Thursday, February 27, 2014

Photo Dictionary, Spring 2014

About a year ago, I was lesson planning for kindergarten and ran across an online photographic dictionary, and I realized that this was a project my middle school students could do.  I've tweaked it a bit since then, but we've done it three times now.

Here is the task:

  • Get into groups.
  • Create a series of web pages to form a "book" that is easily navigable.
  • Each page needs a letter, word, picture, definition, and sentence.
  • The picture had to be taken by a group member. 

Here are three of the final projects. What do you think?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Help! My #MineCraft Project Disappeared!

Justin has been working merrily on rebuilding the Empire State Building on MineCraft during his Innovation Project time. With one week before the due date, he came to me to tell me it's gone.

I know nothing about MineCraft, so I can't help him.  I have questions. Can you help me with answers?

  • Is this typical? 
  • How does this happen?
  • Is it possible to retrieve his project?
  • How do we fix it?

Thanks for your help! Justin thanks you for your help!

Could You Please Generate Me an Exercise?

On three separate occasions this past week, I heard some very odd words from students.  "Could you please generate me an exercise?" In essence, these kids were telling me, "I think I need a bit more practice on this skill before I can master it."

When was the last time one of your math students asked you for an additional six problems on their homework?

I spent some time in third grade, helping the teacher learn the ropes of Accelerated Math, and couldn't complete a sentence. The kids kept bringing their iPads up to her to show her their score. "Look! I got a 5 out of 5!"

There is something about AM that just works. Maybe it's the instant feedback or the individual pacing. Maybe it's progression toward a goal. I don't know. 

What I do know is that I'm seeing some great student motivation grow out of Accelerated Math. It's a good thing!

Java or C++?

Daniel's original plan for his Innovation Project was to write a game using C++.  If that sounds ambitious to you, I totally agree.  I didn't want to squash his enthusiasm, so I let him run with it but gave him an out if he wanted it.

Eventually, his plan was to explore Java and it's just right for him. He is constantly sharing his new programs with me.  AND his enthusiasm has never wavered.  Here is his latest Innovation Update.

I wrote more programs! I learned how to get user input. I learned how to display that user input. And I learned a whole bunch of other stuff! I wrote a program that says hi to your name (ex. Hello Daniel.) I wrote a program that repeats what you say. I wrote one that gives you the amounts of stars you ask for and has a basic line wrapping function. I think my presentation may just be me showing off what I've done and how it works. I have a program that makes it really easy to do that. I'm nowhere near being able to create a game with it, so I'm glad I didn't stick with that.

I love it! 

How are your students showing enthusiasm for what they are learning? 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Introducing SkyDrive to Students

We recently opened up Outlook email to all of our upper elementary and middle school students.  This service has been available to our high school students for a few years, but this is a novel event for our younger students.

It's been my joy the past couple of weeks to help our 4th through 8th grade students activate their emails and to get them started on SkyDrive (soon to become OneDrive).

Not familiar with SkyDrive? Microsoft may not be happy with me saying this, but it's essentially Microsoft's answer to Google Drive.  Any user can create, edit, and share Office products in the Cloud.

The various reactions to this update have been interesting.

My fourth graders think this is great!  Most of them don't have email addresses yet, and they are thrilled that they can email each other! I had one girl email me to ask if her first grade sister can also have an email address. (No, she may not.) This young lady has also discovered SharePoint and is following me (though I am completely ignorant of SharePoint.

My sixth graders are enjoying it as well, but they have been using Edmodo already this year. Many of them already have personal email. The social aspect of being able to email each other is no longer a novel thing.  They are currently figuring out SkyDrive and how to create and share documents. I know their science teacher will start to push them to use SkyDrive in the future.

My middle schoolers are annoyed by the whole thing.  They all had email when they walked into my class in January, many of them were gmail accounts. For a number of reasons, Google Drive works more smoothly than SkyDrive, so being forced to use SkyDrive doesn't make them happy right now.


I've been a Google Drive user for nearly two years now, and I know that many people in the ed tech world use Google products as well.  Let me tell you that switching back to Microsoft is not an easy transition for me.  However, with that said, I'm happy to connect with any other teachers out there that are using SkyDrive so we can figure this thing out together.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Ashley, News Anchor

I am celebrating my 20th year of teaching by profiling former students who are doing great things in their field. As I've watched them grow into adults, I have been impressed with an aspect of their lives and want to share them with you. I fully recognize that I was merely a small part in their growth and development, but I can't help to be proud. By highlighting these former students I hope to encourage other teachers that what we do is a noble and worthy cause. We have the ability to boost others to greatness we have never considered. 

Confession: I don’t watch the news very much. It's a sad truth that I get most (probably all) my news from 
social media these days. However, Ashley Dugger is a news junkie, if I ever met one.

I’ve dreamt of going into the news industry since I was a kid (third grade to be exact). I watch more news than the average person should, but I love it. It’s something I am truly passionate about and have grown to love more and more as I’m making my way through college.

Digging through some old files the other day, I realized how long it’s been since Ashley sat in my class as a sixth grade student -- nine long years.  I remember Ashley as an eager learner, who enjoyed a good laugh and wasn’t too shabby at figuring out hink-pinks.

Another thing that stuck in my mind is her being very sick at a very exciting time in sixth grade.  Every year the students did a massive (and I mean HUGE) project about a certain country.  The culminating activity was International Day when students come to school dressed in outfits from that country and bring that country’s food.  Ashley was sick for International Day, but she came to show off her outfit and bring some food...then back to bed.  Poor kid.

As always, I asked Ashley how I helped her (or hindered her) along her path.  Here is her answer.

What I do remember is how encouraging you were and how patient you were. We all know 6th graders are not easy. So I think encouragement and patience helped me challenge myself and become a better student and person all around.

The school where I used to teach had a wonderful program called Future Teacher.  High school students were assigned to various teachers throughout our school to basically act as aides.  Some of them actually wanted to be teachers in the future, but most of them were just interested in helping out.  I generally used my future teachers to do the mundane things I didn’t want to do -- filing, grading spelling papers, bulletin boards, etc. By my request, Ashley the joy (?) of being my future teacher for two years, which was great! She never complained, always did great work and found out about our adopted daughter about an hour before I announced her on Facebook.

As it turns out, I’m not the only teacher from Ashley’s alma mater to think of her with high regard.  When I told my wife that I was writing about Ashley, she immediately remembered her Student of the Week interview.  As a high school senior, Ashley was nominated by a teacher and selected by a local news station as their Student of the Week.

The summer of 2012 was a horrible summer for my family.  I was riddled with a rare and disastrous nerve disorder that (among other things) left me unable to watch my daughter while my wife was at work. I used Facebook to beg for babysitting help for both of us. Many friends and former students helped out,  and one time Ashley volunteered.  Not only did she graciously help out around the house, but she also brought a craft from her workplace for my daughter to do.  Very sweet!

Now, Ashley is an almost 21-year old junior at Northern Kentucky University  studying electronic media and broadcasting with a double minor in journalism and honors. This, of course, means that she’s busy. Very busy.  Hold on tight. In her words...
  • I work on campus for our public access television station called NorseMedia. I produce and edit videos for work, and I love every minute of it!
  • I am currently working on my capstone project for the Honors program. A capstone is essentially a year-long project in which students have an opportunity to gain experience in their chosen field by doing a research or creative project. For my capstone, I am working on a 28-minute documentary looking at the music industry by profiling the band Seabird. I followed them around all summer filming them. It was really fun, and I was able to film at Fountain Square for their CD release show and their vinyl release. I also filmed at Bunbury Music Festival.
  • I am very involved at the Bridge Community Church. I volunteer on Sundays and Wednesdays. I sing for three services on Sunday 2-3 times a month (with weekly practice). I am a youth leader and lead a discussion with a group of kids every Wednesday night. I also occasionally volunteer with the media department by interviewing and producing videos. (By the way, her picture is on the church’s home page.)

Ashley credits her parents for her successes. They are incredibly supportive and encouraging, taking a keen interest in what interests her.  

Have you ever met someone who seems to know a very exciting secret they can’t contain?  They just seem happier and more at peace than anyone around them.  That’s Ashley.  She always has a smile on her face. She always seems genuinely happy to be in your presence.  

Ashley loves the news!  She claims to watch it way more than most people but she is drawn by its power to connect to human drama.

I think one of the reasons I love news so much is because it’s an opportunity to learn and meet people. When you cover a story, you’re with people either on their best day or their worst day. You have an opportunity to build a connection with them and impact their lives in every way. I also really love the storytelling aspect of news. I love to read and write, but when I get to tell a story through film and interviews, stories come to life. They’re much more alive. Names suddenly have faces and real lives. So I guess if I could pinpoint three reasons why I am passionate about news, it would be: I love learning. I want the opportunity to connect with people. I love telling stories.

Her future plans involve the normal stuff: graduate from college, get her own place, see the Northern Lights, hug a polar bear cub.  You know… what everyone dreams about. She also has some career goals:

When it comes to my career, I want to be a news anchor. I will have to move away to gain experience, but I do hope to come back to Cincinnati and work at a local news station. Long-term I would love to report for either CNN or NBC. I have always admired (and still do) the way they report their news (NBC more so than CNN).

It will be an interesting ride to watch Ashley’s career grow through the ranks.  Maybe one day I’ll see her on the Today Show.  Regardless, it has been an honor to know Ashley and count her as one of “my kids.”

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Mini Lessons with Accelerated Math

I witnessed some great teaching today.  Marianne is my co-teacher in the pre-algebra class I'm working with.  She does the math, I do the tech, and we keep in constant contact about how to make it all work well.
About half the class is now working on slope. She identified the students who are currently on that objective and pulled them into one part of the room.  The rest of the class was sent to work on a diagnostic on their own.  Marianne then went into a 10 minute lesson on slope with the dozen or so students who were on that topic.  She made sure they had a handle on it, then sent them on their way.

Then, she identified each student who needed some 1:1 time on specific objectives. AM makes that easy by giving us a red flag, telling us to intervene with that student.  She went to each student, sat beside them and gave them the help they needed to be successful.

Once you get yourself immersed in Accelerated Math, you'll find that the role of the teacher changes. It involves constant analysis and working with those individuals or small groups to get around hiccups rather than lecturing large groups at one time.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Persuasive Presentations

My middle school students had to create presentations for my class.  Here were the parameters:
1. They could only use Creative Commons pictures but no words.
2. They had to try to convince us to think or do something.
3. No PowerPoint allowed!

Two of my boys took this idea and played with it. We had a mini debate in class today.  Take a look...

War is Never OK
Don't be a Pacifist

Can You Help My Student With MineCraft?

Sam's Innovation Project is to create a pyramid with a maze to Pharaoh's loot inside the maze.  He included two pictures in his update, and I'm really excited to see his final product.

However, there is a problem.  Something about the roof of the world and floating in air.  I'm quite MineCraft illiterate.  Is there anyone out there who can help Sam solve his problem? 

I ran into my biggest fear. I had made my pyramid in the sky so I could get a flat area. But the pyramid was to tall and hit the roof of the world. And it was right after I had finished the maze. I am stuck in deciding to start over or just make that a open top to look through for my presentation. 

Thank you!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Diagnostics in Accelerated Math

The more I work with Accelerated Math, the more I like what diagnostics bring to the table. Essentially, diagnostics are quick and easy way for students to master objectives without a ton of practice leading up to the test.

There are a few reasons why I would recommend using a diagnostic on an objective rather than practice, practice, test.
  1. Catching Up Quickly.  A while back, I talked to a couple of teachers who have been using AM for years.  When AM switched to the Common Core objectives, they found those objectives to be harder for students than the non-Common Core.  They backed the kids up a year and used diagnostics to work them through that year quickly. 
  2. Review. You're fairly certain students know the objective already.  You taught it already, it's a review of last year, it looks easy, or whatever.  You just know that a large majority of your class will know the material already.  Great! Give them a diagnostic to see.
  3. Assessing Learning. You just taught a lesson on square roots and you want to see if they learned the material. Instead of assigning 20 problems out of the book, give the whole class a 5-question diagnostic on that objective.

A diagnostic will give 5 questions on each objective assigned. (Be careful and keep your diagnostic short: 1-3 objectives at a time.) 
  • If your student does well (4 or 5 correct) the objective is mastered and will come back to visit in a week.
  • If your student does not do well (0-3 correct) the objective is rolled into the practices and students will practice till they get it and can master that objective on a test.
With all this talk about mastering objectives, please remember the real goal is student learning. The objectives make for an easy method to measure that learning - what and how much. The reality is that a diagnostic can help you quickly assess who knows material and who doesn't.  Those who have grasped it can move on to harder skills.

However, it is easy to see who has not mastered an objective and needs some extra 1:1 or 1:small group help.  Working in that small ratio can help your student learn these skills quickly with personal pitfalls identified and worked through alongside a teacher who can give undivided attention.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Mastering Objectives in Accelerated Math

Raise your hand if this sounds familiar.  And don't call out!

Your math teacher teaches a lesson.  You may read from the book, do practice problems on the board, or even use manipulatives.  However, at the end of the lesson, the entire class gets the same homework assignment.  If you understood the concept in the first 5 minutes, you still get 20 problems.  If you have no idea what the teacher said, you still get the same 20 problems (which you can't do). It doesn't matter if you understood yesterday or not, because today is coming.  Repeat, repeat, repeat for about 2 weeks till it's time to test and move to the next major topic.

That's the way math works in many classrooms around the world...but not so with Accelerated Math.

When the class sits down to get their work done, each student is working on different objectives based on their personal skill level.  The STAR Test tells the teacher where to start students, and the student is responsible for the forward movement from there.

There are two ways a student can master objectives.

First, students will practice objectives over and over till they demonstrate a level of mastery over that objective (5 out of the last 6 questions).  Then, the teacher assigns a test over that objective.  Score well on that (4 out of 5), and it's mastered.

Second, diagnostics are a great way for a student to show the teacher that she understands an objective.  A diagnostic will generate five questions for each objective diagnosed.  If a student gets at least four right, the objective is mastered.  So, pretend you just taught your lesson on reducing fractions.  You know that kid who fell asleep 15 minutes ago.  She can show you in 5 questions that she got it and can move on to new material.  Awesome!

However, there is also that kid who has that glazed over "I have no idea what you're talking about" look on his face. What do we do with him? Easy. If his diagnostic comes in with less than 4 correct answers that objective gets rolled into his practices.  He will continue to practice that objective till he can test on it, then move on.

Whether mastering through practice/test or diagnostic, students still can move at their own pace and not be forced to move on till they are ready.

Now, every good teacher wants to make sure that each student TRULY grasps the skills and information taught.  The great thing is that mastered objectives tend to come back to practices a week later. After students answer questions effectively the objective will go away forever.

I love the individuality of Accelerated Math! No matter where you live on the bell curve of math skills, you can move at your own pace and truly master a topic.  It's a beautiful thing!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Josh, Social Media Guru (AKA The Student Who Became My Teacher)

I am celebrating my 20th year of teaching by profiling former students who are doing great things in their field. As I've watched them grow into adults, I have been impressed with an aspect of their lives and want to share them with you. I fully recognize that I was merely a small part in their growth and development, but I can't help to be proud. By highlighting these former students I hope to encourage other teachers that what we do is a noble and worthy cause. We have the ability to boost others to greatness we have never considered. 

Blogs have been a part of my life for a number of years, well before I started blogging my professional life. As I began to explore the blogosphere I discovered that some of my former students were blogging too, so it was natural for me to read what they were publishing. That’s how I started reading Josh’s blog.

As I read his blog about social media in for churches, I started to think about my school.  We had no social media presence, and many other local private schools did.  While there is a distinct difference between church and Christian school, there are also a few similarities. I eventually asked our administration for permission to start a Facebook page and got the green light! Josh the Former Student became Josh the Facebook Guru as I used his blog (and some direct question and answer time) to figure out the best way to launch our school Facebook page.

I have known Josh and his family for a very long time, even before he was my student. We went to church together, and I worked alongside his mother (who just happens to be the principal at my daughter’s school).  One summer, we all convened at a friend’s house for a Fourth of July party, and I was shooting hoops with the kids.  In my “welcome to my class” postcard later that summer, I mentioned playing ball with him.  His mother told me later that meant a lot to him. “He remembers me!” As I recall things, Josh came to me after being homeschooled for a few years. He was a shy but likable kinda guy who was into sports.  And...I’m struggling to remember much more. Isn’t that terrible?!?! Years later, I got to see him mature through our church’s youth ministry.  I never worked directly with him, but I watched as he became involved in the media team and was mentored by our youth pastor.

I asked Josh how my teaching impacted him along his life journey.  Fortunately, he remembered more than I did.

When I think back to my time with you I can remember that while you were a great teacher, and stern at times, you also had a great sense of humor. I think this helped me to lighten up a bit as I got older. Also, I remember that you were always using some sort of piece of technology. I valued the ‘computer time’ that we got in class. In fact, I think I built my first website in your class on Ha! So I guess in a small way you contributed to my passion for using the web.

Also, this may sound elementary, but I remember having to do a lot of reading and writing in your class. I can’t help but think that it contributed to my writing skills today, as I’m writing constantly for my blog, or other publications.

Personally, I think he’s just being nice there. :)

After high school, Josh went on to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago to study sports ministry.

It was during my time there that I realized that I had 2 passions in life. One was sports, and the other was media and communications. I had seen how both of those gifts could be used to further the gospel, but my passion for communications continued to grow during college, so much so that all of my time outside of class was being spent growing and honing those skills. During my time in college I had been volunteering my time doing media and communications at my church here in Chicago, which by the way, if you’re young and looking to get into the communications field, the best thing you can do is volunteer your time for free. It helps you learn, and you can begin to build relationships and a network.

This passion for using social media to spread God’s love led to his current job as Director of Web and Social Media at Park Church in Chicago. A formal degree in this field isn’t a necessity. With plenty of volunteer experience and a large portfolio, Josh was able to continue what he was doing at church full time.  He says, “I’ve been in this position for almost 4 years, and I absolutely love it. I get the opportunity to reach thousands of people everyday through social media.”

Not only is Josh able to reach people in his church, but he also has a blog readership of nearly 400 people who are interested in learning more about social media in the church (or in my case, in schools).  His blog is chock full of great ideas for launching your own social media campaign and making your digital footprint truly social -- even if you’re not at all connected to the church.

Josh’s future goals?

Professionally, I’m actually in a phase of figuring out what my next goals are. I believe that social media is akin to the printing press of our time, so I want to continue to see people reached for the gospel through social media. What that looks like for me in the future is still to be determined. I’ve seen a huge need for resourcing churches all over the world with skills and tools to use the web and social media better, so I would like to keep pursuing that through my blog and email newsletter. I’ve also been blogging for a year for NBC Chicago’s small business blog, so I love to help businesses figure out social media as well. I think continuing to resource churches, non-profits, and businesses in how to tell their story through social media is going to be a big part of my future.

However, there is more to Josh than just social media.

In his questionnaire, he couldn’t stop raving about his “beautiful Australian wife,” Amy. While this post is about Josh, not Amy, he claims that her part of the story could fill a book… and she’s the most amazing person he has ever met, period. Come to think of it, Josh and Amy are the first -- and maybe only -- people I know who used a Twitter hashtag for their wedding.

Josh and Amy work with at-risk youth in Chicago, working to fight social injustice in their city.  They love seeing growth among “their kids” and can’t wait to see the strides these students make as they mature over the next 10-15 years.

My wife and I are extremely committed to seeing the city renewed with the gospel. One of our goals is to own buildings in low-income areas that we rent out at affordable rates to people in need. We believe housing and education are some of the largest obstacles for those in poverty, so we’d like to play a larger role in those throughout our lives.

I’m proud to know Josh and it’s great to know that he’s spreading God’s love through the Internet and through loving those less fortunate.  It’s a great reminder that our lives ought to be more than pixels lurking about the Internet. It’s important to be real and intentional with those we can see around us every day.  

When I thought up this blog series, Josh was one of the first people I thought of to write about.  I had no idea about the mentoring he does, but I was intrigued by his social media work. I love the fact that the student has become the teacher, literally leading me through the setup of my school’s Facebook account. It will be interesting to see how things continue to grow and change in his life as the web and landscape of Chicago change over time.  

Thanks, Josh, for being so awesome!

Some old school Josh
Yes, my legs rock!