Sunday, May 26, 2013

Screen Time in the Meantime: Using Technology Purposefully

Screen Reading impacts to Consider on Assessments 

screen time, screen reading, teaching and learning, test prep, purposeful instruction In Ohio beginning in 2014, state high stakes standardized testing will be administered online.  Online assessments although valuable will require a whole new approach to test taking strategies and instruction.  This is also coming at a time of great change in all districts in the state to implement curricula fully aligned with the common core state standards, and the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System which are still relatively new to teachers and administrators. Both are increasing the amount of pressure to perform that hinges on many factors ranging from teaching ability and instructional practice, to progress monitoring, to student achievement data accounting for half of a teacher's professional evaluation from a district.  Below are several points to consider implementing this fall with respect to screen reading and technology which impacts the upcoming year of testing.  

Screen Reading, Technology Instructional Strategies

1. Find an online Common Core based teaching resource and commit to presenting content from it on your smart board or using a projector at least twice per week.  Websites like McGraw Hill CCSS are common core aligned and easy to navigate so that part of your lesson can be presented whole group and then a practice piece can be assigned and printed or completed on a computer and emailed to you.  It is important that as instructors, we take the time to explain the way we navigate through the page or lesson making note of side margins and site maps, and what we know we should pay attention to on the screen.  
One of the most glaring issues students may have could be the use of a "split screen" interface.  Much of the content may be presented on the left hand side of the screen with its own scroll bar, while the actual questions to be answered are on the right. Students may have trouble with the awareness that the left side of the screen is the information that could help them to answer the questions on the right.  

2. Content vocabulary may be a challenge. The students may be presented with reading selections about very specific terms and vocabulary, especially in nonfiction selections.  As a teacher, know the vocabulary terms in the common core for your grade level before you start the year and if your district-mandated curricula doesn't address the comprehension and pronunciation of the terms, be prepared to supplement.  Teach, reteach, and reinforce context clues.   We may not be able to tell them what a word says, but if we've taught them how to guess what it means, it may be the difference between a 399 and a 400.  

3. Students will most likely have many questions that require them to "click and drag" the answers into graphic organizers and many extended response and short answer questions which require them to type a complete and competent answer. The typing is going to be a real time killer, especially for those kids whom we know want to do well and are very meticulous. Get your hands on a good website or training cd rom for your class computer time that allows them practice with basic keyboarding. Try these free typing games and tests

More Information: 

To view information on the Ohio Common Core State Standards and the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System, visit The Ohio Department of Education Website.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Try To Teach the "Why" with Cross-Curricular Connections

Explaining cross-curricular connections and relationships is a very powerful teaching tool. Not only that, but being willing as the adult in the room to share your purpose for teaching the students certain things and explaining our teacher language and methods to students raises engagement and curiosity--it empowers the students to have intelligent conversations with adults about their learning.

'Cross-Curricular Connections' means "Why"

A very recent example I have from my 5th grade classroom this past week, which also inspired me to write this post, stems from our study of the solar system. Many times throughout a school day I set a purpose for my students and remind them of it for each subject. For example, "Remember class, we are learning this because ______________ and also because ________________".  It is through this type of prompting that I see the greatest curiosity cross my students' faces.  When I spend time telling them that when something is cross-curricular it means that connections are being made in more than one subject, and that a worksheet that has them filling in blanks is really called a "cloze exercise" and forces them to use "context clues" and other comprehension skills as well as communication skills by writing it down--you know, all that jargon we throw around in college and in teacher's planning meetings--THAT'S when they really listen.

Teach the Kids your Instructional Language to make Cross-Curricular Connections

So often we get caught up in covering material rather than teaching it, or presenting the "WHY" behind it.  We teach from the scripted book or from what this leveled reader or that one says about the subject.  Let's teach the kids why.  Let's teach them that these are requirements for us and them and why that is. Let's show them that taking a vote on the class' favorite lunch and making a tally chart which we then create a bar graph from is actually COMMUNICATION of DATA and TRANSLATING it from one form to another.  Let's teach them that answering an extended response question that COMPARES AND CONTRASTS the sinking of the Titanic with the explosion of the Hindenburg is really a way to communicate through writing and translate the information from the texts into a different FORMAT--the Venn Diagram.

Better yet, when we are about to begin a lesson, let's present the topic briefly and then have the students brainstorm a list of possible WHY'S for learning it. 

Cross-Curricular Objective Setting at the Beginning of the Lesson

One of my principals gave us teachers a great push to "begin with the end in mind". It was her belief that whether we were teaching from a district-mandated reading curriculum or not, we should look ahead to the weekly, unit, and quarterly assessments, know what was on them, predict where our kids would struggle and anticipate how to meet their needs instructionally before we even wrote our lesson plans for the week.  Many thought it too much work, simply feeling that if we taught the Reading curriculum that was required with integrity, the students would be well prepared for the test. Well, meeting individual needs doesn't work very well that way and closing or "moving" the gap (as this principal would say) is nearly impossible if you're not willing to be purposeful in your planning.  Within that purpose or objective is where you find your jargon.  Within that purpose or objective is what the kids need to be familiar with.  We should feel confident as teachers that if anyone comes into our room and asks "Hey Johnny, what are you learning right now?" He will answer "Well, we are reading about Jupiter because we need to know about our solar system and after this we will have a cloze exercise that makes us use context clues from what we learned and writing skills to communicate information. This lesson uses Reading, Writing, and Science skills all at once. " 

Sounds like he's a dream student, doesn't he? 
Well, he doesn't have to be. I've been working in very challenging environments explaining cross-curricular connections and it has worked no matter where.

 I challenge you to try teaching the WHY and notice the results!  

Finally, I would be remiss without mentioning Whole Brain Teaching methods in this post. I had the privilage to attend their annual conference in the summer of 2012 and it has heavily influenced my teaching methods and connection-making strategies with my students. Please check out the video below to see a demonstration by Chris Biffle, the creator of the Whole Brain Teaching Method and visit their website.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Blackout Poetry Connects Texts to Lives!

A New Outlet

Blackout poetry has recently become one of the most therapeutic and creative outlets I've found to serve me personally. I was so excited once I started to get the hang of it, I just had to share it with my class!  Basically, you are creating a poem that is a short concise thought which expresses emotions and can communicate not only feelings but also be a pretty awesome way to give a summary.  Below, the video showcases some of the artful poetry we have created in our anticipation of summer approaching.  Using a "porquoi tale"-- a tale which seeks to explain why or how something significant happened like, "how did the tiger get his stripes?"  was also the perfect opportunity to teach the significance of the porquoi tale and examine examples of various types from different cultures-- the students were challenged to create a poem expressing an emotion about their upcoming summer vacation.


Try our video maker at Animoto.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

WE Were In The Newspaper!

Belden kids complete ballroom program

Click above to see how famous we are! 

Our class was the only 5th grade class in the county to participate in the Dancing Classrooms NEO program.  For ten weeks, our students transformed for 2 hours at a time into "ladies and gentlemen" who could foxtrot and rumba their way through the day!

See a glimpse of our Culminating Recital Event below!

5th Grade OAA Info Day!

As part of our preparation for "the big tests" in April, we invited our families to come in at the End of March for a student-run information session.  The presentation stations around the room included:
  • What is the OAA?
  • Why do I, as a student, have to take the OAA?
  • What is my school data from the last OAA test?
  • Are you smarter than a Fifth Grader OAA question challange.
  • Hey Mom, did you know I practice at home?
If you would like to plan your own OAA Info Day, you can download the planning guide by clicking the link below: 

OAA Info Day Planning Guide

Watch the 30 second clip below to catch a glimpse of our day!

Make your own slideshow with music at Animoto.

Filling In, in 5th Grade!


Shortly before Christmas 2012, I found myself job searching.  It seemed meant to be that although my mentor and teaching inspiration, Mr. Smith, had tragically and unexpectedly passed just a month prior, the district that he had been serving as Superintendent was hiring for the remainder of the year--JUST what I needed! It seemed his "leadership" had placed the open positions there just for me to pick up. 

Hot Stuff!

And so, I find myself in a 5th grade long term subbing position in a very challenging classroom.  We have recently celebrated our "Hot" Test Scores with a "Hot Stuff Buffet" inspired by my friend, Erin, over on her blog Superheros and Sundresses

Students chose from many spicy snacks and were happy to spice up their day with the celebration!

What's in a Name?

improving teaching and learning, leave it better than you found it
Me with Mr. Smith on a band trip to Virginia Beach in April, 2000.

Leaving things better than you find them is not always easy. Sometimes, you have to make a conscious effort to find a way to make a difference in your interactions at work, school, or home. A great teacher and band director of mine instilled in his 160 + marching band of teenagers (all of whom, by the way, were convinced that marching band was cool, simply because we got to know him) that even if you left a hotel room in the morning, you made the bed first, because that is one of the only ways you can leave something like a hotel room, better.  We traveled from our hometown in Massillon, Ohio to myriad places, played great music and understood its significance, all while consistently seeking out ways to make him proud by "leaving things--leaving the world--better than we found it".  The purpose of this blog is to show how--through my years as an educator, I am determined to instill the same ideas in the students I am privileged enough to be assigned to. Improving teaching and learning is a passion of mine which blends into many areas. Technology as a tool for improving teaching and learning has been a daily necessity in my professional development and in improving the skills of my students of all ages. I actively seek out opportunities to use my technology skills to communicate, interact, and teach a variety of content in meaningful ways. This blog will house examples of the ways I show my students connections between the world we live in and the work they need to complete in school. Because, ultimately when we take the time to connect, we make things better.