The Mosh Pit in Petaluma

If you’ve ever been to a punk rock show, you know the front is reserved for the few passionate individuals who are so into the music they feel the need to share it with others: hard and with full force, slamming into you, pummeling you into the next person. Sometimes it leaves you with bruises, but mostly it’s the craziest thing you’ll ever experience. You leave the show giggling, exhausted and yearning for more. This is how I feel about CUE Rockstar Teacher Camps (minus the bruises). I walked away from Petaluma this weekend so inspired, so enthusiastic, and counting the days until the next one: (141 days until CUE Rockstar Tahoe).

Why every educator should go to a CUE Rockstar Teacher Camp:

1. Start Time: The morning starts at 9:30. That alone should make you happy, not to be up at the crack of dawn on your days off. This also allows for a few “late night” sessions the night before. For some reason Rockstars are always held in close proximity to places to get delicious libations. Crazy.

2. The Format: There are only two sessions a day and normally the same sessions are taught in the morning and afternoon. This eases FOMO (fear of missing out), although I still suffered this weekend. I need Hermione Granger’s Time Turner. The sessions are also two hours long which allows you time to learn, play and actually figure out how to implement when you return to real life.

3. Lunch: Although the food is usually amazing, this is not the reason to give up your free time, beg for the money, (or shell out the fee yourself), and attend. Lunch is two hours, which seems long, but it is a magical experience. There is usually a session on something relevant in the cafeteria as you’re eating, (like using Twitter to grow as an educator and tell your story), but mostly you talk. A lot. To other educators. I learn so much just being in the room with fellow teachers and administrators who are fervent about student learning. So often we forget how powerful that can be.

4. The Faculty:  Although they will claim they are no experts, don’t let them fool you. They are incredible educators and presenters. Their passion for teaching students, as well as sharing their knowledge with others makes them the most inspiring individuals you’ll meet. They are all volunteers that give up their time and WANT to be there. They believe in sharing tools and innovation to create student achievement. They are pure punk rock. Just being in the room with them, makes me want to be more. That’s how I want to spend a weekend.

5. The Attitude: This is the punk rock mosh pit. The philosophy of Rockstar is that learning is messy. It is sweaty, and it isn’t choreographed.* Things might go wrong. They probably will. But you take the ideas, the tools, the inspiration back to your site the next week and you try. You ignore the bruises because in the end, teaching doesn’t have to be perfect. It has to be passionate. And that will reach kids. That’s punk rock. And it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

I’m putting on my steel-toed Doc Martens and entering the pit. You with me?

*Fun Fact: We tried “choreographed” by following a Youtube video at lunch and dancing to “Uptown Funk”. It was truly more passionate than perfection. 

What’s the Time? Torture Time

I try to have students do a formal, solo, get up in front of the class, (while terrified), speech at least once a trimester. Most think I enjoy watching students sweat as they fumble for their next point, searching the ceiling to see if it might be written up there. I really don’t enjoy watching them squirm. Well maybe a few students, but that’s not my point.

This time, I decided to do something different: Movenote. 10914537_449770148504061_862001878_n

Movenote is a website and Chrome Application that allows you to slidecast, that is upload your slides and record yourself while video narrating. Essentially, students had to record themselves, then show the class. I was so excited to introduce. This would alleviate the stage fright and the searching the ceiling syndrome. Students could try over and over until they got it right.  They’re going to love me for this, right? Wrong. They thought I had reached a new level of cruelty. “Do I have to show it?” “Can’t YOU just watch it?” “Can I leave the room when it’s my turn?” Sigh. I forget they’re in 8th grade sometimes.

I decided to show a few a day. I always take volunteers first. I had a few eager kids wanting to get it over with. To my delight, the presentations were mostly very good. The best part, however, was as the days went on, more kids were eager to show theirs. By the end of the week, most were telling me how much they LOVED it and were so happy not to have to get up and present in front of the whole class. Some still think I’m enjoying their misery.

Things I learned:

  • Most students WILL NOT record in class. It’s way too stressful. Giving students a place to go during class is fine, but many will take hours to get the right take. Most would rather do at home. Since we are not a 1:1 school, though, lots didn’t have access to a working webcam. I gave up an entire week of lunches and made before and after school appointments.
  • Sometimes Movenote is fickle. We found if it won’t load your Google Slides, download as a PDF, then upload. That usually does the trick. Sometimes the site just gets overloaded, too. Give it a few minutes.
  • Often when you pause recording, the slide goes back to the beginning. Just be aware. Most of my kiddos just started over.
  • It’s a pretty basic application, not a lot of bells and whistles, which makes it a great introduction to video presenting. However, I had a student who really wanted to embed a youtube video in her presentation. We just ended up pulling it up in a different tab.
  • Give students time limits for presentations. I have NEVER had a kid give a 15 minute speech in front of the class, but for some reason, I have had students ramble on and on via video.

I really wanted all of my students to have the experience of presenting in video format this trimester. Next trimester I think I’ll give students the choice. I’m guessing quite a few will pick Movenote. Some still enjoy the live audience, though. Most of all, I enjoy watching students escape the torture chamber of public speaking and grow into confident and successful presenters.

You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Cart

Spending the weekend in Napa is always a good idea. Spending it at a Google Apps for Educators conference is only for the truly lucky. This was my second GAFE and though I was a different educator than when I attended my first, I was chumming for more.

Starting the conference with Jim Sill was nothing short of a treat. He reminded us that learning is dirty. However, we can’t forget to tell our story with our students. These are the things they remember. Oh, and always include sharks. Well, maybe not that last one, but it seems to do the trick.

One of the best parts of these conferences is not only learning, but getting to play and create. I must say, though, that it’s the people I meet that make it worth the time I give up away from my family. The presenters and the other teachers all have great stories to tell, and that’s where learning and inspiration take root.

Listening to our second day keynote presenter, Mark Garrison, talk about making each day an adventure got my brain swimming. It is time to tackle this great white shark of implementing technology at my site. No more dabbling. No more watching the beast terrorize the shore. It is time to call in the big boat. It is time to instigate change. It is time for more than just a couple of Chromebook carts. Next stop: 1:1 Harbor.

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Live Fast, Teach Bold

Yeah, this is one of those year end reflection, new year, new beginning posts. Hey, it’s obligatory. Deal.

Since I came back to teaching just over three years ago, (we like to call it my eight year maternity leave), I have fallen madly in love with the practice, new curricular ideas, and especially the students all over again. 2014 saw some of my favorite times:

1. The GAFE Summit and my transformation to Google Fan Girl: This is a biggie. I have always been fairly keen on technology, but by no means an expert. This Google Apps for Educators conference blew my mind. I couldn’t get enough. My district asked me to be part of a group who facilitates trainings for other teachers throughout my district. I absolutely fell in love with teaching teachers. Educational technology via use in my classroom, as well as becoming a “connected” teacher, interacting with educators through social media and conferences (Truckee was awesome) has opened up a world for me that I could have never fathomed.

2. Student Blogging/Web Pages: One idea I took away from the GAFE Summit, among so many others, is getting students to blog. Although this has had its fair share of head-shaking moments, (see post) it has been amazing. We all know the best way to get good at anything is to do it over and over. Blogging gets kids to write, and most love it!

3. AVID in San Diego: My dad was an AVID teacher, so I always heard about this amazing program, but I’ve never been trained. Eight of us headed to San Diego for the Summer Institute. Wow. There is a reason this program has been around so long and has been successful for so many students. The material is empowering, and I had more fun than I ever imagined, especially with the group of people I am fortunate enough to work with each day. Read more here, if you’re feeling unfulfilled.

4. Acting like a Total Idiot: Some of my favorite moments from teaching didn’t involve teaching at all. They were “dancing” at rallies to choreographed numbers with my staff, joining my colleagues in dumping ice over our heads, dressing up for spirit days, strategically placing a cardboard cut out of my principal throughout the school, and even throwing down in a lip sync battle. These are the moments I truly love.

5. Falling in Love with 8th Grade: I’ve taught 8th grade in the past, but I had never felt as close to the students who graduated in June. I had a hard time saying goodbye. I imagine this year’s class will be no different. I don’t know if it’s the school and the kids or that I have somehow changed. It’s probably a bit of both. I absolutely love these kids, even on my worst days.

What’s on the list for 2015? 

My true goal this year, (besides blog more), is to soak up as much as I possibly can. I just want to learn. I’m hoping to start my Master’s program in the fall, emphasizing educational technology. I want to attend as many workshops and conferences as possible, as well as keep active on social media with my professional learning community.

Of course, I also want to continue to feed my passions. I vow to savor the moments that are astounding and learn from my failures. I’m going to try new ideas, not caring if I execute perfectly. More importantly, I’m going to keep dancing. As my favorite musician, Frank Turner, sings,”It won’t last, so be bold, choose your path, show soul, live fast and die old.” This year, I will choose my path, fill it with all I’ve got, and teach bold.

Third Time’s a Charmingly Stupid Idea

“Wait. You ran in the rain, you ran in the cold and THIS was your worst year?”

Three and a half years ago I decided to run my first marathon. I had started running long distances a few years before and had fallen in love with feel of the asphalt beneath my feet, the tranquility I found in losing myself to the run and the sense of accomplishment at the end. The pain of sore muscles (and the occasional scraped knee) was badge of honor.

I’m sure it wasn’t a shock to my friends and family when I decided to take it the extra step–or an extra 13.1 miles. I’ve always been a bit of an overachiever. Luckily, I had a crazy group of women who decided to commit to the insanity with me.

TrainingDon’t let anyone tell you differently: training is hard. Harder than the marathon. It’s like having a second job. When I wasn’t grading stacks of essays, unloading the dishwasher, throwing in a load of laundry or breaking up a bickering match between the offspring, I was running. I’d get up at 3:45 in the morning because after work there’s always soccer practice and some sort of PTC event. I was meeting those crazy women in the pitch black on a Saturday morning because someone had a baby shower at 11, and getting up early is always better than running alone. I took to cussing out the “dreadmill” at 5am because it’s storming outside. And I was tired. ALL THE TIME. Turns out, the hard part isn’t running all those miles, it’s finding the time to run them: all 400+ training miles.

First Marathon: The Blind Puppy The first marathon is filled with hope. I had no idea what to expect. Like a puppy at the start, the tapering of training had left me eager to run. Standing at the start I thought, “I haven’t run enough.” But I started. Focused. Determined. It was during one of the worst rain storms in the history of the California International Marathon. The rain was so heavy, at points we were wading through streams just to cross the street, wind gusting, knocking you a bit off balance. The one thing I’ll always remember about this first race is truly comprehending “The Wall”. In a normal marathon training schedule, the furthest you run is 20 miles. Adrenaline is supposed to take you the last six. Bull. IT SUCKS. Those last miles are a pure torturous mind game. I questioned my sanity, will and ability to finish. The negotiations of walking began. But somehow, I crossed the finish line. I had hoped I’d feel this amazing sense of accomplishment, maybe even cry. Nope. Relief. I was so glad it was over. Never again.

Marathon #2: The Redemption Run–After my legs had begun working properly again, all I could think was, “I really should have done better.” I must redeem myself. So I signed up to do it all over again. Now I had something to prove. The training still SUCKED, but I didn’t give myself any outs. I did every run. I pushed myself, I cross trained. It was like a darn Rocky movie, you know when he’s an over 40, short, snarky blonde. But I had the gift of foresight. I understood the run. The wall would not take me this time. The forecast for my second: 15 degrees at the start. That was the coldest CIM on record. Great. The volunteers made us walk at the water stations because of the ice, and my snot was frozen to my nose, making it hard to breathe. I persevered, though, taking 23 minutes off my previous time, PRing the crap out of that run and coming in under 5 hours, which is all I ever wanted. I was satisfied.

Marathon #3: The Why the H not Run— I’ve done it twice, why not a third? This is the point that someone should have intervened. I blame those crazy women who encourage me to run.  The training started off well enough, but it was evident by week four that I lacked motivation, and every run seemed to be a chore. I had nothing to prove. My heart wasn’t in it. I really started to hate it all.  It was of course absolutely gorgeous running weather: sunny with a high of 68. The best weather, paired with my worst attitude.

I joked that I was “Derek Jetering” this one. Not going out with a World Series win, but at least a walk off single in my last home game. My expectations were low, but I hoped to at least enjoy it.  At about mile 10 it was evident I wasn’t going to beat my time from last year, so I stopped caring and decided to start savoring. For the first time in the three years, I paid attention to where I was: the city, the street, all the surroundings. By mile 22, my usual “wall”, I gave myself permission to walk a few steps, especially since my IT band felt like it was going to snap. I would run some, walk some, listening to my body. At mile 23, I even snapped a selfie, a long standing joke with my running friends. (Kristina would NEVER walk or snap a selfie.) But hey, this was marathon number three. I just didn’t care. Yeah, I finished, adding 40 minutes to my PR from the year before. However, I had the best time of the three, and crossed that finish line with a smile, knowing I didn’t have to do this again. I was done. For now.

I am taking a break from marathons for a while. The commitment it takes to train for a marathon has to be filled with heart, or it just isn’t worth it. You have to get something out of it. One of my students asked me the next day why I ran the marathon. I replied, “Because I’m stupid.” Until I have a better answer, I’m sticking to shorter runs. Nothing is worth doing if it lacks passion.

#runningisstupid

The Performance Task: A Love Defined

With all the chatter in our professional learning communities, meetings that seem to last for days at district levels, even in our social media groups, the Common Core Standards have become, not just ubiquitous background noise, but the only language we teachers speak. Unfortunately, with the frantic need to implement new standards, often comes a cacophony of negativity. It is hard sometimes to see the value in change. Then, love smacks you right in the face.

I was fortunate to be asked to participate in an online class offered through Stanford University for the sole purpose of helping educators understand and create effective performance assessments.  I was familiar with the concept, having researched Smarter Balance and experimented with one in the classroom last spring. However, I was still wet behind the ears.

Understanding what a performance assessment truly demands is the key to execution.  It is not just an assessment of what students should have learned. It asks students to think and to produce–to demonstrate learning through work authentic to the real world. AUTHENTIC. That is the key. Real life situations. Stanford breaks it down into four key principles a performance task should encompass:

1. Targets skills and knowledge that matter, and preparing for performance assessment improves skills and knowledge that matter.

2. It is assessment for learning and as learning.

3. It links curriculum, instruction and assessment.

4. It is learning by doing.

The performance task is the CCSS curriculum ultimate assessment. It takes students beyond what you taught, in turn, they learn even more on their own They’re not just regurgitating what you hammered at them through lectures and simple practices. They are using what you taught and applying, synthesizing, analyzing and all those great buzz words to actually do and produce something. And isn’t that what we ultimately want?

As I was creating my first CCSS performance task on my own, I started recalling all the great teachers I have worked with over the years. Yeah, this wasn’t anything new. They’ve been doing this stuff for years. That’s why I fell in love with teaching almost 20 years ago. Sure feels good to be in love again.

My first attempt was a culminating activity on The Outsiders. I had students pretend they were an intervention group handing out brochures and giving a speech to the teenagers of the town to stop the violence.  The concept wasn’t bad, but I didn’t do the best job delivering it. The results were mediocre, with only a few standouts. Perhaps the students aren’t used to these types of assessments yet, but really, I’m still learning how to create effective tasks. I’m giving myself a break, knowing I can only get better. New love is always fragile.

Just the other day I read a tweet by Marc Seigel that really nailed it, “If you can Google the question, you need to change the assessment.” Ain’t that the truth? So, embrace the performance assessment. Don’t be afraid to commit to the time it takes to plan and carry out. Don’t be afraid to fail a few times. Don’t be afraid to fall in love. Love can hurt, but it can also save your life. 🙂

Googlizing Research in the Classroom

Research is such a huge part of the Common Core curriculum, not that it hasn’t always been essential for student learning in our classrooms. But if you’re like me, getting kids to research effectively, navigating the web, is a daunting task. I recently had the opportunity to explore the world of Google and plan a workshop with my amazing colleague, Cheryl McGee. We were instructed to show a group of educators how to teach kids to research. Racking our brains, we came up with these steps:

Before you begin:

Take some time to discuss the following with students:

  • Check for Reliable Sources: teach students what sources are reliable. Mention domain names (.gov, .org) and sites you wish for them to avoid (wikis, ask.com, etc.)
  • Use Advanced Search Tools if Necessary: You might want to introduce students to the “search tools” options. The time an article was posted or the reading level might be beneficial for your assignment.

Research Time:

  1. Brainstorm Essential Questions: Get your students to focus their research. Have them come up with three questions (works well in a five paragraph essay) or more of what they are looking to understand.
  2. List Keywords: Breaking down the essential question into keywords will encourage a more focused search.
  3. Create a Note-taking Document: Have students create a new Google Doc. Rename it immediately the topic and “Notes” (ie. Saturn Notes)
  4. Type in Essential Questions: Students should write their questions on the document, allowing space between each.
  5. Open Google Research Tool: This Google Tool will become your student’s best collaborator. Type in Keywords of each essential questions.
  6. Open Reliable Web Pages: Students should sift through the research on the suggested web pages, (it will open a new tab) finding the information that answers their essential questions.
  7. Copy and Paste in Notes Document: Under each essential question, students should copy from the webpage, and paste the information into their “Notes” Doc (tab should still be open). This will allow students to just gather information relevant to their search, but also drop the URL in the footnotes section. (More on that later!) Students should continue gathering research until they feel they have enough to adequately answer their essential questions.
  8.  Print Notes: Blasphemy! I thought we were going paperless? At this point, I find it best for students to come to my class with a paper version of their notes. Here I would talk to them about taking the information and making it their own, you know, NOT PLAGIARIZING!
  9. The Rest of the Writing Process: Here you would do all that good stuff about good introductions, thesis, strong paragraphs with evidence, conclusion, blah, blah blah. But this blog isn’t about that. So back to the computers we go!
  10. Create a Bibliography: Easybib is absolutely brilliant. I mean, why would anyone want to do all that nonsense himself? Students have all the URLs from their note-taking document. Simply copy and paste into Easybib and Viola! A bibliography. Keep in mind Easybib is an Add-on, so it will need to be installed. It really is the easiest citation generator.

Researching the internet can be a crazy endeavor. Teaching kids to do it can be even worse. Getting them to focus and explicitly giving them skills in which to do it is the answer. This is one way, one tool in the ol’ tool belt, to navigate the enormity of the world wide web. Good luck! Let me know how it goes.