilities. There is still more I’d like to do next year, but for now, I’m happy with how our classroom accounts are going.

Common Sense Media Certified School

This year, we worked hard and became a Common Sense Media Certified School! I used the Common Sense Media curriculum, recreated the lessons using Pear Deck, then shared them with staff (read more here). Each department and grade level was responsible for teaching one 45 minute lesson. My teachers appreciated that there was little prep work they needed to do, since everything was included in the Pear Deck slides. Even some who are hesitant with technology dove in! This also produced fantastic conversations, both with staff and with students. By no means have we solved our cyberbullying problems, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Next year, we will recertify during the fall semester. And, I am revising the curriculum to push out district-wide so our district can become a Common Sense Media Certified District!

Hosting a student teacher

I blogged about my experiences having a student teacher back in January. I didn’t get placed with one for the spring semester–HR does the placements, not the SDSU cohort leads. I loved being able to reflect on my own teaching, and help someone else build their strong foundation. In spring, we had 2 student teachers down the hall from me, and I enjoyed getting to know them. Together we reflected, talked about successes and challenges of teaching, and continued to build strong skills. Even if I wasn’t their guide teacher, I appreciated our reflective conversations!

But, this year was really stressful…

Honestly, this felt like my worst year teaching. Not the teacher skills part, but my stress level was above and beyond any of the past years. I had a lot going on, both at work and outside of work, that made it difficult to stay focused on the big picture. There were plenty of moments where I was in survival-mode, and I know my lessons were just so-so.

I think this is called burnout. I don’t dislike teaching or my kids, however the stress overshadowed a lot of joy this year. I realized I needed to take some drastic actions to preserve my mental/emotional health, so I did an April no-work challenge. I didn’t know how much I needed some non-teaching hobbies! I spent more time crocheting, playing with my dog, reading, and doing nothing.

Additionally, student behavior tanked. I’m not sure what exactly was going on–there was way more drama, fights, and kids getting referrals than any year I can remember. While I won’t speak to our front-office discipline, I do know that I found classroom management challenging at times. Classroom management is one of my strengths, and overall my kids were great at our routines and following lab procedures. The biggest roadblock in classroom management was the more emotionally draining part of knowing that my kids are dealing with all kinds of home and school issues. There were dozens of moments where I had to help a student calm down or process something before we could get into our science. Even if this was incredibly stressful (and definitely not sustainable), I appreciate that I have the relationship with my students where they know they can be real people.

Finding the positives

As I scroll through my Google Photos, there are so many fun moments this year. It’s a good reminder that despite the stress, I had a great time!

I love my work friends!

More so than any other year, I got way more hugs from my kids! I had a few that regularly hugged me, and others who surprisingly wanted hugs. I’m a hugger, so this makes my teacher heart happy. And, with all the emotional challenges for my kids, I ended many of our conversations with, “would you like a hug?” They almost always said yes! With that, there were also many incredibly genuine “I love you” moments. I am confident that my students left my class knowing they are loved and appreciated for who they are, no matter their identity, the decisions they make, or their circumstances.

Lastly, I wouldn’t survive teaching without my incredible colleagues. My work friends are seriously the best. They’ve hugged me through a lot of challenging moments, and cheered for me when things go well. And, I’ve been able to do the same for them. It seemed like every period someone would drop by my classroom, either to grab something from the printer, informally observe, or grab a Diet Coke from my fridge.

With the informal observations, I started keeping our school’s reflection form on a clipboard, and I’d hand it to someone as they dropped by. I won’t dwell too much on this, but I didn’t have a single walkthrough observation from an administrator this year (with the exception of a 10 minute observation for my formal evaluation); even if I’m a “good teacher” I still have areas where I can improve. I crave feedback, and I’m grateful our school encourages teachers to observe each other! Of course, I returned the favor as I dropped in during my prep period.

5/6 of our science PLC, eating tacos an the beach!

Another set of colleagues I greatly appreciate is our science PLC. They are awesome, supportive, and think critically through all kinds of problems; it has taken a long time to get to this point, and it all comes down to building relationships!

Of course, I couldn’t do any of this without my PLN! I love connecting with you all on Twitter, incredible conversations and support over DMs, and traveling and working with friends from all over the world at summits and custom workshops.

Next steps

Rest. Relax. Recover.

I’m not ready to set goals for next year, and that’s ok. I need to give myself time and permission to take care of me!

Reflections

Reflections on the Teacher Leadership Academy

The blog post below is co-written by many members of the 2017-2018 Teacher Leadership Academy, and cross-posted to Amy I’s blog!

A brief note from Mari: I am grateful to Amy Hunt and Amy Illingworth for providing us this experience! For my blog, I have put my own contributions in italics. 


What is TLA and how did it come to exist (Amy I.)

The idea for the Teacher Leadership Academy (TLA) came from our district’s Title II committee last spring. As we were brainstorming how to build teacher leadership capacity across the district, the committee agreed to two key pathways: teacher leadership book studies and a teacher leadership academy. I found a partner in another Amy, a district leader colleague who works in HR. We began to create a plan for the year of learning. The committee helped create a promotional video about the academy, with thanks from our communications department. We sent this out in an email inviting teachers to attend an informational meeting to learn more about the TLA.

Our goal was to create an application process so that we could find a relatively small cohort of teachers who wanted to participate in this monthly professional development opportunity; I think our initial goal was 12-20 participants. We received interest from nearly 25 teachers. We brought our Title II committee together to review applications and we selected 17 teachers to participate. Two of those had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts, so we ended up with a cohort of 15.

We scheduled meetings once a month for two hours after school, which teachers were paid to attend out of our Title II funds.

What made teachers want to join?

I wanted to join the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy because it provided classroom educators opportunities for personal and professional growth, without the pressure/expectation of taking our work into administration. Teachers being supported with time, collaboration and reflection is empowering and engaging for us to cultivate at leaders in our professional learning communities and schools. (Alicia)

I wanted to join the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy because I wanted to gain new skills I could take with me back to the classroom. I also hoped to learn leadership skills I could take with me as an administrator. I wanted to gain as much experience as I could prior to completing my admin credential. I also wanted to learn new tactics for dealing with various issues in the workplace, particularly with issues that may arise in a PLC. (Sophia)

I wanted to join TLA because I was looking for the next step in my professional development apart from the administrative track. I was so excited to learn this was being offered. I was (and am) eager to continue growing and excited at the prospect of receiving mentorship from district leaders as well as learning and collaborating with others in the cohort. (Melody)

Since my long-term professional goal is to mentor current teachers and teach credential courses, the Sweetwater Teacher Leadership Academy provided me with a important stepping stone in my journey towards that goal. Receiving mentorship was an attracting factor. As leaders, we take care of our colleagues and students’ needs and sometimes put aside our own needs. I had forgotten what I need to do to make sure I am taken care of, so that I can better take care of others. Knowing that I was going to be nurtured by Amy and Amy, as well as other colleagues in the district, was a driving force in my decision to apply for the program. (Anna)

I joined the TLA cohort because I was concerned with a growing trend of plucking “qualified” teachers out of the classroom environment to serve in administrative roles. My concern was twofold: first, that we would thin the ranks of quality practitioners, leaving less mentors and dedicated classroom teachers; and, second, that this inadvertently told teachers that there was a ceiling to professional growth as a teacher, and if they wanted to aspire to anything higher, they had to become an administrator. The experience of TLA gave perspective on the district’s growth of leaders both in teachers and administrators as well as opportunities for teacher leadership. (Melissa)

I applied for the Teacher Leadership Academy, eager to improve my skills as a leader. With no desire to pursue the administrator track, I found myself with a lack of growth opportunities within SUHSD. Even though I was hesitant to take on any more commitments for the 2017-2018 school year, I knew this was necessary; and, the cherry on top was that it was led by Amy I, who I look up to as a strong leader. After our first meeting, I realized that this would be, by far, the best in-district professional development I had ever experienced! (Mari)

Enjoyable experiences and anecdotes from the TLA experience

I appreciated the time to collaborate with teachers across our district. Getting to hear experiences from different departments and schools allowed me to learn more about not only teaching practices, but how to use professional learning communities to support teachers and students. (Alicia)

I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent getting to know other teachers from different sites, understanding the dynamics of different school sites, different ways to engage, and having something to take away from each session. Although I was unable to attend every session, I was pleased at what I learned and the growth I experienced after being a part of the TLA. (Sophia)

I appreciated all the thoughtful materials shared, but I most appreciated the lens that we were asked to look through- a loving and compassionate one that promoted empathy for all personalities. Fun themes that thinly veiled professional challenges, like herding cats, helped frame the monthly growth conversations with self-awareness. (Melody)

I very much appreciated how every monthly meeting was thoughtfully planned out and engaging. After a long day of work it was a lot of fun to go to the teacher leadership academy meetings because not only were they informative but they included many hands on activities. I specifically enjoyed the role playing activities, because it provided me with a new perspective. It helped me understand how to work with different personalities which is important to know how to do as an educational leader. Thank you for all the support, strategies and feedback that was provided to us. I will definitely be putting what I learned into practice. (Maria C.)

Takeaways that have impacted teacher leadership

The time spent role playing, discussing personal strengths and areas of improvement, and having courageous conversations has impacted my teacher leadership. I feel better versed in not only how to manage a team meeting, but to also build and cultivate positive relationships with my peers. Emotional intelligence is pivotal for high performing teams. Through TLA, I am prepared for effective collaboration centered around student growth and success. (Alicia)

I particularly enjoyed asking for feedback and receiving feedback from colleagues, including the principal at my school site. This had the most profound impact on my teacher leadership. It gave me the courage to continue to speak up, while also continuing to work on myself. I feel that I have received valuable tools that I can utilize alongside my peers. (Sophia)

Amy and Amy did a fantastic job leading our cohort through a series of activities, reflective questions, and challenges that pushed us to dig deep into our own perspectives. I enjoyed learning from teachers from across our district. One of the most memorable activities was when we talked about how to deal with “difficult” people; acknowledging that there are different ways individuals can be difficult, helped me accept that the only thing I can control is my own actions and reactions. (Mari)

I appreciated the candid conversations shared that reinforced how each of our journeys are normal because of the challenges we have. The themes explored made me feel more capable in the struggle and gave me tools to gracefully handle situations that may arise. My biggest takeaway though, has been the power to say ‘NO, I do not have the bandwidth for that!’ Realizing that the prosperity of my department does not rest on me; I cannot, nor should I, be the one to keep things afloat. If something is broken, let us shine some light on it and resolve things together!These realizations have shaped the way I interact with my PLC and we are stronger for it! Sincerest gratitude to Amy I. and Amy H., for broaching the tough subjects! (Melody)

Next Steps

I absolutely loved my experience in the TLA, and I am craving more opportunities to grow as a leader. Anna and I tweeted that we need a year 2, and no matter if there is funding or not. We’d love to have Amy I. lead us again, and if that is not possible, we will build our own growth opportunities. Maybe that’s the natural progression of an opportunity like this? We’ve been empowered to grow as leaders, and there’s no stopping us! (Mari)

This has been a gift- if there is an opportunity for TLA YR2, I am there!! Whether there is something structured or not, I will continue to develop myself as an individual and as a teacher leader, reach out to those who feel like I have, and to always continue learning, as Amy I. says. Every year gets better! (Melody)

IMG_1390.jpeg
Our 2017-2018 Teacher Leadership Academy cohort!!
Classroom Strategies, Technology

Creating a Class Learning Journey with Slides

Each May, our science department hosts Science Night. It has been a lot of fun to involve our school, local high schools, and community in science! Many students bring their families, and participate in labs and activities together. Additionally, we invite local museums and science organizations to set up interactive displays. I love science night!

Science Night in my classroom. Students, teachers, and families are checking out the displays and learning from student presenters. 

Since most of the work we do is digital, there isn’t a ton of student work to physically display. Instead, we display interactive labs. To show off student work, I have them each create a slide in a collaborative deck to showcase their work. Then, this is projected as a slideshow all night.

This is a perfect way to have students reflect on their learning or on a particular assignment. Each student claims a slide, adds in a piece of work they are proud of, and reflects on it.

Here is a template you can try with your class! Duplicate the portfolio slide x # of kids in your class.

A few tips for getting started:

  • This is a perfect time to talk about digital citizenship, especially not intentionally editing someone else’s slide. No matter the age level, everyone needs this reminder.
  • Encourage students to get all the content on their slide first, before decorating. Otherwise, a student may spend 2 hours finding the perfect font for their name.
  • Do a virtual gallery walk! Play some music, and have students scroll through the slides. When the music stops, they add in a comment (try using TAG feedback!) where they stopped.

If you have a school or class open house or display night, play these reflection slides in the background. On Slides: File > Publish to the web > pick your settings, including “restart slideshow after the last slide” > publish > paste the link in the address bar. 

MVA Science Night 2017-2018
One student’s slide from our collaborative science night slide deck!

Try using this same idea for an introduction slide deck for all your students! Replace the work section with a selfie, and answer a few basic questions, such as what are your hobbies?

Out of the classroom? I’ve seen schools/districts with a tv in the front office. Have each teacher create a spotlight slide to sprinkle between announcements and important information.

PS. When you iterate on this and make it better, I’d love to see your example! Add it in the comments below, or share it with me and I’ll link it in this post.

Classroom Strategies, GSuite, Technology

Connecting with MyMaps

Google MyMaps is one of my favorite Googley gems! And, it doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. It’s easy to use, can be accessed from any mobile device, and it’s versatile for a variety of academic and fun uses.

If you’re brand new to MyMaps, here’s a quick intro video.

Start with a purpose:

What are you hoping to share? What do you want your students to get out of this experience?

My purpose here is to show off how awesome MyMaps are, and how collaborative maps can add authentic student engagement into your classroom.

Before we dive into classroom ideas, let’s play! I invite you to add your name & a favorite place to this map. There’s also a layer to add in your university. Use the description to share a bit about why you love this place. Remember to customize your pin!

MyMaps in the Classroom:

MyMaps pair really nicely with HyperDocs and the 5E lesson model, and can fit in at any point in a lesson sequence.

I’m lucky my friend Austin Houp shared out a collaborative MyMap with me last year, all about natural disasters. It was perfect timing, as my students were working on natural disasters projects in science! My students, along with students from all over the world, added in projects on different natural disasters. They loved clicking through the pins and seeing the information, pictures, and links to external projects created other students! And, knowing they were sharing with the world, they took extra care in their work.

Collaborative natural disasters map, created by Austin Houp

Additionally, my AVID students have plotted their college projects on a MyMap, making it easy to share resources with peers, other classes, and potentially other AVID classes at other schools.

Since my oldest students at my current school are juniors (class of 2019), I’ve made a MyMap to track where they head off to college in a year. It’ll be awesome to keep adding to this map throughout the years. They want to keep in contact with me because my class food rule is “no eating or drinking (other than water) until you have a college degree!” — and, I promise if they come back after they’ve graduated, I’ll buy them lunch and we’ll eat together in my room.

The more advanced tools on MyMaps, such as drawing lines and polygons, is perfect for practicing perimeter and area, calculating distances, or reinforcing measurements.

MyMaps for Fun:

MyMaps is great for personal use, especially planning trips, marking places I’ve been, and sharing favorite spots. I use a MyMap to track which states I’ve been to in the US–I still have a long way to go (16/50 as of May 2018), but it’s fun to change the pin color and switch it to the “Where I’ve Been” layer.

Mari’s States of Adventure map

In summer of 2018, my friend Nick will be visiting San Diego for a few days, and we have a MyMap of San Diego places to visit.

My Next Steps:

Next year, one of my goals is to connect with at least one other classroom to collaborate on a map project! Anyone want to join me? Specifically middle school science or any level of AVID.

What are your favorite ways to use MyMaps for fun and in your classroom? Leave a comment below, I’d love more ideas!

Science

All students can do science with Tomatosphere!

No matter how crazy my week is, I always look forward to Thursday afternoons. This is my weekly science period with our moderate/severe special education class. I’ve been working with Ashley, their teacher, for the last several years, doing science every few weeks–this was the first year that I went every week! It’s always been 100% voluntary, I am paid in smiles and hugs, and that’s all I need.

For the last three years, we have participated in Tomatosphere, a citizen science project! The premise is simple: we are sent two seed packets of tomato seeds, one has been to space and the other has not. We plant the seeds, count how many sprout, and submit the data. The scientists are measuring the effects of space on seeds and food production, for future long-term space travel.

“These space-faring seeds will be distributed in 2017. The seeds were launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on board SpaceX’s Dragon on July 18, 2016 and docked with the ISS two days later.” (image credit: www.firsttheseedfoundation.org/tomatosphere)

There are plenty of teaching resources on the Tomatosphere website, making it a suitable project for any grade level. It’s perfect for elementary school (especially big/little buddies!), general ed + special ed partnership, or in middle or high school for deeper scientific investigations.

Each year, I have run Tomatosphere differently, mainly due to timing. In year 1, Ashley’s class came to my 3rd period class, and we planted seeds and collected data together. In year 2, I went to them, and we blogged about our experience. In year 3, we had a little less time and the students were a little lower academically, so we did a few learning activities about plants and seeds, planted our tomato seeds, and made a few observations. Next year, we are hoping to create science journals to practice measuring, writing, and (possibly) graphing skills.

I love that no matter the academic and social level, all students are able to participate. We can work on a number of skills, including counting, sequencing, and writing. I love that I bring the science, and Ashley guides the skill-building.

Sample student observations, practicing measurement, observations, and drawing.

It’s easy to get started with Tomatosphere! Order your seeds from the website and get set-up for planting. We use Jiffy Peat Pellets, and it takes about 4-5 days to see sprouts. The 36 peat pellet trays fit about 3 seed packets. I use two trays, one for each letter packet (one letter has been to space, the other hasn’t).

After we’ve grown our seeds and submitted our data, we plant some of the tomato plants in our school garden and plant the rest in small cups for students (and staff) to take home. Each year, at least one person (not me…) has kept their plant alive long enough to produce tomatoes to eat!

What ideas do you have to build out a meaningful Tomatosphere unit? 

GSuite, Technology

Exploring our World with Google Expeditions AR

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One of my students viewing the layers of the Earth

In May 2016 we welcomed Google Expeditions Pioneer program to our school (read about it here), and our students and teachers loved it. I am so excited that we were able to host the Google Expeditions AR Pioneer program at the end of April.

I signed up for the Google Expeditions AR Pioneer program back in June 2017 at ISTE, when I got to play with a demo of the augmented reality (AR) app. Finally I received an email that they would be in San Diego. I quickly reserved my date and got to planning!

Setting Up Google Expeditions AR

As I prepared for our Expeditions AR experience, I was chatting with my friend Ben Kovaks. He shared this awesome See, Think, Wonder (Ve, Piensa, Pregunta) chart with me. It ended up being one of the most transformational parts of the day because it kept students centered and focused on the learning. Most of our teachers ended up using it or creating their own version, and agreed that it was integral to their students’ engagement with the technology. As Ben so wisely puts it, “there NEEDS to be a structure to help kids think through innovative tools.”

We had two rooms for simultaneous Expeditions, my classroom and our school library. I provided support for the teachers coming through my room, and our Expeditions Googler, Calvin, assisted the teachers in the library. We had 18 classes and about 450 students participate in the Expeditions experience over the course of the day.

Teacher training before school

 

The day began with the training session for our participating teachers. Calvin showed us how to use the devices, went over rules, and allowed for plenty of teacher exploration time. Once the bell rang, we started running Expeditions AR with classes.

Expeditions AR is similar to VR in how it is set-up in the Expeditions App (iOS & Android), and with a Guide and Explorers. One major difference is that it is not necessary to have a student:device ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. Instead, 1:4 was just fine, and everyone was able to participate. Because students had to share devices, they interacted a lot more, described what they were seeing, and talked to their peers, and asked more questions.

Using Google Expeditions AR with our Classes

I got to be with my own students first, and my wonderful sub, Mr. Smith, helped out and explored with us–it’s even cooler because he subbed for me 2 years ago when Expeditions first came to our school! This was my favorite class all day because we had multiple teachers, our principal, and even our campus assistant join in for a while.

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Exploring earthquakes around the world.

One of the best parts of our day was when our campus assistant came in to deliver a pass for one of my kids, and I convinced him to come take a look. He rarely gets to be involved in positive things around campus, as he is picking up students, delivering passes, and keeping students safe in the hallways. I watched him interact with my students, and he had the biggest and realest smile on his face! Even better, I heard from multiple people throughout the day that he kept talking about his experience!

Throughout the whole day, everyone was engaged and curious. We are grateful for this opportunity, and we can’t wait for the Google Expeditions AR app to launch!