Class Update March 9, 2015

This month’s book report is on a mystery and the students will pose as a newspaper reporter and will be writing a newspaper article for a fictional newspaper about the main event that occurs in the book.

Upcoming Tests

-Tuesday: Poetry quiz

-Wednesday: Unit 10 vocabulary quiz


LA:  6-1 Vocabulary: Finish flashcard for unit 10

6-2: Synonyms and Antonyms for Unit 10

6A Math: 115- 2 (Not sure if this is accurate– Sorry! Trying to deciper student handwriting)

6B Math: None

Religion: None

Science: Section 1 and 2; study vocab

Social Studies:  Finish chart in notebook

6A Spanish:  Correct test and get signed

6B Spanish:  Word worksheet–make corrections to homework–anything in red 5x

6A Music:

Class Update March 9, 2015

This month’s book report is on a mystery and the students will pose as a newspaper reporter and will be writing a newspaper article for a fictional newspaper about the main event that occurs in the book.

Upcoming Tests

-Tuesday: Poetry quiz

-Wednesday: Unit 10 vocabulary quiz


LA:  6-1: Finish making Vocab flashcards for Unit 10

6-2: Synonyms and Antonyms

6A Math:  115-2    (I am not sure if this is correct– trying to interpret students’ handwriting on board– Sorry!)

6B Math: none

Religion:  None

Science:  Section 1 and 2: study vocab

Social Studies:  Finish chart in notebook

6A Spanish:  Correct test and get signed

6B Spanish:  Word worksheet–make corrections to homework–anything in red 5x

6A Music:

Experimenting: Not Just for Science Class

Experimenting has been a part of my teaching these last few years, and not just in the way  you’d initially imagine.  Sure, my 4th graders have experimented in science class.  We built salt dough volcanoes and observed the reaction of baking soda and vinegar.  We replicated the water cycle using plastic cups, shaving cream, and blue food coloring.  We watched butterflies to see if they preferred one color over another and built ramps to see what types allow a car to go the farthest.

But, in my experience, experimenting in teaching goes far beyond the science classroom. As I participate in more chats on Twitter and learn from my PLN on a daily basis, it has become apparent that experimenting with hooks, new strategies, and different ways to execute a lesson is a surefire way to boost student engagement and grow in the craft of teaching.  More and more I have been thinking about the beauty of our profession in respect to the fact that no harm comes from experimenting.  Certainly planning and preparation are done to ensure a lesson does not derail before it is even on the tracks, but who is hurt by trying a new hook, a new way to introduce or tease a lesson, a theatrical explanation, a room decorated to support the content being learned that day…?  No one, really.  Teaching is still done.  So is learning.  If something doesn’t work out or fit quite right, there’s always tomorrow..or even next period!  Reading Teach Like a PIRATE has motivated me to have the desire to experiment more in my classroom.  And oddly enough, the author, Dave Burgess, mentioned the need for experimentation and the very same point–that there’s no harm done–in a podcast he participated in last night with EduAllStars.  If you didn’t catch it, it is a MUST watch.  Dave mentioned that we wouldn’t want our doctors experimenting with new surgical techniques while we’re open on the table, but the great thing about teaching is that there will always be another day to do it differently, hone the delivery or the strategy, and nothing really is lost.

I judge the effectiveness of my lesson with many criteria, but mainly ask myself:

Did I accomplish the objectives I set out to teach today?

Did my students grasp the material–whether facts or a life-changing lesson (thanks, TLAP, for that moniker) in a way that is relevant and lasting?

Were they engaged and did they have fun while learning?

The list goes on, but one thing you won’t find there is: Did the lesson proceed perfectly, without hesitation, derailment, falling flat on its face?  Perfectionism has no place in the classroom.  Things don’t always have to go the right way in order to be successful.  Some of the lessons I am most proud of are ones that took on a life of their own, stemming from something I planned and growing into something completely different, but equally valuable.

Experimenting can certainly be disastrous, but it also leads to discovery–perhaps something new about ourselves as teachers, about our students, about the content we’re teaching, the dynamics of the classroom, what fits for our students.

This year, I am ready to experiment.  I will no longer teach science, but my experimenting will still be as exciting, engaging, and awe-inspiring as the baking soda-vinegar volcano or shaving cream clouds that elicit those delicious “oohs and woahs and ahhs” from my students.  My goals are to take what I have learned in TLAP and design more creative and engaging hooks for my lessons as well as incorporate more life-changing lessons into my teaching.  I also would like to experiment with Genius Hour to allow my students time to explore their passions and curiosities.

Both could end up being disasters…or daring discoveries.

I might not know which one it will be, but I can’t be afraid to find out.



Teachers Write! and other Summer PD

As of late, I have been reveling in the sheer awesomeness of Twitter and its capability of connecting me not only to other brilliant, generous educators, but also to learning opportunities in which I can take part to fulfill my promise of being a learner first.

So far this summer, I have been more invested in my own learning than I ever have been before (as a teacher.)  In my first few years of teaching, summers were a time for me to finally take a giant, deep breath and gear up for my next year, or move my classroom to another space on our campus, or try to set up and decorate that classroom while pregnant in the 100° weather with no air conditioning.  This summer, I am equally as occupied.  I have a 7-month-old son and I am also moving from 4th grade self-contained to 6th and 7th grade LA.

Still, I’m feeling more motivated to take time for myself as a learner, while also juggling my other responsibilities and planning for a new grade level and subject area.

Teachers-Write-ButtonTwitter has been my one-stop shop for these learning opportunities.  And I marvel in the way I have been able to stumble across some of them.  An intricate and seemingly random series of follows, follow-backs, retweets, etc. led me to someone who mentioned the Teachers Write! summer writing “camp.”  I can’t even remember how I first found it or who I saw mention it first.  But, after following the link in the tweet, I was intrigued and I signed up in a matter of minutes.  Teachers Write! is run by some really great authors and writing teachers–Kate Messner, Gae Polisner, Jo Knowles, and Jen Vincent, along with a host of other guest authors/teachers.  There are daily lessons, challenges, quick-writes, and Q&A sessions all geared toward getting us teachers to walk the writing walk.  My contributions to this program can be found at my dedicated Teachers Write! blog:  Write for Your Life.

tlapDave Burgess’s book Teach Like a PIRATE! sailed in and struck yet another lightning bolt of inspiration, providing a wealth of information that I am still processing after finishing the book a few nights ago.  You should see my TLAP notebook on Evernote!  It is filled with notes and ideas on different types of hooks and ways to increase student engagement and interest in the classroom. (And just as Dave said would happen, once I’ve given my brain time to relax, those ideas and creativity have started flowing.  Thank goodness for the voice option on Evernote, since my last great idea came to me while I was on my way home. In the car. While driving.)

I came across this treasure because my Twitter feed was filled with the TLAP hashtag (#tlap) and teachers singing this book’s praises.  I just had to check it out for myself.  I suggest you do the same.

Luckily, the book already has a well-established hashtag and chat, which I of course jumped in on right away.  What’s more is that a summer book-study chat has been created for teachers to come together and discuss the strategies and ideas put forth by Dave Burgess in TLAP and how they can come alive in the classroom.  Two chats have already taken place, but a few more are scheduled for the rest of the summer.  Follow #tlap to find out when!

Speaking of tweet chats…these hour-long meet-ups (along with my Twitter feed in general) are my main source of daily, constant DIY PD.  So many have already said why wait for school/district scheduled or imposed PD when there is so much out there for us to take advantage of and do ourselves?  Hashtag chats are super-charged professional development without feeling like what we’ve come to know as PD.  No groans, sighs, or eye rolls here.  I set reminders on my calendar and excitedly anticipate these chats.

Illustrating the power of Twitter are impromptu chats that seem to pop up out of nowhere and then gain a cult-like following as well as what I like to call “spin-off” chats that stem from others that are already established.  For example, though #tlap already exists, teachers have created or are in the process of setting up #tlapmath, #ELAtlap, etc.  The learning and collaboration going on is organic and positive and supportive in nature.  I’ll never regret setting up my Twitter account for this purpose and I am glad that I’ve learned how to leverage it for my own learning.  Check out @cybraryman ‘s page on Twitter chats for information on how to participate or run your own and for a comprehensive list of chats and when they meet.

Though I’ve taken away numerous ideas for lesson plans, projects, classroom management, student engagement, etc., the most important thing my PLN has taught me is that collaboration is key.  Learning in a vacuum isn’t really going to do you any good.  It’s the shared struggle and conversation and problem-solving that leads us toward deeper learning and propels us toward being better learners and teachers.

In Teach Like a PIRATE!, Dave Burgess quotes Napoleon Hill from his book Think and Grow Rich.  He says, “When a group of individual brains are coordinated and function in a spirit of Harmony, the increased energy created through that alliance becomes available to every individual brain in the group.”  Burgess goes on.  “He doesn’t say that every individual will start thinking alike or come to any one single answer, but rather that each individual will be able to function at a higher level through their harmonious participation.”

That is why I find value in the collaborative PD I take advantage of by way of my Twitter PLN.

All of us are smarter than one of us.



OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we discovered that our baby boy was due mid-December of last year, I took a small sigh of relief thinking I would at least make it to Christmas break and have half of the school year with my new group of 4th graders. As most things go, I didn’t quite make it to Christmas; Everett was born on November 30 and as much as I truly enjoy my teaching vocation, I haven’t looked back since that Thursday evening when I left school and didn’t return the following day.

I have been lucky enough to stay home with my almost 6-month-old son since he was born and during these months, though I haven’t been immune to the time passing that has caused my once-tiny newborn to grow up so quickly, I have skillfully (and consciously) ignored the time passing that has been the rest of the school year. But now, it is the end of May, and I really can’t afford to ignore the classroom anymore. It’s time to shift my thinking from mom to teacher and return to a job that I love.

Returning to the classroom

Going back and getting into the swing of things has been the hardest part. It’s the same feeling as returning to work or “reality” after a long vacation. It takes a certain amount of focus and motivation to shake off the dissonance that has settled in and move my mind back toward “school talk.” The first time I returned to our building in teacher capacity, (I had visited earlier in the year so my colleagues could meet Everett) I felt as if it were my first day. I was nervous and wary. It was as if I were new again, and not in a good way. Though I was welcomed with hugs and warm greetings from students and teachers alike, it took the entire morning for me to feel like a teacher again. I left with a few resources to peruse in the coming weeks, a bit more confident and a shred more prepared to spend my summer getting ready for the start of school in August.

Shifting to 6th

I am not only returning after a lengthy leave, but also shifting to a new grade level. Having taught 4th grade for 3 years, I will be one of two 6th grade homeroom teachers and will teach 6th grade ILA and possibly 7th grade ILA as well. This quite possibly has me more nervous and scared than returning to school in itself. Our “upper grade” (5-8) teachers are rock stars: they are smart and driven and dedicated to their students. They mean business. (Who am I kidding–ALL of our teachers are incredible.) That’s not to say I’m not all those things, but I certainly feel as if I am on an audition. Can she hack it on the “upper floor?” I’m asking myself the same question.

Taking action

The goal is to leave no doubt, so I’m in full school mode now (and still in full Mom mode, too.) I’ve been researching and reading new books to possibly use in my LA classes; I’ve been planning units and projects, jotting down ideas for bulletin boards and ways to use the classroom set of tablets we will have next year. I’ve slowly but surely started talking to my colleagues about my ideas, getting feedback and building on their suggestions. I’ve been dusting the cobwebs from the grammar corners of my brain and relearning limiting adjectives and sentence diagrams. In my zest to rejoin my educator community, I’ve even applied to be a DEN Star teacher. (What am I thinking?)

Perhaps the most important thing I have done is rejoin my PLN on Twitter. After a long hiatus, I reinstalled the app on my phone, requested a password reminder, and jumped back into the stream. I was immediately reminded why this form of DIY PD is absolutely invaluable; within minutes I had bookmarked articles, favorited Tweets containing ideas that piqued my interest or sparked a new thought, followed more teachers, administrators, and educational professionals, and felt more welcomed back to the teaching community than I had in a while. In days, I had connected with some 6th grade teachers and even resurrected #6thchat with a fellow 6th grade teacher (@aleixa–give her a follow; she is brilliant and dedicated to giving the best to her students.)

Where to?

Now comes the really hard part. The part where I have to keep going. There are moments, even entire days (or weeks, I’ll admit) when staying home and reading Pig Kahuna and every Eric Carle book, ever, and singing Itsy, Bitsy Spider 47 times to Everett sounds infinitely more enticing than the planning and prepping and grading. But, each day gets a bit easier to accept the transition. I find myself growing incredibly enthusiastic and excited when I am connecting to my teacher-friends on Twitter or a new idea surfaces. I am pushing myself to try new things and return to some forgotten ones (like this blog.) I can’t do it alone, though, and I am counting on my PLN for support and to continue sharing all of those brilliant ideas that get me thinking about what new and exciting things I can do in my classroom. I tweet as @stephpbader if you’re interested in learning with me.

I look forward to the new learning experiences I will encounter as I continue my path to becoming a better teacher. And the joy I feel each time I delve into the ed world lets me know that I really am ready.

“Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” -Carl Bard

And I intend to do just that.


Learning: Ouch, That Hurt

I have been dying to write this post this Saturday night! You will never believe what I learned this weekend…It is kind of a long story, but stick with me. I promise to keep you entertained and there’s a good lesson to be learned!

Some backstory:

Last week, my students and I read Aliens Are Coming, the true story of the 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast that duped over a million Americans into thinking Martians were attacking and it was the end of the world. As a culminating project, we wrote radio broadcasts either reporting on the events of the hoax or original broadcasts that also may have duped listeners in 1938. We recorded these broadcasts using the Voice Memos app on my iPhone so they would be more authentic with the intention of sharing them with our librarian (who recommended the book to me,) our tech coordinator, principal, and parents. I had the idea of posting them to the class blog I post to to keep parents in the loop with what we’re doing in class by posting pictures and recaps of what we’ve done on a daily/weekly basis.

Easy enough, right?


I settled in Friday night with an episode of Downton Abbey playing on Netflix, laptop on lap, iPhone snuggled next to me plugged into said laptop, ready to sync my Voice Memo Broadcasts to my iTunes and then upload them to my blog. As I perused for a way to upload the audio files, I naively tried to insert them using the video media button on my toolbar.

Yeah, that didn’t work.

(Of course it didn’t; they weren’t videos! But, I was desperately looking and was the only thing I could think of!)
Suffice it to say, audio wasn’t going anywhere on my class blog. Had to find another option.

So, I turned to my trusty friend Google and found a video on YouTube that explained how to convert m4a files to mp3 using Adobe Media Converter, then post them using a plugin on WordPress.

Ooh! I thought, I have my personal blog on WordPress. Perhaps I can try there and see if this works and then migrate my blog and voila…audio files will appear.


It wasn’t until 8 or 9 minutes into this video that I realized the gentleman (who had created a very wonderful tutorial) was using the WordPress.ORG software, which included plugins. The new WordPress.COM does not.

So, yeah, that didn’t work either.

Next stop was realizing that I indeed had to migrate my blog over to WordPress if I wanted to host audio in any way. I used the Help tools to figure out how to do this and surprisingly, found it very easy to do so. Hooray, one thing had worked so far. My class blog was successfully migrated to WordPress.

So, I looked to see how you could host audio files on WordPress. The first option (which required no purchase of a space upgrade) prompted me to upload the files onto a file hosting web site and then code HTML to insert an audio player into my blog post.

Rewind. File hosting site. HTML. Huh?

Fast forward 2 hours, 18 tabs open across my Google Chrome browser, and 8 file hosting/sharing sites later: laptop still on lap, me banging my iPhone (ever so gently, yet with much frustration) on my bedside table, lovingly talking to my computer trying to coax it to cooperate with me and still no audio up on the blog.

I was seriously in PAIN. The cognitive dissonance was killing me. I had no idea what I was doing, but I wasn’t giving up and I was learning as I went. I was so tempted to throw something up on Twitter or Facebook or here on the Hub and get an answer in what I’m sure would have been no time, but I was too proud to do that. I had to figure this out for myself.

After several more attempts, I had finally mastered the art of the upload, copy URL, code to HTML, and post. The audio player showed up just fine in the body of my blog post, but I was met with the dreaded word….buffering. Over…and over…and over again. Kiwi6 didn’t work. Neither did MediaFire. Neither did every.single.other. file hosting site known to my 5 or 6 variously worded Google searches.

[Insert frustrated scream here]

At this point, I had been working on this for over 3 hours. I was mentally burnt out and was ready to chuck my phone and computer across the room, so I figured it was time to let it go and try again the next day. I was dreading it, but I did it anyway. On Saturday afternoon, I settled in again, ready to tackle this one more time.

After trying all of the file hosting sites again to no avail, I continued to read the suggestions for hosting audio on the blog. It seemed the only other option was to buy the space upgrade that would allow me to upload m4a files to my Media Library and then easily add them to my posts. Without the space upgrade only certain types of files (like picture files) can be added.

I cringed a bit but took out the credit card, purchased the space upgrade, and as if paying the 20$ had magically smoothed everything over, was able to quickly and successful upload my m4a files and add them to my post with ease.

However, I vowed that if I was going to spend this money on a space upgrade, it would not be for one project. Enter the start of a new initiative in 4th grade: weekly voice recorded recaps of our highlights in the classroom each week as well as a special radio broadcast just for Catholic Schools Week this week in which my students will get to detail their favorite ways we demonstrate faith, academics, and service in our school. I’m sure there will be more to come. I’m going to get my money’s worth of audio on this blog!

So, after several hours of researching, watching videos, reading blogs and forums, and excruciating (I mean it) trial and error, I learned how to do something completely on my own. I was really, really proud of myself and felt a very authentic sense of accomplishment. I was utterly astonished at my unfailing dedication to the task and my refusal to give up on it.

And then I realized again (as is happening so often these days now that I’m a PLPeep) that I am changing as a learner. I used the resources available to me on the Web, I wasn’t afraid to fail, and when I did (over and over and over and over again) I did not stop trying. I got frustrated; I got angry; I wished several times that Apple had created a little button on Voice Memos that says “Post to Blog.” But, I did not stop trying. Thanks to this community, I am making great strides, and my students (and their parents) are benefiting from it. I am learning that if you keep going, keep searching, keep trying, keep learning, there is success.

Moral of the story: Learning is painful, but is so worth it.

I went a little bit further ’round that previously unseen bend this weekend. And I am a better learner and person and teacher for it.

Looking forward to more road ahead.

no end in sight

Last night, instead of watching TV or doing other things, I cruised Pinterest for a while looking for some bulletin board and project ideas and was somehow prompted to visit a blog that I’ve bookmarked called Life in 4B.  I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this blog (probably something on Pinterest led me there,) but the teacher who writes it is incredible and always has great ideas.

I hadn’t clicked on the bookmark for quite a while, and before I knew it, I had spent almost 2 hours looking through her recent posts, jotting down new ideas, and just sighing in awe at all of the wonderful things she accomplishes (and then documents on her blog in detail!) every day.

Wishing I could instantly snap my fingers and be as organized and phenomenal as this teacher, I took a step back and started to think.

I may not know where I am going, but I know where to start:  I have a good handle on technology, I have a solid knowledge base in my content area, and although I have much to learn and much to work on, I do really believe that I am a good teacher.  But, the ways in which I can become a better teacher, the ways in which I can enhance my students’ learning, the ways in which I can incorporate technology, the ways in which I can harness the resources out there that are available to me…are endless.

It’s a bit daunting to be able to see the start of the path, but not around the bend, don’t you think?

All at once, I grew overwhelmed and energized, if that’s even possible.  Just as I have taken this first step in becoming a connected educator, being a part of PLP, developing my PLN, joining Twitter, broadening my digital footprint, just when I think I’m reaching the top of my game…I read a blog or a wiki or scroll through my Twitter feed and realize, there are many, many, miles yet to go.

I thought for a second about it, and realized that I think that’s the point, though, the point of being a lifelong learner.  What fun (or use) would it be to reach the top of your game and then just…stop?

So, I took a deep breath, STOPPED writing down endless ideas for next year and even later this year in my Word doc, saved it, and closed it, and left tomorrow for tomorrow (which is now today.)

If I focus on adding small things, incorporating new strategies, using new tools one step at a time, I know I will grow at my own pace.  But, I’ll never stop exploring and I’ll never stop tempting my desire to be a better educator by seeking out new ideas and yes…by scrolling through other incredible teachers’ blogs.

I find being overwhelmed and overwhelmed again eventually subsides into drive, devotion, energy, and passion.  I try new things.  Sometimes I fail.  I learn.  Then, I go and get overwhelmed again.

Rinse, repeat, you get the picture.

So, keep the overwhelming coming.

In addition to that, this morning I was going through some books I brought from home that I had read in my middle school years as well as some that I used for an adolescent lit. class to add to my classroom library.  I opened one that I was particularly fond of:  Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett.  On one of the opening pages is this quote:

“One can’t learn much and also be comfortable.  One can’t learn much and let anybody else be comfortable.”  -Charles Fort, Wild Talents

Quite fitting, isn’t it?  for my journey here with PLP and our journeys as lifelong learners first?

my one word: discipline

Judging by the date of my last blog post, my One Word for 2012 (inspired by this initiative) is entirely appropriate:  discipline.

When I started to blog in the beginning of the school year, I did so prompted by the energy and excitement instilled in me when I began a year-long professional development program through the PLP Network.  I vowed to blog daily, to share my experiences, to cultivate my own digital footprint.

And then I stopped.

But, why?

My excuse was “no time.”  But the real reason?  Lack of discipline.

Though it took placing my large, new, pretty desk calendar beneath my plan book and having the giant number 2012 stare me in the face to refocus and begin my search for discipline, I can now say that I am ready to start again.

I received another nudge in the ribs this evening as I participated in a DiscoveryEd webinar on taking the fear out of blogging.  The group was small and the presenters endearing, straightforward, and encouraging in their segments.  I registered yesterday and was excited about what I would learn, but when 5:30 rolled around I had toyed with the idea of not attending.  Discipline tapped me on the shoulder and posed the question:  BUT WHY?

There was no good reason for me not to keep up my end of the bargain with myself.  So, I logged on, listened, chatted, tweeted, and LEARNED.  I signed out feeling exhilarated, feeling a sense of accomplishment.  I walked away with great ideas to take to my students and my colleagues, and I realized that I had just done some learning for learning’s sake.  I wasn’t required to attend this webinar, it wasn’t part of PLP, it wasn’t a grad class.  I registered simply because I found the topic to be interesting and I wanted to learn more.

Which brings me back to the reason I started this blog in the first place.  I am a learner first.  And tonight, I felt an overwhelming sense of something clicking, falling into place, a feeling uncannily similar to the one that washed over me when I went to the PLP Kickoff event that started this whole process in the first place.  I am coming to realize that I am at home when I am learning, which is most likely the reason why I enjoy teaching so much (and why–even though I JUST finished my master’s–I miss being a student.)  Because of that webinar, I was prompted to check my Twitter feed a bit more thoroughly, post to my classroom blog for my parents (which I haven’t done since the beginning of the school year…ahem, discipline…) and write this post as well.

I remembered that being consistent in my own learning, connecting to others who can teach me, and sharing my thoughts about teaching and learning in the digital age are the things that are going to send me in the direction of success.

So, discipline’s the word.

I am back to being a learner first and I could not be more excited about the possibilities that  opens up for myself and for my students in 2012.

writing across the curriculum

When we covered the practice of writing across the curriculum in my teacher ed courses, I was on board with the idea, but it was definitely one of those “nod your head and smile” moments when I understood the premise, but never really believed I could pull it off in a meaningful way.  Since then, I’ve tried writing in science, religion, and math, but it wasn’t until today that I fully saw it come alive and actually work for good in my classroom.

This year, I’ve decided to skip the fluff at the beginning of our math text and head straight for multiplication and long division to be sure my students have those skills down before we move on to fractions and algebraic concepts.  Last year, still in my rookie, “I’ve got to do everything by the book” mode, I spent way too much time following the textbook’s recommended scope and sequence and not enough time on the skills my students really needed to master.  This is one of the major differences I am noticing my second time around:  I feel much more in control of my pacing and am owning the choices I make to fulfill the standards of our curriculum.  I feel much more confident that I know what my students need and I am much more well-equipped to give it to them.

So, today, we began unpacking more difficult multiplication word problems:  separating essential information from the unimportant, locating what we need to solve the problem, identifying the question being asked of us.  Once I was confident the students were able to solve word problems already written for them, we switched gears and took on the task of writing our own.

I was nervous to let them try.  I thought it would be a disaster in that the word problems they wrote wouldn’t showcase multiplication or maybe even worse, that they would sit at their seats, staring blankly at their notebooks, wondering why in the world we were using words in math instead of numbers.  And here’s where I learned my first lesson of the day:  I rarely give my students enough credit.  In a few minutes, students’ hands were raised to get their work approved and I found myself pleasantly surprised at the caliber of word problem they were writing and the creativity they had employed in setting up the situations for their problems.  Some were even writing two-step problems without having been instructed to and probably without even knowing they were doing it.

They had taken my simple instructions–create a two to three sentence multiplication word problem (using problems we had created together and from our book as examples) on any topic you’d like–and really run with it.  We had word problems about lemonade stands, football games, iTunes and iPad app downloads, snow cone sales, shopping trips, and pizza-eating.  After writing, each student traded with a partner who illustrated the problem and then solved it.  Suffice it to say, they got it.  And next time, I won’t be afraid to give them the benefit of the doubt.  If I set the expectation high, they rise to the occasion.  We’re in store for some great things this year.

A few things this “math write,” as I’m calling it brought to the classroom:

First, it allowed my students to experience math, which they usually see in numerals, in a different way.  For those who we sometimes say aren’t “math-minded” (like me!) it allowed them to approach math and multiplication in a more familiar and comfortable format.  They were writing, but they were multiplying, too, and it didn’t seem as “scary” to some of them, as was reported to me when we finished and I got a rousing “I love doing math this way!” from many of my language arts-liking students.

Secondly, it allowed me to work in writing in yet another format, especially when I’m trying so hard to get my students to write as often and in as many ways as possible.  So, for those who’d rather see numbers and only numbers, it pushed them to use their writing skills in a subject they enjoy.  Choosing their own topic to write about didn’t hurt either.

This activity brought creativity to a discipline that is usually black and white.  My students were able to showcase a favorite hobby, food, activity, or sport, and create a situation around it that displayed something as simple as a multiplication problem.  Seeing the topics my students chose on their own also allowed me to learn a bit about them in an indirect way, which is always a plus.

Lastly, and most importantly, my students were able to learn something from this task.  Even if they used multiplication facts they knew off the top of their heads, the process had meaning in that it enabled them to view the theory of multiplication from another angle.  A common error was writing a problem that exhibited addition instead of multiplication.  In a mini-conference, I was able to adjust the way the students were viewing the problems and showcase the theory of multiplication, the emphasis on having so many groups of a certain number, rather than just “x amount of this” and “x amount of that” adding up to something.  Seeing them revamp these problems and shift them to multiplication really showed me that this is where true learning about multiplication was taking place.  Not in the hours of drilling facts and the pages of pages of timed tests, but in digging in and really storytelling with the numbers to see what a multiplication problems really says to us.

My goal is to continue to find ways for my students to write in math.  I find that even though the subject isn’t my forte, if I bring in an element that I do feel comfortable with and am proficient in (writing) I am able to teach my students better.  A little writing never hurts.

Today, I taught my students, but they also taught me.

They reminded me that I am always a learner first.




iPads for the classroom

@flohrmatt22, this post’s for you!

Now that I have my own iPad, I am completely convinced that it is a great tool to use in the classroom.  For many of you, iPads may be provided by grants or through your IT department.  Let me just say:  I am jealous.  I received my own iPad this summer, but am so thrilled at the variety of apps that are out there for students to use that I am most definitely going to start utilizing it in class.

This presents a problem or two:  one, I only have a single iPad, so the way in which I use it is going to be limited to a few students at a time and is undoubtedly going to cause consternation among the others, who will constantly wonder, “when’s it my turn?” and two, the cost (all from my own pocket) could get a bit steep.  At first, I will most likely use my iPad to help my students who require extra reading or math support.  I know that the reading, spelling, vocab, and math tools available will be a great asset in their success, whether in the classroom or whether they decide to go and use them at home.

I have found that is important to be sleuth-saavy and search out free apps that are useful and instrumental in assisting with student learning.  This site has a great list of free apps to use in the classroom.  I had to invest some time to wade through all of these and sort out the ones that are worthwhile versus ones that are just “fluff” or won’t work for my students.

In addition to the apps on this list, I have explored Motuto, a free tutoring app that focuses on math and science concepts and does eventually cost money after a certain amount of time in a tutoring session; Whiteboard Lite, which is similar to other drawing board apps, but includes a collaborative tool that allows you to connect to another iPad in range and draw on one board from two separate devices (I see myself using this for students to practice spelling words, play a Pictionary-type game with vocabulary words, practice math facts, etc.); and Draw, which is another tool that is very similar that features a connect option as well.

Derek Keenan on his blog Developing Education, has an excellent post that lists the apps he has loaded on student iPads.  He offers insightful descriptions of and commentaries on each.  It’s worth a click over there to check it out.

As far as paid apps, there are a few I’ve found worth mentioning.  I am leaning toward springing for them because I know of several students who would benefit from using them in my classroom.  One:  SpellBoard–($4.99) allows you to create spelling quizzes in any language, has a share function to connect with others using the same lists, and a speak function so students can hear, see, and write the word; also has a drawing section so students can write the word with their finger or a stylus.  Spelling for iPad–($0.99) looks to offer the same features and comes in at a much more palatable price.  MathBoard–($4.99) offers practice for numbers and operations with a “problem solver” blackboard feature on which students can actually write the problems to practice regrouping/borrowing or write the answer to a multiple choice question.  This one’s been featured on some iPad commercials, so you’ve probably seen some screen shots of it being used.  Just as with the spelling apps, I’m sure there is one comparable for a much lower price or maybe even for free.  This is where the digging (and some time to invest in that digging) comes in.

By no means have I even scratched the surface here.  Visit the iPad Education App Store and start looking around.  Be sure to let me know if you find something good!

I am no expert on using these apps.  But, there is something to be said about how far a positive attitude and a willing spirit will get you, a spirit that I–and many of the colleagues I’ve met and connected with through Twitter and PD days–certainly display.

Do you use any iPad apps that have become invaluable in your classroom or for students to use at home?  How do you use your iPads in the classroom? Please share.

Remember, be a learner first.