Classroom Strategies, Technology

Class Introductions with Flipgrid

One of the biggest lessons I learned in EDS 250, one of the first education courses I took as part of my Masters/Credential program, was the value of names. Our professor, Dr. Luz Chung, read us a poem called “T-shirt” from a selection called My Name is Jorge: On Both Sides of the River. The lesson in this poem is that George finally stands up for himself, and tells his teacher that is name is Jorge (Spanish, pronounced HORhey).

My Name is Jorge: On Both Sides of the River by Jane Medina

That distinct moment imprinted on my heart, always reminding me just how essential it is to pronounce a student’s name correctly.

The beginning of the year can be stressful for teachers, with many new names to learn, and not all of them are familiar to us. However, each name is special to the student and their family, and deserves time and respect to say it right.

As I go slowly go through my roll on the first few days of school, I try my best to pronounce everyone’s name correctly. I’m often asking, “say it again for me, please,” because “close enough” isn’t good enough for me. Other times, I push a little and ask a student, “how does your family say it?” because that will tell me if they truly are a George or a Jorge, an Angel or an Ángel, or an Andrea or an Andrea (ahn-Dray-uh).

Class Introductions on Flipgrid

As soon as my students received their iPads, one of their first assignments was to complete a class introduction on Flipgrid. I created the class on Flipgrid, and the default first assignment is called “Introductions!” The prompt says, “Welcome to our classroom Grid! This is a space where we will learn together and share our ideas. Introduce yourself in 90 seconds or less and share something that makes you smile.” I changed our time limit to 30 seconds, and gave my students the space to record. Some stayed inside, and some went outside. Most of my students were nervous in front of the camera, but were up for the challenge.

Students recording their Flipgrid class introduction videos outside.

I appreciated going through and listening to my students’ responses! Not only did this help me attach names to faces, but also it was review in how to pronounce their names. There were a few I had to rewind a couple times, just to hear them say it again.

If you work with adults as either an administrator, TOSA, librarian, etc, it would be useful to do this with our staff. I know there are a handful of teachers at my own school whose names are unintentionally mispronounced! Model Flipgrid at a staff meeting by having teachers introduce themselves and share a success, happy moment, something they’re especially proud of, or goal for the year.

Future Iterations

In the future, I would adapt this topic to be more name-centric, such as “Introduce yourself, and tell us the story of your name.” (was it “engraved in a passing ship on the day your family came?” In the Heights reference, for my fellow musical nerds.)

And, I’d love to teach students how to appropriately respond to each other on Flipgrid. I’d love to do an “It’s nice to meet you, _____, I’m _____. [Add in a question or comment or other prompt.]” in preparation for connecting with other classes in the future.

I know I’m not perfect, and I always wonder if there are other students whose names I am not saying right, but they’ve resigned themselves to “good enough.”

PS. It’s useful to tell you that my name, Mari, is neither Mary or Marie or Madi (as in, non-Spanish-speakers trying to roll their r’s). It rhymes with “sorry” and “safari” — my best friend calls me Calamari, and she is Squidney. And, Ven-tur-eee-no (Italian).

Classroom Strategies

Saving Sam! — A Team Building Activity

“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”
-Steve Jobs

Confession: I struggle to teach teamwork well.

Teamwork is one of those things that are essential for students to learn, especially in science. I could blame it on never having PD or solid instruction on how to teach teamwork, but I don’t think that’s it. I always hope someone else would teach it and my students would walk in being awesome team players. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet.

In the last few years, I’ve worked on facilitating team building activities in class, and include the crucial debrief process after we’re done. Below, I share my favorite team building activity, which is great for both kids and adults!

Saving Sam

Every year, I look forward to Saving Sam! It’s a collaborative challenge activity where participants have to work together to get a gummy worm into a gummy lifesaver, only using 1 paperclip per person.

Students collaborating to Save Sam!

Here are the Slides I use with my students–it’s all set up to push out via Pear Deck! I love using Pear Deck with my students, because it keeps my students engaged. Students who wouldn’t normally speak up in class are willing to participate on the interactive slides.

Students work in groups of 4. Each group needs 1 gummy lifesaver, 1 gummy worm, a small paper or plastic cup (dixie cup size), and 4 paper clips.

Gummy worms, gummy life savers, and paper cups can be reused for each class period, paper clips get bent and need to be replaced. No, you may not eat your gummy worms and lifesavers–refer to the lab safety rules!

Teamwork discussion

Together, we start by discussing teamwork, watching short video clips, and analyzing how teamwork was used in each.

Then, students make a 3 column T chart (or is it a TT chart?), to list what good teamwork looks, sounds, and feels like. I usually have students make quick posters on 11×17 paper, though it can also be done digitally (template). It’s fun to watch students work in teams to make these, because they need teamwork to accomplish it!

Saving Sam: The story

First I need to captivate my students. As I tell the story, they’re imagining my human friend named Sam, and are quite shocked when I pull out a gummy worm. Here is my dramatic version of Sam’s story:

“Have I told y’all about my friend Sam? No? Ok, well, they are one awesome person. Sam loves spending their weekends out on the ocean in their boat. They loves hanging out with their friends, and they’re a big fan of boating safety.

“However, last weekend, they went out on their boat alone, and Sam wearing their life jacket when suddenly a large wave came up and capsized their boat! Sam hung onto the top, and their lifesaving device was trapped under their boat. They are still waiting for someone to come save them!

“This (holding up a gummy worm) is Sam. And you all need to figure out how to save Sam! (Pause for laughs and confused looks.) The thing you need to know is that Sam is highly allergic to humans, so we can’t touch them, their boat, or their lifesaver with our hands. Instead, we use these special tools (hold up a paper clip) to save them (some kids will ask how we can possibly setup the activity…they can touch to set it up!). And remember, my friend Sam has feelings, so please don’t drop them or skewer them! Good luck!”

Usually, it takes groups 5-10 minutes to Save Sam. If there is a group of 3, I’ll give one member 2 paper clips.

Remember the debrief!

After all groups have successfully saved Sam, we debrief by talking about how their teamwork looked, sounded, and felt like. Students also identify areas they want to work on. It’s an excellent reflective process, and an integral launching point for more discussions about teamwork, especially as it relates to science labs and activities.

I’m always looking for more team building activities. What are some of your favorite team building exercises?

Classroom Strategies, GSuite

Getting to Know You Survey

Back to school is always an exciting time! I love preparing my classroom for my new students, thinking about how to best meet their needs, and anticipating the fun we’re going to have. I loosely plan out what skills I want to hit, but I don’t lesson plan until I actually meet my kids!

In my first year of teaching, I had the (mis)guidance of the teacher I was taking over for. They instructed me to talk about the syllabus on the first day of school, teach lab safety on the second day, then jump right into content on the third day. Even though I planned out fun first-two-weeks activities in my credential/masters program and talked extensively about building relationships, I assumed this strong-willed teacher knew what was best. So, I did what they told me.

Boy, was I wrong. While I did end up getting to know my students eventually, the class cohesiveness wasn’t there from the start and behavior was sometimes a struggle.

The one thing I did do well was a getting to know you survey (on paper). I used that information to learn about my students’ backgrounds, and incorporate their interests into some of our examples from class.

Fast forward to the present: My biggest strength and emphasis as a teacher are building relationships, and making sure each and every student feels welcome in our class. It’s not always easy, and there are plenty of ups, downs, and mistakes–and also many moments of joy!

I have transitioned my Getting to Know You Survey (make a copy!) to Google Forms. Data collection is easier–and, I don’t have to decode handwriting.

This is the perfect first assignment on the Google Classroom set-up day. Students join the class, then immediately complete their first assignment.

The questions range from simple, such as birthday and interests, to more thought-provoking, such as “when I get mad, I …” I like having a mix, and seeing how my students choose to answer. For example, when I ask “What is something you are really good at?” not only am I asking for their strengths, but also I am checking for self confidence; when a student writes “nothing,” then I know I will need to intentionally search for areas of strength to share with them.

A hidden teacher agenda item in this activity: I can see who is able to focus on an independent and silent task for 10 minutes, and who needs constant refocusing.

After my students fill out the survey in class, I go through the response spreadsheet and highlight interesting and concerning responses. I make a note to follow up with students, bring up their interests in conversation, and share commonalities.

The getting to know you survey is one of the best parts of my first few weeks of school!

What types of questions do you ask in your getting to know you survey? Please share your favorites in the comments below!

Goals, Reflections

2018-2019 School Year Goals

I can’t believe it’s already back to school! I’m starting my 7th year teaching–it’s really amazing to look back at how far I’ve come over the past 6 years of teaching + 2 years of pre-service teaching! Thank you Teacher2Teacher for this awesome #TeacherStats graphic! Make your own here!

My kids start on Monday, July 23rd, and I think I’m just about ready. We’re on a sorta year-round schedule, with a 6 week summer and longer breaks. I really do love it, even if it’s hard to go back when everyone else is still enjoying their summer.

The 2017-2018 school year was stressful for a number of reasons, and I am hoping to really focus on balance this school year. I need to do a better job taking care of myself, managing all the things that stress me out, but are not in my control, and not working nearly as much.

The following are my goals for each area of my responsibility. If you have expertise in any of these areas, I’d love to know and learn from you!

Science

With my science kids, I have two different areas I’m working on. First, as I continue to improve with mastery-based grading, one big thing I’d like to work on is helping my students to be more self-reflective and self-evaluative. Part of that will be teaching them how to provide effective feedback to their peers and themselves, then use that feedback to improve their work.

Second, I’m going to continue to transition my class social media over to my students. I’ve had them post regularly in the past, and I’d love to make it a class job, where we are regularly sharing what we are learning!

AVID

I love teaching AVID, and my 0 period AVID 8 kids are a special bunch. I had many of them in 7th grade science or knew them from popping into their AVID 7 classes, and I always look forward to continuing to build these relationships for a second year.

AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, and my focus this year is to guide my students in the “individual determination” piece by making the class portfolio-based, and potentially eliminating grades. I’d love to help my students find their own intrinsic motivation, and build their own external accountability, if they feel they need it. At the grading periods, students will self-assess and assign themselves a grade. This will prepare them for both college and adult life, where they are responsible for their own educational path. I have no idea how this will turn out, and I’m a little nervous, but isn’t that how we truly learn?

Blended Learning Specialist

As my school’s Blended Learning Specialist, I have 1 class period dedicated to technology resource and integration. Last year, we became the first Common Sense Media Certified School in our district, and I my goal is to double the amount of lessons taught, and provide a good foundation for our student, not only in digital citizenship, but also in effective searching and internet safety.

Furthermore, my goal is to encourage our teachers to share out the great things they’re doing on Twitter, using #VikingsLearn, our school hashtag. As of now, we have 22 teachers and admin on Twitter, and I’d love to get that number up to 30. I’d added a “Twitter Challenge” section to our monthly Virtual Vikings #PottyPD newsletter with specific things to share, such as “try a new tech tool” or “show off how you engage your students in reading.”

Teaching, in General

One thing I love doing is observing my colleagues! I’m in their rooms quite often, admittedly to say hi, see what’s up, or sometimes goof around (when appropriate, of course…we have SO much fun!). I want to spend more time intentionally observing, leaving feedback, and asking questions to make us all better teachers. We have a paper peer observation template; I don’t mind that it’s analog, it’s easy to grab my clipboard, then snap a picture of my observation before leaving the paper with the teacher. Plus, I can tweet out a shoutout when I visit.

I’m also hoping for more observations this year. When my colleagues walk in, I love handing them my clipboard and asking for feedback. This year, I’m going to add a sticky note or half-sheet of paper with my current goals for them to focus on.

Who wants to come observe? I’d love to have you!

Personal

Very limited work at home. I know no-work may not be possible, but I’m hoping that’s the case 93% of the time (meaning, once every two weeks or less!). I learned how to leave work at work through my “April No-Work Challenge,” and I expect to keep up these habits.

Please keep me accountable and check in with me over the next weeks and months. You have full permission to ask me how these goals are going, nudge me to share evidence of growth, and guide me in a positive direction! Thank you PLN, I love being on this adventure with you all!