For Students Who Inspire Us

As educators going through our teacher preparation programs, we are not often given insight into all the “hats” we would eventually wear within the classroom. We speak about going beyond instruction and provide a variety of nurturing roles to engage our students. What sometimes is not discussed is how our students can often inspire and motivate us.

I have been a middle school teacher in this district for the past 14 years. I have worked at numerous schools throughout the district primarily in South Stockton. Throughout my tenure as a teacher, I have always thought of myself as a great motivator and encourager of our students, but it has not always been easy. To state simply, we work with a tough demographic and often times, coming to work and going above and beyond can be draining mentally, emotionally and physically. Even with the student challenges to overcome, we can always find diamonds within, if we are willing to find them.

Image of the class at the beachMy diamonds came to me over 6 years ago. I was going through a very difficult and emotional time in my personal life. I had just given birth to my third child, I was also going through a divorce and it was emotionally wearing me thin. At the time, I was teaching 8th grade and these students had looped with me from 7th grade. I remember how difficult it was for me to get up in front of the class and seamlessly go through my day as if all was well. Honestly, I was depressed and I just did not have the energy to motivate anyone. On most days, crying is all I wanted to do.

So everyday, I would muster the courage to teach the best that I could despite what I felt. Even through my pain, I realized a constant at school; the enthusiasm of my students to be around me. My students came, day in and day out with such momentum to learn.  With them around, everyday was filled with smiles and laughter. They were full of life and it was hard for me not to be lively with them during the day. These students loved and cared for me and they would show it through hugs and words of affirmation. Some of the girls would plan to bring me lunch or yummy snacks. These students had no clue of what I was going through, yet they were issuing me my daily medicine that contributed to my healing. This class by far holds a special place in my heart, they graduated from high school last school year and I was honored to be a guest at their graduations.

Being a teacher can be challenging, but within those challenges we often can reap multiple rewards as well. It is easy to develop a tunnel vision lens around the students who can sometimes suck the life out of us. Choose instead to focus on your diamonds; the students who come in and consistent behave well and work hard. Those students often keep us on our toes and inspire us to be better.  Learning is absolutely reciprocal, and there is much to learn and gain from our students. This class helped me to experience the compound effect of being a great educator when I needed it the most.

As we prepare for a new school year, remember to focus on your students who come with joy to school often times just to see you.  

Virtual Field Trips

Traditional Field trips are great, but they do have their drawbacks.  Maybe you don’t like the long bus ride. Maybe you have difficulty getting enough chaperones to volunteer or maybe traditional field trips are just too costly.  Virtual field trips are a great way to bring the world to your students without the hassle of a real field trip.

One of the best resources for virtual field trips that I know of is PORTS: Parks Online Resources for Teachers and Students.  PORTS is run by the California State Parks and their rangers.  The park rangers will do a video conference with your class that provides real time, two-way communication.  The ranger can answer students’ questions and present a multimedia, live lesson to the students on a topic related to one of the state parks.  The students can interact with the park ranger as if they were right there, even though they are miles away.

Some of the PORTS topic include:

To prepare your class for the video conference, PORTS provides lesson plans, digital videos, digital images, and other media materials on the PORTS website.  All you need is a computer or tablet with a camera, a projector, and a high speed internet connection. PORTS is completely free, high quality, and are constantly adding new topics.  

To get started, go to the PORTS website  and check out the descriptions of the different topic (called Units of Study).  Then fill out the registration form to request a particular topic and date you would like to schedule the video conference.  The ranger or coordinator will get back to you by phone or email. Make your request early in the year, because spots fill up quickly.

Another resource for virtual field trips is the Microsoft Community Skype in the Classroom Virtual Field Trips.  It is also free, is set up similar to PORTS, and uses Skype to do the video conferences.  You do need to set up a username and password to sign in to the site. It has virtual field trips from all over the world.

Lastly California State Parks has partnered with Google to create an experience similar to street view on Google Maps for many state park trails and beaches called Google Trekker.  They did this by mounting a 3D camera to a backpack and walking the trails. This provides a self-guided way to see nature at our state parks without leaving your classroom. Check out all the locations available at this website.  This is also free, but is not interactive with a ranger and is not in real time.

I hope this gives you some ideas of ways you can use technology to bring the world into your classroom and provide an engaging, memorable learning experience for your students.

Teaching Math In the Digital Age: The Debate and More Resources (Part 2)

My experience with intertwining technology into my Math curriculum has been a roller coaster. Initially, 5 years ago, the attempt to combine the two knocked me down and out more than Mike Tyson in his prime. Once the initial problems occurred I felt like throwing in the towel but I knew if I could use tech with Math my lessons, student engagement, time management, and data collection would all be improved if I stuck with it.

Now, five years later, I have a system that is working for me and my population of students. I know that there are naysayers out there that are totally against anything tech in a math class besides a calculator, but I can say from my experience that student growth and achievement have gone up in my classes since I introduced tech into the game. My students are not always locked into a screen and there is always a time to put pencil to paper, or expos to whiteboards. What I am trying to get across is that there are powerful tools that technology can provide educators and I believe it is our duty to teach our students how to use them correctly so they can implement them in their college or career choices.

There have been many studies regarding tech with math and the overall consensus is that technology should be used to bolster learning. Researchers have stated that the key to being successful is to get accustomed to the programs and be educated on what you are exposing your math students to, so they can have success with the tech. There are downsides to using tech like distracted students and cheating, but the benefits far outweigh the cons according to research.

Picture of student working on a computer.

Students use Tinkercad to design 3D objects and models.

On that note, I am going to give you, the reader, a few more programs that are extremely effective when it comes to student engagement and technological skill. The first being Tinkercad, which is a student friendly version of Autodesk (design program). This program allows students to create 3 dimensional objects and can be used for geometry but also for engineering purposes. Tinkercad is used best when the teacher has a 3d printer because student ideas can come to forwishen over the course of a day of printing. I have used Tinkercad to teach area, angles, and volume for different shapes.Perfect cubes, cube roots and finding square roots could also be taught with the program as long as you take the time to create an assignment that includes Tinkercad. If the students have a google account they can save their designs in the cloud and upload them into google classroom with a few clicks of a button because it is a cloud based program. There are tutorials for the students and teachers on the site, and the best part of the program is that it is another free resource. The skills that students learn in Tinkercad can be used for jobs of the future and enable students to creatively engineer.


The next program is mainly for students to obtain vocabulary terms in a fun and creative way. It is called Flocabulary. Flocabulary is a website that creates rap music based on many different subjects and topics. My students enjoy the music and seem to retain more of the terms than traditional ways of teaching vocabulary in Math and any other subject. The students will usually watch a music video, do a few exercises based on the video, take a quiz, and then create their own rap using the vocabulary they used. This program is also synced with Google Classroom, so adding students and classes is as simple as a few clicks of the mouse. The only issue with this program is that it is not free. There are individual, school, and district plans that can be bought and are definitely worth the price.

Implementing these two programs will get your students more engaged and subsequently give them tools that can be used for their entire lives. Whether it be designing a new logo, car, a shape, or making music with a program, the students will definitely be better off going forward in their education with skills that are applicable to the real world. In this day and age being creative and collaborative are highly valuable in the work world and I believe we as educators should use the tools that will enable students to attain these skills rather than stifling their creativity with the same old curriculum.

Working Smart Not Hard Using Screencastify

Ever had the experience of explaining how to do something to students so many times that you abbreviate the steps to the point of ineffectiveness? I am a little ashamed to admit that in my 20 years of teaching, I have noticed I sometimes have grown to assume students already come in with certain skills. This leads to more work on my part in the long run because I find myself repeating and reteaching when I could work smarter, not harder. Let me introduce Screencastify.

Screencastify is an extension you can find in the Chrome Webstore and is used to create screencasts. A screen-cast is a digital recording of a computer screen’s output, which is also known as a video screen capture, often containing audio narration. The most common way I have used Screencastify in my classroom is to create instructional videos either made by me for my students or for my students made by my students. These videos enable students to learn at their own pace, whenever and wherever they prefer.

There are other uses for this extension. Follow this link to see the many ways you can use Screencastify in your classroom.

How to get Screencastify:

  • Make sure you are logged in to chrome (if you are on a chromebook, you are on chrome)
  • Chrome Web Store
  • Search for Screencastify (in the extensions area)
  • Enable extension
  • Allow camera access (it also allows the audio)
  • Choose to save to Drive
  • Choose last choice (with nothing written on it)

To begin recording:

  • Click the extension
  • Click Record Desktop
  • It will “count down” so you know when to start talking
  • Start moving the mouse and TALK
  • Click Stop Sharing
  • NAME THE SCREENCAST

Want your image on the screen as well?

  • Start Screencastify
  • Turn on “Embed Webcam” you CAN choose which corner your image belongs
  • The first few times you may WANT to have the preview on, for me it is distracting and I end up watching myself
  • Record Desktop
  • Talk and move mouse
  • Click Stop Sharing
  • Name the Screencast

Done Recording?

  • NAME IT!
  • It is saved in your Google Drive
  • Depending on the length of the video, it may take a few minutes
  • How do my students see it? Share it with them, put it in Google Classroom, download then upload to YouTube

Here are some example videos my students have made (Sorry but these are student work, so you must be logged into your Stockton Unified Google account to view these videos):

Student video (Yocelyn Chavez, 7th grade, “Using ST Math”)


Student video (Velencia Cromwell, 7th grade, “Using Prodigy”)


Student video (Jocelyn Arredondo, 8th grade, “How to Log Into Google Doc.”) (With an interesting interpretation of how to do a book report!)


Student video (Bryan Gonzalez and Kevontay Makinsey, 7th grade, “How to Log into Khan Academy)


 

Student video (Katia Martinez and Jazlyn Rios-Fox, 8th grade, “How to Build a Paper Box.”)

Thanks for reading, and I hope this helps in some way in your classroom!

Do’s and Don’ts

In past years I covered A LOT of classes, but this year not so much. I get called to cover if a sub position doesn’t fill, if there’s an I.E.P. meeting, and many other reasons. Sometimes it’s for “15” minutes but it’s usually longer. So the one thing I have learned over the last few years while covering a class is the do’s and don’ts of technology in a classroom. Here are a few lists:

DO

*Set the rules before anyone….ANYONE….I mean ANYONE is allowed to even think about opening the computer. Reason why- that one student will go ahead and either use someone else’s account/computer.

Image of students in class.

Students will tell on each other with no reservations.

*Do ask if anyone should not be on the computers. Students will tell on each other with no reservations. If you don’t ask they will be on a computer when their privileges have been revoked and when everyone else has told you repeatedly that that student should not be on the computer, that student will  have a melt down when you take them of the computers.

*List the websites then can go on. If you are allowing Prodigy then list it. Also tell them that these are the only sites you can go on. If you just say educational sites they will find a way to get around the “educational” part. (Student states “Well, my uncle told me I could learn a lot if I looked up……”)

*When setting rules make sure you tell them the volume level on their computers or make sure they use headphones. Also let them know if you allow them to partner up or work with a small group. My suggestion is if it’s your first time covering the class, everyone should work independently.

*Monitoring is still need even if they are all on task and silent. Chances are there’s one or two surfing the web and the ride is a category 5 wave. (Meaning: definitely an inappropriate site).

Don’ts

*Don’t sit and think they are all innocent happy learners. Keep an eye on them. If you hear giggling or noise of trying to talk go quickly but stealth like behind the student so you can see what they are doing.

*Don’t take for granted that the screen they have up is what they have been working on. Nope. Usually they think they can get away with switching back and forth but check the tabs or click on the back arrow to see where they have been.

*Don’t say “This is fun time or free time”. Say “Additional learning time” or “GATE scholar time” It is harder for the teacher to get them back on task when he/she returns to teach.

Picture of Kids throwing paper airplanes in class! Oh my!

Kids throw paper airplanes in class! Oh my!

*Even if your “15” minutes is extended to 30 don’t let them stay on the computer more than 20-30 mins. After 30 mins. they usually are bored and will start to wander  sites or writing notes to someone else in class. Depending on the grade you could wind up with notes that just might make it into an airplane shape that will try to travel the length of the classroom.

I know there are many do’s and don’ts and some seem like common sense, but maybe by reading this post it will be in the back of your mind when you need to cover a class…say for “15” minutes.

Best of luck when you do.

GSS–> Getting Savvy with Sheets

By Mychau Sou

An image of a spreadsheet utilizing check boxesIn Gsuite (formerly known as Google Apps for Education), Sheets are spreadsheets that many feel intimidated by, but once you learn the benefits of Sheets, you may not want to go back. I create spreadsheets to help me keep a digital record of what my students turn in. For instances, I would copy and paste my students’ name list from illuminate and insert a checkbox column to check off which students turned in what. At the bottom of Sheet, I add tabs to the same Google Sheet to use it as my track log. The first-day packets, GAFE permission slips, and signed report card envelopes are all examples of what you can quickly check off. I use it to create my small groups and highlight which groups I’ve touched bases with for the week.

A Google Sheet can be converted into tools that help the flow of your classroom. Flippity.net is a site that will provide 10+ templates of ways in which you can convert your spreadsheet into something spectacular. One I frequently use is Flippity Random Name Picker where you insert your class list, publish the Google Sheet and instantly get access to digital equity sticks with your phone or laptop. What I love about this tool is that the Random name picker helps me form groups, pairs, and teams with a push of a button.  I know with the constant movement of students it’s hard to keep up with real popsicle sticks. What if I told you can add and delete students on the spreadsheet as you please and still use the same link?

Convert a spreadsheet into …

sheet1

 

 

A flippity random name pickerAn image of a flippity game wheel

My students love the quiz shows that I make with Flippity Game Show. I insert the categories of my math units as the topics such as Ratios, Unit Rate, Unit Conversion, etc. and type in my questions and answers using the template provided. The Flippity template allows me to publish and get a link to the game show for a math review. The kids are split into teams where you can have them name their group. Points can be added or deducted to keep track which team is doing well. Once we’re finished playing, I provide the link to my students so they can always study these questions at home the day before the test. This is both easy and effective for teacher and student alike.

An image of a spreadsheet/study guide.Take the spreadsheet and convert it into…An image of a Jeopardy style game boardA Jeopardy style quiz show board!

Whether or not you will be using Sheets as a system to track your students’ paper permission slips and work, or use free flippity templates, you can learn how to create a sheet with the click of a button! Trust me, it’s fairly simple. Come to my PD next week on Wednesday, February 6, 2019. John Adams Elementary Rm. 28 to learn more about Google Sheets. If you can’t make it, please sign up for the other PDs I’m offering in February.

(This is part 2 in a series. Part one was  Getting Savvy with Slides.)


About the Author:

Mychau Sou is an Intermediate Teacher at Adams Elementary in Stockton, Ca. She is also a Certified Google Trainer.