Thursday, December 12, 2013

We Could Use Your Expertise!

A week ago I shared a bit about the 20% Time Research Projects that my tenth grade students are putting together.  One day each week, about 20% of our weekly class time, we will be using researching  topics of the student's choice. But this project is not just about researching…it is about doing something with what you learn.  To complete this project successfully students will:
  1. Pick a topic they are passionate about, something they want to learn. Students may work alone or in small groups of no more than four.
  2. Find a book on their topic to guide their learning.
  3. Pitch their project idea in a project proposal to the class for topic approval. Students will submit both a written proposal and produce a video proposal to be posted to our class site for our community of learners to vote on.
  4. Connect with an expert on your topic to interview.
  5. Blog each Friday reflecting on their progress. Each post should also incorporate reflections on how their selected book is guiding the research.
  6. Produce something – a presentation, a writing piece, a show – to share with people outside of our classroom.
  7. Reflect on what they have learned in a TED-style talk.
At this point, students have selected their topics and many of put together their written proposals and pitch videos.  They are selecting their mentor texts over the next couple of days and identifying experts to interview.  And this is where we could use your help!

As you can see in our spreadsheet, I have students working on a wide variety of topics - everything from writing horror novels and screenplays to helping the local homeless population.  I would be grateful if you would consider taking a look at this list of topics and think about how you might be able to help.  If you are an expert or know of one, please add your name and contact information to the appropriate box.  Over the course of the next week, my students will contact you to share interview questions.

My students and I cannot thank you enough for taking time to support this project but know that we are indebted to you for your help! Please click on this link to support our research.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Students Excited About Research?!

I must confess that I might be just as excited as my tenth grade student!  Just before Thanksgiving, I introduced our second quarter research project.  I've never seen a group of students so excited about doing research!  Our research project, called a 20% time project, has students using 20% of our English class time each week to work on research of their choice.  The idea stems from a practice that the 3M company and Google have been using for years and gained traction as more and more people read Daniel Pink’s book Drive.  Pink, a former speech writer for Al Gore turned author, cites an idea that started with the 3M company and was expanded by Google.  Google encourages its employees to spend one day each work week, 20 percent of their work time, focusing on their own projects.  Why?  Well, it turns out that when people have autonomy over their work, time to master their skills, and a clear purpose, they are more motivated to learn.  And scientific studies and research supports this claim. In fact, Google’s philosophy of 20 percent time is how we now have Gmail! So students in our tenth grade English class have to opportunity to research anything...yes, anything!

Working either individually or in small groups, students will be completing a series of research tasks, including writing a formal project proposal, putting together a project pitch video, blogging their progress each week, reading a text connected with their research, interviewing an expert, and producing something to share their research with an audience outside of our classroom.   This is not simply a research paper.  Rather, once students finish the research phase of this project, they must do something with their new found knowledge.  Students will be creating products and presentations (either individually or in small groups) that will extend beyond the classroom, such as documentary videos for our school's weekly television program, web pages, pamphlets, newspaper or magazine editorials, an article for our school newspaper, letters, public speaking presentations, fund raising, music, plays…or whatever we can think of to best make our community aware of our research topics.  The idea is to reach an audience outside the doors of our classroom in order to share our research.

And the ideas that students have started to research are incredibly diverse!  I have students looking into:
  • how to create a documentary film about Philadelphia,
  • how to write a screenplay,
  • how to start a cupcake company,
  • learning quilting,
  • creating an app,
  • how to build a computer,
  • learning to play hockey,
  • what it takes to become a National Geographic photographer,
  • becoming a certified in search and rescue,
  • starting a new student club,
  • learning C++ computer language,
  • putting together a documentary on a young professional dancer,
  • blogging about different psychological and social issues faced by teens, and
  • how to become a horror writer, and so, so, so many more ideas!

As a teacher, I never expected to come into class having students begging for time to work on their research! Interested in learning more? Check out the playlist below that I shared with my students:

Monday, November 25, 2013

Kite Runner Connections

Connecting with Tech

A sea of eager faces stare back at me, pens poised in anticipation. Then, from the back of the room a hand shoots up and a call echoes forth, "Will I need to include this in my paper?" As a tenth grade English teacher in a large suburban school, I struggle with encouraging my students to write authentically, to bring their connections, their voice into their written work. But when students write for real audiences, they begin to see themselves as writers. Writing for a real audience gives students a sense of purpose for their writing. By ensuring that our students have opportunities to have their writing read by real readers, we can grow student writing skills and their engagement in the writing process.
"Readers make writing deliciously worthwhile," states author and teacher Mem Fox. When students have an authentic audience and purpose for their writing endeavors, they grow as thinkers and as writers. Technology can help emerging student writers publish beyond the walls of our classrooms.
Last Tuesday, students in my tenth grade English classes used Skype to connect with a variety of experts in the publishing field. My tenth grade English classes have been working on bringing a writing piece from our Writer’s Notebook to publishable quality which we then submitted to a variety of places for publication late last week. But before submitting for publication, students in my second block course Skyped with the co-creator and Senior Editor at Teen Ink, Ms. Stephanie Meyer, who shared with students how pieces are selected for publication on both Teen Ink’s online site as well as in their monthly print magazine. Then, students in my third block Skyped with the Production Manager of the Jenkins Publishing Group, Ms. Leah Nicholson, in order to learn more about how books reach publication.  And at the close of the day, my fourth block class used Skype to connect with Ms. Christine Weiser, the Executive Director of Philadelphia Stories who shared fantastic advice for revising both short stories and poetry, as well as details about what her editorial board looks for in the pieces that are submitted. Students had the opportunity to hear from and ask questions of someone in the publishing field before submitting their own work for publication this week. What fantastic real world writing connections!

Later in the week, we again had an opportunity to connect with those outside of our classroom using Skype. I am not an expert on psychology, but I know a few people who are. So when my tenth grade honors students started to learn about psychoanalytic literary criticism, I decided to invite those experts into my classroom.  And through the use of technology, I was bring those real world connections into our classroom virtually.  Last Thursday my students had an opportunity to Skype with local psychoanalyst, Dr. Robin Ward, who spoke with students about Freud’s theory of the divided self and shared a case example of repression to illustrate some of Freud’s concepts.  Students will be using this literary approach, among others, as they begin their student of Khaled Hoessini’s The Kite Runner in the coming days.

And this is why I am such a firm believer in using technology in the classroom.  When used well, technology allows us to open up our classroom doors to the world outside, to explore real world learning, and to in turn, learn from experts in the field.  Learning becomes purposefully, contextualized, and meaningful. Technology helps us connect our students with their world.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

All About EdCamp

I must confess that I still consider myself to be an EdCamp newbie.  I attended my first EdCamp last May at the University of Pennsylvania.  EdCamp Philly.  Wow! I had heard of the unconference style of professional development before, but I could have never imagined how life-changing attending that first conference would be.  It is not hyperbole to state that EdCamp changed the way that I thought not only about professional development, but how I thought about my teaching style. The connections and collaborations that I made at the first conference really spurred me to become more involved in helping other newbies find the conversations and resources that I had at my first EdCamp.  So, that's why I volunteered to help plan the 2014 EdCamp Philly.

Our first in-person get together was this past Friday, and I must confess, I felt more than a bit nervous.  I was asked to sit down with Kevin Jarrett, Mary Beth Hertz, Kim Sivick, and so many of the enthusiastic and engaged educators that I have been following online for years.  Who was I?!  (In case you were wondering, that's me in the stripes.) I felt like a teenage fan girl sitting at the table with so many well-connected teachers.  But I should have known better.  Not only did this group welcome me, but the same sense of excitement about learning and collaborating with one another that I felt at that first EdCamp was palpable around the planning table.

So the next afternoon when I was attending EdCampHill up in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, I knew that I had to step outside my comfort zone and not just listen to the conversations that others were having, but lead one.  As session suggestions were being posted to the board, I made my move, volunteering to lead a session on flipped learning.   What a great conversation.  Unlike other conferences where a presenter talks at the teachers in the room, EdCamp is all about conversations.  My session was just that.  I shared a bit about what I've been doing the past couple of years, and then others in the room shared their experiences, raised questions, and discussed.  I didn't have a slide show ready.  Honestly, I wasn't even connected to the internet for my session.  Instead, another session participant keep some notes on an open Google Doc for our session, which I later added to.  And this is probably the best example of why EdCamp works.  It is professional development that is tailored to what you want to learn about, but perhaps most importantly, it is about the connections.  Those face-to-face dialogues that move our thinking forward, that get us questioning and reflecting on our roles in the classroom, and that have us sharing ideas with the person sitting next to your are invaluable. And that's why I am all in.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Students Making A Difference

Thank you!

Students, staff, and families of HHS raised $650 in one week to support the work ShelterBox is doing in the Philippines to help those most affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

Each morning I come into my classroom and add a vocabulary word on the board for students to use and find that day for extra credit.  This past Monday's word was cataclysm.  And it became a conversation starter on Monday for us to talk about the tragedy still unfolding in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan.  By late Monday afternoon, students wanted to do something.  

Students suggested we start a fundraiser.  And, so we came up with a crazy idea: I would match any funds that students donated. By Tuesday, we put a poster up on our classroom door to track how much we had raised.  But very quickly I realized that I needed to enlisted the help of some other teachers and staff in our building in order to help match funds, a great problem to have since students were so generously supporting the fundraiser. By Wednesday, a tenth grade student in one of my classes had gathered 50 student signatures to start a new student club, the Natural Disaster Relief Club, with a goal of connecting students interested in helping those in need. And by Thursday, students, staff, and parents were donating to our fundraiser in amazing numbers.

And in just one week, students and staff raised $650 to support the work of ShelterBox. In the wake of the cataclysmic events that rocked the Philippines this time last week, it is inspiring to see so much student action and empathy to help those most in need.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

On Meeting Aaron Sams

This past Saturday, I attended a workshop with Aaron Sams, one of the innovators who started the Flipped Learning movement. What a great opportunity to meet educators from the area in various stages of their flipped journey. I had an opportunity to meet with an AP chemistry teacher, a new fifth grade teacher, and a veteran teacher of middle school math - all interested in thinking about how to better engage and connect their students by making the focus of time spent in the classroom on higher order thinking skills.  As Sams pointed out in his opening remarks, it really doesn't matter if we call it "flipped classroom" or "flipped learning" or "flipped instruction"; there is no one definition for what flipping is or one correct way to do it. Instead, the idea of flipping is to leverage the opportunities that technology affords us in order to make our classrooms spaces of student-driven learning with the teacher playing the role of coach, facilitator, and mentor while students engage in the work of learning. For some teachers this will include creating videos for students to watch at home. Other teachers may ask students to watch professionally created videos. And still other teachers might use blogs or websites to introduce students to their more didactic lessons. Whichever approach a teacher uses, those interested in the flipped or blended approach are those that are interested in using class time to connect, collaborate, and create with students.

There was only one small part of meeting Aaron that disappointed me...forgetting my copy of Flip Your Classroom which I was hoping to have him sign!

Interested in learning more about what it means to flip? Here's a little introduction I put together:

Friday, September 13, 2013

Day One

New tenth graders file into my room, unsure of where to sit, trying to find a friendly face in our World Literatures English class.  Summer is over. School is back in session.  And on our first day of class, I stand outside the classroom door, greeting students and handing them a syllabus as they walk into the room.  This is what they expect.  They expect to sit down, whisper quietly about the new kid in class and what they did over their summer break while their teacher stands at the front and lectures over classroom rules, grading policies, and class projects.  So when the bell rings for class to start, and I tell them to put their syllabus away, they look genuinely confused.

As their teacher, I want to see my high school students connecting, collaborating, writing, and revising.  And that needs to start on day one. So instead of starting with the syllabus, we start by writing.  I have students pull out a sheet of paper and ask them to describe who they are as writers and come up with a metaphor for who they are as writers.  Over the course of our first day, students are writing, discussing metaphors, and then ultimately creating simple web pages that showcase an imageof their metaphor and a writing piece that explains its significance.  And it is here where the tone of our class is set.  Students are expected to write every day. Students are expected to collaborate.  Students are expected to think carefully and critically.  But I don’t have to stand in front of them and tell them that. They learn this by doing it.  Starting with day one.  

And I can do this because I’ve started to flip those more didactic lessons over to videos.  Instead of standing in front of them going over our syllabus and expectations in class, I created a video for students to watch as homework on that first night that goes over our syllabus.   And on that first day, I’ve never seen so many excited faces, excited that their homework was to watch a video…of me explaining our syllabus! 

Throughout our semester, I'll move away from using my traditional PowerPoint format for presenting writing craft lessons and instead create interactive videos for each concept with the idea that students can move through lessons at their own pace while taking notes on the concepts and work through practice activities. Because students can rewatch the videos as many times as they want and can learn at their own pace, I should have more time IN class to practice writing.  I can use class time to draft, conference, and revise with students.  Writing then becomes a community activity, something we all do together in the classroom. I am building a community of writers.  And it all started on day one by having them write.

How do you build your community of writers?  What activities and ideas do you have that help your emerging writers see themselves as part of a writing community?  

Photo credit: picture by mrsdkrebs

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Share Alike

With two young boys, it is the word that I find myself repeating (sometimes shouting) more times than I can count each day - share!  It is one of the most important lessons that as parents we hope that our children learn early and practice often throughout their lives. It is also the lesson that as teachers, whether you work with kindergarteners or university students, you hope your students have retained.  Share your thinking. Share your reflections. Share your mistakes. Share your resources. Share. So as I have been putting together my lesson plans for my PA Writing and Literature Project course next week on Writing with 2.0 Technologies, I have been thinking about the best ways not only to share the my resources, but also how to engage other teachers in thinking about how we share resources and information with our students.

Below you will find a LiveBinder of resources that I put together to help introduce teachers not simply to online bookmarking, but to how sites like LiveBinders, Evernote, and others can be used to collaborate with students. Online bookmarking sites are fantastic tools for curating information with students, not simply for them.  

Take a peek!  I would love your feedback.

Photo by Carlos Maya

Saturday, July 13, 2013

I'm Flipping

I'm so excited about taking some of my more traditional lessons and flipping them to interactive online assignments for students. Having just read Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams' book Flip Your Classroom, I've spent the last few days reflecting on where I can move some of my more didactic lessons on writing over to the web in order to open up time in my classroom to write with my students. Last semester I did a bit of this with students and saw improvement over years past. I created online videos to introduce writing assignments, walking students through the grading rubrics and particulars of an assignment through online videos posted to my class website. But I wouldn't say that the improvement came because of the videos. Instead, I attribute some of it to the fact that the students and I were working on the drafting and revising together in class. And writing teachers have know this for years. Writing gurus like Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher have been writing about writing with our students for years. And writing with my students last semester helped students not only because I could act as a coach, answering questions in the moment and giving suggestions, but also because students could see how their peers tackled writing assignments.

So right now I'm taking all my grammar mini-lessons out of workbook format, creating interactive videos for each concept with the idea that students can move through lessons at their own pace while taking notes on the concepts and work through practice activities. Once the students finish a section, I've linked online quizzes for them to take at the end of each section. This will give me time in class to actually work with improving their grammar IN THEIR WRITING, which is the point! They will be able to retake quizzes as many times as they want, and they will need to take a online grammar final test to demonstrate their learning. Whoo hooo! Flipping and mastery learning all in one.

Okay, and all of this is being done while I'm still a bit loopy from the anesthesia I had earlier this morning when all four of my wisdom teeth were removed. So when the pain meds wear off in a few hours, this will likely be a hot mess!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I'm Flipping Excited

In preparation for my upcoming PA Writing and Literature Project summer course for teachers on writing with 2.0 technologies, I read Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams' book Flip Your Classroom. I've been doing a bit of a blended learning approach in my classroom, assigning students to watch videos that introduce assignments or vocabulary outside of class so that I could spend more time writing with students in class. Reading Bergmann and Sams' book really helped me think through why and how I was using technology to engage students outside of class. It is a fantastic resource for the teacher just learning about this approach as well as for those of us easing into the ideas of a flipped mastery approach to teaching.

As a resource, I put together the presentation below to link to the wealth of research that I've found in my studies of the flipped approach. Enjoy and pass along!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Using Technology to Engage Your Audience

As I'm revising some of my classroom materials for the PA Writing and Literature Project course that I am teaching this summer titled Writing with 2.0 Technologies, I thought I would share one of the presentations I put together for my students. Students in my 10th grade English class have a number of opportunities to teach the class, whether they were sharing what they have learned about a specific literary criticism approach or teaching us about motifs found in The Kite Runner, and in preparing their presentation materials they were required to find ways to engage their audience, other members of our class. Audience participation is a requirement. And to help them think about ways to engage their audience, I put together this Prezi of tech tools. So, take a peek.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

From the Mgmt.

A friend and fellow teacher recently asked if he could ask me a few questions about my classroom management style for a graduate course in education he is currently taking.  And with the school year all wrapped up, this is a perfect time to reflect on not just what I do in the classroom but why I do what I do.  So I thought I would share a little bit of how I responded to my friend's request:

My Management Style - 
So two guiding ideas that have shaped how I establish my classroom community have to do with transparency and flipped instruction.  In terms of transparency, I believe that students and parents should be able to access and interact with whatever it is that we are working on in the classroom even when they are not physically in my class.  This is why I feel it is important to use my web presence not just as a place to post my assignments, but to get students interacting.  We blog our writing pieces, we use online discussion tools, take our tests/quizzes online and review class responses after everyone has finished, all so that student work is not done in isolation.  Students are writing online and posting for an audience other than just their teacher.  I've seen that this can help students in terms of how they construct their written pieces.  When writing for an audience other than just their teacher, students understand that there is a real purpose and audience for what they are writing.  Also in an effort to make what we do in the classroom transparent, students are given all their assignments for a particular unit at the beginning of the unit along with the rubrics for all assignments.  My goal is that students can see from the very beginning of a unit our objectives for learning and where we are headed.  To do this, I rely on ideas of backward design as proposed by Wiggins and McTighe in Understanding by Design. Last, I live video stream out every class every day.  I use the webcam on my laptop to stream out every class. The camera points to the front of the room so that students are not captured but viewers can hear what is happening in the class.  The first week of class and at our Back to School Night for parents, I give out the link and password to access our live video web channel.  Only those with the password can watch the class live or watch the recorded videos of our class.  I have found that students mainly access these recordings the days we do quiz/test reviews as a way to review once they get home.  Parents (and even some grandparents) access the stream on presentation days to watch all their student's preparation come together. By striving toward transparency, my hope is that students and their parents feel more engaged in the work of our classroom, but more importantly that we come to understand the classroom as a community.  It is not just "my" classroom but "ours".

The other guiding idea that I try to incorporate stems from the flipped classroom movement and the idea that class time is better used as a place for the teacher to act as a mentor/coach while students use time to practice and refine their work on writing pieces and projects.  A few years ago, I was sitting in a session at the annual NCTE conference and a presenter asked the audience if we spent more time planning our instruction or giving instructions.  This struck home with me as I noticed that my handouts were incredibly wordy.  I spent a lot of time giving instructions.  So, this year in particular, I moved all my didactic materials and instructions to video. Instead of asking students to complete writing assignments and group projects as homework, we did them in class so I could work with them, acting as a coach.  As homework, students watched videos that introduced assignments, vocabulary and literary terms, and gave directions. Most of the time, their homework was either to watch a video or complete reading homework. This meant that we could use class time to draft and revise. Flipping my instruction freed up class time for more discussions, practice, and presentations. It also meant that I did not spend as much time standing in front of the class (because I stood in front of a camera instead), so the physical set up of my classroom changed as well .  Desks were organized in pods if we were working on group work or in the shape of a U to better facilitate class discussions. Flipping my instruction also flipped a great deal of my organization and management style.  Not only that, it flipped how students thought about our classroom.

My classes are not quiet.  You will not often see students sitting in rows listening to a teacher at the front of the room.  In fact, walk into my classroom on any given day, and it might look a bit chaotic. There might be a group of students, laptops open, working on a Prezi for an upcoming presentation while another student sits on the counter reading quietly to herself, three students might be in the hallway video-taping a re-enactment of a scene from the book they are reading while four others are in the class on their smartphones doing research. But this is not chaos.  This is learning. Over the course of one semester, most of my students will post between 4-5 blog posts, teach the class 3-4 times, present research to an audience outside our classroom, submit at least one piece of writing for publication, use Skype to talk with multiple authors and publishers, and use a variety of tools to create, connect, and collaborate with others inside our classroom and those halfway across the world.  This is teaching and learning 2.0.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Introduction to Google+

Yesterday at EdCamp Philly, I participated in a session about using Google+ Hangouts to virtually connect classrooms and speakers.  This past year I have used Skype to bring publishers, authors, a psychologist, and presenters from Japan into my classroom through video, but because Skype does not have a recording option connected to the program nor is it easy to connect with multiple speakers at the same time, I am interested in moving over to Google's Hangouts.  And it turns out a lot of teachers are making that switch.

So for those of you not familiar to Google+ or Hangouts, here are a couple of tutorials to help you get started. This first series of videos comes from Google Certified Teacher Jay Atwood and is a fantastic introduction to Google+ for educators:

For teachers just getting started with Google+, you will want to take a look at the Google Help page.

So now you are ready to Hangout.  Here's a good introduction to Hangouts:

For more specifics on setting up a Hangout, the Google Help Page and  this tutorial give not only a great overview but step-by-step directions. Once you are ready to jump in, be sure to join the Google Hangouts in Education community and follow the Google in Education page.

So, how will you use Hangouts in your classroom?

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Okay, I'll admit it. I got a bit distracted over the last couple of years - had a couple kids, started my own craft business, went back to teaching full-time - but I cannot believe that it has been nearly two years since I've posted. Shame on me! So after attending my first EdCamp today, I was inspired to share more of what I learn, whether those reflections are polished or not. My hope is to get back into a more regular practice of posting and that begins today. So here it is, just a few of my random thoughts and links to goodies that I learned about while at EdCampPhilly:

Tech Tools Teacher Should Know About:

  • A must for teachers:
  • Gobstopper - annotated public domain with questions/quizzes
  • Tellagami - create talking avatar characters to tell a story (for the iPad only)
  • PlaySpent - A game to simulate what it’s like to live on minimum wage
  • Professor Word - it allows you to look up the definition of any word in your browser
  • Zac Browser - Browser for children with autism and autism spectrum disorders
  • 121Writing - You can respond to Google Drive docs with highlighting and voice; give student writers feedback that they listen to, leaving the grade until the very end
  • Lino - Stickies; more robust than Wallwishr/Padlet
  • Apps Gone Free - Daily free apps
  • Video Notes - Lets you annotate videos that you are watching
  • And the big take-away: Choose2Matter But more on this one soon

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