ramblings, SBL, thinking

Focus on Thinking

It’s been a while since I grabbed my soapbox and megaphone and shared some thoughts. I’ve had some time to think and reflect over this past year, and really all my years of teaching, and I have realized that we have created point-gobbling monsters instead of individuals wanting to gain knowledge to solve problems and be better humans. I also feel like these point-gobbling monsters get more hungry each passing year and their appetite for thinking and learning is decreasing at an even faster rate.

For those of you who have been around for a bit, you know I love standards-based learning. I have written about it on this blog here, here, and here, presented on it, and will talk to anyone about how much it changed my classroom and the willingness of students to learn.

I still LOVE the idea of standards based learning. But I realized a few years ago that it focuses on content, content that is readily available on the internet. See, I don’t just want students who memorize a process and try to meet a check box in a category or standard. I want students who can find information and use it to solve a problem. The problem with our current grade-gobbling situation is that students will memorize the process to regurgitate it on a test and then move on to the next topic. No thought process, just memorization.

This niggling thought in the back of my head smacked me square in the face this past year. Two different situations collided allowing me to see a clear picture of these point-gobbling monsters we had created. One, because of a shift of teachers at winter break, I took on a class from another teacher. I teach very conceptually, without formulas when possible. I allow students to use formulas, but I don’t when demonstrating and encourage them to think about what is happening and solve things using concepts they know. My new class DID NOT LIKE THIS! They wanted formulas. To be fair, my original class wanted formulas too, they just knew they weren’t going to get them from me. They at least played along with my explorations and conceptual understanding and then looked up the formulas to use later. The second was a students so obsessed with grades it frightened me. She would try to calculate her score on every assessment and freaked out if she score below an 94% (A in our book). She wasn’t as interested in learning, she just wanted an A. I get this sentiment from parents too. The last week of school, this particular student frantically asked to see another teacher because he had entered an assignment as a zero. I taught her early in the day and asked if she had already attended class with this teacher. No, she would see him in two class periods. I encouraged her to visit with him during her class time. She nearly broke down because she “couldn’t have a zero in the gradebook for that long.” Another student in the back of the room asked her if it lowered her grade and she said “yes, from a 98% to a 97%.” Her class let her have it. She still had an A but was so obsessed with grades that a zero in the gradebook was going to ruin the next two class periods until is was removed.

WE DID THIS! And be we, I mean the education system. WE created the point-gobbling monsters. We said GPA is more important than learning by creating scholarships based on this point system. We said GPA is more important than learning when we recognize the top 10 and valedictorian and realize those who challenged themselves with harder classes aren’t always represented. We said scoring well on a standardized test is more important than learning when we create awards for those who are proficient and advanced and give scholarships based on these tests. We have said point-gathering over thinking and learning is what school is about.

So… how do we change this?

I can list many, many things that need to happen to make our system better, but most of them are not in my control. I can’t get rid of standardized tests, as much as I want to. I can continue to ask boards of education to stop awarding based on grades but I can’t make that decision alone. I can ask universities to stop awarding scholarships based on a test score or GPA, but I can’t change their policies.

What I can do is shift the focus in my classroom. I attended #VirtualMath21 organized by Howie Hua and watched a session my Nolan Fossum (@NolanFossum). When I heard him speak about this same issue and his drive to change it I knew instantly, in the depths of my soul, this was the direction I needed to take also. Nolan uses a method he is developing called Pillars and Practices. The practices is part are the Standards for Mathematical Practice that I already use in my classroom. The Pillars part (see the image from Nolan below) is what I plan to add in my classroom. He was kind enough to Zoom with me and brainstorm ways to use this in my classroom.

copyright Nolan Fossum

This coming school year, I plan to implement Nolan’s Pillars along with self-reflection and conversation to assess students. There will be no points to chase but thinking and evidence of learning to show. I’m finishing up the book UnGrading by Susan D. Blum and also have Hacking Assessment by Star Sackstein to read. When I have a solid plan (right now I have small pieces of the puzzle put together), I will share how I implement it in hopes of helping others break the chains of the point-gobbling monsters.

I want a classroom, school, and nation of thinkers and problem solvers. I we don’t shift our focus, we, as an education system, will be harming our future. If we have a nation of people who can only follow a recipe, how will we ever have new and creative ideas to push us forward and make life better?

Stepping off my soap box and putting away the megaphone. Thanks for sticking with me!

Freebies, Google Slides, Sorting Cards

Collaborative Group Sorting Cards

Have you ever handed out playing cards at the door to sort your students into groups and then watch as students switch cards to make sure they are in the same group? No? Well maybe it’s just me but it happened often.

To fix this problem, a long time ago (like 10 or 11 years) I created sorting cards using a large index card and glued stickers, playing cards, words, equations, graphs, etc., randomly in groups of 4. I had a deck of 34 so I needed 9 sets of 4 for everything I used. I had 4 sets of 9 equations, 4 sets of 9 graphs, 4 sets of 9 coordinating stickers, and so on.

Once they were laminated, I would stand at the door and had each student an index card. They had NO IDEA what I would choose so there was no point in switching cards with someone. I usually randomly pick a person in the class to pick the sorting theme and then they group up by that theme. If I know I need to put certain students together or keep certain student apart, I will pick the theme beforehand and make sure to give those certain students the card I want them to have.

Yes, I know there are ways to sort digitally, but this is fun, and I can stand at the door and do hall duty while preparing to sort into groups.

Now, here is the sad news. My building had a severe black mold issue at the beginning of the year. Everything I had accumulated in my 20 years of teaching was thrown away. This included my prized sorting cards. Cards that had a lot of time and some money (for stickers and such) invested. We were remote and hybrid for much of the year so I didn’t recreate them.

A few days ago a colleague sent me a tweet from a person asking about these cards. I really thought I had shared this idea via blog post but couldn’t find it anywhere. I also have ZERO pictures of these cards. SAD SAD SAD!!! So I reached out and told the person I would make a digital version that could be personalized, printed, and laminated.

So here you go. OPEN SLIDEDECK TEMPLATE

Print on a color printer (on lightweight cardstock if you can), fold in half and secure with stick glue, laminate, and sort your students. You can change out any of the images, especially the Bitmoji. Mine have a lot of math in them because I’m a math teacher. You may want to change that too. Be caution when adding food if you teach middle and high school. Google the meaning of the food before you use it. Eggplant parm might be a favorite but it will also get you some chuckles at the high school level. And beware when you google pineapple. Geesh!

image of one sorting card

If you use these cards, I would love to hear how it goes!

ramblings, Reflection, Relationships

End of Year Reflection

This was my 20th year of teaching. It was the most challenging year of teaching. I was not my best! I tried to be my best but I wasn’t. I ended the year with all my students by giving them a positive message, telling them how much they had grown, because they had, and how much they had overcome, because they had, and how I hoped they were able to have me as a teacher again so they could truly see how I am. I hate that I wasn’t my best, but there are no do-overs! There is only reflection and growth. I want my students to see that, I want all of you to see that, and I want to remember that myself.

We can’t go back and erase past mistakes. Sometimes we want to and we try to, but even if you try to erase the mistake (apology, restoration,…), the indention of the pencil is still left after you wipe away the eraser bits. Is the paper still usable? Yes! Can we begin again and do better? Yes!

To model this process for students, I give them a reflection at the end of the year. Part of it is for them to reflect over their own learning and part of it is for me to reflect over my teaching. This requires you to be vulnerable. It requires you to put aside your pride. It requires you to be willing to grow. IT’S NOT EASY! Not every student likes you and not every student will say nice things about you.

Read them.

Learn from them.

Be better!

Page one is the student reflection and page two is their opportunity to give me feedback. Why do I ask kids about learning vs. grades? This is a huge focus of mine throughout the year. I want students to learn how to learn and focus less on what grade they have. This is hard for students, especially the top students who are grade driven! I had a Freshman this year that FREAKED OUT because a teacher entered an assignment as missing and it dropped her from a 96% to a 95% (Ok, this was not her only freak-out about grades, SHE HAD MANY!!!). Now, she was going to be in this teacher’s class later in the day and could address the missing assignment but she was having trouble concentrating on my class because her grade dropped a percent. It was still an A, and it would be remedied in an hours time! UGH! Needless to say her reflection this year said she focused on grades and she said there was nothing I could do to make her focus on learning because she wanted to be Valedictorian and her grades were more important. Our system has failed her and so many others with the same focus. I will keep doing what I do, and try to make students see the value in knowledge. It’s an uphill battle!

Now to my reflection.

Students liked: how quickly I entered grades, that I gave chances to improve, that they could choose during the unit when to complete tasks because it allowed them to work around their schedule, class time to work on skills so they could get help, whiteboard reviews, exit tickets, and a few students LOVED the Choose Your Own Adventure (maybe because it was fresh in their mind.) Some told me I was funny and some told me they knew I cared. Some liked that I would dance or sing with them and told them about my life and asked about theirs.

Areas to improve: I was grouchy sometimes and could have angry eyes, it wasn’t fair that students could retake tests because “I worked hard and got it the first time” (Umm… focus on grade student perhaps?). One student told me I played favorites but gave no examples of me doing this so I will need to reflect over that one to see I was unaware of an action. One student was angry that they didn’t pass and blamed me and another was upset with me because I told them to get off their phone every day and they didn’t want to get off their phone. A few students asked that I stop emailing their parents about missing work and redo opportunities.

Things I know I want to do better next year is parent contact, positive and negative. I’m thinking of some kind of newsletter and more positive calls home. We started in remote, then 2 weeks in person, then hybrid, and my usual positive calls home didn’t happen because my calls were more about getting technology situated and seeing why students weren’t joining Zoom.

There are many things I want to continue: flexibility with completion dates, ability to correct or retake, and focus on learning not grades.

I wish I could undo some of the grouchy days (students weren’t wrong about that) but those pencil marks are forever on the paper. I will try to do better next year, which is all I ever ask of my students. Learn from the mistake and do better!

Here is the reflection sheet that I created. Feel free to use (change to your name on the second page) or modify as needed.

No matter what, I loved my students and tried my best to be what they needed. This year was hard and I’m hoping next year will be better!

BreakoutEDU, Digital Escape Rooms, Geometry

Get A Clue Digital Escape Room

** This is a repost from Make Math Not Suck**

We are not giving finals this year. An idea I think I support (it has been hard keeping motivation without a final). I wanted a way to review everything we have learned this year but in a fun way.

I originally planned to do a murder-mystery activity like I saw on Twitter shared by @MrsHiltnerReads.

After altering the idea so we weren’t murdering people, it turned more into a Who Dun It? which morphed into a Clue like escape room.

This idea could be used with any content for any review I would think. I just posted the links to the Slide, Sheet, and Form in Canvas but by embedding it in a Site, it would make might make it easier for students. about:blank

I also made a version using Alice Keeler dice roll page and markers where students could share the page with 3 other students and find the clues independently as they moved through the Get A Clue board. I would want to make one questions clues, however, to make the game go faster. Maybe I will try it the next time.

I hope you can use this or the idea of it to make the end of the year review more fun. Enjoy.

icons

Icons

I love icons. Maybe not as much as I love fonts, but close. Icons are a great way to help students use visuals if they aren’t comfortable drawing. They are also a great way to add visual appeal to your own creations.

Here are a few of my favorite icon places and a few news ones I just learned about.

The Noun Project

I was introduced to The Noun Project by Matt Miller. He is one of the MASTER’S at using icons to make graphics look AMAZING! He also shares ideas about how to use them with students.

Matt’s ideas can be found here.

Instructions to use icon’s from Matt.

The Noun Project has sooooo many icons and you can search by category. Black and white icons are free and you can pay a monthly fee for non-commercial use and color. Inside of Google Slides, you can also recolor the icons. I do give fair warning, you can search for non-school appropriate icons like “boobs” and there are icons for it. I tell my students it’s like using any other online resource, use is responsibly.

Here is a search for Collaboration:

Flat Icon

I learned about Flat Icon last year. It is also searchable and some of their icons are in full color. This one also includes icons that are not school appropriate and this time “boobs” will also be in color. 😂 Some of their icons are premium, so watch out for the little crown icon. You won’t be able to use those.

Here is a search for collaboration:

Icons 8

Icons 8 isn’t new to me. The user interface isn’t a slick as the first two and I honestly forget about it. It does have some great icons that are black and white and full color. Definitely worth checking out. You will also find full color “boobs” on this one too.

Here is a search for collaboration:

fonts.google.com

I just learned about this one this week. I knew you could look at all the Google fonts here but now you can search icons too. On the top right, click the icon button.

Best part, there are no “boobs”! This one is 100% totally school appropriate. They have two tone fonts, outlines and solid. There aren’t as many to choose from, but sometimes for students that is better anyway. Did I mention it was school appropriate! For some kiddos, they can’t handle the temptation.

Here is a search for collaboration:

Slides Templates

Most slide templates have a page or two of icons at the end of the template. It’s a little more work but you can also snag those and put them in a Google Slide for student choices. These should also be “boob” free! At least I’ve never seen anything inappropriate on the icons pages.

Some of my favorites are

Here is an example of an infographic I made in Google Drawing with icons.

I would love to see anything you make with icons or ideas you have to use them with your students. I love them and think it’s a fun way to add a little visual element to your creations.

Bookmark, Chrome

Bookmark Bar in Chrome

Does your bookmark bar look crazy? I sometimes have so many bookmarks that I doesn’t fit at the top. I also have websites I want to open every day and I don’t want to go looking for them. This post will help you use the bookmark tools built into Chrome to help you organize your life.

Tip 1 – Shorten or Remove Names

Most saved bookmark tabs have an icon and words. If you can quickly recognize the icon, you can remove the words to save space in your bookmark bar.

Right click (or command click) and go to Bookmark Manager.

Click the three dots next to the bookmark you want to edit. Then click the edit button.

Delete the words or shorten the words, depending on what you want to see.

Click save.

The icon takes up much less room on the tool bar.

Tip 2 – Folder for Daily Tabs

I access my Calendars every single day. I try to keep them open, but sometimes you need to restart. Now, my Chrome is set to restore tabs, but what if I want to close them for the weekend and reopen them on Monday? I can create a folder to hold the sites I need to go to daily.

I like to begin by opening the sites I want to place in the folder. You don’t have to do this, you can add them by URL if you want to. I think dragging is easy than copying and pasting the URL.

Next, I will right click in the Bookmark area and add a Folder.

Type in the name of your folder and click save.

Now you can drag each tab into the folder. Click on the tab, then click the website icon or in my case the lock icon and drag it to your folder.

The animation doesn’t show it, but when you click on the folder, the sites you added will be there.

You an always go into Bookmark manager and delete anything you no longer want.

Well, I hope this little organization tip is helpful for you. I like to keep my Bookmark bar orderly because it saves me time.

animated gif, technology

Quick GIFs from YouTube

I has hanging on Teacher TikTok and saw this idea from @emily_karst. My head nearly exploded! I love when I see new things for the first time!!!

This quickly creates gifs from youtube videos.

Step 1

(assuming you already have your video selected)

Type GIF before the word youtube.

Step 2

Press enter and a new website will open and your video will load.

Isn’t the website color palette sooo cute!

Step 3

Select the clip you want as the gif by dragging the box at the bottom. You can preview it and move it again if it’s not what you wanted.

Step 4

Click Trim Video in the top right corner.

Now you can add text, graphics, or any of the adjustments.

Step 5

Click create gif in the top right corner.

You can add tags etc if you want to. I love that you can include sound.

Click next.

Step 6

Share it!

You have many options to choose from including download.

GIF – Just Fold It In

And there you have it! Why did I pick this GIF? This is how I feel when I’m asked to implement something new and I ask for clarification. Reflecting on this, I try to be aware when I teach so I don’t tell them to just FOLD IT IN. LOL

This is more fun and less educational but we need fun sometimes!!!

comics, e-books, Google Slides

e-Book Comics

Did you know you can create a comic book and send it to Kindle or iBooks? You can! And… students LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to see their creations in e-book form.

The trick to creating these as e-books it to change Google Slide dimensions to 8.5 x 11. Each type of reader has a slightly different page size and I find this one works the best. It also makes it easy to print if you want to create an actual book.

Step 1

You need a comic template. I have shared my personal template below, as well as a template I altered from Sides Carnival. I have also shared original slide templates from Slides Carnival and Slides Mania. You can always let the students create their own too.

I also have a few non-comic type book templates if you don’t want to create a comic book. I mean, it’s less fun, but sometimes you need a traditional type book 🙂

Step 2

Create your comic. There are many reasons you might create a comic in your classroom. We create them in my math classroom, and if we can use them in math, you can use them ANYWHERE! Image a cartoon in Chemistry where students take an element and write a story about it!

Other ideas could include:

  • Caption This (Laura Steinbrink)
  • Idioms and Figurative Language
  • Political Cartoons
  • Cartoons in a world language
  • Conflict resolution and restorative justice
  • Autobiography
  • Genre study

Here are a few additional resources for creating images for your comics:

  • Bitmoji (this is a 13+)
  • remove.bg (to use their own image in comics)
  • storyboardthat.com (you can create comics here but I really like to use their backgrounds in my own templates)
  • The noun project (for basic icons)
  • Google Drawing Tutorial (to make your own images)
  • Wakelet of free image sites

Step 3

Download your Google Slide as a PDF and place that PDF in your Google Drive folder. On you phone or iPad, go to the file in Drive and click the 3 dots in the corner. Click open in and scroll to the end of your apps where is says more. Once you select more, Kindle and iBooks are both an option. It won’t work with Kindle if the file is too big.

Now you have you e-book on your device. Sit back and watch the excitement on your students faces and know you created an positive memorable learning experience for your students.

If you use any of these resources I would to hear how it worked for you and your students!

Google Sheets

Fun with Google Sheets, Part 2

I am back with another installment of Fun with Google Sheets. Let’s dive in.

You can also visit Part 1 here.

Drop Down Menus

I use this when I’m creating my own data sheets but you could also create this in an activity because conditional formatting will still work with it.

Select the cell to place the drop down menu.

Click Data and then Data Validation.

Under criteria, select list of answers.

Type in your selection with commas between.

Click save

Conditional Formatting

This is my 100% absolute favorite thing to do in Google Sheets. It’s so simple and makes you look like a rock star. I use this in my data tracking sheets with students and the many activities I create from escape room to pixel art.

Insert Images

When Google updated Sheets to include images in cells, I was so excited. Prior to that, the image just floated over the cell and it was somewhat clunky! Now you can do both. I use this with activities, escape room, and the it was very handy for the surface area and volume calculator I created.

Now go have some fun with Google Sheets. I will be sharing more Fun with Google Sheets in the coming weeks.

Google Sheets

Fun with Google Sheets -Part 1

After my post last week with my Groundhog activity (Pixel Art) I had some questions about how to use Google Sheets. I decided to do a little series about some basics in Google Sheets. This will be the first post about some fun tips and tricks I use. I am not a Google Sheets “Expert”. I’m just a teacher who will play with tools and learn some stuff.

Checkboxes

-Click on the cell(s) you want the check box.

-Click INSERT and select

If you want the user to have the option to select something in the spreadsheet, check boxes might be what you are looking for. I have used this with students when they self-check standards or topics as they review. You can also use response validation but I like to have my students self-reflect on what they feel like they can do.

Return INSIDE a cell

on a Mac: Command + Return

on a PC: Alt + Enter

I know when I figured out you could do this my mind was blown. How many times have you wanted to start a new line but inside the same cell? For me it was A LOT!

Turn off Grid Lines

Have you ever created a really cool spreadsheet but you wished you couldn’t see the gridlines to make it look more like a document? You can quickly and easily turn off the gridlines and achieve that look. Any borders or cell shading you’ve placed on the cells will remain.

Go to View then unclick Gridlines

Check back in the next few weeks for more fun with Google Sheets.