Friday, June 28, 2013

Appreciating Summer Break

My husband says I'm a weirdo.  He tells me I am one of those people who can't relax.  Well, he is right.  I don't know how to shut down.  I have to constantly be reading, planning, doing something or I go crazy!
I can read for pleasure, but when I do, I usually devour the book like a box of cookies, and start looking for more (I blew through most of my summer pay last year on one click ordering Kindle app!) and I love listening to music, but most of the time I end up singing at the top of my lungs extremely off key, so my kids usually discourage that!
So I've decided to start appreciating all of the free time I have and not worrying about the fact that I'm not "relaxing" or using it the "right" way according to my hubby, who thinks I should be sleeping until noon and then sipping margaritas for whole month of July and August.

Here are some things I am thankful for right now:
1. Sleeping until 7 a.m. -  I usually get up at 4:30 a.m.
2. Being able to lift weights at around 9-10 a.m.  This is the time my body works best for this activity.
3. Being able to take some cool PD classes without having to worry about planning lessons/grading papers.
4. Having the time to read some good math books and participate in an online book study.
5. Even thought it's the 5th thing on the list it is probably the one I appreciate the most...spending time with my kiddos!  So far this week we've been to our community theater's production of Les Miserables, took a trip to New Hope, PA and today will be going to see my niece and nephew in their summer camp play.
6. Teaching a student for 6 weeks who needs an extended school year. I am not great with saving money, so this will definitely help me relax and not feel so stressed out about running out of cash.  It's only 2.5 hours a day so its not going to eat up a ton of time.

First week down, nine more to go!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Year End Review

I can't believe the year is almost over!  My 8th graders graduated yesterday and it was bittersweet.  I am really proud of them.  This class has grown up before my eyes.  I am excited for them and their future and at the same time I am so sad to see them go.

Now the point of this blog was to reflect on my teaching and to grow as an educator and I need to get back to that.  My blog began turning into a rant zone, which I thought would be helpful to get out, but since I really hate negativity I ended up avoiding my own blog!!  So to get back on the right track here is a small review of this year, the things I liked, didn't like and goals for next year.

This year I started out with recording screen casts of just my vocab and basic examples.   I was pretty happy with the way it  was working at first, most of the kids were able to watch the videos and they all kept up with their notes.  I began to notice that some students were just copying from other kids notes and not watching the videos.  At first I didn't mind since they were still doing the "work" of copying the notes, but I knew that I wanted to take these videos further then just basic screen casts and this started to irritate me because I knew that these kids would have problems down the road.  How could this be changed?   I didn't do a good job of teaching them how to learn from the videos and that is what caused that problem.
As we got closer to April (state testing time) I started to get really anxious about test scores and I didn't feel like my students were making progress so I stopped making my videos and went back to traditional lectures.  Again, I feel that it was my fault for not managing class time as effectively as I could.  So I don't think the videos were the problem with them not succeeding.
This year I am taking a free online course and so far I love it! In addition to making more engaging videos that include me (YIKES) I am already learning some great things to do with them in class to differentiate.  I am hoping to film most of my videos over the summer. It is a HUGE task, but I think in order for next year to be successful, it must be done this way.  I am hoping to be able to go into my building to do so since the lighting is much better, but my plan B is to film them out in my garage.  I've done 5 already and they pretty much suck!  I have got to learn to jazz them up since I am so used to interacting with my students during my lessons and I use a lot of questioning instead of telling during my lessons.

I still LOVE Edmodo.  We kind of got away from it when I stopped making videos, but the kids really loved it too. It seemed easier to share things with them on Edmodo than our school's SIS/LMS. Next year I want the students to use it more for interacting with the content instead of socially.
So my school has two COWS and I never ever use them because there is always issues such as power, connectivity, etc.  We recently got iPads and they seemed to work much better!  Since I don't have an iPad personally it was kind of hard for me to plan things because I don't know what works and what doesn't on them.  The one thing we did try out was the app Socrative.   It was really cool, but we just basically "played" with it like a toy.  It has such potential in my room that I will have to really plan out productive uses for it this summer.

Circle Trackers 
We started using these to track student's mastery of concepts taught this year.  It is basically a spreadsheet with the students names and columns labeled with the concepts taught.  As you observe the students you draw a circle for each concept and then start shading it in as they progress, so when a student fully masters the concept their circle is completely shaded.  It sounds simple enough, but it really was difficult to implement.  I like to carry around a composition notebook during class and record notes and things and it seemed like too much to also have to carry that with it and find the kids name and fill it in (it sounds silly when I write this but it is what it is!)  Now something that I am really interested in and think might work better for me is a program called Mastery Connect.  It is a website that automatically tracks students mastery by scanned bubble sheets.  I could see myself having students complete  3-5 questions and having them scan their own sheets to collect the data.  We played around with a similar program this year called Gradecam and it was pretty effective.

Six actual school days to go, now that I have sent off my 8th graders I am actually feeling energized about next year.  I know that I will post more in the summer and my goal is to really make this a productive one!