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Friday, December 18, 2015

The 20th Version of Me

When I interviewed for this job, I was asked if I planned to teach for 30 years or once, 30 times.  I responded that I planned to teach for 30 years, but had no idea what exactly that would entail.  It dawned on me yesterday that I am a totally different teacher than I was 20 years ago when I started.

I was recently at a PBL training session and one of the instructors said look at the first version of your PBL and then make the second version better.  That really stuck with me because I feel that the 20th version of myself is so much better than even the 17th version of myself.

We all change and adjust through the years, but I would say that the last three years have been the most transformative for me. The twentieth version of myself has seen the following things happen this school year:

1. I started sending home 5 positive emails every day.  This has not only caused me to make a conscious effort at seeking out positive things the students were doing, but also to reflect on a daily basis.  I hit 300 positive emails home this morning and I don't plan to stop anytime soon!

2. I have more student choice in my classroom than ever.  I am adjusting on a daily basis and sometimes by the class period to the needs of the students.  From day one of their time with me, I have told them their voice is important to me and I honor that vow.

3. I have personalized my class more than ever.  Yesterday, there were three paths the Economics students could take based on their level of understanding and achievement on our last summative assessment.

4. I am now meeting with students just about every free moment I have.  Not only does this pay off with an increased level of understanding on their part, but it also helps further the relationship that we have.

5. I am now the Tech Integrator for the high school and this is something I have been really looking forward to.  I love to share my love of meaningful edtech and have been doing weekly trainings with the staff who have chosen to engage and further their learning.

6. I am using so many formative assessments that I am able to pinpoint very accurately where students are lacking in knowledge.  One of my students recently said "when you gave me my remediation slip, it's like you were inside my head and knew exactly what I didn't know". I knew I was on the right track when I started this new process this year.

7. I have re-evaluated my flipped activities and have radically changed my belief of what should be in the flipped part.  The 17th version of myself (when I first started flipping) thought an 18 minute video was fine for seniors.  Now I won't go over 6 minutes.  The engagement has gone way up and the complaining is almost non-existent.

8. I start every day asking myself what the experience of what I am planning will be like from a student's perspective.  Before two years ago, it never occurred to me to think about it from their view.

9. I have students who now help me plan out lessons for my #digcit course.  Not only does that go along with the #8, it also gives me a better sense of what they need and what they will think is corny vs realistic.

10. I am able to walk away from a conversation with a colleague that would have ruined my day just a couple years ago and now look at it as a learning opportunity.  Their perspective of something reinforced for me that not everyone has the same perspective of what I considered very positive changes in our school.

I could keep going with about 20 more things, but you get the point.

The 20th version of me is by far the best version of me and I cannot wait for the future versions!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Please Help My Entrepreneurship Students!

As I write this blog post, I am excited for the opportunities my students have in our Entrepreneurship course.  We are participating in a regional competition called the Greater Binghamton Scholastic Challenge sponsored by Modern Marketing Concepts.  At this competition over 50 student groups bring product/service ideas to fruition through much hard work.  The past couple of years, the winners have received funding to actually start a business.  Every aspect of it is real-world and we need YOUR help!  Below are the surveys each group put together.  IF you have time to complete a couple, they could really use your feedback.  None of them will take you more than 90 seconds to fill out.  Remember, this is a learning experience for all of them, so if you have any feedback for them, please feel free to comment on this blog or tweet me at @MrsMurat.  Thank you in advance for your assistance!

Digital Shower Control

Focus Time App

Date Rape/Domestic Violence App

Hair Dryer/Hairspray Combo

Wallet Charger

Bluetooth Alarm with Lights and Rug

Mobile Learning App

Biodegradeable Frost Blankets

Attached Gloves

Cereal Holder

Comparable Shopping App

Breeze Bag

Spike Solutions

Anti Fog Swim Goggles


Ever Changing Shoe

Thank you!!!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

One Goal This Year

This year I am redoubling my efforts to communicate with parents.  In the past, I have always emailed or called home if there was a problem or if something spectacular happened, but it was not even close to a regular routine for me.  I tweeted out some of the happenings in our classes, had the students tweet out examples of their learning and wrote the occasional blog post.

I want this year to be different!

I started the first day of school with a goal of at least 5 positive emails home that were student specific and included at least a couple details that were specific to their son or daughter so it wasn't a form email being sent home.  At first it was a task that I wanted to include in my routine.  Now it is so much more.  On several occasions this year, I have been having a down moment or a moment of frustration with my colleagues and I've consciously chosen right then to write the emails.  It completely changed my day around!  I now crave celebrating my students every day!  I am constantly on the lookout for positive examples of how their son or daughter is being a leader or how they have improved in class or a light bulb that finally went off as they "got it" after a brief or long struggle.

As of this blog post, I've sent out 127 emails.  Some days I get on a roll and send out more than 5, but 5 is the minimum.  I've only received about 20 responses, but those 20 have always made me smile as the parents get a look into the successes of their son or daughter in school.

I have also included a @smorepages for each class so the parents can get a peek into what we are doing and the projects that they have completed.  The projects that are linked into the smores right now are not my typical project because in essence they are a recipe since it was only on a Google Slides where they had to show evidence of how the terms/concepts relate to their lives.  I like to start off with this type of project so that the students can get used to using the Chromebooks and utilizing GAFE before we dive into more diverse projects.

Here are the links to the Smores:

It is my goal to keep emailing parents with positive feedback and to keep these Smores up to date.

Will you help hold me accountable?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

What if?

After a day in which the lessons I planned didn't quite go as planned and several discussions with a colleague while out walking,  I went to a PBL training and have been doing nothing but thinking about "what if?"

What if we didn't beat out the natural desire to figure things out on their own our students are born with?

What if we could re-ignite the inner learner all teachers had at one point?

What if we restructured our day around inquiry based learning and not test prep?

What if we allowed MOOC courses for students interested in taking classes outside the expertise of the brick and mortar staff, that would count for graduation credit?

What if we had an EdCamp style where if a student doesn't feel they are learning, they could get up and go somewhere they could learn more?

What if our students were so used to being given choice and voice in their learning that if we didn't include that in our lesson, they would speak up?

What if we were creating environments for our students that they learned to trust their gut as to whether it was "right" or "good enough" instead of relying on us to determine that?

What if our students directed their own learning and relished the opportunity to do so?

What if we used PBL to help solve  more problems in our local neighborhoods instead of relying on fictitious scenarios that we made up solely for the lesson?

What if everything our students created was shared publicly so authentic eyes were on it and not just ours?

What if we were able to re-engage the disaffected parents in our district?

What if our students developed a way for us to meet the needs of our hungry community members in a way that is sustainable?

What if we had programs that allowed students interested in any topic to gain an advanced or two year degree by the time they graduated if they are working at an accelerated rate?

What if we had internships for any student who wanted to pursue one?

What if we connected with experts in the field to help us in the classroom on a regular basis?

What if we didn't have study halls and instead had time for passion projects or genius hour?

What if we weren't cutting art and music time and money to focus more on "what's on the test'?

What if all teachers sought out PD on their own?

What if teachers understood that using tech to simply give an eWorksheet were missing out on the true power that tech could (if harnessed correctly) provide?

What if every student came to school having had a good night's sleep and food in their stomach?

What if every student felt they could make a difference in our local community as well as the global community?

What if students realized that the path they are on can be changed if they want it to and they are not predestined to that path?

What if we offered alternative break plans like going to South Carolina to help rebuild after their devastating flood?

What if we made our schools more energy efficient through the efforts/ideas of our students.

What if our schools became energy producers instead of consumers because our students devised a way for that to happen?

These are just some of the things I've been thinking about in the last day.  I have work to do to help make these a reality.

What are your what ifs?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Student Mentoring Program

Last week I blogged about an amazing day I had. (    This day included working with our student mentors.  I had many requests to explain the program, so here you go! :)

In the Spring, we request staff members to nominate upperclassmen (current Sophomores and Juniors) who exhibit Spartan spirit, leadership qualities, dedication to their studies (does not have to be one of the top students) and who are respected by the faculty, staff and student body.  Based on those recommendations, I send out invitations to become a mentor.  It is rare that we have a student not accept the invitation.

Once I have a list of students, they sign up for the Remind group and we continue to monitor them to make sure that the qualities that got them invited do not take a sharp turn for the worse.  (We have never encountered this, but we are diligent for the sake of the program).

During the summer we have a training session that introduces the students to the program.  I'm going to explain the program to you as I would do for them.

We have 9th grade only study halls every period of the day.  The mentors, based on their availability, are assigned to a study hall.  Next, I assign two students to push into AIS sections in Math and English.  Next, I assign 4-5 students to be in the lunch room.  Lastly, I assign students to our 10th period (Activity period).

Here's what the responsibilities of each entail:

Study hall: the mentors create lessons based on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Leadership and Anti-Bullying initiatives (Here is the calendar:  These lessons need to be engaging and 5-10 minutes in length.  Each day they deliver a new lesson/activity, that they created, based on the theme of that week.  After that, they work with the students on any homework that they owe (we are able to generate what we call the Owed List from Power School that identifies each student who has an assignment that the teacher has indicated is missing).  They also tutor students who are struggling.  The most important part of this interaction are the relationships that are built, the trust that is gained and the sense of belonging that the 9th graders now have.  How cool is it when the captain of the football team makes it his mission to make you feel welcome in HS?  How cool is it when the Valedictorian is willing to help you on your Spanish homework?  I could go on about every activity and every sports team because they are all represented in our mentor group. Eventually, if a student is continually struggling, they are pulled out of study hall for one on one tutoring with one of the mentors in a quiet location.  Once they show improvement, they have the option to opt out of the tutoring or to continue it.  Surprisingly, most choose to continue the tutoring. The lessons go for the first 10 weeks and then it is the focus of the mentors to support the 9th graders in whatever they need.  Need help approaching a faculty member? They help with that.  Need help figuring out where your classes are next semester? They help with that.  It's kind of like "there's an app for that."  "There's a mentor for that!"

AIS: Students do basically what is described above, but they also help the AIS teacher by providing targeted tutoring.

Lunch: We found this to be so beneficial, we were bummed we hadn't thought of it earlier!  The mentors in here are tasked with making sure no one sits alone and that they mingle with all of the kids (but mostly the 9th graders).  They sit at different tables each day and get to know the kids at the table.  They answer questions, provide guidance, help with homework, etc.  They are our eyes and ears on the ground (as are all the mentors) since a lot of problems manifest themselves in the lunchroom.  We had an example the very first day.  We had a student who has anger management problems come out with his lunch and was about to have one of his epic meltdowns heard round the world because he couldn't find a seat.  One of our kids instantly saw this and went to him and asked him to sit with them.  The entire incident took about 20 seconds, but it saved a meltdown and all that would have come with that in the cafeteria.

10th period: Our mentors that typically do not have a free period are assigned (based on their preference) to one or two days a week to tutor kids who need assistance or are in need of guidance. Just yesterday,  I had an email from two teachers regarding 4 kids who were struggling and needed a connection.  They have been assigned to stay with our mentors during 10th period.  10th period does not have the stigma of being a punitive assignment, it is simply an extension of the day.

During the training the students talk about how to have empathy, why it is so important, the role of the mentors, and conduct activities centered around anti-bullying.  The most important part of this program is the discussion about school culture and the role they have (in school and outside of it) in fostering a positive school culture.  I end with Kid President's Go Be More Awesome clip (I ask them to think of themselves as both the teacher and the student) (here is the link and we use that as a montra each day.  How can we be more awesome than yesterday?

The things that make this entire system work:
1. The commitment our upperclassmen have to the culture of the building.  We do NOT have the stereotypical hierarchy in our building.  I say that with 100% confidence.  Don't believe me? I'll find as many kids as you want to talk to you about it.
2. We have what we call the Spartan Academy.  Once a month, all the teachers who teach 9th grade get together and talk about needs they see arising with the 9th graders and strategies that have worked in other classes.
3. Administration that is proactive and supportive.  I can't stress just how great our administration is! This starts at the top with the Superintendent as well as our building administrative staff.

It really does take a village!

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at @mrsmurat or

Monday, September 21, 2015

Learning and Connecting and Concussions, Oh My!

Last Spring, my Twitter friend (we've never actually met!) @robpennington9 DM'd me to ask if I would be interested in submitting a proposal for presentation at @NJPAECET2.  Never one to say no to an opportunity to learn and share, I said sure!!  To be honest, I had no idea what those letters (outside of the states) even meant!

Fast forward to this past weekend (September 19th and 20th).. Just in case you didn't catch that, it was a WEEKEND!  So many dedicated educators at this conference were willing to give up a weekend because they know how important it is to be life-long, engaged, learners!!

I had been looking forward to this weekend since then because I was finally going to be able to meet some of my PLN that I interact with on a regular basis!  Face to face meetings always warm my heart and reinforce just how amazing my PLN is!

Saturday morning, we were blessed to hear +Principal Kafele speak about the role of culture and the importance of the student vs the importance of curriculum.  He was inspiring and really should be heard by all educators, no matter what gender, race or ethnicity you are or what the diversity is in your school.  His message transcends race and ethnic lines.

Sunday morning, @joycevalenza raised my consciousness of gender issues both in the workplace and in the classroom.  Such an important conversation about what we are doing to perpetuate the inequity and what we can do to combat it.  It's easy to think that in 2015, gender inequity isn't a thing, but believe me, it is!

Also on Sunday morning, we heard @snydesn2 talk about his re-entry into the love of teaching.  I found myself nodding for 99% of his talk.  I've been there.  I wanted to leave teaching.  I thought I was done.  Thankfully, I am back in ( and so is he!  We need to help those educators around us who aren't feeling like this is their calling anymore.  When you re-enter,  you need to pay it forward! We owe it to the students to reignite the flame of their teachers!

I had signed up for some pretty awesome sessions this weekend ( so I was eager to get my learn on!

Here are the highlights of the weekend!

I was able to learn more about podcasting from the amazing (@mrnesi and @iruntech)!  They are podcasting gurus and always have so much to offer!  Thank you for reminding me how much I love podcasts and once again getting me hooked on repurposing my time in the car!

I learned some new tricks with the programs I use all time like +EDpuzzle and #Google Forms from Jennifer Mezzina.

I was able to have a thought provoking conversation with @daretochem regarding Flipped classrooms and asynchronous learning.  He helped me get through one of the mental hurdles I had regarding testing in an asynchronous environment.  It's amazing when you look at something from a different perspective, how easy it seemed to be to solve!

I was blown away (as always) by @geekyteach and her Google knowledge!  She showed us how to use Google Slides in ways I never knew was possible.  (this is where the concussion part of the title comes in.) When I left her session, I felt the same dazed feeling I've experienced after both of my physical concussions.  Thankfully, she gave us a user manual for everything because there was no way in my dazed condition I was going to remember everything!! Here is the link to the manual:  I will be using this daily!

I was inspired by @srtanrodriguez during her session on engaging learners!  I learned some new tricks for engagement strategies I currently use and about Go Formative!  Definitely incorporating that in my class TODAY! (Don't you just love when you can learn something on a weekend and use it on Monday!)  Her presentation can be found here:

I learned how to use Blab from @mrnesi! This has awesome possibility for several of my classes!  It was great to see +Sarah Thomas on Blab and be able to converse with her!

The connections I made this weekend were inspiring, heart warming and lasting!  I was able to actually meet +Samantha Fecich in person this weekend!  She is a professor at Grove City College and I am a virtual co-operating teacher for her preservice teachers.  We have communicated on many occasions, but never actually met (you will see this trend a lot this weekend) but this weekend we hugged, walked and had awesome conversations about pedagogy, school culture and ideology!

I ate dinner with my tribe! @iruntech @MrSchoenbart +Dani Raskin @chrissyromano@TheConnectedEdu @whalen @TaliaArbit @mrnesi @tinamonte The conversation at dinner was varied, spirited and rejuvenating for my soul!  Making these connections is really what life is about.  Being able to bring a diverse group of welcoming educators together for a conversation and food should be a goal of every educator!

I FINALLY got to meet @mr_issacs and @iwearthecrowns in person! I have been connected with both of them on an almost daily basis on social media for two years.  The hugs and conversation will stay with me for a very long time!

Reconnecting with @spaul6414 @geekyteach and @kerszi always results in an amazing amount of learning on my part!  All three are passionate educators that are willing to share their knowledge and craft with everyone!

I got to meet @Xanth_K and @darriapizzuto who are part of our #BFC530 crew and an important part of my PLN!  They are inspiring educators who really are dedicated to our profession.

I finally got to meet +barry saide and @Glennr1809!  Two people who are nationally known for their efforts on behalf of eduactors, students and parents.  Talk about being star struck!  It's not everyday you get to mingle with two people who are educelebs!

I know I am forgetting things I learned (I'm still processing this weekend as the effects of the learning concussion wear off) and people with whom I connected this weekend and for that I apologize.

This weekend will allow me to adjust several things in my craft and gave me many, many things to share with my both my brick and mortar colleagues as well as my Twitter colleagues.

I can't thank @NJPAECET2 enough for inviting me to this inspiring weekend.  I am now charged with making today better than yesterday!  I am on it!

Friday, September 11, 2015

What a day!

Today was day three of our school year.  I honestly cannot remember a year that has been this amazing this early on.  Let me tell you about my day.

It started 1st period with a +GoToMeeting by @mehsprincipal about the grand opening of our #makerspace.  The students were enthralled with the information and the possibilities that the makerspace could provide.  He asked students to tweet in (right then and there) an answer to a question to win prizes.  The students were excited that we were encouraging them to use Twitter to win prizes and to tweet their pictures out from the makerspace during the day.

2nd period I had a very meaningful meeting with the ELL teacher about a student who speaks Mandarin Chinese. This is so far outside my comfort zone it's not even in the same zip code.  I asked if it would help to translate all the tests, activities and notes into his native language to accompany the English version so that he was more comfortable learning US History.  She was astounded that I would offer that.  I just thought it was a normal thing to do.  We talked for 40 minutes and I felt so much better about it after we talked.

3rd period my AP Government and Politics students were working on earning their badges to show that they have acquired and mastered the tech skills we will be incorporating into class.  For many students, this is way outside their comfort zone.  Many didn't even know what badges were.  I was so excited to see the students who finished early and knew what they were doing circulating around the room to help problem solve and help the struggling students. I didn't even have to ask them.  They wanted to make sure everyone was helped.  I'm not sure if this is a product of me talking about the fact that the smartest person in the room is the room on the first day and that it was all of our responsibility to make sure everyone is getting it, but they were so great!!

4th-6th periods I held a training for our mentors.  We have 65 of them this year. We have a mentoring program where upperclassmen are nominated by the staff the previous spring to mentor the freshmen in the following school year.  We have freshmen only study halls and traditionally we had mentors in there that taught student created lessons from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and then tutor the freshmen who need help for the rest of the period. The relationships and connections that have come out of this program are too numerous to mention.  Most people when they hear I teach at a high school think to that traditional stereotype of seniors pushing the freshmen into the lockers.  I can 100% say we do not have that hierarchy in our building.  The upperclassmen take it to heart that helping the freshmen transition to the high school is their job.  We have a football team that currently holds the state record for consecutive wins.  We are third in the nation in active win streaks.  Many of our mentors are football players.  That usually astounds people.  We have athletes of all sports, members of the band/chorus/orchestra, Challenge Team, AP students, struggling students, video game club students, etc. as mentors.  This year we have an unusual situation because half of the freshmen class does not have a study hall because of math lab and English lab.  We had to think outside the box.  We decided to have mentors go into the AIS's as an assistance to the AIS teachers, go to the lunch room as well as work with 9th graders during 10th period (after the school day) in addition to being in the study halls.  The discussions I had with the mentors today about their role left me in awe of how awesome they are.  We finished by watching A Pep Talk by Kid President ( I asked the kids two exit ticket questions: 1. What can  you do to be "more awesome" for the Spartan community? 2. What are you teaching the world?  The answers to these questions were put on sticky notes and put on the whiteboard as they left the room.  Answers included "I can smile more" "I can spread my love of school" "I can show kids that struggle, that you can still succeed".  The answers were such a reflection of just how awesome our kids really are.

9th-10th periods I had kids come in and ask if they could put in some extra work on their badges.  IT'S FRIDAY folks!  These kids inspire me.  They want to come in on a sunny, 80 degree Friday afternoon to put in extra work on their badges.  I had 20+ kids in my room.

After that I happened to pop into the Superintendent's office (@vanfossenjason).  He used to be my principal and he always has an open door policy.  I stopped by to simply tell him one thing that could have been accomplished in two sentences.  Instead, I was there for almost an hour.  We talked about an upcoming edcamp (@EdCamp_CNY), flipping his cabinet meetings, his incorporation of our LMS (@schoology) into his day to day work.  We talked about edtech, meaningful experiences for our kids and how we can better support our kids.  I left there in awe.  Not too many Superintendents would spend an hour talking with a teacher at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon.

I then sat down for my daily positive emails home.  My goal is 5 a day, but the last two days I've done 10+ each day.  They are so addicting!!

I then went to the swim meet to witness the first relay of our first home meet set a pool record! Wow!! Way to go, Lady Spartans!!

I would say that the start of my 20th year of teaching is off to an absolutely positive start!  I can't wait for each new day.  I can't wait to see the kids each morning.  I try to find at least 5 kids each day I don't know and say hi and smile.  I really do love what I do.  I can't possibly imagine doing anything else!

I hope your school year is off to a great start!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Bring on the Learning!

My phone chimed today to tell me that my Time Hop was available to view.  Sometimes I look at it to see from what injury I was recovering in the previous years or to remind myself I really am funny (not sure my students would agree...but I think I'm funny).  Anyway, the post from 2 years ago today was "All I want to be is done."  The song by the Band Perry had become my mantra for the last 4 weeks of school 2 years ago. Although the song is about a relationship, I viewed it as the theme song with my relationship with school at that point.

Funny how two years can literally be the difference between night and day.  In a previous post ( I blogged about how my career was saved because I started learning again.  That is still a true statement every day of my life, but seems more poignant when we have 11 days of school left and I have Seniors who have a major case of Senioritis.

Most of my colleagues have been counting down the days since March and are trying to talk themselves into making it through the last 11 days and then just getting themselves to summer break where they can walk out of school and not look back until the Tuesday after Labor Day.

I literally could not be further from that mindset this year (although, like I said, I've been there).

After I read my Time Hop, I was reflecting on why I have such a different attitude this year.

1. Right now, I am beyond excited that I am helping to plan EdCampCNY (register here in Liverpool, NY on 7/18.  I really cannot express how excited I am to be part of this awesome day!

2. I took 20 students to a regional competition where they got to display a business idea that they birthed and nurtured to fruition for business leaders from our area.  Watching them shine today (and everyday) made me feel like a proud parent!

3. My #digcit students are creating parent tip videos that we will be sharing out with our entire community and they are turning out to be a great resource for our parents and community members.

4. My #digcit students are in the middle of creating advocacy campaigns about a topic for which they are passionate.  Some students have taken it a step further and got more involved with those causes because they discovered something they care very deeply about.

5. I will be participating in a 2 day workshop in the middle of August to network with regional colleagues while we talk creating more collaborative opportunities that extend authentic learning in our classrooms.

6. We are in the middle of unveiling our Makerspace at the HS and I am so intrigued by the possibilities that it will afford our students that I can't wait for it to be open full time.

7. I have already planned out the edcamps I will be attending virtually via Twitter over the summer.

8. I have 3 pedagogically based books that I am chomping at the bit to read this summer.

9. I have a couple new colleagues joining us next year and I am eager to learn with them as we start a new school year.

10. I am revamping a couple of my courses for next year and am actually excited about that process!!

11. I've been asked to be a virtual mentor for a grad class for preservice teachers over the summer.

I would not be exaggerating if I said in my dormant learning years, all of the above would have  depressed me more than I could handle.  I would see them as an intrusion in my summer.  Not anymore!

I think now, it would be safe to say that "All I want be is done" would refer to my time as a dormant learner.

Bring on the learning!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Culture of Complaining

Ever find yourself thinking if I hear ________ one more time, I might blow a gasket? I'm there.

The culture of complaining that I feel we have grown accustomed to really needs to end.  It may seem ironic that I am complaining about complaining, but I would like you to consider that in my opinion, if you bring possible solutions to the table, a complaint can be a means to an end or the vehicle through which something is remedied.  That is what I am attempting to do here.

I have challenged one of my classes to go complaint free for the remaining 13 days of classes.  I realized that was going to be quite a paradigm shift, so I amended it to that period for the remaining 13 days.

I gave them a three pronged filter to ask themselves every time they felt the need to complain:

1. Do I have the all of the facts for the subject I am about to complain about?
2. Do I have solutions to bring to the table regarding the topic I am complaining about?
3. What is the purpose of my complaint?

I asked them to be cognizant about what comes out of their mouth and to be conscious in their choices when complaining.

I followed up with a couple phrases that might be old hat to those of us reading this blog, but are probably a different way of thinking about things for my audience today:

1. You may not have control over the situation, but you sure do have control over how you react to it.
2. The only person that can control what comes out of your mouth is you.
3. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
4. Complaining is an easy habit to form, no matter your age.  You are what you make a habit of, choose carefully.

I am intent on changing the culture of complaining.  It does us no good.  It is liberating to free yourself of the habit of complaining.  Once you make that paradigm shift, the world is much sunnier place!   Are you with me?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I'm really struggling with this.

I am a big believer in #stuvoice. I am also a believer that one of my jobs as a high school teacher is to get students to think critically about their thinking.  Also, as a high school teacher, I think it is my job to help the students realize they need to cut the cord.  I shouldn't be the sole source of their learning. They need to engage in the process and be self-starters as well as independently motivated.

This leads me to my current struggle.  I had a conversation with a student yesterday that made sleeping last night a challenge to say the least.

Background of the topic.  In US History, we have finished our study of the 1950's and 1960's and I have asked the students to work in pairs (one assigned the 50's and one assigned the 60's) to debate which decade was more historically significant.  They have to pick a person, event, judicial decision, cultural event and political event that is evidence that their assigned decade was more historically significant.  They can choose the platform and the way that they screencast the debate for the class to eventually evaluate the strength of evidence and argument.

Here is the gist of the conversation.

S: "Adding technology to the curriculum isn't helping us get ready for the test, it just makes things more complicated."

Me: "The technology allows us to access the information at a later date, create both an audio and visual debate and then share with an audience beyond me.  Beyond that, evaluating events from a decade that you feel would make it significant, then putting together a coherent argument that can not only support your assertion, but refute the other partner's evidence is absolutely getting you prepared for the test".

S: "I need packets, I only learn from packets and flashcards."

Me: "Are you learning or memorizing from packets and flashcards?"

S: "I'm learning."

Me: "How do you define learning?"

S: "Knowing what I need to know for the test."

Me: "How about making flash cards that contain your talking points and that is your platform?"

S: "That's still doing what you wanted me to do."

The conversation lasted for about 25 minutes, but that is the above part is the part I am struggling with.

Here is my struggle:

I want to honor her voice in telling me the way that she learns best.  I just can't make the argument that learning is happening solely from a packet.  I still do packets.  I have not replaced packets with projects, although I would like to lessen our reliance on packets, but that is a different conversation. All the information they needed for the test was in the packet.  The project is to extend the learning and help them exercise their critical thinking muscles as well as their ability to formulate and articulate an historical argument.  Not only is this a real world skill, but this will come in handy on the test in the form of the thematic essay and DBQ, but I don't think I should only be teaching them to be successful on the test.  But again, that is a different conversation.

My struggle continues with the question whether she really does learn better from packets or if she just hasn't had any other type of experience that takes her learning beyond simple memorization for the test.  Is she just memorizing the packets?  If so, is that really learning to the level that we want our students to be learning?

My other concern is that the student wants to go into a field that is solely based on collaboration and technology.  How do I get her to see that she needs to branch out, be more flexible about her learning and go beyond what she thinks she will need on the test.

This is my struggle.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Learning Continues

As educators, we have a responsibility to our students to make each day a meaningful learning experience.  I think we give it our best each and every day.  However, is that the case when we are out?

It used to be that if I was out unexpectedly, I had to throw together something that was either busy work, not quite on topic or something that was redundant of what we had already done.  Why? Because the learning would stop if I wasn't there.  If I was the source of the learning, how would it happen if I wasn't there?

That isn't the case anymore and I am so thankful that is the case.  Now that my class is student run for the most part, learning happens whether I am there or not.

Having an LMS where all of our materials (blog questions, calendar, flipped videos, assignments, quizzes, etc) are housed, online formative assessments like Quizlet, Kahoot or Socrative, Bell Ringers that are on Google Forms and Tickets Out that are either on Google Forms or in Schoology allows the students to continue the learning even if I am not there.

The other avenue that makes this helpful is that I can monitor what they are doing even though I am not physically in the classroom.  I am able to do this through Schoology, Google Docs,  EdPuzzle and Kahoot.  (They aren't particularly happy that I am micromanaging when I am not there, but understand why I like to keep tabs on their productivity and learning).

Gone are the days when I had to worry that me being sick would interrupt the learning.  For that, I am thankful.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

5 Things We Need to Quit Pretending

Last week @DavidJHuber challenged me to create a list of 5 things we need to quit pretending. I was intrigued about what I would write about and needed to give it some thought.  This weekend, after traveling to Buffalo and having 6+ hours of podcast listening, I decided what my 5 would be.

We need to stop pretending:
1. We are meeting our students' needs.  We do a really good job of giving lip service to doing this.  We know the buzzwords, we know what to say if our administrators ask, but are we really doing all we can do? I don't think so.  Do we have a mix on online and face to face classes? Do we offer staggered start times for those teenagers that just don't function at 7:30AM?  Do we allow for assignment submission beyond our 40 minutes?  Do we extend the learning of our classroom beyond 40 minutes? Do we ask questions that tap into the passions of our students?  Do we know our student's passions??  Do we allow for both paper and virutal submissions?  Do we encourage BYOD? Do we offer platform choice?  Do we give projects that require true collaboration?  Do we offer recipes or projects?  Are we offering MOOCs or online courses that are outside what we can teach in our classrooms (think Russian, Arabic, coding, etc) I could keep going, but you get the drift!

2. We are tapping into #stuvoice. Have we asked our students to reflect on their learning in our class, encouraged them to share with us and then actually used that reflection to make meaningful change in our classroom?  Most teachers plan out class and lessons never giving one second to student voice and then wonder why there is push back or why they are constantly acting up and then off task.  Not only will asking for feedback from students give them a sense of empowerment, but it will help them invest more in class.  The trick is after you ask for it, you have to USE the feedback!

3. We walk the walk. If you are reading this, you are a connected educator, but according to one of the #edtechchat podcasts I listened to this weekend, there are over 7 million educators in this country and only about 400,000 of them are connected.  Does it mean you aren't learning if you aren't connected? No, but you are severely limiting your learning if you are not connected.  Are you modeling your learning for your students?  Are you taking what you learn back to class the next day?  Are you truly the life long learner that we are, in theory, supposed to be encouraging our students to be?

4. We are engaged students. You've been there.  Many are still there.  Rolling eyes at meetings, not doing what is asked of them, submitting paperwork and information past the deadline.  There might be nothing that irks me more than a teacher exhibiting behavior that they would never accept from their students.  Now, this might be a product of the type of meetings we are attending, but we are professionals.  We need to remember that if we want to be treated like professionals, we must act like one.

5. We are meeting the needs of our teachers.  Are we offering organic PD that stems from teacher passion?  Are we encouraging and providing an environment where self-directed PD is valued?  Are we devoting time to all skill levels?  Are we providing PD that is meaningful and differentiated?  Are we using sit and get to learn how differentiated, engaging instruction needs to be how we reach the students?  Are we encouraging risk taking and then allowing the teachers to model that for the students?  Are we encouraging outside the box thinking?  Are we excited for teachers of all skill levels when they master a new skill, add a new tool that moves them up the SAMR model?

I'm not trying to inply that we are failing all of our students and all of our teachers, but I feel like if there's more that we can be doing to reach more students and teachers, then we NEED to do that!

I challenge:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Where Being Connected Got Me

Today was one of those days that I knew would be a blur.  More so than most days.  But it was totally worth it!

I have been a connected educator for only about 3 years (2 on Twitter) so you would definitely call me a newbie.  But I learn fast and I'm so engrossed in learning that it has become an addiction for me. (See prior blogpost )  

I happened to mention to a couple people today what my day was like and to a tee, they commented that it was a ridiculous day, life is too short and it isn't worth it.  I, however, didn't look at it that way.  I looked at the opportunities I was afforded today because of me being a connected educator.

My day started off with what was supposed to be a 30 minute presentation that turned into an hour and fifteen minutes (oops) of sharing my #digcit course with local principals, directors and teachers.  Apparently I can talk a lot about things that I am passionate about. :)  Out of this is coming several days to work with my colleagues from the region to help implement a #digcit course.

I had the opportunity to have two of my current AP Gov students give the tour of AP Gov to the students coming in next year.  The first part of the conversation centered around the fact that this class was like no other class they were going to take in high school and that I was more connected to the technology and what is going on in education than most other teachers. (Coming out of the mouths of the students, when I had no prior knowledge of what they were going to say, that was heartwarming to say the least).

Next, I did what was supposed to be a 20 minute interview with a former student for her grad class project that turned into a two hour conversation about how we are meeting the needs of our students in this day and age.

Next, I have been afforded an amazing opportunity and that is to be part of the EdChat radio show, which is a continuation of the conversation from last night's #edchat about how meetings are used and how we could be using them for PD.

After that, I am again graced with the awesome opportunity to help moderate #edtechbridge.  This is one of my favorite chats because I am a teacher and a tech integrator and it is a gathering of both sides of the edtech world and I am always grateful for the collaborative time and the connections made in the chat.

Every single one of these events today is possible because I chose to become a connected educator.  I am invigorated by every one of these conversations and opportunities.  I wouldn't have it any other way.  I am a better person, educator and community member because of my choice to become a connected educator.

So to get back to my colleagues, it was (is) hectic, life is short and that is why this is TOTALLY worth it!

As an update to this post:
On Saturday, April 25th, I followed 3 edcamps at the same time.  One of them led to a Go To Meeting that allowed me to not only hear a session I was interested in, but also to take part in it!  Additionally, I was mentioned by a keynote speaker as how being connected can lead to learning and networking!

More updates:
I have helped to organize 3 EdCamps, been in contact with so many great vendors!
I am now a Beta tester for 5 edtech companies.
I was in a chat with @arneduncan during #edtechchat and was QT by him!
I was able to contact the author of book I was reading and ask a question.
I was able to do a GHO with a tech company in real time when having a problem.
I found out today (10/28/15) that I was chosen as a Schoology Ambassador for 15-16.  I am beyond excited about the opportunity this presents me with.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

I Used to be Sitting in Seat 17D

This past vacation, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit the Sunshine State.  As I was heading home, I was graced with an empty seat next to me for the 2 hour flight to Newark.  Or so I thought. At the last minute, a passenger came onto the plane and their seat was the empty one I had been coveting.  I moved over from 17D (their seat) to 17C (my seat) and opened the Nook app on my phone.

Let me give you some background.  Small talk is something that is not among my skillset.  There is one word that sums it up for me and it is AWKWARD! I avoid it like the plague. Except this time, I am grateful I was engaged by my seat mate.

I am going to use s/he to describe the person so that their identity cannot be inferred.

S/he noticed I was opening a book entitled What Connected Educators Do Differently by @toddwhittaker, @jeff_zoul and @casas_jimmy.  S/he asked me if I was an educator. I said a curt yes, hoping that would end what would, based on my experience, be a painful exchange of small talk.  S/he said that they, too, were a teacher.  S/he said they taught social studies in a suburban high school. I'm thinking to myself this is way too coincidental, since I, too, teach social studies at the high school level.  I asked if they had a good break (s/he had a tan, so I inferred they were on vacation), and were looking forward to getting back to school?  When the answer came out of her/his mouth, I knew this was what some would call divine intervention.

They stated that going back to work was just about the last thing they wanted at this point.  I took a deep breath and asked why that was, if they didn't mind me asking. S/he said "I've been teaching for 20 years and I've had it.  I hate getting up in the morning, I love the kids, but hate my job".

I said, "I hear you".  "I've been there".

S/he looked surprised that I said that.  I looked young and how could I feel that already.  I said, "I've been teaching for 19 years and two years ago, I was returning back from Spring Break and I was in the same place you currently are".

I knew I had her/him when I said that.  They asked what changed for me.  I simply said "I started learning again."

I then launched into how I was ready to give up the career I had chosen.  I was having a particularly rough year and was wondering how on earth I was going to make it through the next three months, let alone the next 15 years.  It just so happened that the next week I went to a conference (last minute decision, by the way) in Syracuse that featured @e_sheninger and his book Digital Leadership.  At that conference, it was if the light bulb went off.  He said so many things that resonated with me that I couldn't stop nodding in agreement and taking notes.  He had QR codes for all of us to be able to use as takeaways so that I could reference everything later, and boy did I.

I sat and digested that material several times before I went to my principal with a few ideas about how I wanted to radically change the way I was doing things.  I had heard about flipping a class, but didn't really know what that meant until I started to research it.  I hadn't had the courage to step outside my comfort zone to learn the technology that would cause me to not only learn but teach to the students. I was 40.. do 40 year olds learn new technology I thought to myself?

As I reread his book for the 3rd time, I decided to take the leap and create a Twitter account. I wasn't really sure what I was going to do once I got on it, but knew that Eric had praised its ability to connect educators all over the world.  I haven't looked back since.

I've participated in at least 4 chats each week since then, connected with educators and other professionals all over the world and then taken those connections back to my classroom.  There hasn't been one chat that hasn't led to a different technique in class or change in my thought process the very next day.  There have even been a few days that I've been participating in #BFC530 (Breakfast Club 530 where we discuss one question for a quick 15 minutes to get our day off on a learning note) and then included that in class 2 hours later.

I designed a Digital Citizenship course (#digcit) that requires me to stay technologically relevant and to lean on my PLN (Professional Learning Network) for assistance.  Speaking of which, @mbfxc has been an amazing way to connect my #digcit course with her college #digcit students in so many ways. It has allowed us to be part of the Global Cyberbullying Prevention Campaign amongst other things.

I flipped my AP Gov class, and although there was a learning curve, I will never go back to traditional lecturing.

I have gone paperless in 3 of my 5 classes.

I've completed, and won, grants to get 2 carts of Chromebooks for our building.  One of them is stationed in my room and it is in use for all 5 of my classes.  We are now able to do things in our classes that before my paradigm shift would not have been possible.

Nothing that my students hand in, dies with me.  I tweet out or post in my blog examples of student work from all of my classes.

Here are two examples:
Student created WWII History Museum Walk:
Using @padlet in US History

Did I mention I am blogging? Who would have thought I would cherish the time I can put into blogging!

I've attended #edcamps.  On average 1 a month.

I've taken veteran teachers, administrators, board members and preservice teachers to #edcamps.

I've facilitated at 3 #edcamps and at ConnectED in March of this year.

I've co-moderated a Twitter Chat (#edtechbridge) and moderated #bfc530 several times.

I've submitted ideas for #BFC530 chats and moderated many times!

I've been devouring pedagogy and edtech books like there is no tomorrow.

I've collaborated with colleagues around the country on many of the classes I am teaching.

I've become the Tech Integrator for the HS.

I've been named Teacher of the Month for our district.

And the most important part..
I'm smiling at work again. I LOVE what I do again. It's not my job, it's who I am.  My students often remark that I smile and laugh more than anyone they know and definitely more than any other teacher.  When they ask how I can be happy so often, I simply say I started learning again.

Before I knew it, our 2 hours were up and we landed in Newark.  I apologized to my seat mate for taking up two hours of their time.  They responded by saying "When I grow up I want to be just like you.  You've inspired me to find the person who was so eager to get into teaching in the first place.  If you can do it, so can I."

When we got in the terminal, s/he said can I hug you? I feel like you and I were put on that plane together for a reason.  That wasn't even my original flight. Mine got canceled and I was put on your flight at the last minute.

After we hugged and parted ways, I just smiled.  I used to be in seat 17D, but let me tell you, seat 17C is  such a better place.  Now I think about the 13 years that (in theory) I have left until I retire and wonder how am I ever going to get everything done that I want to get done!!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Ss Created WWII History Walk

It was nearing the end of our study of WWII and I was wondering how my students could best show what they learned and also have them be content creators.  After mulling over many different options, I determined that creating an @aurasma history walk would do the trick.

There were two essential questions I wanted the students to address:

1. Was the cost of entering the war in Europe, worth it for the US?
2. Should we have dropped the bombs on Japan?

The students were assigned a side and given the directions to the project in a Google Doc so they could reference it from home as well.

Here are snipits from the rubric:
1. You chose a trigger picture that is of high quality and is emblematic of your given assignment.
2. It is clear that you used critical thinking when choosing this overlay because it is clear evidence to support your assignment.
3. Your overlay is quality evidence that your peers will be able to utilize in their decision about the essential questions.
4. Your POV paragraph contains three pieces of evidence to back up your opinion.

The students were to find their own video link or create their own to overlay on a picture they chose as a trigger.  Both must be quality evidence for the side of the question they were given.  They had to keep their audience in mind as well.  They needed to make sure the evidence was helpful and meaningful to their classmates as they walked through the WWII History Walk.

The engagment level of this project was 100% at all points.  They were excited to learn the process of creating an Aurasma.  They were focused and engaged in deep conversations as they searched for video clips that met the requirements listed above.  After they finished creating the evidence for the history walk we went to the cafeteria to make our museum and the students wanted to help hang up the evidence so we could get started sooner.  They paired up and collected the evidence and then sketched out their POV paragraphs.  Once the finished that process, they went to the @padlet and put their POV paragraphs up so their classmates could see their thoughts and we could also see, based on the evidence, where the class stood on both essential questions.

From a teacher standpoint, I couldn't wait for this class (more than ususal) each day during this project.  I was continually amazed at the conversations and critical thinking showed when looking for videos.

Some of the things I overheard:
"Could you imagine being the government official deciding to send those boys to war?"
"I don't think I could have been that pilot to drop the bombs.  It changed history and the lives of so many"
"We needed to go to war in Europe.  They were our allies, they needed us"
"We should avoid war at all costs. It doesn't matter if they were our allies, war doesn't solve anything"
"We have the UN now.  We need that more than ever now. If it meant we had to go to war to get it, so be it"
"I have to find a better video clip. I don't want mine to be the weakest evidence!"

Not only were they engaged, they were able to show what they learned, create content, have meaningful conversations, and curate a collection of evidence that will allow them to reference it later when studying for the NYS Regent's Exam.

Here is the link to the @padlet with their POV paragraphs:

If you have questions, you can find me at @apgovme