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.
Classroom Strategies

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!

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?

Classroom Strategies

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.

GSuite

Daily Check-in With Google Forms

I love teaching middle school, especially 7th grade. The kids are goofy, energetic, and super squirrels (…squirrel!). They’re also pre-teens, and trying to fit into the limbo world where they’re not quite kids, but not quite teenagers. Many of my kids have faced challenging family situations that preoccupy their thoughts while in school.
Knowing things are sometimes distracting outside of class, whether it is friends, family, or both, I start my class with a warm-up. This is usually a silent individual activity that activates prior knowledge, or asks students to review what they learned last class.
In April 2015, I changed the way I did my warm-ups. And I had major positive results. Immediately.
I implemented the Daily Check-in Form. I still called it a warm-up, but the purpose expanded to ask students about their day.
Before we continue, please fill it out here.
Your warm-up questions are:
  1. Who do you teach?
  2. What made you interested in this blog post topic?
  3. How do you currently start your class periods, meetings, or workshops?
Ok, now that you filled it out, let’s continue. (If you didn’t fill it out, go back and do so. It’s good for you to actually go through the experience, not just open up the link!)
When students arrive for class, they line up in 2 silent, straight, and smiling lines outside. I invite them in, and they walk in silently (we don’t do it right, it’s back outside to do it over), and begin their warm-up on their iPad. I have a set of Slides for each lesson, and the first Slide is always the warm-up questions.
I reuse the same Form everyday and for all classes. At the end of the week, I hide the previous week’s rows on Sheets.
The three questions I ask my students to check in with them daily.
Three check-in questions with running averages.
I know some of you are asking, why are you SO strict on coming in silently? Two reasons: First, it helps my students settle in and make the transition to class time. Second, it helps me setting in and make the transition to teaching. I use that time to take attendance, quickly check in with individual students, and skim their warm-up answers.

From this daily warm-up, I have learned many essential things about my students, from death of family members or arguments with friends, to excitement over weekend plans or their deep love of tacos. These are things my students may have been too shy to tell me, or I likely would not have taken the time to listen to their needs.
I use conditional formatting to make it easier to skim how students are feeling. It's a color gradient where 1 is red, and 5 is green.
Screenshot of the Sheet. I use conditional formatting
to make it easier to skim how students are feeling.
If there’s a concern, I’ll pull the student aside during class and chat privately about what they shared. If they rank their day as a 1, then I’ll make sure I make it over to their desk more frequently, offer a friendly smile, and start a conversation. (I don’t take them aside, unless they show additional signs of being upset or stressed in class.)
The day I first implemented this warm-up, I learned that my student’s uncle died the week prior. Over the next three weeks, she lost three more people close to her. Because she willingly shared this with me, I was able to support her emotionally in class, and refer her to our counselors for additional support. I am 100% positive this prevented serious behaviors in my class, because she had struggled all year with attitude and off-task behavior.
When I present at conferences and workshops, I often start my session with an identical Form–I ask about participants’ prior knowledge on the topic and goals for the session. I feel like this helps me connect to my participants in the limited time we have.
I’m grateful for this simple tool that has helped me build community in my classroom!
Love this idea? Here’s the Form template.


Have fun with the Form, make it work for you, and please share! 

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike [CC BY-NC-SA]
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
[CC BY-NC-SA]
Reflections

Work, Work, Work…What About Life?

This post is cross-posted on Mari, Meagan, & Aubrey’s blogs.


Mari is a middle school Science & AVID teacher and Blended Learning Specialist in San Diego, CA.
Meagan is a middle school Math, AVID, & Technology teacher and the Team Technology Leader in Hesperia, CA.
Aubrey has been a music teacher & Summer Learning principal, and is currently an Educational Technology Specialist in Boulder, CO.



Teach kids all day, then bring grading and lesson planning home at night. Does this sound familiar? If you asked a room full of teachers, I’m sure nearly every head would be nodding – this is the story of our lives! According to an NPR article, “Attrition is high, and enrollment in teacher preparation programs has fallen some 35 percent over the past five years — a decrease of nearly 240,000 teachers in all.” Budget cuts, paperwork, behavior challenges, and ever-increasing demands add extra stress to our already stressful jobs.


Work/life balance has always been struggle for all three of us. We have this tendency to work many hours past the required hours of our teaching days. It’s very common for us to get into work early, leave an hour after our days finish, and spend a large portion of our nights working on lesson planning, grading, blogging, or various side projects. If you’re thinking this sounds like some “Woe is me” story – it isn’t.


In the end, the underlying issue is that we love what we do. We love being teachers, working with students, developing lessons and, yes, even grading and reviewing their work. Education has never been just a “job” to us – it’s a major part of our identity. It’s our passion. And we spend a large portion of our days working on various projects because we enjoy it. However, we began to realize that it isn’t healthy for our work/life balance or the relationships with those around us to work the majority of the week.


Enter the idea of Work Rules. We each began to create boundaries for ourselves, unique to our specific situations, and write them down. We were amazed (and horrified) at how challenging it was for us to try to define some limits to our work! We also included reminders of what we could do instead of work [behavioral therapy concepts – you can’t just extinguish a behavior without developing a replacement behavior] and why we were doing this in the first place. Then we gave permission to hold each other accountable, which has been key to changing our habits.


Aubrey: I’ll be honest, there is no silver bullet to finding and maintaining balance. I still bring more work home than I would like and don’t always follow my “work rules”. That being said, I have noticed a definite difference in my mindset as we’ve gone through this journey. A night without work is becoming something to be celebrated, rather than a reason to feel guilty. I find myself asking, “Does this really need to be done at home, or could it wait until tomorrow?” more often. And I am slowly getting better at setting limits for myself, such as only bringing one project home (instead of everything that needs to be done) or setting a timer for how long I work (once it goes off, no more work for me)! The accountability and camaraderie has been huge – for picking me up when I am struggling, for spurring me on to do better, and sometimes just to have a place to share how hard this is! In this ongoing journey of living LIFE to the fullest, I am grateful for friends who are not afraid to ask the tough questions and provide gentle reminders when needed. It’s not always easy…but it is worth it!


Meagan: A couple of months ago, I really began to reflect on my work/life balance.  Around this time, Aubrey and Mari shared their idea for “work rules” and…it was amazing!  I quickly began to develop my own set of rules in hopes of developing some balance in my life.  As Aubrey mentions above, I still struggle with maintaining balance and following these rules but I can tell that there has been a definite shift in my mindset.  Although I have always been a good time manager, I’ve started to balance when I will do “work-work” (site/district) and when I will do my “side work” (blogging, presenting, etc).  I’ve been able to use much of my time at school to finish my lesson planning, grading, and projects which has opened opportunities to work on my “side work” projects at home.  Before, I was doing both and it was clear that this would not last forever.  I have also tried to set aside one day of the week where I do not do any “work-work” and at least one night where I do not do any work related to education.  I’ve definitely broken these rules several times but it has been helpful to have friends who check-in and encourage me to keep with these goals.  I still have a long ways to go on truly creating a work/life balance but…you have to start somewhere, right?

Mari: It’s been a constant battle for me to find the right work/life balance because teaching is both my passion and my job. However, I began realizing that in order to be the best teacher for my students, I also need to take care of myself. Prior to creating the Work Rules with Aubrey and Meagan, I felt guilty if I didn’t work all weekend and most weeknights. That pace was neither sustainable nor healthy for me. Now, I give myself all of Sunday off from anything education-related, and use this time to recharge, relax, and pursue fun things (like napping!). As both Aubrey and Meagan said, there are times the rules have been bent or broken; while I’m routinely committed to my Sundays off, I haven’t always given myself a few work-free weeknights due to school commitments or interruptions/distractions during my prep period. I’m so grateful for our group. Not only do they keep me accountable to my work/life balance commitments, but also they encourage and push me to be a better person!


We are on a journey together – far from perfect, yet always growing. Frequently just before or after work, we check in with each other to see what the day looks like and what our work/no-work plans are for the day. This keeps us centered throughout the day and into the evening.

What steps are you taking to balance work and life?