10 Things to Keep in Mind When Collaborating With Others

I’ve recently begun communicating with a couple of teachers from the other side of the world. This has been very exciting, but also attitude-altering in several ways. I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned at the outset of attempting to foster these new relationships with international colleagues.

ONE. Compromise

I begin with the most basic and obvious. Clearly, for any collaboration to get off the ground, there must be give and take. An airplane needs both aerodynamic wing design AND speed. Without the one it is a very fast weird-looking car, and without the other it is little more than a model of a plane. Speed pushes the air around the wings so that the craft lifts off of the ground. Hopefully, you get the picture, but if you want to go down that rabbit-hole, enjoy. I’ll see you later:)


TWO. Active Listening

This means seeking to understand. Because we are only using text, and my collaborative partner comes from a totally different *everything from me, I must be a super sleuth to find context for concepts. One thing I try to do is “un-think” much of my expectations, as well as not assume that my partner knows American educational habits. This past week I had Monday off due to snow. Then, Friday there wasn’t school for students because of Professional Development. Do my international teaching friends experience these conundrums?

*In addition to all of the concrete differences and experiential differences, there are the attitudes and mindsets that will be different. Are days off considered “off” to people in other countries? Perhaps time away from school is full of more work than being in school.


THREE. Give Up Google

Don’t have a stroke Alice Keeler, but not everyone in the world uses Google. I do, and I love it. In fact, I spend more time in my G suite than my house. (Right now, I’m typing this in Google Doc, planning to copy and paste it into WordPress.)

This may be hard to imagine for some, but what if there were something better than Google? Right now, America is the most powerful and largest tech market, but it isn’t the biggest. China and India dwarf the U.S.A. Were those countries to develop a system that worked better and was even more easily accessible, Google would be Lincoln Logs next to Legos. As collaborators and educators, we would do well to have an open mind and try out whatever our partner wants to use.

All that being said, there is the whole if you set it free and it comes back to you business. I did suggest Google to my pen pals. One person is familiar with Google, and her students use Drive. Another person’s students don’t. With this second collaborator I will be using ePals program to connect my students with hers. We will see how it goes.


FOUR. Swallow Pride

This will read funny after what I just said, but when I found out a collaborating partner from another side of the world didn’t use Google very much, I thought, “Great! An opportunity to show you how awesome, useful, and helpful it its!” I did not email this sentiment, however. Instead, I thought about what the goal of our collaboration should be. Did this person sign up to have her students pen pal with mine, only to have me preach at her about the benefits of Google? We both expect to grow and learn through the experience, but I don’t want to turn off my partner by acting or even dreaming of tech superiority.

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Scarlet and Sonia on vacation.

You arrange to hangout with someone. The new friend suggests riding bikes to a park for a picnic lunch. Do you insist that the two of you drive? “It’ll be faster. The lunch won’t spill or cool off. It’s more convenient…” For you, maybe. If you insist on driving, you could drive your friend away. Even if the new acquaintance agrees to be driven, and the lunch doesn’t spill or cool off, your fragile new relationship could.

3319673304_53ea643fedPerhaps your partner has driven a car before–Maybe they have a Ferrari sitting in the garage that you’ll be able to experience if you allow the friendship to blossom naturally.

 


FIVE. Keep it Consistent: “Rotisserie Relationship”

Keep it moving. Try to stay on top of communication. Maybe even agree on frequency. Do you expect to hear from each other once a week, every other day. Might you be setting yourself up for failure hoping to correspond every day? Take turns and practice a comfortable, reliable back and forth.


SIX. Adjust the Temperature

When cooking marshmallows over a fire, there are three ways to do it.

  1. Grab a raw marshmallow from the bag and plop it in your mouth. You might be too impatient to wait. Or, maybe you just prefer raw marshmallows to gooey, sticky ones.
  2. Thrust the marshmallow right into the flames of the fire. It will light up like a torch. Let it burn for a few seconds. After blowing out the flames, you plop the carcinogen-crusted half-melted marshmallow in your mouth. These have some yummy melted marshmallow, but the papery skin sticks to the roof of your mouth and tastes burnt, which it is. And, the center is still raw.
  3. You know how this one goes. The experienced, patient person waits for the fire to burn to red-hot embers. He finds just the right stick and wittles the end while he waits. Once the cooking conditions are just right, the master marshmallow melter delicately develops a rich brown color on all sides by slowly spinning the fat white column over the heat… checking often for discoloration. The most important thing to know is that it isn’t the flame that cooks the marshmallow; It’s the heat. Embers are hotter than flames, but they take time to develop.

SEVEN. Don’t Pile On

Personally, I have too much to say, in general, clearly;)

I have to work at taming myself to 1 or 2 ideas per communiqué. This is not my strong suit, but I have found that too many ideas can smother a relationship. If you put too many sticks on a fire, do you know what happens? It dies out. (I’m still thinking about those marshmallows.) Fire needs to breath. It is best to add just a few sticks at a time. Let them catch. Then add more. Or, when adding a lot of wood to a fire, be sure that there is an air vent; a place where oxygen can reach the heart of the fire.

When participating in a conversation, try to be masterful about it. Add thoughts that have to do with what other people are talking about. Only tell one story and limit the details. Give listeners the opportunity to ask to hear more. Don’t hog the mic. And, never drop it. Inevitably, it will definitely land on your metaphorical foot.


EIGHT. Be Humble

This may exist as “Eight” in the list, but can be woven in and out of every sentence of this blog. In other words, it is every number.

Humility can be your savior. Back to the “Driving to the picnic” analogy: How would your partner feel if he or she only owned a bicycle, and you show up in a Ferrari? You may as well rev your engine and run over the partner’s pet dog on your way to your picnic. Hubris is killer.


NINE. Questions Show You Care

Always include questions. Again, only a couple; don’t make your correspondent feel like he is taking a survey. It might work well to volunteer your own answer to the question that you asked your new friend. I recently told my pen pal about having to take a “snow day” because of inclement weather. Then I asked if it snows where she lives. A better question, now that I think about it, would have been, “What kinds of things might cause you and your students to close up shop and not have school for a day or more?” Yeah, I think I’m going to go type that into my next correspondence.

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I am asking a student questions about her salsa during our annual 3rd grade salsa taste-testing event.

And, now that my list is just about over and you have come to the end of this blog, I will practice what I preach by asking you:

  • Which of these ideas resonated with you and why?
  • What experience have you had communicating with people from other countries?
  • How did you get in touch with these individuals? (Others might be interested in starting a collaborative project, so provide some specifics, including links, please.)
  • What do you plan to do with the information that you just read?

I ask you these questions because I care; more than caring that you read this blog, I care about people collaborating effectively. I care about people making friends, working together, growing as humans. I care for humanity…  evolving to be better.


TEN. Distance

 

This is related to “Don’t Pile On” (no. 7). Make sure that there is enough space for your partner to provide suggestions.

Relationships are like a simple game of catch. Is it fun to toss a ball to someone who is 2 feet from you? No. The further away, the better.

You start off close, but with mastery, you move further from one another. There will come a point when the distance becomes too challenging or ineffective. And then, you make adjustments. This space can be applied to time, proximity (you are not going to email the person sitting next to you), and ideas (tossing the same thought back and forth gets boring).


Okay. All done. Now, back to “Questions Show You Care”, I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this… Well, on part of this… Okay, just tell me nice things… No, really, I want to read your thoughts, whatever they are. Just frame them nicely, please. Thank you.

 

“Sympathy for Creativity” A GarageBand Project

Creativity is one of those things that everyone understands, but has a hard time defining. I think art, and especially music emulates the essence of creativity the best. Musical artists seem to tap heaven when coming up with completely new melodies.


Henriksen, Mishra, & Fisser (2016) use three concepts to build a definition of creativity: novelty, effectiveness, and appropriateness. This is perfectly fine, if we are using creativity solely to solve specific problems within the context of an educational environment. In my opinion, the last two concepts flatten creativity into a two-dimensional word that can be explained away in a paper.

I think that you can stop after “novel”. The authors of “Infusing Creativity and Technology in 21st Century Education: A Systemic View for Change” (2016) take the magic of Willy Wonka and stick it into Henry Ford’s assembly line when they push productivity onto creative people. They, like many, seem to be looking for ways to harness creativity in order to power old machinery. Sticking art in the regular-ed classroom won’t transform it. We need to break down the walls!Animated GIF-source

Applying the limiting definition of Henriksen, Mishra, & Fisser (2016) to a problem like making Internet connections faster would make wires carry more and more information, faster and faster. Perhaps there brand of creativity could even think up Wifi. The most creative person might harness the Earth’s Mantle to transport information from one side to the other instantaneously without using energy. This is all super helpful, would benefit society, make money for companies, save money for others, create jobs, foster new research, etc. But, what about the kid who thinks about changing the information from the Internet in general. We praise the kid who builds the most amazing structure with Legos and punish the one who uses the Legos to form a picture. That is not how Legos work. You did not build anything. Another kid makes the Legos dance and sing. They put on a play. Still another builds with the Lego people a structure that the blocks live in. Whoa, that kid is reeeeeaaaally wrong!

Play for play sake. Be creative just to be creative. Come up with new ideas, just cuz.


This past summer I decided this would be the year that I explore a program that has evaded me for a while now: GarageBand. I watched a tutorial video that lit a fire in me to make my own music for the videos that I create. (I produce a lot of movies that I post on Youtube.)

The Rolling Stones
The Stones 1968, the year “Sympathy for the Devil” was recorded

I had a cool idea for how to use GarageBand: My class will take a song and change the lyrics, making a classroom song. I chose “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones. I’m sure that you think this is a crazy choice for a 3rd grade classroom. It is, but let me explain with some A, B, Cs… and a D;)

A

A is for A+. I love the song. The music is catchy, singable, memorable, rhythmic, and fun. Also, it uses tons of different instruments. This would be great for my class, because everyone could have a “part” in its construction. If we were to perform the music live, literally every single kid could be playing a totally different instrument!

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Mr. Peters shows Ss some different instruments available.

B

B is for Beginning. The song is sort of a riddle, asking listeners to “Guess my name”. At the beginning of the year (when I had thought about working on this) we are all getting to know one another. I had my students make “Who Am I Riddle Poems” to share things about themselves that are unique from others. We would take this concept and use it “whole group” to distinguish our class from other classes.

C

IMG_0650C is for simple, yet complex. The song is made up of 4 verses with a repeating chorus. The chord progression is E, D, A, E, with the change on the first beat of each of four measures. Dylan Peters (@DylanPetersedu), the brand new Technology Innovator Specialist hired to East Penn School District this past summer (2018) worked with me from the get go to teach my students (and me) how to use GarageBand. We used the “Autoplay” feature to have the instruments play simple rhythms. After guiding groups through creating the same set of four instruments playing the same four measures of music, we showed them how they could change the instruments, altering percussion styles, and fooling with some really funky disc jockey features.

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Thank you, Mr. Peters for all of your help with this project!

D

And, D. is for “dynamic”. [Dynamic was the theme of a recent #livechat I participated in from #masterychat, @teachbetterteam. I looked up the word, and found that it means “change”.] The original song by The Rolling Stones changes throughout, progressively increasing the tempo, number of sounds, and musical involvement. This is not only fun, but would allow for my entire class to be hooting and howling by the end! (Give the song a listen, and you’ll see.)

So far, the groups have been working on changing the instruments within GarageBand to customize their four measures before we piece them all together. The aim is for four totally different styles of the same music to be joined just like the students of my third grade class came from different 2nd grade teachers, possessing very different styles of teaching, personalities, and methods.

This past week I began teaching poetry, in preparation for the class to write the lyrics that will accompany our music. Dylan Peters plans to bring in a professional-style microphone to record the class’s singing once our composition is complete. Check back with me to see and hear the final product.

I mention this GarageBand project not just to share a pretty creative idea, but because of a question my wife posed: What are the learning outcomes for this? At first, I thought about justifying the time, energy, thought, and work by suggesting ELA, Art, or Math standards. Then I thought about explaining to her the camaraderie-constructing merit of the project. I settled on “We are just doing it for fun.” Why does this seem so wrong in today’s educational climate?   

Sources:

Henriksen, D., Mishra, P., & Fisser, P. (2016). Infusing Creativity and Technology in 21st Century Education: A Systemic View for Change. Educational Technology & Society, 19 (3), 27–37.

[Sanjay C]. (2018, January 20). GarageBand on your iPad Quick -START TO FINISH! . Retrieved from https://youtu.be/ykGRexBtcXQ

Weimann, M. (2018, September 23). Critical Thinking is Classy. Retrieved October 20, 2018, from https://thecaptainofclass.com/2018/09/23/critical-thinking-is-classy/ [This is the first time that I have ever cited my own work.]

[zwwlg]. (2016, March 12). Ken Robinson – Do schools kill creativity/TED Talks. . Retrieved from https://youtu.be/tQzC7ubJriE

Can Tech Tools Stifle Creativity?

Just over a week ago I produced the coolest off-the-cuff formative assessment using Google Slides. Students accessed a slideshow that I threw together right before getting them from recess. There was a picture in it that I wanted them to use to identify arrays.  

My 3rd graders have struggled with learning multiplication at the very beginning of the year, as I have struggled teaching it right out of the gate. See, my district just signed on to use iReady math, and everyone is experiencing some growing pains.

Scarlet
Scarlet plays with some blocks I brought home.

We have been looking at arrays, frontwards and backwards. I had brought some connecting blocks home to take pictures for a quiz I would administer, when an idea hit me. My daughter Scarlet was enjoying constructing shapes with the blocks, and she built a robot. Rather than making nice neat rectangles for my students, I’d have them find the arrays that lay hidden in this robot. I love combining life experiences and teaching moments, so I told my students about the robot’s inception and their assignment. They loved it and jumped right in.

I had taken a picture of the simple combination of blocks and uploaded it to a Google slideshow. Students were to find the slideshow (a copy per student) waiting for them in their Math Google Classroom. They were to identify different arrays by circling them. I also told them to label the arrays appropriately; Putting the number of rows first, and then the number of columns.

sloppy iPadMy classroom has a mishmash of different devices. I literally did not know how they were going to outline their arrays, but I did know that there was more than one way. The iPads are pretty easy. Kids can click on the assigned Google slideshow and immediately start drawing and writing all over the slides, without opening it in the Google Slides App. When students are done they can save/submit the work as a PDF.

On the Chromebooks and Macs, students could put shapes on top of the arrays, but then they would have to adjust the shape to be transparent. Students found a tool called “Scribble” under the “Line” icon within slides that worked the best. They could draw (using two hands) a rectangle around the arrays they found. Then they used the regular “Line” to connect the array to a “Text Box” that they typed the array inside. These lines were very thin and black, so students worked out a way to change the color and thicken up the lines. They also used this experience to find out how to change the font size, color, etc. of text. I witnessed my students teaching themselves the technology, problem-solving in many more ways than one, using creativity for practical reasons, and experiencing tremendous success, both practically and mathematically!

All in all, the lesson was a smashing success. I was very happy with how well my students did identifying the arrays. And I was incredibly impressed with the ingenuity they showed in figuring out the best ways to show their work, using the tools at their disposal.

animated
Heather Moser Empowers EPSD Teachers w/ Terrific Tech Tools

Now, this is where the title of this blog comes into play. The aforementioned lesson took place on the Thursday before Columbus Day Weekend. On Monday (Columbus day) my school district had a professional development inservice. I attended an incredible session titled “iPads Untethered”, taught by East Penn Tech Instructional Assistant, Heather Moser. She started out the teacher learning time with an app called “Sketches”. Kids can use this app to easily draw all over images that are either shared with them or they generate from taking a picture. The sketches can be saved in organized folders, shared, or submitted. We then moved on to doodling all over images in Notes, another easy to use app that comes preinstalled on iPads. It was as though Heather knew about my lesson and was saying, “Gee, Captain, you could have simply used one of these.”

The catch is that both my students and myself grew threw our productive struggle. Problem-solving ways to show arrays within Google Slides helped us learn all kinds of things. Also, I liked my ability to link comments to student work when it came time for me to provide feedback and grades for this assessment on the fly. In the future, when my students have one iPad/kid I can use the awesome apps that Mrs. Moser showed teachers during professional development. Robot

Those simple-to-use drawing tools would make it much easier and faster to perform an assessment like the one I had planned, but would this rob my students of the opportunity for productive struggle? As digital tools make life easier and easier, we teachers will have to be creative in finding ways to make tasks challenging. 

Student-Owned Education is Classy

It’s not just about giving kids access to computers and the Internet; Teachers must instruct kids how to use technology “innovatively.” It’s all about the SAMR model (Substitute, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition). Teachers should stop worrying about redefining technology, and let it redefine their teaching. Then substitution, augmentation, and modification will fall into place.

What has technology done for our teaching?

van
This pic shows my trusty van, the 1st vehicle I ever owned, in front of a flower shop that one of my crews painted during the summer of 1994. (Collegeville, PA.)

When I was in college I had the amazing opportunity to run my own outdoor house painting business through a corporation called College Pro Painters. This company hired and trained college students to operate franchises — reproductions of the original business begun by a college student, Greig Clark, from Canada in 1971. The training did not spend any time teaching us managers how to paint. It concentrated on teaching us how to train our painters to produce high-quality work by requiring seemingly “barely achievable” expectations. We also learned how to hire our workers, estimate prices, budget supplies, and land jobs.

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Here I am getting a crew ready to spray the outside of a house (1995).

I had painted for one of the College Pro Painting franchise owners the summer before I was hired to run my own business. It had been a rewarding, successful, and lucrative summer job. Thus, I knew how to paint, and I could do it well.

There came a point in the summer that I was managing three different crews made up of between three and five painters, each, when I was frustrated by the rate of slow production and low quality work. I confessed to my district manager, my boss, that I wished I could just go out there and paint the darn houses, myself! He told me a story.

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One of my crews painting a twin in Pottstown, PA (1994).

Before becoming the district manager of the entire North Eastern United States, he had been in the same shoes as me. He was estimating, budgeting, hiring, and training with barely time to sleep and eat. Then his dad got ill. His mom had died when he was young. He had no siblings. It was up to him to help his father.

Maybe you think his business suffered. It didn’t. This incredible businessman began running his business from home. He started having his foremen stop by his house in the mornings. They would pick up orders and estimates. Then they would get supplies from the paint store that the manager had called in. The foremen would talk to the homeowners, walking them around at the end of each day, discussing the progress of the project, and even finalize the job, collecting the final check.

phone-2476595_960_720The ground-breaking technology that made all of this happen back in 1990 was the… ready for this? Telephone. Homeowners called an 800 number to ask for estimates for painting. Because the manager was stuck at home, he was able to check his leads several times a day, calling homeowners back nearly immediately. He scheduled all of his estimates on the same day and back to back, rather than spreading them out. By the end of the summer, the manager who seemed the most limited was able to produce far more painting work than any other manager in his district.

This tale resonated with me. Rather than taking over the work that my painters were producing “under par” and slowly, I gave my employees more responsibilities. I stopped running around town like a manager with his head cut off. No longer did I talk to each painter. I only spoke with the foremen. They became the ones who communicated with the homeowners. They were the ones responsible for the job, anyway! The quality of work slowly rose as foremen realized they wouldn’t be able to collect the final payment until the homeowner was happy. It became the leaders of the crews who put pressure on their painters, instead of me micromanaging everyone. Needless to say, I won the Rookie of the Year Award at the end of my first summer running my own business (1994). And, it was thanks to the encouragement of my district manager, who empowered me with vision and leadership.

What does this have to do with teaching?

Phone_booth_Anchorage_2006
Don’t fall into the trap of letting technology innovate you. You be the innovator.

How often do teachers take over the learning for their students? How can technology revolutionize the reach of student-ownership? The technology that was cutting edge in 1994 was the beeper. I got pages when leads called for an estimate. I would pull my painting van over at one of the dozen pay phones I frequented and call the 800 number to collect my lead info. Then I would call the future customer, right away. Nowadays we get instant notifications when a social media message or comment comes in. We must teach the next generation how to manage this barrage of technology. Don’t let it innovate you. Be the innovator.

We have all heard the derisive term used in competition when a competitor conquers his opponent so thoroughly that he is said to have “owned” him. It was made popular during the inception of the Internet by hackers (Savagegump, 2005) gaining complete control over a program. Teachers should stop trying to “own” their teaching. Let students control their own learning. Let technology redefine your teaching, and LET GO.

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My most successful crew was rewarded the best jobs. Here, they are painting the largest project of the summer, 1994… $8,500.

This blog is a byproduct of two experiences: Participation in the “live chat” #MasteryChat on September 27, 2018, hosted by @chadostrowski CEO of @teachbetterteam that centered on “Student-Ownership”…  And, reading Deubel’s (2018) “Technology Integration: Essential Questions” for a class from Kutztown University.

masterychat
The #masterychat was an awesome experience. Can’t wait for the next one!

Sources:

Deubel, P. (2018). Technology integration: Essential questions. Retrieved September 28, 2018, from Computing Technology for Math Excellence Web site: http://www.ct4me.net/technology_integr.htm

Savagegump. (2005, February 11). Owned. Retrieved September 29, 2018, from https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Owned [More than just a definition, this is an etymology of the term.]

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2016, January). National education technology plan 2016: Future ready learning: Reimagining the role of technology in education. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from http://tech.ed.gov/netp/

Five Ways to Classy-ify Assessments with Google Forms

I haven’t read it yet, but I look forward to tackling “Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways To Go

pile of books
My pile of reading is bottomless!

Gradeless In a Traditional Grades School” by Starr Sackstein (2015). From what I have seen from tweets, this text lines up perfectly with my transforming attitude about tests and assessment. I have been leaning away from right/wrong assessments the past few years. Google Forms have helped me all but completely stray from formal testing into the land of forging understanding through creative assessments.

Provide clear instr for taking the quiz
Provide clear instructions for beginning quizzes.

I teach third grade, so the following examples may have too much text for your students, or be too simple for your grade level. Obviously, you are going to make your own quizzes to fit the needs of your classroom. I present concepts, here to help you make your quizzes a little more classy. Here’s five ideas. 

First of all, I use the potential answers to continue teaching the concepts. Does this point kids in the direction of the answer, making it obvious which one is correct? You bet. Not only

Answer 3 negates the second
The feedback points out what I do in the quiz; pointing to how the answers are structured to “give away” the correct responses.

that, but you should hear me read the questions and add anecdotes to the answers! The only kids who should be getting these questions wrong are the ones not paying attention, and, so, that is being assessed as well. 

Second, only assess what you are teaching. Because I was not teaching reading comprehension, I am not going to expect my class to be able to read and understand these questions. I had that in mind when I designed and typed the quiz. I plan to read this entire quiz to my class. I might administer it in small groups, because I do not have enough digital devices at this time for every kid to have one. That works, too. If I were assessing reading, I would have the kids take the quiz independently, and I would have made it on their reading levelS–That is right!! Tailoring the quizzes to meet each kiddo’s needs is great with Google Forms. You can copy and paste things. You can make a copy of the entire quiz and only change things as you need to, also.

Third, use the feedback to provide students with not only why answers are correct and

With google forms be sure to copy and paste answer feedback into correct ans feedback
For this particular quiz I want even students who got the answer correct to see my feedback, so I had to copy and paste the response into the “Correct Answers” window, also.

incorrect, but as a teaching space. I often instruct students within the feedback areas on how to evaluate answers. I show them what I was doing when I typed the quiz. In the same way learning how to write from an actual published author will enhance a budding writer, I hope to help my students become better test-takers. That’s right! I said “test-takers”. Guess what; No matter how much you hate it, life is full of taking tests. I want my students to be great at it.

Fourth, let go of grades. This is where I think my methods lineup with  Sackstein’s “Hacking Assessment” (2015) book thesis. When creating my quizzes in Google Forms, I allow my students to “Edit after Let students view each other's responses and answerssubmit” and “See summary charts and text responses”. I do this so that students can assess themselves. They can revisit the quiz with their peers, seeing what other people chose as answers. (https://youtu.be/ZZ65RwKOsPA) You have to instruct your students in how to analyze these pie charts. They are pretty easy to figure out, but it is important to recognize that just because more people chose the second option as an answer, does not guarantee its correctness. If everyone else chose an option that you didn’t, however, may lead you to reevaluate your choice. I love having my students read each other’s written responses, too. Kids go back and dress up their own answers with better information. Teachers, you have to be willing to allow students to correct themselves. So what if they get a better grade than the one that they initially “earned”. In every other area of life kids are allowed to improve what they do without getting penalized. Why are our tests a once and done, black and white, the moment you click “submit”, your assessment is up experience?

Fifth… This is going to seem like a contradiction to the previous point, but I actually like grades. They are measures. Parents want to see how their children “measure up”. Grades are goals. Without some sort of measurement, it feels like we didn’t get anywhere. It is important to understand that the grades are artificial; they are made up; they are relative… but they do exist. Also, kids like getting good grades. The way I see it, my job is to help each kid get the best grade possible. I provide opportunities for bonus points. I let students retake quizzes. I allow students to see what everyone else did. They can all but copy and paste answers. One key idea is that, even with all of this help, it is important for students to feel as though they earned their grades. Assessments can be teaching tools

And, now I am going to end this blog by doing what I all but scream at my students for doing: I hope that you found some of this useful. Thanks for reading! Ugh, I hate it when they do that;)

Sackstein, S. (2015). Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways To Go Gradeless In a Traditional Grades School. Cleveland: Times 10 Publications.

Google Classroom Gets Classier and Classier!

I only began using Google Classroom last year, and I instantly fell in love with it. It is easy to work with as a teacher: You can find things fast. There are convenient pathways to Google Drive, Youtube, and previous posts from other classrooms for assigning tasks. The format is simple enough for primary grades to navigate, but complex enough for older grades to utilize.

This blog is bubbling out of a realization from assessing an assignment that I administered this week. Rather than have all of my kiddos sitting on a carpet for too long and only partially engaged in the story that I was reading to them, I put the story into a Google slideshow and shared it with my class in Google Classroom. I made it so that the slideshow created a copy for each student in the class.

classroom rules
It was tricky to word the rules as a “Cause”. I had to erase the word “No” a couple of times.

Before having students begin the slideshow activity, I presented the classroom rules in a unique way. I did not tell the students, “No laying down in the classroom!” I wrote the words “laying down” on the board, and then, as a class, we discussed what could happen as a result of students laying down. The first student to volunteer information suggested that kids might fall asleep. I thought that was rather far-fetched, but we discussed not paying attention, the difference between actively working and passively producing work (just going through the motions). Through this students suggested that laying down would communicate “Disrespect”. I thought that was a great observation!

After writing several byproducts for laying down on the floor, one of which was “Being a trip hazard”, I drew a line between the action and what that action might bring about. Then I drew a solid line above both sides, creating a T Chart. I didn’t say anything as I wrote “CAUSE” above the left side of the chart. Kids only had to see the C-A-U before they were calling out (breaking one of the rules we were about to discuss;) “EFFECT!”

I barely had to mention the concept of “Cause & Effect” after that, and we easily came up with other rules and why we have them. This just came to me, while in front of the students, but it was by far the classiest rules discussion I have ever witnessed. I had to be careful to write the rules as though they were the cause, which was tricky at times, but even this made the concept of behaving appropriately seem less militaristic. Rather than “No Calling Out”, I wrote “Not raising your hand”. So, what happens when you don’t raise your hand? We discussed the feeling you get when you have an awesome answer that you would be proud to share, but someone else yells out a similar thought. Ugh! That person just stole my spotlight!!

Now, I have a story that I usually use to accompany the rules. It introduces the concept of consequences for breaking them. The students had been sitting on the carpet for several minutes, though, so I, within seconds, made through the “First Quarter ELA” Google Classroom that I had just created over lunch an assignment that provided the slideshow to everyone. Not only would each kid have access to it, but the classroom software made a copy for each student. In this way, I had the students open their individual copy in the Google Slides App, so that they could leave comments.

Cause and Effect slide one
This is the 2nd slide, the first with text, and I gave the students what to type as comments, so they could practice. Those links on the slide were active for the kids to go to websites I had vetted and linked to the story for them to deepen their understanding.

I walked them through accessing their slideshows, navigating the app, and reading the slides. I showed them where the button for “Adding a Comment” was and even gave them an example of “Cause & Effect” from the first slide for them to type. Then, some students read the text independently, seeking causes and their effects. Many students read the text to themselves, while I read it out loud from the interactive board. When we finally got to the rules that I had typed into the slideshow, I had the students engage with the slide, telling me which rule they thought would be the hardest to keep. They were to leave a comment about it.

Feedback plus grades for Google slideshow assignments in google classroom
I used to only leave comments within the slideshows. Now, I can leave feedback that summarizes the reason for the grade. Providing evidence is classy.

Here comes the truly amazing part. I am sitting down at my computer at home getting ready to assign some grades for this project. I plan to be gracious, giving high marks for kids who simply did anything. In addition to just a grade, Google Classroom has made it so that I can leave feedback for the whole assignment!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This was not available last year. I left comments throughout slideshows, but never one for the whole assignment. This is great! Thank you, Google. Very classy idea.  

Feedback for Reagan wow
Not only can I grade these slideshows, something I did last year, but I can provide feedback for why students received the grades.
Returning Reagan's wow work
If you connect accounts to parent emails or if you are using this with older students who have their own email addresses, they will be alerted that there is a grade with corresponding feedback that they can view.

iBooks Are Classy

A firm believer in active reading, I’ve always enjoyed writing in my books. I journal in the margins. I’ve poopooed the use of digital books for this reason.

During the summer of 2018 I began a project I’d been thinking of for a while–I set out to read every Newbery Award-winning book. I coupled this goal with an aim of blogging about each. My third book in presented a problem.
Being a proficient reader with a large-enough vocabulary, I was flabbergasted to find a plethora of words I did not recognize in “The Dark Frigate.” To begin with, what on Earth is a “frigate”? Granted, much of my missing knowledge was due to the genre of 16th century sailing vernacular, but there was plenty of simply robust verbiage I needed help with as well. So much so that a paper book was as helpful as a pile of shredded scraps, I had to stop every 5 seconds to look something up!
Thus, I decided to finally tryout iBooks.
I had dabbled before and was familiar enough with the tools. At first, it was the ease of looking up the meaning of words I didn’t know from right inside the book that sold me, but as I continued my reading, I fell in love with taking notes, highlighting with different colors, and bookmarking significant pages.Screen Shot 2018-08-06 at 6.48.46 AM
It slowly dawned on me that not only would this be a helpful tool for students, but I can acquire digital books to share with groups of students to use during guided reading! I could have students stop and type notes right in the text. They could take screen shots that are instantly shared with me via airdrop. These can be added to a digital portfolio, monitoring student progress.
Another way of using this digital tool is having a class set of books for a read aloud. No longer do I have to borrow or buy 25 copies of “The Indian in the Cupboard”. All of my classroom iPads can access my copy within iBooks, through using my professional Apple ID. And, not only will kids be able to read along, but they can be asked to connect to the text by highlighting and commenting right in their own copy of the iBook!
I’m not completely done reading “The Dark Frigate” (1924) by Charles Hawes, but wanted to pause to share my thrilling revelation of the usefulness of iBooks. I look forward to blogging about this, the third ever Newbery Award winner. It took me a while to wade through the vocabulary and dialect, plus the plot was droning to begin with, but the action is picking up. Look for my classy blog about Philip Marshal and his adventures aboard the Rose of Devon, coming soon.