Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Power of the PLN

Not too long ago, I sat and watched a friend in Kansas connect with my friends in Montgomery, TX. As I was sitting there I started to reflect on the importance of connecting with others. The importance of knowing that we aren't the experts at everything and that reaching out for guidance and inspiration is more about growth than it is about deficit.
It took me a while, as an educator, to come to this realization. To completely understand the Power of the PLN.

What is a PLN? To me, a PLN is a group of professionals that thrive on the concept of "sharing is caring." The more that I think about the term PLN, it makes me think of a Kindergarten classroom or any classroom for that matter. When learners first enter elementary school, what is one of the first things that we teach them to do? Share. We foster a learning environment that encourages and inspires students to collaborate, share, and bounce ideas off one another. Isn't that exactly what a PLN is to us today as lead learners? So why, as educators, is it sometimes so hard for us to ask for help? Why does that fear sometimes win?
I didn't realize the power of connectivity until about 3 years ago, when I finally decided to start a classroom Twitter account.  I was inspired by Kayla Delzer, and I can honestly say that it was one of the best decisions that I have ever made as an educator-the decision to make my classroom more than the four walls that contained it. During that school year and the next, my kids connected with Ryan Davidson, a meteorologist from the weather channel (check out his story here), a Martian soil expert from Kansas (check out her story here), a college professor and her students from South Carolina, and so many more. Little did I know that meeting this college professor would mean so much to me and my profession!
Dr. Julie P. Jones was one of the first educators that I met on Twitter, and it was all because we (my 4th grade classroom) thanked her for being our 200th follower. She quickly responded, but not just with a "thank you". She sent my kids some challenges about #make200. It was one of the first instances where I recognized the power that Twitter had, especially for my kids.  Dr. Julie P. Jones is a professor at Converse College in South Carolina, and she works with educator prep students. Because of our initial connection, our classes soon connected for other reasons! My 4th grade students visited with her college age students about classroom management, technology tools, and classroom jobs. They loved being able to voice their thoughts about the classroom and education with future teachers.
A year later, we finally met in real life! We presented about Twitter at a conference in Orlando, FL called ATE about the magic that is social media.  It was such a surreal experience to meet one of my Twitter heroes!! 
Even from afar, her and so many others like Jed Dearybury, Marialice Curran, Matt Murrie, and Jaime Donally support me and lift me up from various corners of our world.

I am forever blessed to know and love my PLN, and I have Twitter to thank for 

My advice to you: Get on Twitter and grow your PLN!  You will not regret it! 

Some of my other favorite things:

Sunday, April 9, 2017

I Sat Next to My Heart Today

I started to write this blog post a couple of weeks ago, and I have been thinking about it ever since.  It was inspired by my niece, Nancy.  Nancy saved me almost 6 years ago.  I never knew she was the missing piece to my heart.  The piece that I lost after my mother, Nancy, passed away from stage 4 ovarian cancer in 2006.  Losing my mother was and will always be the hardest thing that I have ever gone through.  Not a day goes by that I don't think of her or go to pick up my phone to call her. Everything I do as an educator is with her in mind.  She was a phenomenal teacher, and I am who I am today because of her.

I as I sit here, with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face, I hope that this post inspires you to do great things for your kids. They deserve your very best!

I sat next to my heart today, and told her that I loved her.  As soon as I said it, I asked myself "Am I telling her this enough?". Do I tell her that she is strong and beautiful and everything in between?  Have I told her that she is the half to my whole heart?  That she is the vivid color in the dark?  That I can't wait to see where her life takes her?  To answer that first question, what is enough?  There shouldn't be a cap on how many times you say I love you or how many times you show the ones you love how much you care.

I wonder if our kids, our students, are hearing these things as much as they should in our classrooms or as much as they deserve.  Are they hearing that they will move mountains with every word spoken?  That they will rattle and shake the norms of society?  That they are loved and appreciated for being exactly who they were meant to be?

Love them.  When they fight and struggle, love them.  When they tell you they don't care, love them.  When they turn away, love them, and remind them of that daily.  Love them on good days and bad.  Love them all.  You might be the only bright light that they've seen in a while.  Make sure your time with them is intentional and full of love and laughter.  Just love them.  We all make a choice as educators on how we choose to impact the life of a child.  Our job is an important one.

Thank you, Nancy, for making me an aunt, or as she likes to call me, her "Mamy". Thank you for inspiring me to be the best human being for my kids, past, present, and future.  I am the lucky one.  Love you, forever and always! #breadandbutter

Video Created in Grad School
"It All Began With Nancy"

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Read Alouds and Sketchnotes

When I was a little girl, my mother read to me and my twin sister every single night.  She made these instances more than pictures and words.  She turned every read aloud into an experience for us.  She added funny voices and expressions, and she always stopped, every now and then, to ask us questions. She, intentionally, made us a part of the book. I know, without a doubt, that my love of reading was because of these experiences.

Recently, a teacher (Mrs. Pilgrim) on my campus reached out to me to work alongside her to expose her students to sketchnoting.  Her kids were reading Number the Stars, and she wanted them to sketch their thoughts after each chapter.  What a cool idea, right!  Sketchnotes, sometimes referred to as visual notetaking, are purposeful doodles while listening to something interesting. (Sketchnote ArmyTanny McGregor states that drawing and doodling can keep us from daydreaming and help us to focus on the task at hand.  When the need to understand is high, SKETCH! Check out Kathy Shrock's Guide to Sketchnoting to learn more about it!

Created by Tanny McGregor

Practice Day for Sketchnotes

When I was in Mrs. Pilgrim's room, she asked if I wanted to stay and listen to a chapter from the book.  You know me...I didn't hesitate!  Even at 36, I crave read alouds!  Mrs. Pilgrim was so engaging, and the kids and myself could not get enough! I visited her class more after that just to hear another chapter, and every time a chapter ended the kids begged for one more!  That is when you know that you have created and fostered an environment in your classroom that supports and honors a love of reading.  I was reminded, once again, how important it is to read to kids. Read to your kids, no matter the age, no matter the grade level. 

Just Read.

Thank you, Mrs. Pilgrim!  Thank you for the fond memories of my mother and for making memories with me! I loved every minute spent listening to you read! As Adam Welcome says, keep being awesome for your kids!!

This blog post is also featured on our instructional coaching blog page.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Student Creation with Buncee

Have you heard of Buncee?  It is a game changer, for sure!  I found out about Buncee this past Summer, and haven't looked back since!  Buncee is "a creation and presentation tool for students and educators to create interactive classroom content, allowing learners of all ages to visualize concepts and communicate creatively." (Buncee)

This past Summer, I created a book club for Matt Murrie's book, The Book of What If.  We used Voxer and Twitter as our discussion area, and members were encouraged to use Buncee to reflect on the chapters read.  Speaking of game changers, you have to read his book!! It is awesome! Here is the first Buncee that I ever created:

I loved reading this book with my then 4-year old niece, Nancy!  The questions are thought provoking and inspire curiosity at every turn.

What if There Were Never Books?

I loved creating this Buncee after reflecting on that question with Nancy.  Check out another one of my blog posts to see what she had to say about "What if Dinosaurs Still Existed".

I was inspired to keep creating with Buncee and exploring more of their tools!  I started to use Buncee to create graphics for events such as #PasstheScopeEDU and #EdChangeGlobal, and to spread the word about presentations that I was leading at upcoming educational conferences.  I would then share these graphics on social media to spread the word and to draw attention to this awesome tool.  Here are some examples:

The animations are awesome!!

Every graphic that you see above was found in their library!  And it updates frequently!

Like I said, the animations are awesome!

Buncee is a great tool to use in the classroom!  Students love to create, and this gives them an outlet to do so!  Students crave other ways to express themselves versus the traditional paper and pencil.  Check out this blog post about how one teacher ignited creativity in her students with an introduction to Buncee!  It was because of that introduction, that her students began to showcase their voice and creativity through the use of it.  Wow factor!!

There are endless possibilities with Buncee, and I encourage you to check it out! The video below is a great tutorial for beginners.  If you have any questions about Buncee or need any guidance, please feel free to contact me!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Braeden's Impact on MY Learning

A couple of weeks ago, I presented 2 sessions at TCCA in Houston, Texas.  I presented "Connecting Kids to Math" and "Flipping for Homework".  I love presenting at and attending this conference!  It is one of my favorites, and it is absolutely free...and they serve you lunch...and they have keynote speakers like Angela Maiers and Jennie Magiera!  Check it out for next year!

I have been presenting both of these topics for some time now, and I feature many of my wonderful students in them.  One in particular is featured in "Flipping for Homework".  His name is Braeden Hopkins.  It is because of this little soul that my mindset about homework and flipped learning completely shifted!  He joined me that weekend at TCCA when I presented this topic.  His involvement in that session was incredibly impactful for myself and the participants. 

I am now an Instructional Coach on our 5th grade campus here in Montgomery ISD.  I love that I get to still see my fourth grade students from last year! Braeden's mom and I got to talking at our campus book fair, and I shared with her that I would be presenting this topic again that coming weekend.  A day or so later, she asked if Braeden could come watch.  I was so excited!  In her email, she also said this:

Talk about validating that I did right by my kids that year!

There he is, watching Mrs. Storer completely "nerd out" about his VR head seat! It really was pretty cool!  Braeden was brand new to our campus that year, and after getting to know him pretty well, I knew this kid would change my thinking!

One of the first things that Braeden told me when the school year started, was that "we are all just robots in this school."  Pretty powerful statement from a 4th grader!  But I totally got it!  In his own words, he was letting me know that he craved and wanted personalized learning and differentiation.  

In my heart, I knew that I was doing all that I could to reach each of my students, but there is always, always more than can be done!  Because when you think about it, each year we have to grow as a teacher.  We don't get the same set of kids each year, and it is up to us to do all we can to reach every student.

I started the school year with no homework.  I don't see very much value in assigning homework in elementary school, specifically traditional homework. Traditional homework, in my opinion, looks like packets of review work that is handed out on a Monday and due the following Friday.  I was that teacher that gave packets of homework to my students, and I saw first hand what it did to my kids.  It did not excite them about school.  It did not foster a love of learning.  It did not make them want more out of their educational experience. It actually did the complete opposite.  

It was around the middle of the school year, that I came across a blog post by Justin Birckbichler about flipped learning.  I had heard of this concept, and was very intrigued by it.  So I decided to take a chance on it with my kids!  I put a little bit of a spin on it though, and named it Flipped Homework.  What I should have called it was Flipped Experiences, because it ended up becoming more than just homework, in my opinion.

I am very honest about all of the mistakes that I made along the way in this journey.  I own them.  It is those mistakes and my students that helped me grow.  Would I do it again?  Absolutely!

One of the first lessons that I created was about friction.  I called the lesson "Friction Fun", and asked the students to show me a real world example of friction.  They were told that they could submit in any way that they choose! We were using Edmodo as the platform to share their work.  Check out the wording in this prompt--"Wouldn't a video be super cool!?" Even though I opened it up for anything as far as submission, my wording proved otherwise.  First mistake.

Now don't get me wrong, I LOVED the submissions!  The kids enjoyed creating them, and I know that they will never forget what friction is!  Check out one of the videos below by my friend, Brady!

My second mistake was requiring my kids to turn something in.  I should have made every assignment optional.  

Another flipped experience that I gave my students was about simplifying fractions.  Here is where I made my biggest mistakes of all, and where Braeden stepped in to show me the light!

So many mistakes in my many!!

Another mistake that I made was in the video that I provided them, it is pretty much a white screen and my voice for almost 2.5 minutes. I know what my kids probably did!  They fast forwarded it until it got to the end, and then started their work.  I don't blame them.  I would have tuned out as well!

Braeden asked if he could show his learning with Minecraft and a screencasting tool.  I was all for it!  He spent many nights perfecting it, and when I was able to view it with him, I was on the verge of tears.  Why wasn't this the norm in my class?!  Why wasn't this traditional!?  Check out the video below!

Goosebumps the entire time that I was watching it!  He proved to me, using Minecraft and Bandicam, that he knew exactly how to simplify a fraction.  He did all of this without having to touch a sheet of paper!  Such a beautiful thing!! Braeden further proved the power of personalized learning and how not every child learns in the same way or in the same amount of time!  I am forever grateful to this boy for pointing me in the right direction!

I recently read a blog post by Eric Sheninger, and there was so much about this post that I agreed with!  If student learning and success is the ultimate goal, we need to rethink homework. As he further states, current homework practices are creating a culture of dislike when it comes to school and learning.  We need to reverse this.

The point of this story is that we must do better for our students.  Whether it is in relation to homework, classwork, or relationships, we must do better.  Be open to learning from your students.  My former students are the best teachers that I have ever had-hands down!  I wish they knew the impact that they have had on MY life. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Students Teaching Teachers-Mystery Skype Edition!

Back in September, I was asked to work with a group of middle school social studies teachers about Mystery Skype.  Instead of just presenting them with the information, I decided to find a class to participate in a Mystery Skype with them.  In my mind, I knew that it would be more impactful, and boy was it! The teachers were engaged, and the questions were powerful!

What is Mystery Skype? Mystery Skype is critical thinking challenge that your class takes part in while Skyping with another class somewhere in the world. Check out this wonderful website to learn more about it!  I refer to Mr. Solarz's site every time I participate in a Mystery Skype!

I shared this experience within a Voxer chat that I was a part of for George Couros' book titled The Innovator's Mindset.  It is because of this Voxer chat (as well as iPadpalooza Austin) that I met Tara Martin!  We began working on a plan for classes in my area to join a group of teachers in her area who were learning about Mystery Skype in Mandy Sikes' first ever PD session for her district!  I could not wait!  I reached out to 2 of my teaching buddies, and they were totally on board!  Instead of Mandy just presenting the information to them, she was creating a "hands-on" experience for her teachers by connecting these classes with her teachers.  The students were becoming the teachers! How beautiful is that!?

Fast forward to today!  I am still on cloud nine when I think about it! My 2 buddies, Nikki Taylor and Lorra Lynch (both teachers at Montgomery Elementary School in Montgomery, TX), did an awesome job in preparing their kids for their very first Mystery Skype of the year!! 

We had a few hiccups when we started, and never really figured out why, but when the connection was made, you could feel the excitement in the room go way up!!

One of the things that I loved most about today, was how engaged the students were!  Each student had a job and a responsibility through it all, and their jobs meant something to them.  There were greeters, and a questioner, researchers, photographers, a think awesomeness!  They owned their learning! I know that they will always remember where Kansas is located because of this experience, and not a single worksheet or quiz was involved!  Check out some of the quotes below!

"It was really amazing."

"It was cool that we defeated some teachers."

"I learned how to narrow things down."

"I liked that we got to use maps.  I learned a lot about where places are."

"I was really nervous at first, but it was fun."

"We had a great experience with Skype!  The students were engaged the entire time and were super excited to guess the mystery location.  The depth of conversation in the room was amazing." Nikki Taylor

"I loved how fast we had to work as a team."

"It made my heart beat fast, and I can't wait to do it again."

"My pulse was throbbing when they asked if the Alamo was in our state."

Me too, friend!!!  It was a close one!

This is an experience that I know the students and teachers will never forget! One of the teachers that we Skyped with today is already looking for a connection!


Tara, Mandy, Nikki, and Lorra...THANK YOU!  Thank you for getting in the trenches today with your students and teachers! Proud to stand beside you all in the joy that is education!!


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Today I Sat In A Class And Read A Book...

Today, I sat in a class and read a book, The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros.  I sat in complete silence while other students sat with their novel groups and read with intent and powerful interest.  One group was on the floor, casually laying on comfortable pillows.  Another group was lounging on a couch in the corner.  There was even a student reading in a bathtub filled with pillows. That's right...a bathtub!  Their teacher was also fully immersed in her book of choice as well!  Every now and then, I would look up from my book, and so many thoughts would fill my head.  One being, that this environment was truly fostering a love of reading.  

That became even more evident when I was invited to have a "book talk" with a group of students.  Another thought I had was that I couldn't wait to come back to read with kids again.  I couldn't wait to walk in a room, find a spot to read, and dive into a good book.  I loved being a part of it today! As I was getting up to leave (I didn't want to!), Ms. Taylor Horn asked if I wanted to participate in a book talk with a group of her students.  I kneeled down on the floor, and just listened.  By the end of our conversation, my mind was made up.  I was checking that book out at the library!  

One part of George's book that I read today was about "8 Things to Look for in Today's Classroom".  One of those 8 is "Time for Reflection".  As a educator, I find that I need time to reflect to grow and evolve into the type of educator that my kids deserve.  I reflect on social media outlets like Twitter and Voxer and as a blogger (I am trying to get better at this!).  The students today were given time to reflect on their reading, and the conversation was so good!  You could hear their passion and dedication to the story line, and how they couldn't wait to read some more. 

One of my favorite human beings to follow on social media is Jen Jones of Hello Literacy.  This is one of my favorite quotes from her.

Just Read.

George says in his book, "DEAR Time should be an opportunity not only for reading but to also "Drop Everything and Reflect".  It is important to give our students a space for enjoyable reading and reflection.  One should not be separate from the other.  Now time to get back to my book!