Saturday, November 27, 2010

EdcampKC Reflection

The following post was written jointly by Britt (5th grade teacher) and Jon (6th grade teacher).

What is an Edcamp?
The current state of professional development in education is stale and lifeless. Teachers dread the ordeal and enter with their brains set to autopilot. Interest is remarkably low and differentiation is rare. Edcamps are different. Using the Edcamp model teachers can take control of their professional learning. For a brief explanation of the Edcamp model please take a moment and read this post from Edutopia - Introduction to Edcamp: A New Conference Model Built on Collaboration.

What did we learn?
The most immediate lesson learned at EdcampKC is that there is a better way to do professional development.  Because of that better way, we learned things that are pertinent to our needs.  

For me - Britt Pumphrey, teaching 5th grade - I learned about some new ways to have my students record their voices.  I plan to use to have students record their thinking.  I love simple voice recording tools because it is the best way I have found to do formative assessments to see what each student has learned.  

My - Jonathan Ferrell, teaching 6th grade - biggest take away was what I learned during the student blogging session. During that presentation teachers shared how they used blogs to enhanced student learning. I was able to glean ideas for my own classroom and make connections with other teachers who are blogging. As a result my students have been able to connect with a classroom in Iowa and share their learning experiences with a broader audience.

Could this work at the district level to breathe life into PD?
Sitting in the Maximizing Your PLN session facilitated by @kevcreutz I learned that professional development can be beneficial even when it’s not something I have a significant need to learn about.  There were some key elements that are often missing in common professional development.  For one, the use of Google Docs with the presence of smart phones and laptops allowed EVERYONE to be involved.  Second, the integration of the Google Doc that had guiding questions for discussion with live, face-to-face discussion made the time more lively and personal.  Third, the use of a Twitter hashtag allows for a global backchannel where people from everywhere can join in on the topic.  

So how can these things help out professional development at a normal school in the Kansas City area?  
  • A backchannel should be standard.  Whether it’s Titan Pad, Google Docs, Wallwisher, Todaysmeet, or Twitter a backchannel is an easy way to document the progress of profession development as well as involve everyone.  The backchannel discussion drives engagement through the roof and provides a richer learning experience.
  • Topics should be pertinent, timely, and hashed out with discussion that is guided by facilitating questions.
  • Teachers must be involved in the planning and preparation. When teachers merely show up and are told where to go and what to do their buy-in is minimal. But, when teachers are active participants and there is a measure of choice as to the topics engagement will increase and learning will take place.

A special thanks to Kyle Pace (@kylepace) for orchestrating EdcampKC. We appreciated being able to join in the event and learn from everyone who attended.

Also, this is the Google Doc where we took notes during the unconference.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Fun Theory

Maybe you have seen these videos, maybe not. I couldn't help but think about the classroom while I watched all four videos at Volkswagon's site. Watch this one;

How have you applied this theory, consciously or otherwise, in the classroom?

How have you applied this theory, consciously or otherwise, in the classroom?

Thanks for sharing.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Class on the News Again

Fortunately this time I was able to avoid the camera. I am loving how much this has meant for my students.

Friday, November 12, 2010

On the News

Check out my 5th grade class on our local news. Monday morning NBC is coming!


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Edmodo in the 6th Grade Classroom

Edmodo is a free social learning tool designed for education. This website provides a platform for  teachers to easily post notes, share links, and host conversations among their students. In my sixth grade classroom we have been using Edmodo extensively throughout the first two months of school.

The students have enjoyed using Edmodo because they can easily interact with each other on the site. I have enjoyed using the tool because my students are engaged with and discussing what we are learning in class. Edmodo provides a private and secure place for these conversations.

The initial learning curve for Edmodo is very low. My students were able to pick up how to use the site and were customizing it to their liking in only a few minutes.

We have used Edmodo a couple of different ways so far this year:
  • Hosting classroom discussions. I will post an initial question and my students will dive into the laptops and hammer out their thoughts. As a student posts a reply it instantly updates on the site. This type of conversation has been effective at eliciting responses from all students.
  • Quick classroom polls. We study five different ancient civilizations in sixth grade and after introducing each civilization the students voted in a poll on Edmodo about which one they were most interested in learning more about.
  • Home to school connection. When students use their out of school time to learn more about the topics we are exploring in class they can use Edmodo to share what they have learned with the other students.
Edmodo is an enjoyable and effective educational tool that enhances learning in my classroom. To learn more about Edmodo I would encourage you to follow them on Twitter and subscribe to their blog.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

ICDL and Kidblog

This week I came across the International Children's Digital Library (ICDL) while looking for ebooks for our iPod Touches. We used it this week when we were working with some students on the different ways to read a book. You can, of course, read the words. But it is also important to remember that you can read the pictures. Using this site, each student told the story by only looking at the pictures (the text was in Farsi) and then we compared it to the English. It was a quick activity that helped the students with inferential thinking as well as developing strategies for reading books.

Other uses for ICDL could include having students actually write the story by only looking at the pictures. Students could also record their reading as well as their thinking using Audacity or any other recording application as they read one of the many online books. The site is also a good general resource for multicultural books for any level of classroom.
I am excited about Kid Blog for a lot of reasons. After just one week in school, I am most excited about the fact that I can moderate student comments and posts from an iPod touch while they are working. I am going to use some posts to simply have students record their learning from an activity or week at school by having them leave comments and then respond to each other. The fact that I can moderate their comments immediately - and before any other students see the comments - is what is so intriguing. It is also nice that students don't have to have email addresses and I can manage the private vs. public visibility of each blog. Also, as I was circulating from student to student, I was able to check in on the progress of every student by accessing their drafts. As they were typing their blogs, Kid Blog was automatically saving their drafts for moderation, this allowed me to keep up on the general progress of the class as well as the progress of the student across the room.

I also could have written about team teaching, iPod touches, Doodle Buddy or Brushes (iPod apps), the Daily 5 for literacy, or about my aching feet and back and my tired eyes. Maybe next time.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Summer Fades

I love summer. The opportunity to have two months to relax, play, and learn is priceless. When I leave school in May my brain and body are exhausted. After a summer of spending time with family, reading books, and playing disc golf I am completely refreshed.

Tuesday afternoon I made the trek down to school to spend some time working in my classroom. It turns out that the sixth grade student orientation was also taking place that afternoon. The opportunity afforded me the chance meet a handful of my students for the upcoming year and start to get to know them. The buzz of excited sixth graders filled the hallways. It was great to be back.

The beginning of a school year reminds me of walking into a bookstore. When I enter a bookstore I am overwhelmed by the potential all around me. Row after row of books filled with knowledge from a vast array of subjects just waiting for me to learn from them. It is overwhelming and awesome. As we embark on a new school year I have a similar feeling. Each student that walks through the door is a unique little human filled with untold potential. I am overwhelmed with the responsibility of leading them well and preparing them for the future. It is an awesome privilege to be entrusted with their well being and given a chance to build a relationship with them.

Summer was great but its time is winding down. I am eager for the school year to begin.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


It has reached the point in summer when I read my teacher friends' statuses on Facebook and wonder if I also should be waking up at midnight because I'm nervous about the coming school year. For me, things are less daunting, the school year is more exciting. This will be only my fourth year teaching, so maybe I'm naive. But I spent my first couple of summers treading in anxiety and I didn't find it helpful. That being said, the recurring dream about showing up to school on the first day and only having enough planned for the first hour or so has come back again.

Like I said, I am excited about this school year. I am excited about my growing professional network via twitter, various blogs, and facebook. I am excited about some added technologies in my classroom - which will make me even more dependent on this new network of educators. I feel like I started by teaching on an island and the bridge to the mainland is nearing completion. Here are the main things I am looking forward to this year, the things I will reflect on here and I will seek your feedback around here and on twitter:

.Developing proficient student bloggers. I have spent a significant amount of my summer personal development researching the available platforms, applications, and variations of student blogging. I hope this tool will help me toward my goal of growing reflective and collaborative learners.

..Team teaching. I am teaming up with another teacher and we're combining our classes for the entire year. 50 students, 2 teachers, so many possibilities. This one scares and excites me. The majority of my professional goals for this year are contingent on the success of this opportunity.

...Literacy block. The new administration at our school has set apart a 3 hour literacy block within our day. This means we're combining reading, writing, and social studies into one fluid block of time. This extra time will allow me to implement some built in choices as well as various structures that research says will help motivate my students. I hope this time will allow my classroom to develop intrinsically motivated learners.

....iPod Touches. A week ago I learned that I will have access to a 1:1 set of iPods. My research has shifted from student blogging to the uses of the Touches. Fortunately, those two tools overlap. This one does not make me anxious at all, but I do want to minimize the trial and error period that comes with new tools.

.....Connecting with other classes. I plan to use wikis, Google Documents, Edmodo, and student blogs, to facilitate collaboration with other classes. This goal will test my professional network and help me meet my goal of having global learners.


These are my main goals for the 2010-2011 school year. A lot of my reflections on this blog will be centered around my attempts to reach them. One more week until students are in front of me.

Monday, August 2, 2010

What I Am Reading - Drive by Dan Pink

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Why I Read It 

The ability to lead and encourage a classroom well is a daunting task. As I enter my fourth year in the classroom, I am struck by how much I still have to learn. I picked up this book with the mindset that it would provide ideas for motivating my students to become independent learners. Last school year I noticed that extrinsic rewards had some accompanying baggage and I wanted to learn more about the science behind motivation.

What He Says 

Daniel Pink's overarching idea is that the current method of motivating people (rewards and punishments) runs counter what research says works best. He says that extrinsic rewards can actually do the opposite of what we intend. Promised incentives for doing something well can stifle the creative process and sap the intrinsic desire to do well. Pink says that basic rewards do have a positive effect with basic systematic processes. But, when creativity and thinking are involved, the motivators cause the subject to narrow their focus and vision. Thus, Pink says that we must alter the current motivational landscape. Instead of using "if-then" rewards we must cultivate the natural intrinsic desire to do well. Autonomy, mastery, and purpose are the three elements that Pink proposes must be nurtured.

How I Plan To Use It
I have often used simple rewards (Jolly Ranchers, new pencils, or extra recess) in the classroom as motivators to improve student performance. Reading this book has caused me to reevaluate these methods. Not only am I potentially stiffling the creative process, I am also creating reward focused students. Instead of cultivating the natural drive we all have to learn and create these rewards discourage them. In the upcoming school year I plan to use fewer tangible rewards and instead look to empower my students through autonomy, mastery, and purpose. 

  • "Autonomy is the desire to be self directed," according to Pink. I plan to foster motivation in my students by giving them more control in the classroom. When choosing writing assignments, selecting books for projects, or making presentations to display their learning, I would like to let my students have a measure of control in what they do. I know that personally I enjoy learning tremendously more when my choices are the driving force behind the learning. Whenever possible I would like my students to take ownership of their learning and explore topics they are passionate about.
  • Pink says that mastery is, "the urge to get better at stuff." Throughout a school year there are countless opportunities to get better at stuff. My plan for fostering mastery is to make learning new concepts and honing important skills a positive experience. By encouraging learning as a fun and exciting adventure, I hope to nurture an environment where each of my students strives to "get better at stuff" each day.

  • This year I will encourage my students to challenge me on the purpose of the activities we do in the classroom. The question, "Why do we need to know this?" will be an essential focus of our classroom. I hope to nurture an environment where my students know why we are doing something and want to partner alongside me toward that goal.

Pink has compiled an assortment of resources to implement the ideas outlined in the book. Not only does he explain why cultivating intrinsically motivated students is better he equips his readers to do just that. While primarily a business book, this is a great read that is practical for educators wanting to learn how to better motivate their students.

Animated Summary of Drive

TED Talk - Dan Pink on the surprising science of motivation

Friday, July 30, 2010

Moving Forward

The following post was written jointly by Britt (5th grade teacher) and Jon (6th grade teacher). This post is in response to Scott McLeod’s Leadership Day 2010 challenge. #leadershipday10

What does it mean to move forward?
Last year I opened up a few lunch periods per week to have kids come into the classroom and learn chess.  Every week they would sit across from their opponents, wait for the first move, and get to hear me say, “Think ahead and never, ever make a move without a purpose.”  Today I ask the same of current school administrators.  If my 5th graders make a move and say, “I have a good reason!  It is the same move I made last game,”  but they ignore their opponents, they will lose.  Unfortunately, much of the leadership in education approaches the more complex task of leading a school or district in a similar way.

In order to be a good leader, one has to be a visionary.  To have a vision for the future requires a knowledge of the past, an awareness of the current, and an educated understanding of what’s next.  So what does it mean to move forward?  Once the vision is realized, forward movement is in the direction of that goal and everything else is unacceptable.  So how can educational leadership fulfill their vision of raising tomorrow’s leaders who are prepared to learn and grow in tomorrow’s world?

Be a learner - read blogs!
School leaders must be knowledgeable about what is happening in the world. To effectively prepare students for the future, one must have a firm grasp on what is happening right now. Blogs written by fellow administrators, professors, teachers, and education technology experts are a good place to start learning. Subscribing to these blogs via Google Reader is a first step in learning about how technology is changing the way our students learn. There is always something new to learn and Google Reader collects this information and packages it into easy-to-digest segments that even the busiest administrator can handle. To learn more watch this explanation of Google Reader created by the folks at Common Craft.
Try - use some of these tools.
Leading by example is an effective method in winning over a reluctant staff. To gain credibility with these new tools it is important to know and understand them yourself. Here are a handful of basic tools that will open up a whole new world of learning to your school.
Collaboration with Google Docs
  • Google Docs is similar to Microsoft Office but adds a powerful element of collaboration. When working with Google Docs, files are saved to the internet instead of a local hard drive. This allows for easy file sharing and the ability for multiple users to edit the same document at the same time.
Sharing knowledge with wikis
  • A wiki is a website that can be edited by multiple users and shared with the world. Wikis allow users to work together to share information and ideas. My sixth grade students and I have used this tool to create study guides, publish projects, and form a central resource for what we are learning in the classroom. We use PBworks in my classroom, but there are many options available.
Write about what you’re learning with a blog
  • Student blogging has been a positive experience in my classroom. Students have a renewed passion for writing when they realize their work will be published online. As an administrator it would serve as a powerful encouragement to your staff and students to write about what you are learning. There are many blogging platforms available; I would suggest starting with Blogger or KidBlog.
Communicate with Twitter

Empower - find staff that is willing to try.
Not everyone is going to smile when the administration lays out goals around technology.  If a school staff isn’t entirely ready to adopt major changes around instruction, then start with the few that are ready.  At my school, the principal has provided me with laptops, a projector, and a class set of Ipod Touches.  When I took the job two years ago I had three student computers and an overhead projector.  The leadership at that time told me there was not money for technology.  That administrative team left and the new one had a different mentality.  She is a perfect model for the busy principal who, though she isn’t fluent with technology herself, is willing and able to provide her staff with the tools needed to prepare the students for the future.  
Ask around and find out the best use of meager funds to start bringing in useful technology.  Use teachers who are excited about those tools and let them use them with students.  Have those teachers teach other teachers about integrating technology.  Once the grassroots have sprouted, water the yard with more tools, school accounts on some of the tools listed above, use more electronic communication, and then watch the growth.  Send some teachers to local or regional educational technology conferences and let them share the things they learned with everyone else.  These are a few of the ways I have seen my own school, an elementary school with more than 35 classroom teachers, go from drowning in paper to integrating useful technology and talking about going paperless - in just one year.
The challenge to the modern educational administrator is to become educated about the world their students live in, to nurture connections with others in their field, and then determine their vision for their school.  As with my 5th graders staring at the chess boards, the leaders in schools need to survey the opposition - what will these students face when they move to the next stage of life? - and then make the right move to best prepare those students.  Using the simple tools suggested above, that next move and each one after that will be fresh and visionary.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Two Teachers in Kansas City

Here are the goals we hope to achieve by publishing this blog.

To refine our teaching by reflecting on what works and what doesn’t.
  • We plan to use this space to reflect on and share what we are doing in the classroom.
  • We hope to be honest about our successes and failures.
  • We will seek and welcome feedback from educators from around the world.

To share resources and ideas with fellow educators.
  • We have both been the beneficiaries of others who have taken the time and effort to share what they have learned online. It is our hope to be able to share resources and ideas that we stumble upon with others.
  • We want to focus our blogs around real classroom experiences, hopefully connecting the theoretical and the practical in a way that is helpful to any educator.

To join in the conversation and connect with educators around the world.
  • Being young educators we both have much to learn. We hope this blog is a vehicle to connect and build relationships with educators across the globe.