Friday, March 27, 2015

The @BlackboardK12 BITS Learning Sessions #27 #BbK12Live

The @BlackboardK12 BITS Learning Sessions #27 #BbK12Live

I've partnered with BlackboardK12 to share out the awesome sessions they are having this Fall. Educators can sign up to attend and share with other great educators what they have learned. I'll featurae the session and the description on my blog each week and on my Twitter account. If you have questions, feel free to shoot a tweet to @BlackboardK12. Have fun learning and sharing!

Kicking Down the Doors of Online Learning: Collaboration Among Teachers

When teachers teach, Collaboration between teachers is by far the best way to make sure that students are receiving the best possible instruction. This collaboration is Two fold. Teachers and Teachers leaders should not only be sharing their best practices in online learning but they should be giving away the best WAYS to share online in online teaching communities. Teachers need to kick down the doors of online education classrooms. Amazing things are happening in classrooms all over the internet, and its time to pull back the curtains and give away the secrets. However, its not enough to just give away whats going on in the online classroom--we need to also shed some light on the best ways to share those secrets. By using online communities and e-learning communities teachers can find new ways to reach students. In this presentation, I will use examples from the medical model (the ways that physicians look at collaborations) to show how teachers can fully leverage the power of collaboration and teaching.

James Bell, Professional Learning Coordinator/Non Public Division Coordinator

Twitter: @

Monday, March 30, 2015 3:30 PM EST

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Don't forget to check out the Blackboard Live App. It has all of the sessions you might have missed and much much more.
 Here is the playlist where you can watch this recorded session and other sessions you might have missed.

Student Selected Learning Objectives with @PollEverywhere and @PostItProducts

I've been thinking about my learning objectives lately. I'm going for the Highly Effective rating this year for my evaluation. I've been doing very well in many of the categories, but there are some that I still needed to enhance. One of those areas is the role of students in my classroom. I'm a big advocate for student choice (20 Time), but I needed to think of other places I could let students have a voice. Learning objectives seemed like a good place.

Traditionally, I decide the focus of each lesson and unit and how the students are going to approach a certain piece of literature. I post that at the start of class on Evernote and share it with students at the start of class. I feel this is a pretty standard approach to setting up a lesson for many teachers. Having students select the learning objective turned out to be much easier than I thought it would be.

We were starting our Emily Dickinson unit and I wanted my students to do some research on her life. I gave the students 8 parts of her life to explore (Childhood, Education, Religion, Health, Relationships (Family and Social), Adult Life, Writing Career, and Death). Students split these ares up with others at the table and spent the class period doing research. They were to come to class the next day and share their findings. 

On the next day, students were instructed to discuss their findings and decide on what they thought were the 5 most influential events in Emily Dickinson's life. They were to place these 5 events on Post-It Notes provided on their desks. 

The students discussed their research and started to write out their thoughts on the top 5 events. Once they were done, they had to place them on the dry-erase board. I set up the board with 5 slots that matched the color of the Post-It Notes they were given. It was so nice to be able to color code the information using the notes. Also, I got the extra sticky notes, so the notes could be moved around from desk to wall and all over the wall when we organized.

Once all of the ideas are placed on the board, the class looked at them and discussed them all. I moved them around and grouped them based on shared concepts. Next time, I will have students do this part of the process. It was easier for me, but I think it is better if let them do it. Each class had their own ideas and they explained them in different ways. It made for a more interesting class each time for me instead of leading the same discussion multiple times. This really let the students take the lead and that was the whole point of the exercise.

After the organization of ideas, we went to the voting phase of the learning objective. I numbered each concept the students had grouped the ideas into and created a PollEverywhere so students could vote anonymously from their mobile devices. It was a very quick poll and it only took a few minutes at most. The kids loved having the chance to use their mobile device and have a say in how they were going to learn for this unit.

Each class had different ideas and a different discussion. When the dust settled, different classes chose different learning objectives. While some might view that as more work for me to prepare different class discussions for group of students, it really will not be more work. The students are invested in the class discussion because they have ownership of their learning objective. They will be the ones that are going to lead class discussion because they know exactly how they are going to approach the topic because they chose it. I really see this as a great way to get more students involved in class ownership and look forward to trying out in other units.

Tools Used:

Poll Everywhere was a great addition to my classroom. I have used it in sessions at conferences, but I have not really used it in the classroom. It was so easy to set up and I the students loved the quick feedback in class. If you do not have an account, sign up and use it with your students when you need to collect some information. They are also really awesome on Twitter, so give them a shout out if you have any questions about using Poll Everywhere in the classroom.

Post-It Notes have always been a big part of my life. I use them for so many different things, there really isn't time to go over them all. Post-It Notes allowed me to quickly get the information from my students and have them share it with the rest of their table and then place it on the board for easy grouping. The extra sticky notes were perfect and stayed securely to the whiteboard in the back of my room. I think teachers all over use Post-It Notes and there are tons of fun and creative ways to use them in the classroom.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Silent Class Discussion With Google Classroom #EngChat

Last week, I was out a couple of days for the MACUL conference and I was challenged by my principal to make sure that learning still takes place while I am out. I am always up for a challenge, so I spent a couple of weeks trying to think of the best way to make sure my students get the most out of the class time while I was out.

I've used bulletin boards, message boards, and other similar tools with students in the past, but I have never had students have a discussion in class using these tools while I was gone. They have always been used for after school work. My idea was to have a silent class discussion. I'm not sure if others have used this term before or if I made it up, but it was an interesting concept. What if students could engage in a full discussion on a topic using iPads and their own personal devices.

The Set Up:

I wanted students to discuss 4 Emily Dickinson poems. The focus on the poems must start with the learning objective they chose at the start of class (Post coming soon), but then they may go off into other areas if they wanted. I created 4 videos that I recorded by using Google Hangouts On Air. I basically invited myself and recorded me reading Emily Dickinson poems while sharing my screen that displayed the poems.

I uploaded each video as a new announcement with the directions.

The students have 49 minute class periods and that would be plenty of time to ready the poems and comment. I sent a Remind text to them in the morning to remind them to bring headphones. I wanted students to listen to the poems and then comment. I also gave them some areas to consider when discussing the poem. What happened next, blew my mind. 

Silent Class Discussion

I really had no idea what was going to happen with the class discussion. I hoped there would be a nice dialogue about the poem and the students would share a few ideas and move on to the next poem. The picture above shows that there were 55 comments on the first post. I have a class of 31 in that hour. When I went through the post, I was happy to see that everyone had a comment and others had multiple. I was actually able to join the conversation during the opening keynote (Sorry George!) and it was great. 

Olivia, who was an absolute rock star while I was gone, responded to my comment earlier in the post and it was as if I was in the class. The posts were filled with such great comments and everyone bounced back and forth with their thoughts on the different poems presented to them. There was a point where I wondered if I was holding students back in class when I'm in the room. Was I holding students back in class? Am I too involved in class discussion?

Another thing that was cool to watch unfold without any suggestion from me was how the students communicated and responded to one another. To make sure everyone knew who they were responding to, the students used @ and the student's name. It would be great if Classroom allowed users to tag others like you can in Facebook, but this method started by the students worked very well. I followed their lead and communicated to students that way when I responded to their questions. These were comments for the first question. I figured things would wind down near the end of class as students wrapped up the discussion. I was way wrong.

The exact time stamps are now gone, but Mary Kate was responding to a previous comment asking about her thoughts on what fire represents. The thing with Mary Kate's last comment is that it took place 20 minutes after my class ended. She was in her next period responding to a comment that was left on 5 minutes before hers. That means the other student was commenting in their next hour. It was amazing! (I do not condone students doing my work in other classes, but it was pretty awesome to see how engaged their were in the discussion.) The conversation was so engaging that students felt the need to finish their thoughts and it did not matter that they were no longer in my class.

The other thing that stands out about this 4th question is the fact that there were over 80 comments on the 4th question. When students might have decided to slow down as the end of class approached, they provided the most feedback on this poem than any of the others. Students were quoting lines from the poem, using facts from websites, and even providing varying definitions to words to support their points. It was so great to see the kids invested in the discussion.

Final Thoughts:

This worked out in the best way possible. The next time I am out of the classroom, I will be using this. I'm annoyed I have not used this earlier in the year. There are still some major steps that Google needs to take with Classroom before it can become an integrated part of my class every day, but this experiment showed me a way to get the most out of it for now.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge #SciChat

I'm excited to share with you the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. This is an amazing science competition for middle school students that targets them in the years, that research indicates, their interest in science begins to fade. The competition encourages students to explore scientific concepts and apply them to everyday life and share their work in creative ways. The winner of the contest will be selected from grades 5-8 from across the country and they will receive $25,000 prize and the title of "America's Top Young Scientist".

2014 Winner Sahil Doshi 
The part of this competition that is really different is that the finalists will be paired with a 3M scientist mentor that will help the students create an innovation that will be presented to judges at the final competition at the 3M Innovation Center in October. It is such a great opportunity for students to work with scientists and explore the world of science and innovation with a great guide. I always believe that it is great to connect students with mentors that can model the skills the students need to acquire. This is a cool addition by 3M to really separate this competition from others out there. 

2014 Finalists
Past Challenge winners have gone on to speak in front of members of Congress, work with the nation's top scientists, participate in the White House Science Fair, meet the President and pursue academic careers in the sciences. These are really great experiences for young students to have that will continue to support their interest in the sciences. We want our students to explore the "real world" and I think Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge is a great chance for students to do things they would otherwise not be able to experience. 

Entering the competition is very simple. For students, they need to create a 1-2 minute video sharing the science behind a possible solution to an everyday problem. Once they create their video, the students will then go to and submit their idea. Entries are being accepted now through April 21, 2015. 

Competition Timeline

April 21st – Video Entry Deadline (need to stress this deadline) - Middle school students are asked to create a one to two-minute video communicating the science behind a possible solution for an everyday problem.

June/July - Ten finalists will be announced and have an exclusive opportunity to work directly with a 3M scientist during a summer mentorship program, during which they were challenged to create an innovation which solves a problem in society. State Merit Winners are also announced at this time. 

October: Finalists will demonstrate their scientific innovation and creativity in a series of challenges at the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, MN. 

More information on the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Twitter: @DE3MYSC 

3M - a science-based company with a culture of creative collaboration that inspires powerful technologies, making life better.

Discovery Education - the leading provider of curriculum-based digital content.

This is a sponsored post, but that doesn't make this any less of an awesome opportunity for students to explore the amazing world of science!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Week 25 #NerdyCast Reflections - Punched in the Face

This week was a fun and busy week. I didn't even touch on Parent Teacher conferences because of the other cool things that were happening. I broke up a fight, went to my state conference, and my class had the best discussion of the year and I wasn't there. I really need to sit and think about the way I run class discussion. I have always let the kids take the lead, but I guess I need to do even more of it based on how the students responded to using Google Classroom while I was out. Any stories on how you run class discussion would be appreciated as I rethink my practice.