Sunday, October 20, 2013

PD - Around the World in 3 Hours

This past Tuesday I conducted, in my opinion, a very unique professional development course for educators in my district. The title of the course was "Becoming a Connected Educator" and my focus was to introduce my colleagues to Skype in the Classroom and Twitter. I discovered Twitter as a professional development tool in April and discovered Skype in the Classroom in May. Over the last seven months, I can say without a doubt that I am a changed educator - a more motivated educator - a more reflective educator. Because I have had such a positive experience, I felt it was only necessary to share my story and help educators close to home become connected with others around the world.....

As I prepared for the class, I had an AHA moment....What better way to prove the power of being connected than to connect with educators from around the world that I respect and admire????
So I separated the course into five sections and texted, direct messaged or emailed five educators I've connected with and BAM within 24 hours I had the entire course planned. Here's the schedule for the course:

4:30-4:45        #1  "Skype in the Classroom" Skype Call  (UK)
4:45-5:00        Debrief
5:00-5:15        #2  Student Skype Call  (HI)
5:15-5:30        Debrief
5:30-5:45        #3  "Twitter Basics and Power of the PLN" Skype Call  (WI)
5:45-6:00        Debrief
6:00-6:15        #4  "Power of the Hashtag, Twitter Chats and Blogging" Skype Call  (IA)
6:15-6:30        Break
6:30-7:15        List of Hashtags and Twitter Chat Schedule
7:15-7:30        #5  "Making Lasting Connections" Skype Call  (AUS)

The reason I'm sharing this story because the course went great! I would have never been able to share all the different experiences that were shared. If you are planning on conducting a similar course, I would suggest Skyping in some of the educators you have connected with to show the possibilities and power of being connected.

Flipped PD
Before the course I sent an email with some videos to help lay the groundwork. (My little effort to flip the course...)

My class's Around the World in 6 Days Skype in the Classroom video from last year:

Janine Crain and Jennifer Plummer's Skype in the Classroom Video about Mystery Skype:

Victoria Olson's excellent Twitter Overview for Educators

Polling Twitter Users:
The day before the course, I asked the following question on Twitter: Why do you use Twitter?

Here are just SOME of the responses. I projected this on the SMARTboard as the educators waited for the class to begin. Thanks to everyone who replied!

Skype in the Classroom
At 4:35, we called Jon Tait (@TeamTait) in Durham, UK. Jon is an assistant head teacher and writes an excellent blog ( He was able to explain how being connected has changed him an educator and has provided his students with incredibly unique opportunities. For example, his students were able to participate in an International Dance contest with American students via Skype. Here's the link to this great opportunity that he helped organize: 

Student Skype Call
After briefly debriefing his call, we received a call from students in Honolulu, Hawaii. Melvina Kurashige (@mkurashige) runs a Kindness Club during her lunch hour and the students Skyped with us to tell us their plans for World Kindness Day on November 13. Although, the call was short, I was very fortunate that we were able to Skype with students, although it was after 5:00p.m. our time.

After the call, I explained more about the possibilities of Skype in the Classroom. If you have not created an account and tried to set up a call, I would highly suggest doing so. Jon Tait ended his call with two appropriate questions: What if? and Why not?  Why not try to connect our students with other classrooms and guest speakers! What if we do so? You'll never know the possibilities until you make the connections!

Twitter Basics and Building a PLN
 Next we received a call from Oliver Schinkten (@schink10) in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Oliver is one of my biggest inspirations and a great friend. He spoke about the basics of Twitter and the importance of building your PLN. He also was able to explain how Twitter has been able to help his high school students become more connected. Finally, he was able to briefly explain how he has brought compassion based learning to his students via a full year cross curricular program entitled, Communities. Here is the link to Oliver's Compassion-Based Learning Blog:

Hashtags, Twitter Chats and Blogging
After another short debrief about the basics of Twitter and building a PLN, we called the always inspirational Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy) Jimmy is a principal in Bettendorf, Iowa and spoke on the power of the Hashtag, Twitter Chats and Blogging all in 15 minutes! He also explained how being a connected administrator has impacted the other educators in his building. Jimmy writes his own blog and runs a blog that is co-authored by teachers from his school.

The debrief session after Jimmy's call was definitely not brief, because Hashtags and Twitter Chats are so important to understanding Twitter. I introduced my colleagues to Jerry Blumengarten's (@cybraryman1) incredible resources:

List of Educational Hashtags
Twitter Chat Schedule

We also established our district hashtag and I encouraged the educators to tweet using this hashtag after signing up. (#swcsPLN)

Creating a Global Classroom
Finally, we ended with the session with a recorded Skype call with @Capt_KK who is an outstanding 5th grade teacher in Perth, Australia. Her task was to explain what it means to participate in and co-create a global classroom. Jacqui and I connected last May and have great plans for our classrooms this school year.  Being connected can go beyond a one time Skype Call, it can truly transform your teaching. We have started daily and weekly communications with our classrooms and we are currently blending our curriculum and co-planning activities around our common content standards.

Just last week we began participating in a Battleship Game by sending coordinates via email daily. The game has MANY math connections and the excitement that has been generated is amazing. Also, we plan to send weekly videos to one another that focus on current curriculum, school culture and daily life. Although we are currently 12 hours behind the students in Perth, we have not let this deter us. We hope to be able to conduct at least one Skype call this year, as well, and we honestly don't know where our global classroom will take us...

I challenged my colleagues to not limit being connected to Twitter and Skype. When ready, use video, email, blogs, etc. to create a global classroom. And most importantly ask yourself:

What if?  
Why not?

By the end of the course, my colleagues and I were excited, but exhausted....Who could blame us though? We did just travel around the three hours :)

If you have any questions about setting up a similar, uniquely connected PD session, please let me know.

Lastly, I would like to thank Jon, Melvina, Oliver, Jimmy and Jacqui for helping co-teach this special professional development course. You truly are inspirations to me and I'm very fortunate to have you as an important part of my PLN.

Thanks for reading,
Arin Kress (@ArinKress)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Mathematical Birthday

I still get excited about my birthday. I do a lot of reflection on the year that was and a lot of wishful thinking about the year that is to come. As a teacher, I'm always so fortunate that when the students find out it's my special day, they want to celebrate with me.

When I walked in to school on Friday I was greeted by this:

My best friend surprised me with a very appropriate bouquet of Snicker bars and a balloon :) The cat was out of the bag - no hiding it was my birthday! 

Now, onto the BIG question: HOW OLD IS MS. KRESS??????   Instead of just telling my fifth graders my age, I decided to have a little fun. I wrote the following problem on the board. 

Their jaws dropped at the mere length of the problem and they were shocked when I told them they had to solve it mentally. But, I told them that the answer was very special to me today and they quickly got to work!  Their eyes lit up as they got the secret message that the answer would be my age :) In math we're solving equations using parentheses, brackets and braces.....So, I challenged them to figure it out :) 

After several minutes of quiet time and then some time for collaboration, students were ready to reveal their answers. If the students didn't use the order of operations properly then they came up with crazy ages like 6, 52, 100, 30, 35, 70, 28, -70?????? We had a good laugh at some of the answers as they obviously weren't correct. However, we had a great discussion and proved how each of the absurd answers was in fact incorrect. 

The students were able to finally agree on 30 and I revealed they were correct :) I then challenged the students to figure out what year I was born in (again mentally) and that led to a long discussion about the 80's :) It was a fun yet educational way to celebrate with the students. 

Throughout the day, students delivered cards to me and I was promised gifts on Monday. I told the students that the best gift of all was to have them in my class, but that I would never turn down chocolate :)

Hey, I may plan to change a few habits in my 30's, but indulging with chocolate is not one of them :)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Including Bus Drivers in our School Community

Often the importance of building community within our classrooms and schools is discussed, but sometimes we leave out some VERY important people that affect our students everyday: Our Bus Drivers.

In 2009, I was in my first year teaching at my current school and many times students would come into my classroom upset about something that occurred that morning on the bus. They would have difficulty focusing on school because their mornings started off poorly. I would spend a great deal of time trying to sort out problems on the bus rather than trying to teach content. (Just for context: I teach at building that is home to seven hundred 5th and 6th grade students.)

Therefore, in 2010 I established the Student Transportation Excellence (STEP) Program. We had many facets to the program such as:

-Weekly Bus Ticket Drawing - Students received a ticket from their driver if they behaved well on the bus for the entire week. Students would put their ticket in a drawing to win a prize. Five students were chosen each week and their names were put on a small 'bus' that lined the walls of one of our hallways.

-Weekly Bus Behavior Videos- Every week I would do a "Bus Spotlight" video where I would highlight good and poor bus behavior (standing up on the bus, throwing objects, sticking head/arms out windows, etc.)  Sometimes I would interview drivers so the students could connect with them more.

-Bus Riders of the Month- Each month, the bus drivers would choose a student who showed exemplary bus behavior. Winners were announced on the bus and given a certificate.

-Quarterly Whisper Weeks- This was a team competition between the buses. They competed against one another to received the highest "Whisper Week Score" The quieter the noise level on the bus, the higher score the students received from the driver. The Whisper Week celebration occurred during recess the next week and winners were treated to different games at recess (cornhole, ladderball, etc.) and were awarded with popcorn, music and more!

-Perfect Score Simulation Game- I developed a game that all bus riders took part in. It was a memorization game with many levels of distractions and impossible tasks. The students wanted to focus on the screen in front of them, but couldn't because of the continuous distractions.  At the conclusion of the game, students were frustrated and claimed that it was impossible to receive a "Perfect Score" The game was meant to simulate all the distractions that bus drivers deal with every day. The extreme noise level, students moving seats, throwing objects, etc. Students then had the 'aha' moment that maybe their behavior really could distract drivers and therefore cause an accident. It's a great game and one that spurs a lot of conversation!

-End of the Year Driver/Rider Events- At the end of the year, all drivers and select students were treated to free tickets at a Columbus Crew soccer game.

-Bus Driver Meetings- Twice a year my administrators and I would meet with the bus drivers and the head of the transportation department. We brainstormed ways to make the program better and they were always very appreciative that we asked for their opinions and gave them a forum for their voice to be heard.

-Driver and Student Surveys- At the conclusion of each school year the bus drivers and riders were surveyed about he effectiveness of the program. We took information from the surveys to tweak the program each year.

In the three years that we had the program, our school's bus referrals were below the district's average and poor bus behavior declined as compared to previous years. Although I was in charge of the program, many others helped with its success:

-Local organizations donated prizes for our weekly drawings
-The head of the transportation was constantly in contact with me about the program
-PTA bought the raffle tickets and purchased food and other items for Whisper Weeks.
-The DRIVERS were actually the biggest pieces to the puzzle. Some drivers focused on the program more than others and the ones that did reported a positive impact on student bus behavior.

The reason I share this program is because this year I was unable to continue it. It unfortunately became too time consuming and I hate that it is no longer a program at my school. Therefore, I share this idea with anyone who happens to read this blog.  Maybe you can see an idea that you can implement at your school.

It's important to remember that our bus drivers play a very important part of our students' day. We must support them and encourage the students to build a relationship with them!

Actually, I took this concept a step farther as I conceptualized Choices Day-  a one day whole school event that took place at my school two years in a row. I hope to blog about Choices Day in a future post soon. This post will include many of the ways that we included the bus drivers in our school community on one special day!

If you would like more information on the STEP bus program or if you are thinking about instituting a similar program, please contact me on Twitter @ArinKress

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Liberating the Genius of My 5th Graders

Angela Maiers often talks about liberating genius....EVERY student in our classes is a genius in his/her own way. A few weeks ago I was able to capture genius and I know I must share this. This is a video of four of my students running for Student Council Representative....Enjoy!

How could anyone vote after that? I know I couldn't!

Before the school year started, I sent out a letter to my students. In it, I said that I hoped to learn as much from them as they do from me. I think there was enough wisdom in those four speeches for the entire year! I am very fortunate to teach these four students and forty-eight of their classmates everyday!