Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Looking Back on 2014

Here is my "Looking Back on 2014" post. Although this is a reflection post for me, I hope you can learn something from my experience and what I recommend:

Best Flipped Classroom Platform:  EdPuzzle -
EdPuzzle changed the way I teach math. I have flipped for two years but EdPuzzle's incredible analytics allow me to formatively assess my students daily. If you're interested in flipping I just posted a five part series for the beginning flip class teacher. Here's the first post.

Best Software Purchase:  Camtasia ($99) -
I create about twenty videos a month between flipped class videos, global classroom videos and Classroom Champion videos. Camtasia is extremely easy to use and well worth the money! I use it to create all my screencasts and to edit all my videos. Video instruction adds so much to my classroom and Camtasia really has changed the way I teach.

Best Hardware Purchase:  Video Camera and Tripod (Approx. $300) -
About two months ago I bought a videocamera and tripod. It was by far the best purchase for me for the school year because I have used it in so many ways: To create flipped videos, to record those exciting, unplanned moments you don't want others to miss, to record my teaching so I can reflect, to record student brainstorming and replay the discussion after learning the content to see how far they've come, etc. However, the most frequent use I get out of the camera is when the students use it to teach short lessons that I use for flipped classroom videos. The students BEG to use the camera to teach and it has added so much to my classroom. (I spent close to $300 but you can get a camera and tripod much cheaper, or get one donated through a grant, so don't let the price hold you back from something that could change your classroom! Before I bought the camera I would take pictures and record using my cell phone. I constantly ran out of space and I never wanted students to handle my phone. Now, the camera is 'our' tool and something the students know they can use easily.)

Biggest Instructional Impact:  LearnPads  
In January 2014, I began to use devices in the classroom. My district purchased LearnPads and each teacher has access to twelve. Immediately I saw the value devices brought to the classroom, and I began to adjust my thinking instructionally. Thankfully, other teachers have allowed me to borrow their LearnPads, so for this school year I have been operating in a one to one setting.

Biggest Change Instructionally:  Gamification
Because my students have access to LearnPads, I decided to totally revamp the way I teach science. I felt like I was too focused on providing the instruction  and not as focused on student discovery and questioning. Therefore, I turned our science curriculum into a video game format. Students have to complete 7 tasks and pass a ten question quiz to pass a "step." The students will work through 3-5 "steps' to pass a level (unit). At the end of the level the students must pass a 20 question test. When students finish the level they can work on an enrichment project for the level until the other students are ready to move on. Students work at their own pace either by themselves or with a partner or small group to research the topic and complete the tasks. I try to have at least one hands on activity in each step and most of the other steps deal with inquiry based questions. This set up allows for me to meet with students who may be struggling, while allowing other students who learn quickly time to learn the content and expand upon the questions that they have asked during their research. This has been a huge shift for me instructionally but the students love it. They are asking so many more questions and are much more involved in their learning. I'm excited as to what my gamification science classroom will morph into in 2015. Let me know if you're interested in my gamification classroom and I will gladly elaborate.

Best Chrome Add On Flubaroo
After my students complete different levels in science, they will take a quiz via google form. I use Flubaroo to automatically grade the quizzes and email the students' scores to their school email address. Flubaroo creates a "Grades" tab within the Response spreadsheet that I can use to analyze the students' scores, commonly missed questions, etc.

Best Teacher Phrase  "I don't know"
I probably said "I don't know" more this year than I had in my previous eight years of teaching altogether. Saying this phrase often means two things: 1. My students are asking the type of questions I want them to ask. Questions that I TRULY don't know the answer to. And 2. I'm giving the students ownership of their learning. Even if I know an answer to a question, I may said "I don't know, what do you think?" to give the student an opportunity to verbalize his/her thinking. Many times the student may run and research the answer online and then enlighten me with the findings. The students feel so much more empowered when they teach others in the classroom. My suggestion would be to say "I don't know" more in 2015 and see how it changes your students' thinking.

Best Student Phrase  "Can I make a video?" 
Like I explained above, I bought a video camera and tripod to use. I set up a dry erase board in the corner of my room and the students are constantly begging to make videos. Multiple times a day different students will ask to make videos. Sometimes I send them to other areas in the school (library, computer lab) so they can have a quiet to record and other times my five 'late bus riders' will try to squeeze in a recording in the five minutes before they are dismissed. There have been so many benefits to recording student teaching and this is a phrase that I hope to continue to hear in 2015.

Biggest Impact on my students' lives:  Classroom Champions - 
This year I was lucky enough to be chosen as a Classroom Champions teacher. So, for the past four months my students have participated in Classroom Champions lessons on Goal Setting, Fair Play, Community and Perseverance. On December 6th we had the first of two live chats with our mentors: Meryl Davis and Charlie White. If you're interested, here's the link to the call. 

The organization has been wonderful to work with and I would highly recommend applying next year. Follow @ClassroomChamps, @SteveMesler @GiddeonMassie and @HlePNW on Twitter and keep your eye out for the 2015-2016 application in the Spring. You can learn more about Classroom Champions here.

Biggest Impact on my life:  Global Classroom 
This year was transformative for me. For just over a month during the summer, I traveled to Australia by myself. I went to the Flat Connections Conference in Sydney, took a twelve day bus tour from Perth to Broome, met my global classroom partner class in Perth and then spent time with my global classroom partner teacher, Jacqui Korten. If Jacqui and I hadn't created the global classroom that we did during the 2013-2014 school year, I know I would never have made the trip to Australia and had the experience of a lifetime by swimming with sharks, repelling off cliffs and seeing some of the most spectacular sunsets I'll ever see! This is the perfect example of how the connections I've made online really have changed my life.

Best Education App:  Remind- 
Remind is a simple, sleek app that allows teachers to text students and parents. I use Remind four to eight times per week to 'remind' students of their homework, remind parents of important events at school and to inform students of amazing things happening such as shuttle launches, eclipses, etc. Remind is a great company that I would recommend to any educator. Here are some unique ways that I have used Remind in the past.

Best Education Website:  Skype in the Classroom  
Skype can transform your classroom, hands down. If you have not created a Skype in the Classroom account, PLEASE do so in 2015. Putting the time and energy into figuring out how to Skype at your school WILL be worth it. You can easily skype in guest speakers to provide expert insight to your content, skype with classes from around the world or use it in many other creative ways. Our favorite skype calls have been with two paleontologists, a marine biologists from the Bahamas, a Yellowstone Park Ranger, an entomologist and an employee at NASA. Again, please take the leap! Here's a post I wrote a few years ago to help teachers get started using Skype in the Classroom. 

Biggest Group Inspiration:  Skype Master Teacher Group:  
This year I was chosen to be a Skype Master Teacher. Through this group I have been in contact with extraordinary educators from all corners of the world. The projects that they do and the ideas that they share continue to inspire me to push boundaries within my own classroom. To get you started, I would recommend following the following educators on Twitter in addition to @SkypeClassroom: @msoskil, @teacherka,  @bevladd, @kcalderw, @murcha, @shannonmiller @Mrs_Smoke @campreadsmore @iro_st and @lkegode.

Biggest Individual Inspiration:  Livingstone Kegode: (@lkegode) 
Through Skype in the Classroom, I have not only exposed my students to places and people all around the world, but I have also been able to see first hand the work of teachers in six continents and in many different situations. The teacher who has inspired me the most, Livingstone Kegode, lives and works in a slum in Nairobi, Kenya. The obstacles that he faces daily are ones that many of us can hardly fathom. Yet, he continues to educate the beautiful students in his region with the zeal and fervor of a teacher at the most privileged school in the world. He tries to set up a Skype call DAILY with his students which provides them with countless opportunities to learn and grow. However, whether he realizes it or not, the caller (speaker or class) on the other end is being inspired and uplifted at the same time. He is an incredible educator and someone I am happy to have connected with in 2014. Here's an article about Livingstone that includes a video of him explaining the importance of Skype and here are videos of his students teaching Swahili. Thank you, Livingstone for inspiring so many teachers around the world, including me!

I would like to thank all the people and organizations above who have helped me directly or indirectly this year. I truly believe I am a better teacher because of the time and effort you put into helping improve education not only for my students but students all around the world!

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