Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Using Instagram for Class

#IG #imateacher #useit
How to use Instagram:
Step 1: Take picture
Step 2: Use a filter to make your picture look more fun
Step 3: Come up with a clever caption to your picture
Step 4: Use a funny hashtag
Step 5: Send your picture into the world

For the past school year I have been musing over how to better reach my students outside of the classroom. How can I remind them to study? How can I remind them of homework? How could I give extra credit in different ways? Enters Instagram. I set up a "teacher" account towards the beginning of the school year and with have been using it pretty regularly to communicate with my students. This has been a pretty hot topic at my school, so I thought I would share the thought process behind using Instagram as a communication tool.

Middle school students are tech savvy. They have phones, they have tablets, they use social media sites. These are facts. One study done in a middle school in Massachusetts surveyed a little over 500 students and 78% of those students owned a cell phone. Another study from the Pew Research Center showed 73% of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 use social media sites. With numbers like this it makes sense to me to communicate with students using their own means.

I've been a heavy user of Instagram personally and I felt it only natural to extend my usage to my students. I created a student account with the name "Mrs_C" that way my students know its me in teacher mode. I post test review questions, reminders of projects and study time, appropriately funny thoughts and mushy teacher love.

 I feel like this is working for my classroom not only for science but also on relationship building. However, I have been met with some grumblings. Some teachers in my school think that I am opening myself up to too much information. They question my actions when I see inappropriate posts from kids like the booming vaporizer craze as of late. (This probably wouldn't be that big of a deal if I was working with seniors in high school but I'm working with 8th graders). My rebuttal, have a conversation. We are in the business of making students better people so if I see something that is anything less than stellar I see it as an opportunity to talk to the student (if they are willing) about their choices and consequences of their choices.

Where I have not worked out all the kinks to this process and it is only my first semester really in full Instagram swing, I do enjoy the impact it is having on my students and will continue to use it as a way to reach out.

Mrs. C

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Evolution of the BAM

I had gone into this school year with a couple goals in mind. First, I wanted to try my hand at flipping a classroom. Or, at least, students getting their direct learning through videos instead of me lecturing. Second, I wanted to give my students more freedom. Freedom to move around the classroom, freedom to sit where they wanted, freedom to work with whomever them deemed helpful, etc. Lastly, I wanted a classroom that gave my students choices. Gone will be the days that all students tackle the same problems, because let's face it, the are all not at the same place in their learning.

At the beginning of the school year I came up with a progression into giving the students a choice in their assignments. I invented something I lovingly refer to as the BAM or Benchmark Assessment Map. At first, it was just a way from the students to know and visualize what they would be doing throughout the unit. It was self-paced and by the end of the unit the students were trained that once they finished a task they marked it off and moved along.
The student's first BAM over Forces that Shape the Earth.
I duplicated this type of BAM for one more unit over rocks. This BAM was great for developing independence in the classroom as well as organization while trying to convince the students that online learning was the way to go. However, student buy-in for these types of BAMs were pretty low. And the buy-in coupled with trying to ween students off a seating chart led to some pretty low grades the first quarter. I then stumbled upon a choice board of Pinterest that gave me an idea of a Tic-Tac-Toe BAM. The students could pick their assignments after watching their lecture videos. I even made a second version for my SPED and ELL population that focused more on vocabulary building and basic understanding.
Modified BAM for Ocean Unit

These BAMs were decent in terms of student participation but I wanted more. I wanted something to do with students' learning styles. I also wanted a choice sheet that had different levels of difficulty so students could challenge themselves as they saw fit. After doing some more research I had found a couple places that were meshing the two ideas of learning styles and Blooms Taxonomy. I finally found this one (here) that was exactly what I had been after! I fell in love. I gave the students points to achieve by the due date but they got to choose the way the got the points. 

I did have to place some rules down. First, the students had to complete the pre-work (lecture videos and notes) before they could begin any of the assignments. They could work with whoever they wanted as long as they were working. Students were not allowed to come to me first. They had to ask at least three other people before they could ask me. I gave them a deadline for all projects to be turned in, after to deadline there would be a test. I would not accept any assignments after the test. 

Overall, I feel good about how the BAM had turned out this year but I still have some kinks to work out in the system. First, I am still in need of a turn in system. Where I love Schoology and how it has changed my teaching practice, it is so slow when uploading assignments that have been turned in online. Like, to the point I could have graded three paper foldables in the time it took me to open one. Second, I did still have students that chose to sit and cruise with their friends. I had one particular group of gentlemen that took a week to complete a crossword puzzle. Part of me says, "Hey. You can't win them all." and the other part of me is super irritated that they would goof off. In the words of Elsa, "Let it goooooo". Anyways, I think the last thing is alignment of tasks to standards. Where I feel like most assignments covered the basic concepts, I feel like they sometimes didn't go deep enough for what they are tested on. 

Well, the year is not over yet. Maybe I will figure it out before summer! 

Mrs. C

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Reteaching Procedures- Semester 2

Christmas break is now over, and it is now time to welcome back our precious darlings.

When I was in my first year of teaching I was enrolled in a teaching preparation class. I remember going to class right before school was to resume and receiving this message. 
"You must reteach your procedures and expectations or you will be in a living Hades until summer break!!"
Okay, I don't think it was quite that dramatic, but the message was a clear one. After an extended break the students seemed to have forgotten even the basic come in to my room and sit in your assigned seat. It was insane. By the end of the first semester, I had 6th graders, without a sound, coming in, sitting down and getting straight to work. The students had only a small break and they had reverted back to the first day of school.
(If you are unsure about teaching procedures you should start at The Teacher Toolkit.  If you have more time you should get The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher, 4th Edition. This is a great "how to" book by Harry Wong.)
I have tried a couple different methods in my quest to reteach procedures. My first couple of years I was revved up on PowerPoint. Over the past couple of years, however, I have switched gears to Prezi. For this year, I am using the same Prezi I made for the first day of school procedures and just copied over what I needed the students to remember. This years reteaching includes:
  • How to enter the classroom
  • What materials are needed for class- pencil, notebook, ect.
  • How we should treat each other
  • The class reward system
  • What is expected of them
  • How to use class materials

There are many more procedures to be retaught but I always wait so not to overload them. Their brains are already full of stuff as it is. :-)

Mrs. C