Choice Time: Pre-flection

 

Is “pre-flecting” a word? Like something you do before you do something that would necessitate reflection? Teachers do this all the time, right? Am I losing it, or should this be a thing?choice

As part of our district’s Digital Conversion and Blended Learning Initiative, I have been privy to many a workshop and Skype (excuse me, Zoom) session with the wonderful Marcia Kish. In addition, my connections with the #PersonalizedPD and Teach Like a Pirate (#tlap) movements on Twitter had me doing some hard thinking about why students should do any learning they aren’t interested in. I’m fortunate enough that I teach a course that is about 75% interesting on it’s own, but I often wondered how to convert that last 25% into something really engage my students into making InfoTech class personal.

I’ve been intrigued by idea of Genius Hour for a few years now, but I know what happens when you make things “too” open ended for middle schoolers. Chaos. I’m totally comfortable with chaos (See: picture), but I wasn’t totally sold on how it could work in a class.

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I am the chaos coordinator

In one of our Skype sessions with Marcia Kish she mentioned choice boards as an option for early finishers to keep them engaged. That, combined with this beauty I found on The SuperHERO Teacher’s TPT store and Instagram, gave me a monster of an idea.

Instead of opening up the Wild Wild West of “Computer Lab Free Time” in the lab, I dreamed up 12 different activities that students could really become engaged in as they finished their other class work. My dream is that everyone would complete at least one “project” that would inspire them in some way. Each of these “projects” give a touch of guidance but are still open- ended enough that they could be applied to any variety of interests.

I’m temporarily calling this “Choice Time.” (The name needs a little work still!) I have begun introducing this to my classes, and I’m encouraged by what they are starting to think of!

These are the “Rules” which were presented:

The Rules:

1.Pick something you are passionate about

2.Do something you’re proud of

3.You can accomplish the task any way you want

4.If it’s not working for you- start something new!

5.There’s no prize for doing the most or the least- so work for the prize of your pride!

I posted all of the activities in our Schoology Course as well as on the wall in my classroom.

I built assignments in Schoology where students could submit “artifacts” of their choosing, and it’s my hope that I will build a blog/website to highlight some of these as they start to come in!

I’m excited about the buzz I’m hearing from the kids and others- and I hope to bring you a positive update in a few weeks! Like any new idea, it’s going to take a lot of tweaking and putting procedures in place before I’d consider myself any sort of expert!

If you’re looking for the file I did post it in my TPT store, and my plan is to grow the file as it grows in my classroom! The kids have already given me a few good ideas of things to add! (And I am really hoping my PLN can help me collaborate on a few too!)

Has anyone done any sort of Genius Hour/Choice time in their classes? Does anyone have any advice for me?

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Reflections on Graduation

Warning- this has nothing to do with technology.

If you’re a fellow Middle School teacher like me, you might not have the opportunity to go to graduation in your district. And why would you? The kids might not remember you, you only had them for 50 minutes a day, you were with them at probably some of their worst years- heck you won’t even recognize them.

A colleague and I started a tradition of going to our high schools’ graduation as our official wrap up to the school year. There’s not many that go from the middle school- lots from the elementary schools! I love seeing them clutching framed class pictures with tears in their eyes like proud mamas. “Look at how little they were!” they’d tell me.

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We both made it.

This year was very special to me. I remembered this class as a crew that I genuinely enjoyed, but that challenged me a lot. One boy that particularly challenged me as an eighth grader came back to visit me a few weeks ago. He was notorius for typical eighth grade boy shenanigans that actually led me to officially forget who else was in that class as they graduated. When I saw him Friday in his cap and gown he said to me, “You made it!” My eyes filled with tears as I thought, “No, YOU made it!” I insisted on this selfie so that I have a daily reminder that when faced with a difficult student, continue to try to connect with them and never lower your expectations. It will be worth it.

Another defining moment came during a musical performance by two more of my former students.

#TimeAfterTime performed by #GraceMingoea and #JaredWhite

A post shared by Spencerport Schools (@spencerport_central_schools) on Jun 23, 2017 at 5:07pm PDT

These two always were very musically inclined and they used to sing ALL. THE. TIME. in school. So much that there were days that I would groan, “Will they EVER just shut up?!” Watching them so in their element, the passion radiating from each of them in that moment, rocked me to the core. Who was I to ever suggest that they squash that one piece of themselves that made their souls literally sing?

How often do we run into situations when our students have a passion and we force them to shut that piece of themselves off to fit our mold and expectation of being “educated” in our content? How could I have incorporated that passion of theirs (or anyone else’s for that matter) more into my course to excite them and further grow them as future musical heroes?

The terms “genius hour” and “passion projects” are big buzzwords in education these days, and it doesn’t take a degree in education to know that allowing students to pursue what they love is a great way to engage them in the educational process. So why do we insist that kids put that piece of their heart away so we can stuff them in rows and pump information in them that really, doesn’t matter to them at this point?

Science, for example, is not a topic that speaks to a lot of 6th graders, but I was amazed at hearing them use words like “ratio” and “consistency” appropriately while making pounds of slime over the course of this year. Some would tinker with the base recipe, trying to find a new way to change the texture, smell, or color. Isn’t that just another version of the scientific process? Isn’t that applying growth mindset to develop grit? Others created Instagram accounts for their slime recipes to share their creations, quickly amassing hundreds of followers. How’s that for “Global Communication?”

And we all wanted to ban the stuff.

My final brag on graduation came the next day when this photo was shared with me. These two boys were also in one of my 8th grade Spanish classes. The boy on the left is a graduate of our inter-district Social Skills class for students on the Autism Spectrum who took Spanish to fulfill his graduation requirement as well as to have an opportunity to integrate in the general education population. The boy on the right is your classic All-American, well-liked, varsity athlete kind of guy. This is what he posted on Instagram the day after graduation:

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Long story short, if I couldn’t do this job, I don’t know what I’d ever do with myself. I’m fully refreshed and ready for September. Who’s with me?

To the Class of 2017- thank you for teaching me more than I likely taught you. I learned about patience, humor, passion and compassion. Go on and do great things because I know you have it in you!

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What’s in my Bag of Tricks- Tech Tools

I get asked versions of this question all the time.tricks

This list probably took me 5 seconds to come up with, because each of these tools are things I use multiple times a day! “I did not include Social Media; those are their own post!”

(I should preface by saying I’m a PC girl right now using MS Office (but not that 365 nusiness, because I need the features, yes?). I know there’s Mac equivalents of all of this you can look up, and if you’re Team Chromebook,  I’m sorry.

1. Snipping Tool (insert chorus of angels) OMG. I still can’t believe I had to learn about this from my dad. If you have yet to experience the magic, the Snipping Tool is hidden in the “Windows Accessories” and allows you to take a screenshot of a specific area of your screen. From there, you can choose to save the image, copy-paste it to another program, or attach it right into an email. It’s like why even bother having PrintScreen as an option anymore?

So what do I use it for? Uh, everything. Pretty much 95% of the pictures and visuals you’ll see on this site were created in PowerPoint and snipped so I could save them as an image. How- tos and tutorials are simp. When someone emails me a with a question of how to do something tech-related, I can reply with a snip of my screen to accompany the written directions. Most of my Instagram posts were created on computers and snipped before I posted it. (I’m way too particular for some of those Photofy-type apps- though they’re cute most of the time)

2. Clone (Ctrl + D)– Have you ever been working and thought- why doesn’t someone invent a way to copy and paste in the same command? Well they DID. And apparently it’s been around forever. In an earlier post I mentioned my love/hate relationship with SMART Notebook. One tool that I was totally into was located under Cut/Copy/Paste; there was also an option to CLONE. Say wha? So say you pefectly format a text box but you need 10 of them on a page. You COULD copy/paste it 10 times, or you could clone it. When I right clicked on it in Notebook it said that the shortcut for Clone is Ctrl + D. Does it work in Office? YES IT DOES. CTRL + D for everything!!

-One of my favorite ways to teach this to the kids is in PowerPoint around the holidays we manipulate some pre-made holiday scenes. We put in one piece of clipart of a present and then with a few key strokes multiply it to ALL the presents! What could be better?!

3. Save/Print as PDF- It’s become universally accepted that if you plan on sending or sharing a document, it should be a PDF. Luckily, there’s two quick and easy ways to make that happen. One is by “printing” anything (website, Word Doc, PowerPoint), and in the drop-down menu for printers, “Adobe PDF” is usually listed as an option. I love this because I still can have my original version to update and change as I go, but I also have a “final” version to distribute and share. Word Docs just don’t look the same on every computer.

Another way to create a PDF is by choosing “Save As,” and in the drop-down menu for “file type,” PDF should be listed as an option. This tool is clutch especially if you’re a font junkie like me!

4. Export a PowerPoint to a Movie- yes, this is a thing. And it has been for awhile too apparently. Again like everything, there’s two ways to do it (Bill Gates, you are a crafty one). The basic way is under the “File” tab, choose “Export” and “Create a Video.” (I know in older versions, the language was a little different- “Save and Share” comes to mind- so you’d have to check). The export will put the slides at 5 seconds apiece unless you’ve rehearsed them to go longer or there’s more than 5 seconds worth of animations or activity.

The other way to do this work if you have Office Mix. Under the “Mix” tab, choose “Export to Video” (pretty straightforward right?). I love this feature because sometimes if it’s just a little thing I want to show my kids it’s a super quick way to explain it via PowerPoint video. Teachers can take existing presentations and say, post them to YouTube. I made all my little intros for my videos using this trick before importing them to Premiere Elements or Camtasia. It’s way easier than trying to mess around with super fancy video editing software. I’m at a point where I need to be able to crank out these little help videos in a free period, so I’ll take all the help I can get saving time (without sacrificing wow factor!)

5. “Open Link in New Tab”– So simple, yet so essnetial to productivity. Right clicking on any linked item will bring this up as an option (usually the first one). This is insanely helpful if I’m on a power TPT shopping trip or am comparing a few different items.

From there, the open tabs kind of function like a to-do list. Every tab I close brings me one step closer to that magic moment when I can walk away from my desk!

I hope that maybe at least one of these was something new to you or you are walking away with a new idea of ways you can use the tools that are right in front of us!

Thanks for coming to the party!

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Welcome Blogging Buddies!

This school year has been a year revitalization for me in my teaching journey. After riding for a year on the “10 year struggle bus,” I was offered the opportunity to give up teaching Spanish part time to fully embrace the EdTech world. In addition to teaching my 6th grade class, I would also be supporting the faculty as we began the first phase of our 1:1 “Digital Conversion.” Let me just say:

I. Love. This. Gig.blogging buddies

One of the best outcomes of this change for me has been the full immersion into the social media worlds where I can build a PLN that inspires me and helps me to reflect and improve every day. As a teacher of a “nontraditional” class, I often felt like an island at department meeting time. Also when you constantly are the “go-to” person for workshops and breakout sessions, you need an outlet to learn and grow from too!

(This is also the part where I give a big shout out to my in-district homies! Using Twitter and Instagram, we have built a teacher tribe right on our own campus! If you don’t think you can learn from teachers of other disciplines or age levels, you’re missing out on a whole world of amazing in-house PD! I get just as many ideas from a high school trigonometry teacher as I do a 4th grade classroom or an 8th grade Spanish teacher!)

Our K-5 TOSA/Fellow Teaching Super Geek Lori (Outside of My Classroom) shared the ISTE Blogging Buddies PLN with me and I’m so excited to join and continue to build my tribe! Soon I will be given a pack of blogs to follow of fellow EdTech Coaches, and from there I hope to see my own PLN explode and get to meet even more awesome educators!

The Blogging Buddies PLN is inspired by this post from The Compelled Educator, which couldn’t be more relevant to me at this point in my career.

So if you’re just arriving via the Blogging Buddies, welcome and I’m so excited to have you here!

Thanks for coming to the party!

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Embedding a Timer in PowerPoint

My district has had a long and tumultuous relationship with SMART Notebook, and this year it was announced it was going to be discontinued for our teachers, so as you can imagine, everything hit the fan when people realized they’d have to convert their work into another medium.

I was totally in favor of it; it was currently not doing what we needed as our kids were going 1:1 with touch screen laptops. Aside from the primary grades, those beautiful (expensive) SMART Boards were just being used as fancy anchor charts. They also were used as a way to keep the teacher chained to the front of the room as they wrote notes on the board (wait, I thought we all decided that was boring?).

There are two things I think SMART Notebook did better than PowerPoint ttimerhat I was sad about: the infinite cloner and the cute little timers and dice you could use on the screen. Having a large time the kids would see is an excellent little tool! But alas…

Then I did a BreakoutEdu (awesomesauce) and one of the video links was to a 45 minute timer to display on the board from YouTube. I’ve used a timer tool in Google before, but this was cool. It played music as it counted down, and the music got faster as the time ran out!

Wait a minute. Is it possible that if there’s this one 45-minute countdown video on YouTube, that there are others for other time denominations out there?

Yes, yes there are.

You can certainly do a quick search on your own, but I made a playlist of a few frequently used timer videos of all lengths of time:

So the next logical thought becomes- so if my timers are on YouTube videos, and I can easily embed a YouTube video right onto a PowerPoint slide (minus -1 point for SMART Notebook), couldn’t I embed my timers into the slides I already have created for seamless use in the classroom?

YES.

The above video is a geeky little explanation I made, but the short version is: under the “Insert” Tab, you choose “Video” and “Online Video.” That brings up a search bar where you can search anything you want. Nifty, huh? You can format or resize a video just as you could in a picture so you can combine a timer with any other information you could want on the board.

Here’s an example:

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(On the screen the video is interactive, I just took a screenshot of it)

Awesome right?

Do you have any other resources on helping kids manage their time in a classroom? I’d love to hear!

Thanks for coming to the party!

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Student Publishers- a Piktochart Collaboration

piktochart

I was asked by a colleague of mine to help her come up with a product to help her students review different topics covered in 6th grade Literacy (writing, grammar, etc.). She had seen other teachers use different web based programs and wondered if we could try something like that. Of course I immediately suggested PowerPoint, because I ❤ it and use it 2945039494 times a day, but she said no, something different. I’m glad she did though, because going through this process it gave some neat insights on the idea of teaching solid transfer skills through Microsoft Office. More on that in a little.

I frantically tried to find the a tool that would be easy to teach but also had the bells and whistles to keep kids’ attention. I looked into Adobe Spark, Easel.ly, and Glogster before finally settling on Piktochart.

Why did I choose Piktochart?

  • flexibility with format- something Spark is not great at (though it’s SO great for other things)
  • reliability- maybe it was the week I chose, but easel.ly and glogster just kept getting glitchy every other time I logged in. I can not, will not, go into a classroom with a tool I am not 100% confident in it’s reliability. If a tool fails you, you have failed your colleague and her kids. Not so good for the EdTech sales pitch.
  • shareability- Is this even a word or did I just make it up? Piktochart allows free users to download their posters into decent quality .png images. Super clutch for sharing and eventually printing.
  • freebie account situation- my colleague and I each set up an account with our school emails and split the classes with which account they used. We never had issues with 25 kids being signed into one account at a time, which is an issue I’ve had before with some web-based tools, and as far as I could tell we never ran out of space. Each kid had a practice poster saved on there as well as their actual project. We probably could have been fine with only one account for the five classes, but I didn’t want kids digging through over 100 files to find theirs each day.

I went into her classes on a Monday facilitate a “playground” day. I call it a “playground” day because it’s a little unstructured, with a little instruction on my part and a lot of time to explore and play on the part of the kids. I have little routines of things I’d like them to create, but I try to leave the time open ended for them to go off and explore on their own. Learning a tech tool should never be hyper-structured, especially for kids. It’s not fun and takes away the creative, innovative side of tech. I liken it to playing on a playground, because no ever told you how to play on a playground, did they? No, you played and you learned more about what you could use all these fun things for through play.

Here’s my checklist for a Piktochart Playground (sidebar for my Tech Coaches: I often print these for the classroom teacher when I push in so that they may feel confident down the road taking these lessons on themselves!)

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I teach/taught all of these students in my InfoTech class, which is very Microsoft Office heavy. I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t have to provide too much assistance in Piktochart because so much of what the kids have done in PowerPoint or Word is the same. I like using Office (or Google Docs, if that’s your jam) to give the kids a solid baseline of skills that allows them to confidently take on any future applications. I appreciated hearing kids say things as they played like, “Ugh I want this shape to go behind the text… I wonder if there’s a way to… Oh! There it is!”

The kids each got to choose from a list of topics and make an informational poster that could be hung in a classroom. This is a classic spin on a product that can be applied to absolutely any class or topic. The kids all downloaded a completed image and submitted them to their teacher via our LMS (Schoology).

From there she and our AP (to provide an outside opinion) picked 3-4 posters per class as the best based on neatness, visual appeal, and readability. I had them printed in color on 11×17 cardstock at our district’s print shop and the winning kids got to have a big color copy of their poster and we made a second set to hang in the teacher’s classroom. they add such a personal nice touch and are a great way for the students to leave their legacy with a well-loved teacher!

A Few of our Tops:

 

Have you ever used Piktochart before? What are your favorite desktop publishing tools?

Thanks for partying with me!

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Welcome to the Party!

welcome2Hello! I’m Liz! Before I hit that “Publish” button on a few posts I have waiting in the wings, I thought I best take a moment to properly introduce myself if we’re just meeting!

I teach Sixth Grade Information Technology and am a Technology Integration Specialist (or whatever the cool kids call it these days) at a suburban district in Upstate NY. We are currently a 1:1 laptop district using Office 365 and Schoology (I feel in the EdTech circles you’re not fully introduced until you add your device and LMS, no?).

As part of my “coaching” gig, I work with teachers to help plan purposeful tech integration as well as push into their classes to co-teach. I also teach workshops to our K-12 staff, which is something I never thought I’d love, but I do. My flexible workday schedule allows me the time to do all the awesome “extra” stuff like researching, creating materials, blogging, and TPT-ing that I never had the time to do when I was full time in the classroom.

I decided to start this blog with the intention of further connecting with other teachers in my field. Even though I learn so much from my colleagues and the PLNs I’ve formed on social media, I still feel like there’s not much out there for my Upper Elementary/Middle School peeps. I would love to hear from you with ideas, questions, and suggestions as we move forward so we can build own own little pocket (and after all, aren’t the Middle School people the fun ones anyways?)

Thanks and enjoy the party!

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