Archive | June, 2014

Google tricks to make life easier

24 Jun

Google really does it right. Last weekend’s Google Apps For Education (GAFE) Summit in Grand Forks was energizing, engaging, and full of learning experiences. After a session was finished, I found myself staying in my seat in an attempt to absorb as much what we had just done and learned. Is that normal? The good news is that we had 30 minutes between sessions that provided time for collaboration, questions, and recovery. Brain sweat is fun!

Some of the most exciting things to me were the little things. The things that I might use every day or every week in the classroom to make life a little easier. I’ll let you in on a few of those things today!

I use my computer all the time to show students all sorts of things. When our presenters asked us to follow along, they made it easy by zooming in as well as highlighting the mouse. Both tricks were highly effective. The first one is to highlight the mouse. I spent the $4.99 on the Mouseposé app in the Apple App Store without regret!

MouseSo now when I want my students to see where I am navigating, I press F1 and highlight my cursor. Brilliant!

Another often-used trick was zooming on a Mac. Whenever a presenter wanted to help us focus in on something, give us a web address, or anything else that did not require the full screen, he quickly scrolled up and zoomed in on that area. I know it’s a small thing, but I was impressed! I can imagine using this daily.

Here is how you set it up for your Mac. Go under Universal Access in the System Preferences. Turn the zoom on, go to Options, and check “Use scroll wheel with modifier keys to zoom.” I think it is set to be the control key, so now when I hold down control and scroll up with two fingers, my screen zooms in. These little things will help keep the focus on where it needs to be during any sort of presentation.

My students constantly point out the extreme amount of tabs that I have open in Google Chrome. Here are a few tricks that deal with tabs:

One Tab is an extension found in the Chrome Web Store that takes each of your tabs and condenses them down into one tab. That tab can then be shared as a link with students or saved for later. It saves on memory and reduces clutter!

Tab Scissors is another extension that divides up your tabs into a split-screen look allowing you to type on one side while viewing another page at the same time.

Tab Glue, you guessed it, puts the tabs back together!

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And a few other tricks that everyone already has if you right click on a tab – ctrl+click or two-finger click with a Mac:

You can pin the tab to your task bar, and that will remove the X that would close it.

You can also close all other tabs.

Or close all tabs to the right of the one that you clicked on.

And lastly, you can reopen your last closed tab with this click or ctrl+shift+t.

I know this is going to make my life easier. I hope it does the same for you!

 

 

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The power of music

11 Jun

I’m fresh off of the North Dakota Google Summit this weekend. Nothing can energize me more than spending a few days learning amazing things with other passionate people.  And while I’m in no way ready to start to form a cohesive thought about all of the incredible things I picked up this weekend, I thought I’d share something that I talked about with a colleague while at the summit.

ImageMusic.

It is many of our students’ lives! They would sooner go without water than their iPod and their new Beats headphones. Music can change the mood of a person. It can change the feel of a classroom, and it can change the atmosphere of a school.

Because of Monte Selby’s advice at a Nuts and Bolts Conference, I decided that I would harness the power of music and use it to my advantage to make connections with my students, start class off in a positive way, and sometimes change the mood.

After starting my class with music for the past four years, I’ll never go back. Not only does the music give the students a chance to get themselves involved in the class, but it is also a signal for students that, when it’s over, it’s time to get started. Let’s talk about some of the details.

I start with some of my own music as well as older music. Students may complain that Frank Sinatra isn’t quite their style, but when they ask if they can bring their own music in, you know you’ve got them. Of course they can! As long as it is appropriate for school and under four minutes long, it’s good enough for my class. Monte’s advice was to not push them to bring their own music, but to make them bring it up.

“As a teacher, you cannot be the keeper of what’s cool.  Let them decide.”  That is a memorable quote from Monte, and it is so true. Student choice becomes a big part of the music in my class, but they have to follow the rules. I haven’t had many issues with rules being broken, but if they do play an inappropriate song or if a song is too long, we can go back to my choice for two weeks.

I allow students to bring in a song or find one on Youtube. My colleague had the idea of using a Google Form to submit song requests. This would eliminate the few times I experience frustration in waiting for a student to come up with the song title. We have the list of requests, move through them, and class runs like a well-oiled machine.

Now music is great just for the atmosphere and feeling of the classroom, but it also has value in building routines and signaling our class. During the song, there should be a few things that must be done before the song is finished. These are up to you, but here are mine:

  • Have a sharpened pencil with you as well as your English notebook
  • Respond to the following ___ in your journal
    (I rotate this with a question, quote, fun/interesting fact, and various other short writings)
  • Be quietly seated in your desk before the song is finished

Other ideas include:

  • Fill in your planner or schedule
  • Have certain materials out
  • Tell someone something positive
  • Ask a question about a topic that we are involved in

The main point is that with this routine built in, my students don’t feel that I’m immediately talking to them and starting class. It almost feels as if they have a choice and some time to breathe. But once that song is over, it is our time together. When the song ends, I greet them as a group and we begin our day together.

Another great part of the music is that I have a chance to greet my students at the door, take attendance, and do any other last-minute things before we begin together. This allows me to be fully prepared and not waste time. When we begin, we are focused together.

One story that I remember Monte telling us was about a principal who played music in between classes over the speaker system. The music would start out soft, giving teachers a chance to finish up their classes, then play until the fade out began, signaling that it was time for class to start again. He said that seniors would dance their way to class. Talk about transforming school culture!

And that is the power of music – whether it is changing a moment, making a connection, or shifting an entire school’s climate. Putting a smile on someone’s face with music can change their attitude, and attitude is everything.

Hey students, tell me what you think

4 Jun

A few years back I mostly stole an evaluation that Larry Ferlazzo has his students fill out at the conclusion of his class.  By “mostly stole” I mean that I changed one question. Let’s have a look at the questions and my 8th grade students’ thoughts. What good is an evaluation without reflecting on it?

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 3.26.29 PM Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 3.26.40 PMAs an 8th grade teacher, I am fairly pleased to see these results. I want my students to feel that they have examined their own writing and worked hard to improve it. My focus in reading instruction is for students to build their own love for reading. We do this through reading books mainly individually and discussing those books.

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 3.38.47 PMThat is 76% of my students who are doing what I hope to see, but there is definitely room for improvement here. I need to continue to find more strategies and activities that get students to engage with. Students try their best when they have authentic learning experiences and are depended upon by others. I’m at redesigning my blogging unit from individual blogs to creating group blogs. This would help those students feel like their work is important and necessary to the success of their group.

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 3.43.56 PM

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 3.44.05 PMIt isn’t a surprise that students enjoyed creating a short movie based on their creative writing stories was the most popular unit. It also shouldn’t surprise us that the other two creative outlets, creative writing and poetry, were the most popular. Students like to have a voice! And if we can get them to use their creativity, those writing skills translate into all of the writing that they do.

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 4.09.57 PMThanks!

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 4.10.15 PMI’ll take that, but there are always those students who it seems like it is impossible to connect. The answer? Try harder.

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 4.10.23 PMI noticed as I looked through these that the majority of the some of the times came from my 5th period class. Either I find a way to take a nap during lunch, or I find a better way to energize myself and come back ready to be my best. And the moral of the story? Kids notice.

 

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I feel that I need to continue to build class activities and routines that are easily identified by the students. Not just so that they can be recalled on an evaluation, of course, but because I want my students to know what we are doing and why we are doing it.

I was pleased to see that my students valued the individual conferences we had on their writing pieces. This, along with writing in class, is something that helps students receive immediate feedback on their work. I value this time very highly, so it was great to see that my students valued it as well.

Looking back at the information that I gained from this evaluation, there are still some questions that I’d like to hear answers to.

  • What was the most memorable part of this year?
  • What do you wish we would have done more of? In some of the questions I asked during the year, I definitely already knew that students wanted to make another movie or create a class movie. I think we would have to offer a movie-making elective to focus on script writing and even more of the details that could go into that type of class. I’ll teach that class if my principal is reading this!
  • What, specifically, could we improve as a class?
  • What else could I do in order to be better? This is such a general question, and finding a way to narrow it down for students is difficult.

And even though this isn’t specific to my class, it is information like this survey from Grant Wiggins that is so useful to us as teachers.

I am still left without some information that would be valuable, but it is such a great experience to hear from my students. There are a few questions that only my students who are with me every day could be able to answer – not me, not my supervisor. We can use our students as valuable resources in order to become better better teachers, or we can continue doing the same thing and thinking that nothing needs changing.

I’ll trust my students.