In the 3rd-5th grade A.C. Williams Gifted and Talented (GT) classes, we just finished a unit over the Day of the Dead. To start the unit, students were able to have real-world experiences using the Google Expeditions app and Virtual Reality headsets to explore the actual Day of the Dead festival in Mexico.
Students then began their independent research over things that interested them about the Day of the Dead festival. Students had complete control over their learning and were able to decide what they wanted to research and share with the class. After completing their research they organized their findings into a Google Slide presentation. Students had to have a total of 6 slides, with 1 title slide and 5 informational slides.
When their presentations were complete and they were ready to share their learning with their classmates, they submitted their presentations on a Padlet. On this Padlet, students were able to view each other's work and provide feedback to one another over their presentations.
I believe that our GT students had a blast in this unit and I know that I will continue to use these wide variety of resources to engage my students and enhance their learning.
Recently, I found a blog post by The Secondary English Coffee Shop that caught my attention. This teacher used Twitter posts and hashtags to teach her students about theme. It makes sense. Yes, I know, fourth graders are too young to have a Twitter account, but she didn't post these Tweets, they just wrote them on paper and shared. Genius!
I started out teaching my students the basics of Twitter. Our first "tweets" consisted of students stepping into the role of the characters in a book and responding. We used the story of "The Tortoise and the Hare" to create the tweets. Then, the students wrote hashtags (cue the angels singing).
We discussed how hashtags really are the theme of the post. Your tweet might outline your amazing day, but you might end with #bestdayever <== theme. Maybe everything went wrong, but you managed to stay positive with #cantkeepmedown <== theme! My kiddos had a blast learning this way, AND we didn't even touch a computer!
I guess I'm not a complete Twitter-Hater, but don't tell anyone--I have a reputation to uphold. I'll keep tweeting with my class without computers, phones, iPads, etc, and we will hashtag all of our reading. I might even share it on the REAL Twitter, if I ever dust off that app. In the meantime, consider Twitter-fying your lessons. I think all of our students can #themeit!
Teaching English 2 is an interesting experience, between helping all of my students pass the English 2 STAAR test and preparing my Pre-AP students for the rigors of college English. How do you, in one class, provide analytical, writing-intensive assignments for advanced kids AND extra help on basic skills for students who have never passed a reading or writing test . . . and make both groups feel supported??
I have refined my curriculum every year, trying to find the best way to teach ALL the English things before the STAAR test in April and the new college classes in August. However, I don't want to simply "teach to the test"; I want to give students more ownership and show them how to use these literacy skills in later classes and as adults. Each year, I find strategies that go into my yearly repertoire, but I also find even more activities that don't work so well . . . the kind that either bore my advanced students or lose my struggling students. The idea of a self-paced classroom was my dream--my advanced kids could work ahead and do more complex assignments, and my struggling kids could spend more time on learning and reviewing the skills that they have a hard time understanding. Unfortunately, I was having a tough time reaching that pot of gold at the end of the teaching rainbow.
One of the blessings of being an iCoach this year is that I get my own Chromebook cart, so I can integrate technology into my lessons without worrying about tech availability. With the Internet at my fingertips, I wanted to give this self-paced dream a chance. I figured this would be the best compromise for those students that needed to do more critical thinking while other students could review a little more on some of the basic skills without worrying about falling behind on classwork.
I call my solution a "unit guide". It's a website with ALL the unit materials made available to the students. The Home page has the notes and practice work we do as a class at the beginning of the unit (so they can go back if they were absent or want to look at the examples and explanations again). The Skills Review page has curated lists of websites and practice quizzes for the different terms and skills that are important in that unit--this page is especially helpful for the students who have not yet passed their unit assessment and want to spend more time working on the terms and skills they don't know before retaking the assessment. Finally, the Assignments page holds all the documents and forms that students need to complete and turn in for a grade. I give one due date for all the assignments, and their final grade for the unit depends on how many of the assignments they've turned in and the quality of the work they've turned in.
I'm only in our second unit right now (English units are really long!), but I've already tweaked the process several times. I initially did the unit guide in Google Slides, which is great if you want to do self-paced learning on a smaller scale (which I do with my Advanced Creative Writing modules). However, I wouldn't recommend using Slides if you need to include a large amount of materials, if students don't need to use every single slide, and if you plan on having more than 10 students using the same slide show at the same time. Making the unit guide as a website has made it a lot easier (and faster) to navigate, and I can make the distinction between study materials and assignments a little clearer.
Another thing I changed was that, in the first unit, I was creating my own documents and practice quizzes for every section in the first unit, and it made the unit guide SUCH A LARGE MOUNTAIN TO CLIMB OVER! In the end, only a few people even used those materials, and it was just not worth all the work when there are already quizzes and helpful resources out there. It was a great reminder for me that I don't need to keep reinventing all the wheels! Curating links and practice quizzes in the Skills Review section is more than sufficient, and you can always create a more helpful guide only if a student specifically asks for something more clear. I haven't had anyone do that yet, so hopefully that means the links I picked are clear enough!
I feel good about this unit guide, but there are still things I want to continue tweaking. Many students have done well with this set-up, but I'd like to add more engagement, and support for my struggling kids, especially when I can't hold everyone's hand through the process. I break up the work days with Review Game Days to increase engagement, but I'd like to keep that focus on their individual work.
Another avenue I'd like to explore is breaking each assignment into tiers. I want to encourage my more-capable kids to do complex versions of assignments, but I also want more accessible, review-like options for the students that need that help. I've tiered writing assignments in previous years with good success--the kids that normally turned things in did more complex work, and some of the kids that didn't always turn things in completed the lower-tiered work, so I saw a lot more participation, and most of my kids did more work than they usually did.
Overall, I'm pleased with the direction of my units and feel hopeful that, once I've ironed out some of the major wrinkles, this will be an effective way to reach my kids at all levels while giving them choices in the pacing of their work, the texts they use, and how they show me their mastery. Doing this with technology has made the process a lot easier to figure out, but it has also given me ideas on how to do this same concept in a low-tech way if I don't have constant access to a Chromebook cart in future years or if we ever enter an Internet Dark Age. ;) My dream of self-paced learning is slowly being realized, and I cannot wait to see how this process will continue to get better and better!
This blog post was written by Commerce High School English Department Head and iCoach, Amy Nolan.
Let me explain. Deck.Toys is like an online escape room. You have everything you need, in one game, to create a very engaging, yet challenging lesson. You set up your board with an entry point to explain the lesson, then you get creative.
The best part is creating the lessons! I wasn't very creative with my first two lessons (because there is a learning curve). The creativity came later. I would recommend starting easy. For my first Deck.toy lesson, I used a worksheet. I had the kids read a passage and the questions were the points on the board. My second lesson (which was also my evaluation lesson) was a little more complex. The students were given two passages, and had to work through reading strategies. My goal was for them to really be invested in the passages--to really understand how the Sun and Moon were alike and how they were different. I think this lesson met the criteria.
As a side note, if you need or want more info, and a hands-on learning experience with Deck.toys, come see me April 26th at 3:45 pm. This would be a great test review!
The animal research project is always one of the all-around favorite projects that we do in 2nd grade! This year I decided to add some of the Google knowledge that we have learned to the assignment. A copy of the slide template was assigned to each student through Google Classroom. First, each student picked their favorite animal to research. They were then asked to use the Internet to do research and learn more about that animal. This was our first formal instruction on how to search for specific information on the Internet. We used the Explore tool within Google Slides to answer the required questions.
The students were required to provide these four pieces of information:
1. Where does the animal live?
2. What does the animal eat?
3. What are the animal's enemies?
4. Provide an interesting fact about the animal.
We changed the background and added a picture once we answered all of the questions to complete our project!
The students took this information home and created a poster that they used to teach their peers about the animal they researched. The students loved being the "expert" on their animal!
Finally, we were able to go to the Dallas World Aquarium to see our animals in person! This was an awesome experience that allowed the students to make a real-world connection to their learning.
Through a grant from the Commerce Schools Educational Enrichment Foundation (CSEEF), I was able to purchase a variety of tools for STEM activities. During our 8th period enrichment I've had the privilege of learning along with these girls as they explore everything these tools offer
We have learned quite a bit with these kits and I look forward to incorporating them into my classroom throughout the year. Our next adventure will be a BreakoutEdu kit, stay tuned!
Middle school science TEKS 8.9C
While planning my lessons this month, I was faced with the dilemma of using the materials I have always used to teach my students how to interpret a topographic map or use something new. I decided on new. I wanted my students to really take ownership of their own learning, which meant exploration!
I used a foldable to help my students organize the basic information about topography. I included a practice map where we calculated the elevation of various points and learned how to determine the contour interval of a map.
After the background knowledge was in place, I set my room up into four stations.
Watch it - students watched a video explaining the ins and outs of a topographic map.
Read it - students read a passage about the value of topographic maps and who really utilizes this tool.
Explore it - students used various maps to complete a set of task cards.
Research it - THIS was the most favorite station of the four. Students used this website: http://www.mytopo.com/maps/
Students put in their address and then had to determine the elevation of their house and the nearest landmark. Relevant? Yes! All of my students easily determined the elevation of their home and then went on to explore the whole town. They discovered they could toggle from a topographic map view to a satellite image. Cool beans!
It was so fun to watch my 8th graders work collaboratively as they applied their knowledge of topographic maps in a real world application. So, my advice try something new and listen to your students talk the talk of your content area.
We began using ClassDojo this school year as our campus-wide behavior management system. The ClassDojo app allows you to easily set up your classroom and immediately begin awarding points for targeted behavior. The app comes with a list of target behaviors, but you can easily edit those to match your classroom expectations. Parents can connect to your classroom through printed invitations or by email to join your class. Students can also create accounts to do a variety of activities in the classroom and THIS is where the magic really happens...with Student Stories.
Student Stories provide an instantly updated stream of pictures, videos, messages and more that connect parents to virtually everything happening in their child's classroom!
Students can upload pictures of projects created in other apps. This can be done directly from the app or by uploading a project from the camera roll.
Record and share videos or load those that have been saved from other apps. The videos can be up to 8 minutes long.
Draw on or add text to annotate photos to add more details and enhance the content.
Journal entries provide a quick and easy way for students to write a reflection of their learning or complete a quick writing assignment.
Drawings provide a blank canvas to draw pictures and illustrations.
The ClassDojo Student Story provides the perfect opportunity for parents to take a peek into their child’s classroom!
In the example above, you can see Owlfonso in action! He gives the students a chance to change their answer. Also, the yellow progress bar will turn green when the program recognized enough of the answer. I tell my students they must have a green bar before clicking Next Question.
Each month, if a student makes his/her goal, Mrs. Duckworth brings them a little prize. Last month they received a squirty owl. They loved it! In my classroom, I offer a popcorn party with a movie (at lunchtime) when they have taken and passed 100 tests. My homeroom just met that goal for the first time, and their excitement was obvious (sorry fourth grade teachers). We also have a race to win a bicycle. I have one little guy who has over 600 points! Being a part of his race to win is so exciting. The students who are not as close are steadily cheering him on. It is a great thing to witness. I love having these incentives, but the students have their own incentives within the program as well.
There are lots of things to love about Whooo's Reading, but with any program in it's beginning stages, there are always glitches. However, that can also be praised! The Whooo's Reading team is amazing at fixing problems. They truly want our business and do their absolute best to fix problems. They constantly add new features to make the system better. They listen to their teachers.
I know some schools will not want to change their system, but I really do like this system. I think it truly challenges our students and makes them think at a higher level. I really think this will make a difference in how our students think about their reading, and help encourage solid writing. I'm glad we made the switch to this program.
Heather Kilgore & CISD Tech Team
District Instructional Technologist Team for Commerce ISD. Sharing the great things happening in the classrooms in Commerce ISD.