Friday, July 15, 2016

nErD Camp MI 2016

This week, my teacher life was changed. 

The change was quick, swift, slightly unexpected, appreciated, and beautiful. Oh, so beautiful. 

I embraced my inner book nerd and it was magical. 


Two days of wonder.
I think that simply being in the presence of teachers, librarians, administrators, authors, and illustrators will fill you with a wonder so magical that there are few words to describe it. 
Wonder because I was sitting in the same room as the author who wrote the book that touched my life as a middle schooler. The book that was published on my birthday. The author who has created so many masterpieces that have brought light into the lives of so many readers. Kate DiCamillo just has a way of making you cry tears of joy. You just want to squeeze her and tell her thank you. 
Wonder because you are so honored to be in the presence of so many amazing individuals who are continuously making the world a better place through their work, their illustrations, their stories, their characters, their ideas, their passions. 
I am in awe.

Two days of justification. 
"Why is your library not leveled?"
"Why do you devote so much time to read alouds?"
"Why do you set aside 20 minutes for  reading time in class?"
"Why do you read picture books to 5th graders?"

I have been asked these questions and many more. 

Last year, I completely went out on a limb and defied my previous practices and the practices of others and went with what my heart and my gut were telling me in regards to reading in my 5th grade classroom. I was asked over and over questions about what I was doing and the constant questioning made me question myself a lot. Was I doing the right thing for my students? That was my goal! Every single thing that was going on in the classroom was for the kiddos. Nerd Camp helped remind me that I was on the right track. Everything was okay. Keep going, Mrs. Cooper. You and your kiddos have got this. Carry on. 

Justification came in waves and waves at Nerd Camp. Every session, every Nerd Talk, every dinner meeting and teacher conversation was filled with moments of affirmation. Carry on, Mrs. Cooper. Keep going. 

Two days of passion. 
Passion for literacy. 
Passion for teaching literacy the right way--without incentives.
Passion for giving our students access to the right books, diverse books, a massive selection of books just for them. 
Passion for providing our kiddos with the best reading experience possible. 
Passion for our jobs. 

There were a lot of other places that I could have been this week, but months ago I told myself that Nerd Camp was where I needed/wanted to be. I don't regret that decision for a second, and I secretly wish that I could attend Nerd Camp every week for the rest of my life. I wish that I could walk into a room and Pernille Ripp could read to me again. I wish that I could walk down the hall and feel the electricity and excitement--the passion- for reading and teaching every day. I wish that I could sit down in the auditorium and listen to Kate DiCamillo talk. 

While those are just wishes, the connections that I have made, the new ideas that I have gained, the books that are on my wish list and on my Donors Choose project, and the readiness to get back to school so I can share books with my students will hold me over until Nerd Camp 2017. 

I left Nerd Camp with the realization that I have got to continue to build up my library. Not just with books that I think they want to/should read but also with the books that my students want to read. I am also going to walk straight into my room and pull all of my picture books that I use for mentor texts of my classroom bookshelf and put them on the kiddos' shelves. Stop hoarding all the picture books, Mrs. Cooper! Big kids don't just need them as read alouds. They need to read them on their own, too. 

And, where are my diverse books? Seriously. Where are they? I have a few but I don't have enough. I teach in a school that is FULL of diversity. I have been missing out on the opportunity to provide my students with diverse books. That stops today. 

Thank You
I wish thank you was enough. It's not. But, thank you Colby and Alaina Sharp. Thank you to the rest of the Nerd Camp crew. Thank you authors. Thank you illustrators. Thank you publishers and agents. Thank you attendees. 

You are all beautiful. I am grateful for you. 

One Proud Nerd

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

ISTE 2016 Recap

Let's talk about ISTE....or let's not. I honestly don't think I can yet. I am currently sitting in the Denver airport trying to decompose after an amazing week at the 2016 ISTE Conference.

I tried to pull some pictures from my phone to document the trip then realized that I didn't really take any. 

I know. I know. Sorry! I am a visual person too. But, I spent a lot of time connecting, collaborating, and reflecting so my camera was a complete afterthought. This was my first ISTE experience, and it was overwhelming, heart wrenching, inspiring, and simply beautiful. 

I am pretty sure that it is going to take me a few weeks to sift through all of the information that I soaked up and give it all a chance to simmer so I can figure out what I want to implement or alter for the new school year.

But I wanted to a least share something on the blog now before I go home.

Yet, as I sit here trying to figure out where to start, I realize that there is just too much "everything" floating around my brain right now for me to possibly be able to recap in one post what this ISTE conference has meant to me. I have laughed with friends, cried in sessions because I have felt so conflicted and moved, experienced empowerment, and been inspired. 

All of these emotions have soared through me a zillion times over and over again in just four days. I am so honored to have walked the halls with educators who shared their passions with the rest of us. I am humbled by all of the amazing individuals who came to our poster sessions and conversed with us, and I am still so emotionally raw from the literacy session with Pernille Ripp. She spoke everything that I feel about helping foster a love for learning and reading in my students in a way that seriously brought me to tear more times than I care to admit. 

In the words of my high school swimmers--- #icanteven. 

I still have hours to go before I am home (PSA-1am flights are NOT fun),weeks to go before school starts, and years to go before I get this whole teaching gig right(if any of us really ever do), but I know one thing. My heart and soul is in this profession 110%. Being an educator is everything that I am and more. I knew that before attending ISTE, but I am leaving Denver knowing that I am on the right path. I know that I am right where I am meant to be, and I am thankful for the ISTE conference and everything that this experience has provided for me. 


End of the Year Student Survey

Recently, I was eating lunch with a fellow educator, and we discussed how important it is to get real, authentic feedback from our students. They, after all, at the ones that are with us all day, every day and are needing us the most! So, shouldn't we ask them how we are doing? Isn't student feedback and getting to know our students as persons and individuals what learning/teaching is all about? So, why not empower them and give them voice in their learning process AND the reflection process. They need to have the power to offer feedback about their learning experience just like we offer feedback to presenters when we attend professional development sessions and workshops. 

This led me to create a quick end of the year survey in Google Drive. I  wanted to know what they had thought about our school year. So, I created a Google Form then added questions that were created by me, my students, and modeled from other student survey versions that I found.

Before I asked the kiddos to complete the survey, we talked about how their feedback was important, valued, and would be completely anonymous. We also read through each question and discussed the different question types (linear scales and short answers). 

Here are a few examples of the questions that were asked:

*Mrs. Cooper understands when I have personal problems and makes me feel safe, comfortable, and 
shows me that she really cares about me. 

*Mrs. Cooper really takes the time to get to know her students on a personal level. 

*I feel like my student voice matters in Mrs. Cooper's class. 

*Mrs. Cooper explains difficult things clearly.

*Mrs. Cooper asks for student feedback regularly.

*Mrs. Cooper respects my ideas and suggestions.

*How can Mrs. Cooper improve as a teacher? (Give me specific recommendations, please!)

There were also questions about our reading experience in the classroom, communication, respect, etc. One of my biggest takeaways from the entire survey was that it is SO important to be transparent and allow yourself the opportunity to recognize weaknesses and be vulnerable throughout the learning and growing process as a teacher. 

There were some student responses that made me what to jump for joy. My kiddos LOVED the reading environment in the classroom. They valued the read alouds and recognized that I respect them and am passionate about my job. 

But, I would be lying to you if I didn't tell you about the questions that broke my heart like how one kid still hated reading, another student said I didn't give enough homework, and another response was  that we didn't do enough "fun" things in class. 

I could have stopped right there. I could have taken their feedback, attempted to understand it, and used it to reflect and regroup on the upcoming year. And, I did do all of those things. BUT, I also took the time to go through each question with my classes and ask for clarification. What did you mean by that? If you didn't like this; what can I do to make the experience better?

THAT was the best thing that I could have done for this entire end of the year survey process. And, it supports my passion surrounding the idea of student voice and empowerment in the learning process. WE, the teachers, are not the focus of this educational journey. Our students are. We can learn so much and help build amazing learning opportunities for our kiddos if we just listen to them, give them the opportunity to speak and be heard, and then respect them for their opinions regardless of if we agree or not. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Inspiring Communication in the Elementary Classroom #ISTE2016

Communication is one of the 4 C's of Education in 21st Century Skills, and it overlaps with the other 3 C's(collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking) constantly. As I look back over my career as a teacher, I am in awe of what I once thought was strong "communication" in our classroom and just how different my outlook on communication is now . In today's society, we have information communicated to us all day at an overwhelming rate. Technology and the power of modern media/tools are continuing to expand, and we are being called to help raise learners who are aware of, know how to respond to, and can rise to the challenge of being effective communicators in today's world and in the world of the future.

So, how do we help our students become strong communicators? How do we help create learning experiences that will challenge them to apply communication skills? What tools do you use? And, what does it look like in the classroom? 

Communication opportunities in the classroom can occur in many forms. It won't look the same for everyone and some forms may work in some classroom situations yet not in others. That is where the value and importance of knowing your students and the task at hand helps select which path of communication would be most effective. Variety, modeling, and student choice are essential to helping students, regardless of the subject or grade level, grow strong communication skills.

This post is a peek into our classroom communication journey. It is a springboard, and a starting place to share our experience with you. Here are some of my favorite ways to implement communication/technology tools in the classroom!

Technology Based Tools & Ideas

Padlet is one of the tools that we start with right at the beginning of the year. I love it because it allows students to write, read, and respond to their peers. It can be anonymous or they can put their name to their responses. It is a virtual white board where students can begin to "warm-up" their communication skills.

KigBlog is exactly want it sounds like! We used it for book talks, journaling, free write, and to respond to Social Studies topics. Next year, I would like to start a school blogging club to really expand on this idea! My students know that I blog so it is a great way for me to share and model this form of communication with my students.

Do you have a class Twitter account? Are you on Twitter as an educator? PLEASE tell me the answer to BOTH of those questions is YES!!!! Twitter is not only one of the most effective forms of personal, professional development right now, but it is also a great way for students to connect with other classrooms, authors of their favorite books, explorers, scientists, the list could go on and on! Looking for a great representation of what Twitter looks like from a classroom perspective? Check out my teaching idol-Mrs. Kayla Delzer and her students' classroom account!

Google Hangouts/Skype
Communication skills are more than just being able to write effectively. Verbal communication is a BIGGIE, too! You can read all about why I love Google Hangouts here, but the quick reason is because it gives my students an opportunity to learn how to effectively communicate with other students and adults in ways that would not be possible if we stayed inside our classroom walls. My students have learned how to be respectful, thoughtful, critical thinkers thanks to our Google Hangout opportunities!

Google Forms/Slides
How do you get feedback from your students? I like to create Google Forms to provide students with a chance to let me know how things are going in the classroom. Here is an example of the End of the Year survey we complete this year. I also like to hand students a computer, topic, and encourage them to research, become experts, and then share about a specific topic in class. 

                  Other Classroom Ideas and Resources

Current Events
Being strong communicators also means knowing how to read and interpret information. Is this information authentic? Is it accurate? Is this a reliable source? Can I trust this information? What other references and sources could I research to help me authenticate this information? These are all questions that we ask ourselves thanks to weekly current event projects. We use tools like NewsELA, DoGo News, and Flocabulary to help us gather current event information.

Accountable Talk
This idea is nothing new but WOW! It is so effective! Accountable talk looks different in my room every year, but one thing remains the same--Help students think about what they want to say and hold themselves and others accountable for how their word their responses! 

Ron Clark Academy's SPECIAL Acronym 
After my trip to the Ron Clark Academy this last fall, I walked away with some amazing ideas to implement in the classroom and memories that will forever inspire me! One of the things I was the most impressed with was how well the students communicated with their peers, teachers, and the visiting adults. We started using the S.P.E.C.I.A.L.   acronym to help us become better verbal communicators with our words and our body language! S-Shake Hands, P-Check Your Posture, E-Make Eye Contact, C-Charm, I-Introduce Yourself, A-Ask A Question, L-Listen! This helped my students immensely and it was evident when we had guests in our room, participated in a Google Hangout, created presentations, and talked to each other. WOW!

If you are at #ISTE2016 this week, I would love to connect with you! You can find me on Twitter, Instagram, or Periscope!

You can also check out the other 3 posts related to our ISTE presentation on the 4 C's of education below:

Creativity- Kayla Delzer
Critical Thinking- Tiffany Copple
Collaboration- Erin Klein 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Our new Hue HD Camera

Recently, my students and I were fortunate enough to connect with Hue and try out their HD document camera and stop motion animation kit. Before our exploration of this new tool, I knew nothing about stop animation other than what it actually was. I had no idea how the motion films were created, how exciting it was to create films using stop animation, or what all went into creating such a project. Was it hard? Easy? Could this be something that my 5th graders could do without me?

When our kit came in, I opened it up and installed the software super quick. I love how easy it is to plug the camera in the laptop. This means that we can take the camera and laptop anywhere in the room, building, or school with no problem! I played around with it at home just to feel comfortable enough to show my kiddos how to run everything, and then I brainstormed a list of ways that we could use this tool in the classroom. 

*Content specific short films
*How-To videos
*Student modeling of understanding/explanation
*The list could go on and on......

The kit not only came with the document camera ,but it also came with an idea book that showed different types of stop animation film ideas. We spent our first class period just watching the example animation films included in the software and reading through the guide book. The students selected which types of stop animation were their favorite (talking fruit, grass skating, sticky notes, etc.), and we voted on which version we would attempt first. 

After showing the kiddos the basics of the program and the camera, we split into teams. 5 teams were in charge of graphics. One team was the production crew, another was in charge of music, and
the last was the tech crew.  

Even though this was our first time doing anything like this, I put the kiddos completely in control. I didn't help with the ideas, make big suggestions, or even select the music. EVERYTHING was done by my kiddos, and it only took two days(one day for exploring and brainstorming and one day for creating). 

The students worked amazingly with the Hue HD camera, the software, and the whole project in general. They were begging for more, but school ends tomorrow! They asked if they could come back and train next year's class! Of course! I think that would be neat. 

Here is the video that the kiddos made. For their first time, I was really impressed. Yes, there are a few grammatical errors, BUT it is a student project led by students. Bringing this new document camera and stop animation software into our class has really helped me see all of the different directions that we can go with our Hue HD document camera in the future!


Want to check out Hue? Visit them here