Thursday, September 18, 2014

School Year Start Up: How to Get Through It

School Year Start Up: How to Get Through Why does the beginning of the year fly by? I wouldn't always say it is because we are having fun...yet I wouldn't always say it is because we aren't having fun either. Oh "school year start up", how we dread you as you approach, how we don't sleep well the night before, and how we feel so exhausted after you happen. Some things never seem to change. I can be over-prepared to the point of having the first month completely planned, or wing it for the first two weeks, it doesn't matter. I seem to hit a wall at some point anyway. Here is the wall: exhaustion! 

Exhaustion not from the students themselves, they are usually still pretty happy to be at school and are not complaining too much at this point, but exhaustion from being torn in fifty directions. I live in a rural community and my family is involved in agriculture. As you can imagine, life in my house from the months of August-November are just insanely busy. My husband is extremely busy and I end up running my household as almost a single parent during these months. I'm sure you can imagine (if you don't have children) just how fun and simple that would be (those of you who do can likely relate well). But looking back I do recall school start up to be a thorn in my side from teaching year one. As I am entering my 8th year of teaching I hate to admit out loud but it isn't getting any easier (sorry new teachers, it's the truth). 
The question then becomes how the heck can we fix this? How can we manage work, kids (if applicable), house, lawn, personal maintenance, exercise and general health? Oh the answer is easy, quit! Ok, just kidding (sort of). A person needs to really get a handle on the things that matter the most. Does tomorrow's laundry need to be done? Yes. Does getting a turkey for thanksgiving need to be done in September? No. Do you need to feed yourself (and family or kids) a healthy meal every single day? It would be nice to be healthy every day but the reality is "lets just eat food" most days.
To summarize, pick you battles. Choose where you attention really needs to be that day and what matters the most right now. The rest will fall into place. Let's face it, we can all multi-task when we need to and as we need to, the things on our list will get done. Put your feet up tonight because school start up days are winding down and it is time to settle in for the long haul. Enjoy your night 

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

My life has changed....Google Docs are GENIUS

I have been using Google Docs for years...I obviously have not been using them to their full potential! Wow. It is funny how you can miss things that are right under your nose. 

Google Docs 
You can research the words you write by clicking on the tools menu and choosing research. You can then cite your source! And choose the format for citing. OH MY GOSH!  GENIUS! My students will LOVE me again! 

This begs a bigger question....what ELSE do I not know about Google Docs? 

SHARE IT WITH ME by Commenting on this post!! 

Technology and Revival iTSummit14 -Keynote Day2

Technology and Revival 

R.Hurley iT Summit - Keynote Day 2 - May 6/14

What really matters is the nature of conversations. What types of conversations are you having in your staff room? People need to focus on positive things, and find common ground. That is how revival will happen.

Find the fun.
If you didn't think you need fun, then you definitely NEED fun!
Use your imagination. We always remember the teachers from our own years in school, who had fun. We need to inspire kids with our joy.

If school is predictable, then it CAN be boring. If we change things, it CAN be different. It can be better and more inspiring.

Neat Video
LEARN by Rick Mereki on Vimeo 
Learning comes from risk taking
You don't need to be in a school to learn
Powerful learning can be from doing something physical
Self-direction and authenticity

GENIUS - Google Search
filetype: ppt 
All results will be a powerpoint
filetype: pdf
All results will be a pdf

If you think about the moments of learning you remember. What was happening? Change the way you are teaching. Instead of 'more time', we need more 'good' time.

Caine's Arcade 
A cardboard arcade made by a 9 year old boy.
Try the cool ideas. Get in the space and try it!

Every teacher should do one good PR assignment for your school each year. When kids have an audience for their work, they do better. Have them get into their community and make a difference, and reach their potential.

Will Richardson - Book:Why School?

My Name is Michael - Video about a child with Autism - from his perspective. Inspiring, touching.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Discovery Education Notes/Ideas - Good to know...

Dean Shareski - DEN Presentation - iT Summit 2014 - May 5

Planet Earth, North America, Life, Frozen Planet - All parts of Discovery
All of these are aligned to Saskatchewan Curriculum. The content is in your service the next day after it airs on Discovery Channel.
3 Ideas: Great Instruction, Students, Community 

Wealth of information on
Curriculum Standards Search. Choose Saskatchewan, and then search subject areas and they will show you the aligned resources/media to the specific indicators! Awesome!
Not all resources will work in every classroom, but it allows you to see things that COULD work for you, and don't limit you. Add to your "My Content" folder.
H.264 300K - Download videos on this setting so that it will play on any device! Good to know!
Teacher Centre - Interactive Atlas - Turning content into interactive media. You can hover over any area (ie Saskatchewan), click the province/territory and videos will pop up about that area.
SOS - Spotlight on Strategies 
Move past just watching a video. Try to engage students and take that video watching further. A-E-I-O-U weekly digital media strategy. DEN blog - Educator Network

Differentiated Instruction You can assign videos to specific students in your class. When the student logs in, they can see the "assignment" you have given them (such as watching a video, doing an activity, etc.)
My DE for Students aka. The Student Center
Put some ownership on students to help find resources for the concept you are learning.
K-8 Science replacement for a textbook.  - maps out a lesson, gives the objectives under the model lesson.
Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate tabs
Students can have access as well as the teacher.  It is designed to work for both teachers and for students, no matter how your classroom is set up; whether you want to stand and teach or have kids take the learning into their own hands. The lesson/notes can even be read aloud!
- can do a free trial for 30 days. Can buy it after.

Builder Tools
Board Builder - Mix between Pinterest and Glogster. Add notes and videos. You can have students make their own or you make the board. Make sure it gets shared - and give feedback.
SHARE!!!! Build a community on Discovery Education. Share with the DE Community.
Discover Education - Educator Network
Creates a large impact when you engage on Professional Learning Communities 

Get Interested!!! iTSummit14 R.Hurley-Keynote May 5

R. Hurley - Keynote iT Summit 2014 - May 5

Don't let the steps stop you from following and finding the broader process. Everyone likes to follow steps with tools but it doesn't help students.

Audacity Ideas - From
Podcasts for teaching persuasive writing- creating 'hot topic' radio style talk shows
Audacity-fractured fairy tales picture book. Record voice parts and change for each character. Use PowerPoint to display.
Made news articles about Macbeth/R+J/Hamlet
Used audacity for Foley recording (record sound effects for video production)
Soundation is free online software where students can create their own songs. We then imported the songs into audacity
I have been using Mobile devices to collect sound files with the kids. Then editing using audacity.
Storyrobe is a great app for using audio with a digital photo story.
Use Audacity to record a seasonal poem or song and add sound effects for interest. 
Ex. "'Twas the Night Before Christmas"
Audacity linked to Inspiration webs
Radio Advertisements

Not always wanting to hear the 'right' answer, make sure students are given the chance to share without consequence and keep them asking questions to be engaged, and not worried about other students' reactions.
Images are a way to connect without words. Show them INTERESTING things to think about - i.e. bicycle herding camels. It is as simple as choosing a topic like bicycles and finding neat/unique images to create a neat dialogue.
Find legal images:
Cite sources with images as well as their information
From Today's Meet Participants: 
Key concepts of intellectual property:
Grabbing copyright friendly 
Fair Dealing for media education:

VERY COOL--call to record - the kids can enter their phone number, it calls them and they can record their voice through their phone
"Narrable ... to engage students and to draw out important higher order thinking skills." It's not the tool, it's the application.-Alan Stange(from today's meet)
ex: voiceover of sports commentating, kidsnippits, record a conversation from a photo of historical figures in a meeting possibly discussing world decision (ex: Winston Churchill, Stalin, etc), narrate students critiques, "Bad lip reading" - watch this video later! a sample of bad lip reading videos! Very entertaining!
Teachers want the video to be good, but students want it to be "good enough". If you tell them that others will be watching it (audience), then students typically put in more effort.
Give them a 45 second time limit. If they want more, tell them to show you the script. Up it to a minute and a half. Go from there.
Implementing a Video Project
-time frame
-poster option (they won't want to)
-time limits
-other rules (no violence!)
Fostering Quality
-Look at other student projects ex) No matter what your project is about, show them some other student examples and they will know what they like and what they don't like (strengths and areas for improvement) - how can these things be fixed - different approaches

"Am I done yet?" - want to hear "How can I make it better?" Make it a contest!!!Send feeback to the students

Great presentation - lots to learn no matter how long you've been teaching, what you teach, how old you are, how young you are, or a number of other factors. Keep trying new things!!!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

WHY do we need balance?

At least once a year I find myself writing about balance. Of course that doesn't mean I only feel the need to talk about it once because it only bothers me once a year. No, no. In fact, I find balance to be an ongoing struggle in my life (as it is with most people). I tend to have to stop what I'm overloaded with, just to write this post! I have previously written about HOW to balance your life, but what I'd like to talk about now is WHY you should balance your life. 
I've been through a lot personally in the last 6 months. I've had a couple of extreme heartbreaks and changes in my life and have had to adapt my life from those events. When faced with a death of a loved one for example, your life changes very drastically. Many times people struggle to find balance again after what they've just experienced. You would have shifted your priorities to the situation you were dealing with, and then suddenly it is over, and it's the aftermath you need to deal with now. How to do that is very much a personal answer and I would not assume I know how any one person would handle it. I told myself that if I let myself go, that I would never get out of bed. So, I pushed forward. COMMUNICATION is a big part of finding balance. I created time for things I enjoyed, I did some of those things, and most importantly I asked for help when I needed it. If I needed a night out, an evening of silence, a day of distraction, I asked for it. The reason is WHY. Why I needed to do those things was because again, if I let myself fall apart too drastically, I would have trouble coming back from it. I would miss any lesson that life was intending to give me and I would lose more than I could get back. Everyone needs to understand and acknowledge their limits, and finding balance is critical to that. I say critical because when you get overloaded with work, family, relationships, extra-curricular/hobbies, friends, or whatever it may be, it becomes a critical situation for people without even knowing it. Let me explain myself. I am feeling overwhelmed right now. I am coaching drama, am the yearbook advisor, grad advisor, and am a teacher helper for our Jr. Baker program. This is all in addition to report cards coming out on Friday, starting to teach Shakespeare in my ELA courses (which is always crazy busy), prepping for my 24 curriculum's that I am teaching this year, AND I have a husband and a 1 year old at home. This leaves NO TIME for myself. 
This is the WHY! 
This is why I need to balance. A person will start to feel like they are losing their minds if they don't get enough sleep, relaxation, and balance. If you're busy, you don't get those things and immediately you start to feel anxious, worried, nervous, frustrated, impatient and feel as though you are starting to spin out of control. For your health, if not for all the other people who love you in your life, should you try your best to cut back on things of less importance and re-arrange your priorities to allow yourself some more time for you, and for your loved ones. Work is important, and so is being helpful, but in the end all that matters is who you spend your time with and how fulfilled your life is with love. 
I finished my report cards today (a day early), now I cut back my drama practices (to give myself and my students more time off), and I am picking up my little boy early from daycare so we can spend time together. You just need to make a choice to be happy, balanced, and make it all work for you. Do it, people will understand because you know what? Everyone has this problem, everyone gets that it is important to balance your life, and everyone knows WHY it is important. Better physical health and mental health equals increased productivity and a better work environment. Things from other areas of your life tend to seep into each other so do it for you, do it for them, do it for always. 
Happy Balancing! 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Smiling and Education

When I started my career, it was very clear to me why I wanted to be a teacher. I really enjoyed showing people how to complete things, and loved to see the joy on their faces when they "got it" or when they completed a goal, whether that goal was a shop project, an essay 'finally', or just a concept that they had been having difficulty with. Above all else, I am a social person and truly found that getting to know the kids and seeing them everyday was the BEST part of my job.
You probably think I am leading up to saying something like, "it is not like that for me anymore". But you would be wrong. It IS like that for me, every day. Obviously it goes without saying that if it weren't for the kids, I wouldn't have a job. But it also should go without saying that it is the kids that can help make or break a teacher (in part). I have been fortunate enough to have been in 3 great schools and feel like I have seen some ups and downs but for the most part I can say that I still love the work I do. 

Things start to get a bit irritating when I start to think or focus on the more difficult parts of my job, and that being the curriculum and some of the mandates that have come down on teachers lately. I am not saying kids are perfect 100% of the time, by far they are not, but that should be an expected understanding when you are a teacher. They have bad days (or weeks!), and so do I. It is being a problem-solver and knowing when to pick your battles that helps to work through those times. Back to my concern of mandates and teacher expectations, I foresee many teachers jumping ship into different career paths, and sooner than they should if they are new teachers, because of what is happening in the teaching profession. The unrealistic expectations being placed on teachers some days is really overwhelming for someone like me who has been teaching for 7 years, let alone a brand new teacher who has a new curriculum that doesn't have resources yet! How can you teach from a curriculum with no textbooks, or resources besides a list of 50 websites to sift through? Who has time for that? I sure don't! I can only imagine a new teacher who has just finished university, ready to take on the task at hand and feeling very incompetent because of the lack of support and/or resources to teach from. I sound like I am being harsh but I'm scared. I am worried and scared for my colleagues and myself. I am worried and scared for the kids we are teaching. What would happen if we said no? Of course most of us would never dream of doing that, but the question is there - what
if? I can be a "debbie downer" (wah wah) and I know others can too, but I'm trying to say that how that can make you feel, isn't healthy. There can be a better way if you try. You can be scared, it is allowed. It is all in how you deal with that fear or anxiety or frustration, that is all your choice. And I'm telling you to choose happiness. 

Let me stay positive, because the last 6 months of my life has taught me a few things. What I've learned is that you need to take situations and change in stride. It can be the single most difficult thing when that change is unexpected, painful, annoying, challenging, confusing, frustrating or sad, but IF you don't take it all in stride, IF you don't choose to fight every battle, IF you choose to let it make your mood swing deeply one way or the other, you WILL sink. And sinking can be hard to deal with. The range of emotions that change brings in one's life is astounding, and when you're faced with daily issues in your work, it compounds on you often and easily transfers those bad emotions into the other aspects of your life such as your family, friends, recreation/hobbies and to your soul. Don't let it be you.
I will say something in closing that I'm sure you teachers can understand, and those of you that aren't teachers would probably be able to relate to in some fashion:
I am making a choice, daily, to come to school and be the best I can for the kids I see. I am making a choice to smile, to try and keep those kids smiling, and to encourage happiness in my classroom. I will not let "the man" get me down, although I will admit I have bad days like anyone about what's happening around me in education. I live for these kids in my job. I truly love seeing them and enjoy having conversations with them; they are like my own kids, or my own family. In a small school the culture is everything, and if I let things sink in too deep, I will drown. And you know what? You know who I am taking with me? Everyone who is in my life and everyone I see in a day, including those kids. Sounds like a lot of pressure; to keep everyone else from sinking. It really isn't when you think about it; do you care? If you do, you will keep smiling for yourself, and for your circle. I think I will teach a little longer this way.... 

"Start every day off with a smile, and get it over with" - W.C. Fields

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Creative Writing with Rory's Story Cubes

A Creative Writing Activity
I just used Rory's Story Cubes with my grade 12 students in ELA today. They are always complaining we have so much boring work, and they never get to do any fun things in class anymore including just writing. So, I was in Indigo last week and I came upon this little game called Rory's Story Cubes. Basically it is a little box that contains 9 cubes (die), and you roll them all. Each cube has a image on it and the random 9 things that are face up, you write a story linking all 9 together beginning with Once Upon A Time...
There are a few variations to the game and how you can play it. You can use it to create superheros, you can use it in groups of 3 and have them write a story together, or you can do it this way. I'm sure there are plenty more ways but these are 3 that are on their website. I love this game because it is not just for little kids, it can be used for older students as well. It spices up my classroom and anything that does that, I'm into. Check it out! It was only $10!
Did I mention there is also an APP for this????  - iTunes store!

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Making Connections....huh?

I started watching House of Cards on Netflix last night. I enjoy the fresh perspective given by the main character (who plays a governor in the US) when he looks directly into the camera and talks to the viewer during the show. It really makes connections to the audience (obviously!) when he speaks to you like you are now a part of the program. You become privy to the insider information, you are inside the character's head. Sometimes this makes the show more predictable, other times it shows you just how much you do not know a person. I try to encourage my students to make connections in all areas I teach to my students. Whether it be me telling them the connection ahead of time, or telling them to create connections to their audience in their own writing. 
Students really do struggle a lot of the time with making connections. I find this to be an especially difficult problem in smaller communities. Now don't get me wrong - I LOVE teaching in a small community, I came from one and I went to school in one. But, the problem lies in lack of experience, and lack of knowledge of the outside world. We don't see as many socially or culturally diverse situations in a small community as someone would in a larger one. When (as they say on CHEERS), "everyone knows your name" (and your business usually), it becomes more difficult to have unknown and unexpected experiences. Daily lives are much the same and the students tend to stick to their 'bubble' of friends, hangout spot, activities or lack-of activity, without much change to the schedule. I encourage students to read non-fiction books, to read on the internet and to watch programs on television that isn't Gossip Girl (I know, that is so 5 years ago) or Family Guy. Even if they can make connections with fake characters in a tv show, or connect to a video game, I feel like I have succeeded. Sometimes they need to be pushed. Sometimes it needs to come from home first. If the parents are globally aware (ie watch, listen or read the news daily), or have been fortunate enough to travel, I find the student to be more able to make connections in learning. If the parents are not, then the modelling that should happen to make the student more aware, do not occur as readily/easily. It can happen - the student can be the one watching the news and being aware - but it doesn't happen often if it isn't a priority at home. 
I digress. 
Everyone wants to feel connected in some way, to some thing. HOW to create connections can be extremely difficult. It is difficult to teach, it is difficult to understand and it is difficult to do. I always tell my students to pretend they are talking out loud to their audience in their writing. How would YOU tell someone how YOU felt in that situation? How would YOU explain the hurt/anger/frustration/joy/happiness/wonder/ excitement of that character and/or what you just wrote about? Empathy is almost impossible to teach as a separate or isolated subject because mostly experience can teach you empathy. So when a student needs to put themselves in others' shoes and explain it, confusion typically happens. Do any of my readers have any good suggestions for teaching how to make connections? Let me know!