Monday, August 10, 2015

What I Learned from the French Braid Fiasco

Long Locks
Fast forward to 2012-Lia was then 3 and she had lovely locks that would tangle so easily. She asked me several times for "Princess Hair." but that was out of my skill set of hair styles (hello, pony tails and regular braids).

During the bast 3 years I have watched endless YouTube tutorials, had friends try to teach me, and even paid a child's hair stylist for lessons. I gave up. It was too hard, and I was failure in the hair department. Lia was going to have to survive her preschool and elementary years in a pony tail. Oh well!

But then-two things happened. We went on vacation with some friends, and Carrie showed me how to do a fishtail braid (yet another hair style I had deemed impossible). She broke it down into simpler steps, stood by my side while trying, and guided me to success. What worked best for me, was the mantra she created, "Crossover, combine, crossover combine." I still repeat these words in my head when I do this braid.

My fishtail success was off the hook. (Pun intended.) My confidence increased, and I began experimenting with the braid-doing different things to see what would happen. I still have to think about what I'm doing, but I can finally do something different.

Today, I scoured YouTube for a french braid tutorial. I wanted to choose one that was different than the ones I watched before-maybe I could find someone who would teach me differently like Carrie did. And I found it!
My Recent Attempt

This mom in the video even says, "Some people add hair before they cross it (the hair), I think it's easier to hold when it's already crossed." A-ha moment! I didn't know there was more than one technique to create a French braid. That one tip led to me trying one more time on Lia. And.....voila!

How do we teach grit in our classroom or in our homes? If I didn't keep trying, Lia's hair would remain in Ponytail Land. How do we recognize how we learn best, and use that information to help our students? 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Education on the Other Side

Many of my EduFriends have seen my two little kiddos on my Instagram feed, Facebook, or occasionally on Twitter. Aurelia is 5, and is named after a character of one of my favorite movies, Love Actually.  My little guy, Sawyer, will be turning 4 in July.  I would love to say that his name is due to my love of literature, but no, it came on my radar while watching the TV show, Lost.  Thankfully, my husband was willing enough to go along with my "suggestions." He learned quickly that you don't say, "No" to a pregnant lady!

I honestly can say that having my own children has positively affected my teaching philosophy in a variety of ways. I recognize that family time is important to both students AND their teachers.  I dramatically reduced the homework load to pretty much a "complete whatever classwork you didn't finish in class."

Recently, I have uncovered an even deeper empathy for special education students and their families.  Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird wrote, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." And that is exactly what happened.

My Year of SSTs, IEPs, OT, & Speech

May, 2014. 

Sawyer's preschool teacher contacted me. "Sawyer needs to be assessed for speech."

Sawyer's 3rd birthday was in July, so we had to wait until schools reopened in August.  As a teacher, knowing what I know when I refer students for an SST, I knew the process would take awhile. In the meantime, I hired a phenomonal speech teacher for the summertime and for when we all returned to school.   Sawyer loved her, and his speech improved.  Her assessment showed that he was somewhere in the 1.5 to 2 years age range in some areas of speech. 

September, 2014.  

School is in session. I mailed the local school requesting a speech assessment. We set an appointment for October 8.

October, 2014. 

I took the day off of work to bring Sawyer to his assessment. On our way, he began to throw up. Eek. I call the assessment team to let them know that we weren't coming in and could we reschedule.  Oddly enough, we are told that this meeting doesn't need to be rescheduled as they have enough information based on the report of our private speech pathologist.  

November 7, 2014.

I asked my principal to cover my class so I can take Sawyer to a meeting so that the district can have their own paperwork as well as our private assessment.  I'm told that they will use both reports.

November 18, 2014.

I leave work early to attend Sawyer's IEP in the town where we live. Yes, he qualifies for speech!  Unfortunately, none of the speech sessions times make it possible for me or my husband to take him. This is where I begin to wonder if children are often underserved because of scheduling issues.  

January, 2015.

Sawyer qualifies for 2 days of small group speech; we decide to wait and see if Sawyer is successful with just one day a week.  

Now the juggling. We are very lucky we have Auntie in our family.  She is a former student's mom who has been with us ever since we became parents.  She bends over backwards to make sure our little family is taken care of. 

Sawyer's typical Friday morning (and Auntie's too):
7am : Sawyer in car to the city where I teach.
7:30am: Sawyer at Auntie's.
10:00: Auntie drives Sawyer back to the town where we live for speech.
10:30-11:30 Speech.
11:30-12:15 Possibly eat lunch in the car, because my daughter, Lia, gets out of school at 12:45 and Auntie picks her up.

End of January, 2015.

Email from school speech teacher.  "Sawyer needs to be assessed for OT."
I have no words. It's at this point where I start to panic and question if I did something wrong as a parent. 

End of March, 2015.

After many emails back and forth, meetings being canceled, a school vacation, rescheduling of meetings-we have a date for OT assessment. I take the day off to drive Sawyer to the facility where our district outsources their OT.   

First week of April, 2015.

Sawyer qualifies under several different areas of concern.  I read the report and try not to cry.  

Next up, meetings about services offered-TBD.

I don't hold the district personnel responsible for the lengthy time it took to manage Sawyer's case-instead, I think the system in place is broken. However,  it does make me wonder:

  • Are we as educators serving students' needs the best way we can with such a lengthy process?
  • How can this process be streamlined?
  • How can we encourage districts to hire more personnel so that students get the services they need in a timely fashion?
  • How do single parents manage this process? What if they can't take off work to go to the meetings OR get their child to the services being offered? 
A Never Ending Process
This experience reminds me of an exhibit I saw at the Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco.  "Easing the Way Home" examined the problem of veterans and homelessness. Before, it took 47 steps and 237 days for a veteran to receive housing.  With several agencies working together to problem solve and brainstorm, they managed to reduce the number of steps to 23 and then it only took 30 days for housing to be procured. 
What if all of Sawyer's meetings and assessments took place in a week because there was enough staff to do so?  What if there was a preschool program that would address the needs of kids like him so that the juggling of scheduling doesn't have to occur? Or better yet, what if someone went to Sawyer's preschool and provided services there?

This year would have looked a lot different for all of us. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Almost Famous

I recently attended the CUE conference in Palm Springs. I'll save that blog post for another time, like three or four months later when I catch my breath and both of my children are napping. You can nag me in June or July if I haven't written it by then.

 I entered my classroom early Monday morning, and flipped through the small stack of papers left for me by my sub. I skimmed her notes for the sake of time, but instead, I got sucked in by her words. It started with this: "Tracy, do you think I could re-enroll in your 6th grade class next year? This has been a fun 3 days."

 Her note continued on in the same vein-your students were perfect. No problems. Perfect. My class. My "day family" (thanks to Lisa Highfill for that saying).

This group of 31 students coming from 9 different elementary schools have become a cohesive and driven group. The credit is not mine, but theirs and the structure of our 6th grade classes on campus. I am fortunate enough that when our middle school opened its doors to 6th graders, that they had the foresight to create its own implementation of 6th grade. All sixth graders have the same core teacher for four, yes, four subjects: history, science, English, and PE. Some of my students are also lucky to have me for their tech elective class too. This class structure encourages that very important social aspect of middle school peer relationships and provides students with a home base.

 Hence, my day family. This is what I tweeted.

Unintentionally provocative, but apparently it piqued some interest in the Twitterverse. My email was full of messages for two days after the original tweet. Your tweet was favorited, your tweet was retweeted. Wow. Who knew something that I posted would create a mild stir. 

Two people who I admire greatly reached out and contacted me about my Tweet. Alice Keeler (wish I had her energy) wanted to see my sub plans. Sure, why not? They weren't anything special. But when I compared them to my October sub plans, I noticed something. In October, my sub plans involved a lot of teacher driven lessons and classroom management suggestions. Conversely, in March the plans had evolved as my students did-they transferred the learning responsibility from the sub to the students.

Diane Main mentioned via Twitter that her class had discussed my Tweet. I shared this news with my class (who were all very excited to hear that "real live people" were talking about them and that they were "almost famous" hence the title of this post). I wanted to take this one step further. I wanted to know why they thought they are successful when a sub is there.

We used Today's Meet to hold a Twitter-like chat. (It always amazes me how quiet and focused they get when using Today's Meet!)

Q1: Why is our class successful when we have a sub?  by Ms. W.
A1: we are successful with subs because everyone wants to learn and you leave us with fun activities to do. by K.
A1: Our class is like a family and we understand each other's strengths and weaknesses  by R
A1: I think our classroom is successful because we teach each other and work well together. by H
A1: our class is good because our plans are fun so we don't need to goof around by E
A1: Are class is successful when we have a sub because we want to get work done together and we are all well caring for each other.  by T

This is just a snippet of the conversation we held online.  To see more, you can click here to see a part of the transcript. Our online conversation lasted about 30 minutes-it was class time well spent, a glimpse into the heart of our class.

I will leave you with this.  Students were continuing to work in their figurative language groups on Monday.  As I was cruising the room, I noticed two giggley students hanging out behind my easel. This is a little bit out of the ordinary, so I crept closer to observe.

Super Tracy
I soon came to the realization that J, a bilingual student, was teaching M, a newcomer from Guatemala, how to say the introduction to their presentation in English. Over and over again, they practiced.  It will be M's first time presenting in our class, AND she first time speaking in English.  I never asked J to do that, I wasn't even here when she decided to try. I am so proud of the both of them.
(The presentation occurred after I wrote this post-but after M spoke, the class erupted in applause!)

For me, teaching (and learning) is about building relationships.  And that is my teaching super power.

(Gobs of thanks for Gwyneth Jones, AKA The Daring Librarian, for her rockin' tutorial on how to create a Super Me!

Monday, September 2, 2013

CUE Rock Star Day 2: Better Late than Never

Back on Board

Patty had attended a class on flipping the day before, and was eager to learn more from the same presenters (Sam Patterson and Cheryl Morris).  I have been intrigued by flipping the classroom, but more as supplemental and review instruction rather than replacing classroom instruction.  I also find it easier to implement any new ideas when you have a friend trudging through the trenches with you. My interest was also piqued because I knew Sam had brought his puppets to share.  (Observation: it's easier for some people to use puppets if they are camera shy.  6th graders tend to go either extreme-camera hogger or camera hider.)

I love presenters who talk, demonstrate, and then let participants create.  I chose something basic, The Preposition Song, so that I wouldn't have to worry about content creation.  With puppets literally in hand, Patty and I giggled our way through our impromptu skit in front of a green screen.  Content created, now what?!

Camtastic Camtasia.

After uploading the content from my iPad to my MacBookPro, I began to play with Camtasia.  Some parts of the program were familiar to me, the reminded me a bit of iMovie.  Other parts reminded me of interpreting my 2 year old son's garbles.  Thankfully, I had my very own Genius Bar consisting of Cheryl and Sam-this preventing me from becoming frustrated when I hit a few walls.

And then my a-ha moment (called "Holy Buckets" at our house)...if the purpose of the video was to help students remember the Preposition Song, then I needed to include the prepositions in the video while the song was being sung.  I tried to do something similar to the "follow the bouncing ball" visual, but I couldn't figure out the how.  Thankfully, Sam found a Camtasia tutorial about adding captions to the video.  I will admit, this part was time-consuming.  I think I spent over an hour adding captions to one minute of video in order for the captions (prepositions) to appear at the same time the word (preposition) was being sung by the puppet.  Phew! 

Ultimately, we decided just one session wasn't long enough, so Patty & I stayed for one more.

Although the video isn't perfect, I think for a first try it was pretty good.  The lighting on board made it difficult to use the green screen effect tips that we use in my classroom (three point lighting, wrinkle-free background, proximity to the green background, etc).  Via Twitter, I conversed with Sam and Cheryl how much time good lighting can save in the long run.

Our production:

iMovie, Camtasia, and After Effects

During the final few minutes of the session, I asked Patty to film me one more time with Tina singing the Helping Verb Song.  Again, the skit ended in giggles as Tina continued to shed during the final moments of filming.  Tina's footage sat on my iPad for a bit as my summer got busier.  I'm glad that I waited because then I had time to think about what I could do with Tina's footage.  I threw out the idea of comparing iMovie, Camtasia, and After Effects to see how the quality of the green screen would compare.  (After Effects is out of my league, but Cheryl is an expert.  I asked her if she was willing to try.  From what I gather, she had to go frame by frame and move the framing dots alongside Tina as she moved.  Even this was a minute of footage-it took several hours for Cheryl to complete.  The quality of the green screen effect was the best of all three, but at the cost of time).  

But the results will have to wait for another time.  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

CUE Rock Star on the USS Hornet

PD on an Aircraft Carrier

The highly anticipated CUE Rockstar on the USS Hornet in Alameda has come and gone, but the eduawesomeness of the experience hasn't faded away. This two day "camp" for teachers had a lot going for it already.  Combine some of my favorite teacher presenters that I stalk follow on Twitter, along with fascinating STEM topics, and I can't fail to mention that we were on an aircraft carrier!

Day One

Brrrrrrrr, it's cold outside.

Upon our arrival in the morning, Patty (@mrsgrayiron) and I glimpsed a shivering Keeler family near the gangplank.  I've been following Alice (@alicekeeler) on Twitter for awhile now, and I enjoy her insights, ideas, and her sense of humor.  And her energy!  She has 5 kiddos, and she has enough energy to share.  We offered our services to her and assisted in nametag assembly along with Shane & Laura.  I'm so glad we did, because we hung out with the two of them a lot afterwards.  

Corridor Confusion

I hope I never have to depend on my directional abilities.  I'm bad enough with driving directions, but now I'm in a metal, windowless air craft carrier (no Google maps to guide me) trying to find my way to places called The Ready Room and the Ward Room.  I even had trouble finding the "Rest Room." If I could have pulled off a Hansel and Gretel, I would have been leaving a trail of bird seed behind me the entire two days.  On the second day, Patty and I discovered that sometimes it was easier to go up to the flight deck, gather your bearings, and then venture downstairs via another entrance.  (This aha moment also led us to a Coke machine-woohoo!)

Learning Objectives

Most of my learning on Day One was about managing my own frustration with technical difficulties. I also reexamined my ability to work well in a group that had a variety of personalities and different learning styles.  Essentially, it was a good reminder how working with groups can be challenging and/or illuminating.  I hope to remember this as I select groups for students in my upcoming class.  I was determined to finish this trailer:

Just couldn't do it!

Rest Up

We had already decided that we would not be spending the night on board the USS Hornet. I love camping, but I also appreciate a warm, comfortable bed and a whole lot of quiet (with two toddlers at home, this is a rare occurrence). 

Patty and I continued our learning in our hotel room and experimented with Augmented Reality.  I'm hoping to create an something for my classroom door using AR.  More info on that later.

Highlights of the day:

For me, it's all about the relationship and connections that I was able to make and strengthen.  Patty and I spent the morning commute enjoying each other's company.  Our friendship has grown considerably during our EdTech journey (which started with last year's #edcampsfbay). 
I enjoyed reconnecting with Alice and meeting some new friends.  Early in the morning Jon Corippo spoke about Cue Rockstar connects the lone nut teachers; Sam Patterson, took it a step further with "an e-harmony for lone nuts).


Sometimes, I meet educators that I've been following on Twitter, and I become a bit starstruck.  I know I need to "get over it."  Contemplating that, I think it has a lot to do with my inner monologue-what on earth have I done that will be good enough to share with these "rockstars?"  And-"I don't want to bug anyone."  Unfortunately, my insecurity led me to miss meeting one or two people, and for that I am regretful.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

GAFE Summit & Disney

Disney Freak & Geek

I'm a full-blown Disney fan. I get excited whenever I can make connections with what I'm learning in education and anything Disney. Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit Walt Disney Studios, Imagineering, and Jim Henson's studio and my mind was blown.

Fast forward to July 14: Imagine my surprise while attending the California GAFE (Google Apps For Education) Summit and Disney's Blue Sky  was mentioned during the Teaching Moonshot Makers keynote by Richard DeVaul on the Google X Rapid Evaluation Team.

Similar to teaching students to "shoot for the moon,"  Disney's Imagineers are encouraged to think the sky is the limit-if they can think it, they can do it.  One person's Google glass is another person's Radiator Springs Racers.

Richard DeVaul spoke about Project Loon.  Here is my tweet about it:

I do believe pictures (and videos) speak a thousand words.  Richard shared this video with us which explains the awesomeness of his project.

Absolutely amazing, right? I gleaned quite a few nuggets from his presentation.

  1. Moonshot Thinking-Something audacious that we don't know how to do yet , but we are going to do anyway.
  2. Constructive Failure means: Failing quickly, efficiently, repeatedly.  Failing for the right reasons. Not giving up.
  3. How do we encourage our students to take intellectual risks, try things that may not work, and reward constructive failure?

Deeper Thinking

I mentioned previously my difficulty in thinking "under the surface."  I realize I need some more time to think about how to incorporate Google's "Moonshot Thinking" and Disney's "Blue Sky" concepts into my 6th grade classroom.  So for now-I'm going to ruminate and come back to this at another time.  Maybe I'll be inspired at Disneyland.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Shiny & Pretty

Two things that always grab my attention. I swear, I'd be a terrible fish-I'd see a blinged out lure in the water, and then swipe it not knowing the ramifications behind it. Good thing I'm not a fish (but if I had to be one, I'd be Dory from Finding Nemo).

Back to shiny and pretty. I have an app crush on Haiku Deck. It started when I entered a contest for the aforementioned Techlandia cast (I did win a Haiku Deck upgrade-yeah for me). I started playing around with the app a little more.

Haiku Deck

For the sake of time I will limit my praises for Haiku Deck (which is FREE). I love the limited amount of text because it keeps me focused on the content. I've created two for fun decks and one deck for my 6th grade class on ancient Rome. While creating the decks I realized that I had to concentrate on the theme or main idea that I wanted to convey. Some may say that the reduced text is limiting but I say it's liberating. I hate presentations that are all text or even worse, read to you...boring!

As the saying goes," a picture is 1,000 words." This is especially true with Haiku Deck. Since the text is limited, the images chosen need to add to the message and tell the rest of the story. Fortunately, there are a multitude of images to choose from for your deck.

My students began experimenting with the app towards the end of the school year. These are my observations: students were more directed using this app rather than the other presenting apps with bells and whistles. Due to the limited text, plagiarizing diminished. Students thought more critically about the images they selected for their decks. Students were less likely to read slides and more likely to present information.

To be honest, it has been a month or two since I signed up, so I have forgotten the class management side of the app. These are the things that I need to doublecheck on:
  1. Do students need to sign in on their own? I know you can sign in with Facebook, Twitter, or email. (My students are too young to have FB or Twitter-even though some of them do have accounts.)
  2. Do I have to create a dummy account for students to use? 
I'm including the first Haiku Deck I created for my students to use.  It primarily follows the outline of History Alive Ancient World Grade 6.  The purpose was to allow students to review key information, but still fill-in-the-blanks using the images.  The title page refers to something that was mentioned in class-there is more to Rome than the food, right?

Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app for iPad