Monday, April 25, 2016

Minecraft + Math = Amazing Learning!

Minecraft + Math = Amazing Learning Experience

This has been on of my FAVORITE math lessons all year!!  And judging from my third graders responses, it was theirs too!!    I shared the idea of having students create their own farm or zoo using what we have learned about area and perimeter from our math lessons using the Minecraft app.  The excitement about this math challenge  was MIND BLOWING!!  They couldn't wait to see how we were going to do it!

In preparing for this lesson I knew that I did not have as much knowledge as my students about the Minecraft app, so I turned to one of the "experts" in my class.  Together this student and I planned the farm/zoo challenge on perimeter and area.  I had several questions about what would work within the app and he had the answers.  He made suggestions and  recommendations of what might work best and how we should set our game up from the start.  I LOVED his willingness to take the lead and share with great confidence his Minecraft knowledge base!  I must say it was the first time I experienced co-teaching with a student!  I LOVED IT!!!  As a result, the kids in class were focused and excited about the math challenge and loved that they could learn from their  classmate!   I took a video of him sharing the basics with his classmates. 

As students were guided through the use of the app (with the assistance of my teaching partner for the lesson) it was evident that all my students had used Minecraft at some point and they were more than willing to share their expertise as well.  I HIGHLY encourage teachers to take a short amount of time to set up the "game" with common settings.  If you have students who are unfamiliar, then allow them to work alongside your experts.  Kids love to teach others what they learn!  I had clear cut expectations listed for the lesson over the basic for all students and setting the parameters and expectations right away.    We all had to be in the same world.  The settings for this particular subject were all set identical.  Once those things were established the creating began!

Students were asked to create a farm or a zoo on graph paper creating pens for the animals they wanted to include.  Each pen had to have an area and a perimeter sign.  The student had to show their work and use the appropriate measurements.  We discussed how the space provided for some animals would be best in feet while others would require yards.  Each student was give the expectation of creating six or more pens for their animals with each one having a different area and perimeter than the others.  They had to show their problem solving on their plans and then get their plans approved by another student  before turning them into me for a final review.   The kids liked helping one another and checking over their work was great review for each...needless to say we achieved a minimum of twelve math problems for the assignment.   

Our next challenge was to turn our plans into their farm/zoo created in Minecraft!  The kids couldn't wait to get started.  I snapped some pictures to share their engagement levels. 

Once their farms/zoos were created we took the opportunity to share them with our friends.   Here are examples of how we built our farm/zoo on Minecraft:

This was such a fun experience for the students and they fully understand how to calculate area and perimeter!!  Now that I know the app better I our next challenge will be for students to pair up and create a farm/zoo together or in groups.  I love this feature as well.  Talk about teamwork!  The possibilities are endless!!!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Tables and Couches and Chairs....OH MY!! The Flexible "Yellow Brick Road" Classroom Journey

 The Flexible Yellow Brick Road Classroom Journey!
If you are interested in turning your classroom into a Flexible Classroom then this post might help get you started on your journey!
Be sure to get to the bottom of this post where you will hear how students feel!

I began this journey with a dear colleague and twenty-four students.   We decided to pursue this challenge together as safety in numbers is always good!  
It was quite a "whirlwind" journey at the start with lots of decision making and problems solving at every turn.  I can now say we have successfully traveled "the yellow brick road" to a flexible classroom. 

I have learned first hand how a flexible classroom provides students choices in what kind of learning space works best for them, and helps students to work collaboratively, communicate effectively, and engage in critical thinking and problem solving.   There were plenty of obstacles along the way, but the journey was well worth the challenges!

At the beginning of this journey I had questions galore!  How would I communicate this idea to get my principal and parents involved and on board?  How was I going to  involve students in the decision making and sharing of this vision? What was I comfortable moving away from and what would I be willing to try? Could I really be comfortable with replacing student desks with tables?  Where was I going to store student textbooks?   Where would students store their pencil boxes and work?  How would I convey the flexible classroom format so that a substitute would be able to manage effectively when I was gone? 
 Did I have the courage to do this?

As I took my first steps down the road I was somewhat cautious yet very excited.  Prior to my adventure I communicated  what I learned from my research with my families and principal.  I assured these stakeholders that this was going to be a great adventure for all!  
     My principal (The GREAT AND POWERFUL OZ) was open and supportive of this journey!

Having his support allowed me to take that risk knowing I could seek assistance or advice when necessary!  I shared information and videos with parents so they would have a better understanding of what I was trying to achieve.  Parents were supportive and appreciated the efforts to begin this endeavor! 

Throughout the design process of the flexible classroom I tried to keep flexibility in mind.   I needed to create spaces and places for kids to sit and share thoughts and ideas with one another.  Materials needed to be able to move easily from place to place allowing groups to collaborate and create.  I found that  Pinterest was a great resource to look for ideas about creating spaces!  I tapped into my own creativity and then created my own Pinterest board to help me remember all the great ideas that are out there.  Here is a link to my  Flexible Learning board: 

I am including some photos of what our flexible classroom currently looks like, followed by close ups of spaces and how I created them. Be sure to scroll further down to see what students think about the flexible classroom.  They had some great ideas of how to convert our spaces.

This used to be a computer lab table.  With a little red contact paper, some m&m duck tape, and a curtain on a tension rod, it makes a great reading spot.  Oh!!  Don't forget to put push light underneath it along with some cushy pillows!! The kids thought pillows in one and no pillows in the other as we should have two different ways to enjoy that space.
Here is another computer lab table without the curtain (not yet ready for time of photo).  You can see two third graders fit comfortably underneath.  They opted not to use the pillows.  

Adding a couch to the room created a nice comfy place!  It was donated to our classroom by a dear colleague and is a much loved space. I added an m&m blanket to give it a great cozy feeling!
These gaming chairs are really popular too!!  My two boys loved them and now they are a welcomed "moving" addition to the room.  The kids love to rock as they read!

Teaming up at the reading table while sitting on some fun stools!  Sometimes students like to sit at a flat surface to learn together.

A little m&m fabric coved the pads of these rocking chairs creating a fun place to read as well!

Yep!  The are comfortable reading like this!!

Sometimes they like to sit together for group work at our quad hubs!

These book boxes store the essentials!  We were able to condense all the items from our desk into these boxes.  They are easily picked up and moved from space to space. 

These were some directors chairs that a colleague had used many years ago and was looking to find a new home for them!  With a little new m&m fabric they make an "M"-azing space to sit and learn!!

A little closer look!  The rock star heart glasses are a big hit!

Here is a place to read and discuss stories with friends!  Our reading library has lots of great books to choose from!  Adding a table cloth adds a nice touch! 
These are pillowcases that were made.  They are easily taken off and put on for washing purposes.  Keep that in mind when making selections for your flexible classroom.
I added this "table" behind my couch.  Each year I add photos of the classes I have taught along with some personal photos.  The kids LOVE to look at them and find siblings.  I do include photos of my kids and pets to build that personal connection as well.

Since implementing my flexible classroom a few months ago I have observed the following....
  • Student's grades have improved.
  • Students appear happier and  definitely are more engaged.
  • Students are participating more and are having more in-depth conversations. 
  • Students are problem solving and communicating with each other more effectively.
  • Students value having more choices in their learning.
Here are what my students think about their "M"-azing Flexible Classroom:

 This is definitely a work in progress and ideas keep coming!  Don't forget to ask your kids what they would like to see included in their Flexible Classroom!  Their insights are valuable and its a really fun conversation.

 I chose to make the transition during our third quarter when I knew the students and I could navigate this journey together with little obstacles.  We could then see what was working and problem solve situations together.  The kids had great ideas and were key components in this process.  I am more than ready to begin next year having worked through the obstacles and challenges this year.    Highly effective classroom management is essential for a successful flexible classroom.   This journey is well worth the challenges and obstacles along the way!   Just remember...


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Smooth Sailing With Schoology!

The 2015-2016 School Year Is Here!  
Twenty four eager and excited kids entered into class ready to learn!  

 Students embraced the challenge of learning how to use an iPad in the classroom to show what they have learned!   Having the opportunity to project my iPad onto a large overhead screen to teach students step by step how to utilize this amazing tool was imperative.  The student were completely engrossed and caught on VERY quickly!  Only eight days into school and they had a firm understanding of how the iPad was going to provide amazing learning opportunities.

My biggest challenge was seeing if I could create a work flow system that third graders could utilize and become comfortable using.
 Schoology was the perfect answer.  It was my goal this summer to create courses for my students so that everything they needed would be accessed through Schoology. My colleague +Brittany Braasch and I were both fortunate to work with Schoology last year and through our collaborative efforts and ambition, we successfully created a course in Schoology for every subject area.  Our biggest challenge was determining how best to organize the materials so that the students could access things efficiently and manage the paperless workflow.
The workload was HUGE...but
it was manageable.  We both agreed that Schoology is a  combination of iTunes U and Google Classroom mixed into one app.   We asked ourselves could third graders manage this kind of a paperless workflow progam?  Well, with patience, understanding,  and a positive mindset, we knew it was doable!
 The kids did not disappoint!

My number one suggestion to anyone planning to create a course is:
 prior to setting up your courses be sure to have a plan of how exactly you want kids to access the information and the best means for students to locate it.
Here is an example of how we set up our reading series

Notice that we made folders of each reading unit.  There are a total of six units altogether.  Then within each unit are the five stories that go with it.
We made folders for each of the stories as seen below.

This was the way we chose to organize each story.  It is important to label things clearly so that students are able to send the information back to you for grading. 


It is really easy to add links to various other resources.  Here is a list of the things you can add to your courses.  There are so many possibilities. 

What I love most about Schoology is the ability to store everything I needed for a particular unit in one place!  Adding all my PDF's has cleared out my file cabinets!!  Yeah!!

Students are able to complete all PDF's through the Notability APP!  You will need to teach them how to upload their assignment into the Notability app and then how to
send it back to Schoology.  Just be patient and allow for lots of opportunities to practice.  Third graders are completely capable.  It's an amazing paperless environment!  I love being able to grade their work and send it back.   The paid version allows you to give verbal feedback.  Our district does not have the paid version is my hope that this will change.  Having the paid version allows you to add grades right into your Pearson grade book.  So many great possibilities!!

If you are thinking about going paperless, I highly encourage you to give Schoology a HUGE consideration!!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

NETA 2015! iTry iCan iLearn iSucceed

iCAN say that NETA 2015 is where iLEARNED with the most "M"-azing People!

This was my very first NETA conference ever and my first time presenting!  I can sum up my whole experience in one word..."M"-AZING!!!!!  I have to admit when I left that Friday afternoon I felt like my brain couldn't possibly retain one more piece of knowledge if I tried!  I spent the weekend looking back at my notes and reflecting upon my whole experience.  This blog is my personal reflection about the BEST professional development that I ever had the privilege to attend! 

The Keynote Speakers!

Selfie with Adam Bellow!
The first day began with Keynote speaker Adam Bellow.  From the moment he popped out of the box onto the stage, I new I was in for a treat!  The word inspiration doesn't seem to do justice to presentation he shared with us that morning.  I was mesmerized by his ability to connect with each of us in the room, much like we do with our own students.  He stressed the importance of trying new things, accepting the idea that failing gives you an opportunity to try again, and to be okay with failing for our failures teach us just as much as our success if not more.  His passion about educational technology and making personal connections permeated his presentation.  As I looked around the room at the faces of other attendees I couldn't help but think how lucky I was to share in this experience with so many passionate educators!

The second day Keynote speaker was George Couros.  Once his keynote started, I was completely engrossed in everything he had to say!  I leaned on every word.  He is a true storyteller.  One minute he has you laughing and the next you have tears rolling down your cheeks.  He reached the heart and minds of who we are as educators and the profound effect that we have with our students.  He reitterated over and over the idea of "connecting."  He shared that surrounding himself with people who were passionate about what they did was a game changer for him in education.  Twitter was his way to connect with people who shared in his passion and with whom he build a professional learning network.  I loved his quote "TEACHERS ARE ONLY ISOLATED IF THEY CHOOSE TO BE!" 

George's videos that he included in his presentation pulled on your emotions!  Either you were laughing or you were crying, and sometimes you were doing both at the same time (or at least that was my experience).  I have to include my favorite video of the conference called "BE MORE DOG!"
 His message that we as educators need to build strong connections with our students and include times to be more playful in your teaching and learning was profound.  He stressed the importance of creating an environment that promotes innovation!  Allow students to create, share, and connect with the world!  AMEN!!

The standing ovation at the end of his presentation came as no surprise!   He connected with hundreds of educators and took us on a journey of laughter and tears.  It's a journey that I won't forget!

What an "M"-azing Journey!!  Traveling With Michelle Boyce

My First NETA Presentation

Stick-Around App Creator Tony Vincent
Okay, I would be lying if I said I wasn't completely petrified when I walked into the room I would be presenting in.  My stomach felt like it had been on a Tilt-A-Whirl for days.  When it was time to present I had a great pep talk inside my head...."You can do this!"  Once the doors shut and our presentation was up, all things became surprisingly easy!  I knew once I started sharing that my passion would take over, and it did!!  As I looked at the crowd I came to the realization that those in attendance genuinely were interested in what I was saying.  The creator of the Stick-Around App, Tony Vincent was in the audience, how cool was that!!  (I was excited because we use his app all the time and within our presentation we shared with educators what a great resource it is to use in the classroom!) The laughter, oohs or ahhs, and body language of the participants fueled my brain and energized me!  I transitioned from nervous to confidence within the first five minutes!  The Keynote that I had worked on was ingrained in my brain and I knew that what I wanted to share was important and relevant to those attending.  As the Keynote came to an end I was shocked to feel that I wish I had more time to share!  WOW!! Talk about a transition! 

"M ANN M" Presenting at  NETA2015
The best part about the whole presentation for me was the preparing for it with two very dynamic colleagues, Ann Feldmann and Michelle Boyce.  
We are the three "M ANN M's" that worked diligently to share our
iTry iCan iLearn iSucceed iPad classrooms with others.
It is "M"-azing what you can do with passionate people!  

Thanks to the experiences I shared with all the inspiring people I met at NETA, I am ready to challenge myself to "BE MORE DOG!"  I can't wait for next year!