Saturday, February 28, 2015

#PD Your Own Way by guest blogger Jamie Wright


I work at Conesville Elementary as a K-2 Intervention Specialist.  This year, my kindergarten and first grade co-teachers and I launched a K/1 Fusion.  This K/1 Fusion has brought a lot of new and awesome things.  If you haven’t heard about our K/1 Fusion, learn more about it here!  Along with teaching in the K/1 Fusion, I also co-teach 2nd grade math.  

These new and awesome things happening in the K/1 Fusion have taken careful planning, outside the box thinking, and many hours creating.  A lot has happened from last spring when my kindergarten co-teacher, Michelle, thought of this crazy idea until now.  We aligned schedules, moved physical locations of classrooms, rostered classes, created unique schedules, created pre-assessments, formatives, and summatives, made new games, implemented new strategies and teaching methods, integrated technology, and created personalized learning opportunities for students.  

Although my team and I are relatively creative people, we did not get here on our own, nor can we continue our journey on our own.  As teachers, we are constantly looking for ways to better our instruction, methods, strategies, interventions, enrichments, etc.  With our crazy hectic work days and busy nights fulfilling committee and coaching obligations, when does one find time to squeeze professional development in?

In years past, if teachers wanted professional development (PD), it meant losing a day in your classroom to attend a training or PD session of some sort.  Today, teachers can get quality PD from the comfort of their own couch! can that be?

Twitter, Pinterest, Blogs, and other social media outlets have allowed for this.  Hold on…How could one POSSIBLY learn anything from a silly social media site? I am here to tell you that some of my BEST PD has come from Twitter, Pinterest, and Blogs.  I use these 3 social media outlets to gain ridiculous amounts of knowledge, find new interventions, and new ways to teach different standards.

I do have a small confession, though. At first...I was skeptical, like many.  When my principal mentioned Twitter, I was like, “Oh, there is no way I will EVER use Twitter. It’s dumb and I don’t understand it.”  My principal INSISTED that I create an account and check it out.  I was very slow moving in this process because I didn’t really see the value in it.  I had my Twitter account for about a year and a half before I really used it.  One day at school, he told me about something called a TweetChat.  He told me that I should log on and use the hashtag, #oacteach and follow the conversations that were happening.  His explanation of this event sparked my interest.  I decided to check it out.  The first time I connected, I was a bit mindblown.  It was crazy how many people were participating in this chat, discussing a common topic, sharing ideas, and collaborating at the same time from a variety of states.  I had to learn more! I started researching other hashtags and found that the opportunities for professional development via Twitter were endless.  Shortly, I was hooked.  Once again, my principal was correct!    

According to a research paper from Pearson, “social media lend themselves naturally to cross-school collaboration and good practice sharing, both in terms of ease and cost-effectiveness.  This is true in so many ways.  Simply logging onto a TweetChat allows me to connect with multiple other educators from the comfort of my own couch.  I am able to engage in meaningful and powerful conversations with educators across the country who I may never meet in person.  The research paper from Pearson also states, “The global nature of Twitter allows teachers to engage with a more diverse group, challenging their own perspectives and inspiring new ways of thinking.”  Browsing through Pinterest links me to thousands of new ideas and connects me to other educators.  By reading blogs, I am able to understand other educators’ views on topics and ask questions or share my ideas on the topic.  I have learned more during an hour TweetChat on Twitter than I have in some college courses I have taken.  It is simply amazing to me that I am able to sit down (in my own house) and connect with so many diverse people with different experiences who are willing to share their ideas.  This type of collaboration allows for me to grow as a teacher.  My ideas and ways of thinking are sometimes challenged.  Most times I am inspired.    

Although I use many social media outlets to gain information, today I am going to focus on Twitter.  I use Twitter the most, usually daily.  For those of you who are still skeptics, I would like to share with you how to go about getting involved in Twitter.  I hope to show you the value in it, so you can learn as much as I have.  
Hopefully, by this point, you have already passed through the Denial Stage of Twitter and I have piqued your interest.  You are now in the Curiosity Stage.  At this point, you should navigate to and create yourself an account.  Don’t’s easy and FREE!  Once you’ve created an account, you’re ready to explore!

If you already know some people on Twitter, search for them and begin following them.  As you use Twitter more, you will start to find your “herd” of people to follow.  If you’re unsure of who to follow, I have linked a list of some people I follow.  These people contribute often and have some awesome ideas for education.  I have learned a lot from these people.  See list here.  

Now that you have some people to follow, I’m sure you’re a bit curious about a TweetChat.  A TweetChat is where the world comes together to chat.  To learn more about a TweetChat, read this article.  There are many hashtags out there that will lead you to a digital community of people discussing the same topic.  Some of my favorites are here.  During these hour-long chats, I am able to learn more about specific topics, ideas, teachers, and administrators.  I build my network of colleagues through these TweetChats.  I have started to follow many educators in many different areas of education.  This is helpful because as I come across questions or challenges, I have a huge network of people to contact who could help me.  After participating in a few TweetChats, I was hooked.  I scroll through my Twitter
feed multiple times throughout the day, always finding something new or connecting with someone new.  It is amazing to me how much I can learn and how many people I can reach with a few clicks.  

Twitter is now a part of my lifestyle.  It is my professional development as an educator.  I always am striving to be better.  I am always looking for something new to use in my classroom or a new way to teach skills.  I do not want to take a day out of my classroom to attend trainings.  Twitter and other social media outlets allow for me to do all of this.  They allow for me to differentiate my own professional development.  I can gain knowledge on topics I know I need professional development on at any given time.  I am looking for other ways to gain PD from the comfort of my own home.  

What sites and hashtags do you use/follow? Who do you follow?    

How do YOU get your PD?

Jamie Wright
K-2 Intervention Specialist
Conesville Elementary

Sunday, February 22, 2015

People Don't Really Change, They Just Grow....

Guest blog written by Michelle Beitzel, K-1 Fusion teacher:
Do we want to change?
CAN we change?
If we can, how much can we change?

Education has once again shifted: integration of more technology and more “testing”. Many people (teachers and parents alike) are sick of it, and are pushing back with a resistance like no other.

“Technology in the classroom is ridiculous. Children spend too much time on devices at home, why bring it into the classroom? What is up with all this testing? Can’t I just teach my students instead of assessing them all the time? When is it going to end?” …....

   Secretly, are you one of those teachers who are excited about this change? Do you see technology as a tool to integrate more rigor into your lessons, and assessments to drive your instruction? You are not alone, but you have to step out of the shadows, and decide to take charge of the direction education is headed around you. Yes, you could continue to do this in your little world of your own classroom, but what happens when your children leave your class? Are they going to be getting the best education they can down the hall? Do we quit caring about their education once they walk out of our door? I don’t think so!

I too have been there; frustrated that others around me were not willing to embrace a new way of teaching and learning. It can be easier just to hide within the walls of our classrooms, and not worry about what is happening around us. When frustration has set in, you are no longer able to give your children your best. Instead, we are spending our energy on not being happy, and we should love what we do. This was me a few years ago. Due to Reduction in Force, I was moved from a position I did love to a different building with a whole new attitude - “We like what we do and the way we do it, so don’t ask us to do anything else.” This wasn’t what I wanted, who does? What is to be your message to the world, was this to be my message?

Then something began to happen on the corner of 199 State Street! It was transforming from a place in which I wanted to flee from, to a place in which I
I KNEW I BELONGED! This building had been held tight in it’s predecessors’ arms and protected from change and uncertainty, as was I. But gradually the shield began to come down for not only the building, but for myself as well. I was encouraged to reflect on my strengths and to refine my teaching and allowed to think outside of the box! I can’t pinpoint when it happened, or how it actually happened, but it happened! It happened because someone believed in me, pointed me in the right direction, and waited for me to change my mind and jump! As teaching has evolved, there are really only two things that we can do: 1- fight it forever and be miserable OR 2- JUMP! Jump in and make it yours! I chose to JUMP! Will you?


By jumping in, I had to find ways to critically analyze where we were heading, advocating for change, facilitating the change, and monitoring how we were doing. No longer was I the little wallflower cowering in the corner. I went from almost missing MY opportunity to being a part of something, to actually helping shape this little building on the corner of 199 State Street. I was inspired to blaze ahead, and thrived to be ME, whatever I decided to make of myself, and not let the FEAR of change and uncertainty hold me back!

Now it is your turn, decide today to change your mind: BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD, and be that someone to believe in others, point them in the right direction, and wait for them to change their mind and jump, too!

Follow Mrs. Beitzel on twitter: @beitzelmichelle

Friday, February 13, 2015

The WOW factor: Guest blogger Tod Martin reflects on Math, Common Core, and Kids

Often times I hear a negative connotation when the word mathematics is brought up with students, parents, and even other educators. This is especially true with the Common Core State Standards. Many people see math as a negative. A high percentage of people think Common Core is a negative. This is what I love about math: When you multiply two negatives you always get a positive. You may ask, “How can I make math positive? How can I make my students like my class?” It comes down to how you approach the subject you teach. Here is my take on how to make a classroom truly AWESOME.

Attitude: Attitudes are contagious. Being in a classroom, we have the choice whether to spread positive vibes or negative vibes.The first step to making something positive and enjoyable is attitude. So much of the problem is a bad attitude. The first thing we need to do is adjust our own attitudes. Kids feed off of our attitudes. I am blessed to work with a co-worker that comes into the room everyday with a positive uplifting attitude and it instantly has an effect on the room. What we have to do is go into the classroom with a “can do” attitude that hopefully our students will react to. Having a positive attitude sets the stage for success.

“WOW” Factor: Just like in a great magic show, you need a “Wow” factor that will grab everyone’s attention. When covering a concept in class, explore it deeply and discover its wow factors. An example of a “wow” factor that my students were totally mind blown over was how division is multiplication backwards. We cram a lot of information into kids' heads everyday. They won’t remember everything we tell them, but they will remember the wow factors. I bet we can all look back on our own educational experiences and remember a wow factor such as dropping pumpkins out of a two story window or making rockets out of two liter bottles and launching them off. A simple way of explaining division for me was a major wow factor for my students. When you see the expression on a child’s face of amazement when they make a connection in the classroom, you get your own little wow factor.

Effective: Everything that we do in the classroom has to be effective for the kids we have. Lessons have to be designed to fit the needs of our kids. Feedback has to be given in a way that is effective for that student. If our day is not designed around the interests and needs of each kid, is it really going to be effective? Being an effective teacher does not mean that your class all got an A+ on the test. Being effective means that each child left school that day with something meaningful to them. This could be in the form of a wow factor, it could be a hug when you greeted them that morning, a full meal at lunchtime, or an off the wall fact that they can’t wait to share with their parents. We need to rethink how we measure our own effectiveness. Are we doing what's best for the kids that we have? If we are then we can consider our job as effective.

Support: In education, a buzz word is scaffolding. I like this word because I feel that it is something that every human needs. It doesn’t matter what walk of life we are in, everyone at some point will need support. Someone who can help raise them up to a new level of success. Our students need our support. If we open ourselves up and make ourselves available to be that support, more students will succeed not only in our classroom, but in life. If you have ever spent any time in a public school system, you know the clientele we see. A lot of kids have no real support system outside of school. I have to remind myself that not all kids go home and have someone that will check their homework, read them a book, or help study their flashcards. I have to be a support for their learning. If I can do this, my students will know that they can count on having a person of support who will be there to simplify concepts when they are too complicated or to challenge them to think deeper and push themselves higher.

Opportunity for Success: Success is something that every student desperately needs and wants in school. It is something that every student deserves. The successes that each student achieves varies on their ability levels. Success for some students is reaching up into the next grade level for a challenge and proving that they are capable. Success to another student may be studying their heart out and getting a C+ on a test, but that C+ is better than what they were capable of a week earlier. I watched a video earlier this week that said it best. The video talked about what teachers make. Here is a quote from the video: “I can make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor.”(Video) We need to recognize these successes, no matter how small we think them, because a small success to us may be the greatest thing to ever happen to that child. That success may be the difference in a child unlocking the door to the untapped potential that will determine how far he/she goes in life. To have an awesome classroom, each child needs to have that opportunity for success each day. Kids should be able to walk out of the classroom and feel confident because in some way that day, they were successful.

Meaningful Experiences: To go along with the “WoW” factors, the educational experiences in a classroom need to be meaningful. I hear a lot of students ask the age old question, “Why do we have to learn this?” It's okay to be honest and explain how relevant the information is to them and how it will help them in the real world. If kids are able to make a connection between the curriculum and their own lives, it will become meaningful and important to them. It is not easy to do anything that is meaningless. If there is no purpose, there is no drive to succeed. I try to connect with my students and make each experience and lesson meaningful to them. Students are more apt to remember a lesson if it has meaning to them.

Excitement: To make a class truly AWESOME, there has to be some excitement. Long gone are the days that we stand in front of a class for an hour and lecture while they take notes. That’s BORING!! One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that it is okay to be a little silly. It's okay to inject humor into a lesson. It's okay to jump up on a desk and show that I am excited about coming to work everyday and that I am excited about Math. A teacher that has left a lasting impression on me did so because I could see the passion and excitement he had everyday to be teaching. If we are able to let our guard down just a little, the students will be more comfortable in the classroom environment. The best phrase that has ever been said to me while teaching was when a child stated that they were “excited” to come to school today because of my class. How can we make kids excited? If you answer this question and inject it into your classroom, I can guarantee that you yourself will find that you to are excited to be there.

Well, there you have it. I haven’t seen it all, been everywhere, or done everything, but what I have experienced has led me to this belief: We can not control everything that is going on with every student outside the school walls, but everyday we open our classroom doors we have a choice. What kind of experience is each child going to have in my classroom today? 

I choose to try my best to make everyday AWESOME!

Submitted by: Tod Martin, 3rd grade teacher Conesville Elementary, River View LSD
Follow Tod on Twitter :
Tod Martin
Third Grade teacher @Conesville! Growing students and creating lifelong learners is my ultimate goal!