Sunday, June 16, 2013

EdCamp Leon

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend an EdCamp event here in Leon County.  It was amazing!  I was able to connect with other passionate educators and I learned so much from them.  I walked away with some great ideas, tools for my classroom, new teacher friends, and...door prizes!  But more about the prizes later.

What is EdCamp, anyway?  An EdCamp event allows teachers to meet together to share ideas and resources of what works in their classrooms.  It's known as an "unconference."  It is free, participant-driven professional development for teachers of all grade levels. 

This is what I experienced at EdCamp Leon:
I arrived at 8:00 a.m. for early registration and received a goodie bag, t-shirt, and schedule of events.  I then mingled with people while enjoying a delicious breakfast brought in by Dunkin' Donuts and a local bagel shop.  Yum

There were over 100 teachers in attendance and we were able to share ideas and network with others for an hour and a half before the sessions really began.  There were no "set" sessions when I arrived, so during this "networking" time, people were able to sign up to present.  That's the neat thing about EdCamps.  You never know what will be presented until you get there and people sign up to share---and, anyone can present!  Looking back, I really wish I had presented on Mystery Skype, but I was a little unsure and intimidated.  I really shouldn't have been so fearful.  This group was very friendly and not at all intimidating.  Everyone was willing to listen to others' ideas and they wanted to learn.  What a great atmosphere!
Eventually, the sessions began and we could go to whatever workshop suited our interests.  We were encouraged to "vote with our feet," meaning, if we joined a session and realized it wasn't what we thought it would be, we could walk out and join another session.  No feelings would be hurt.  It was a very fluid process; people came and went and shared and listened and learned.  I loved it! 

Throughout the day I went to four sessions:
1.  Cultivating a Culture of Curiosity by Jason Flom
2.  Organizing Classroom Resources with MentorMob and Symbaloo by Jessica Titze & Jessica Scully
3.  Integrating Technology in the Social Studies Classroom by Gary Davis
4.  Using Nearpod and Other Apps in the Classroom by Jacki Takaki  
At noon, we took a break for lunch.  How awesome is it that they provided lunch for us?!  Soon after lunch, we enjoyed a "Digital Tool Shoutout" in which teachers could come up and, in 20 seconds, share an app, web tool, etc. with the whole group. 

At the end of the day, so many prizes were raffled off, and I won a one-year subscription to (for my ENTIRE SCHOOL!).  Hey, that's the site I mentioned in the Digital Tool Shoutout!  My students love flocabulary videos and I love all the resources on the site.  There are videos, lesson plans, activities, printables, quizzes, etc.  This was a huge gift to me!  I also won a t-shirt and a gift card for 1 month of Evernote Premium. 

If you'd like to learn more about EdCamp Leon (or see pictures from yesterday's event), CLICK HERE

I'm already looking forward to next year's event! 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Value of a Twitter PLN

I joined Twitter last July in order to build my PLN...only I didn't know that's what I was doing at the time.  After seeing hashtags everywhere (even on Facebook?), I decided to check out Twitter and see what it was all about.  I knew, however, that I wasn't interested in following celebrities or Hollywood gossip.  I simply wanted to check out Twitter and see if there were any educational resources available.  I had been playing around with Pinterest and discovered valuable information there that I could use in my classroom, so I thought, "Maybe there's something valuable on Twitter."

Boy, was there ever!  Teachers from all over the world were tucked away in this little corner of the Internet.  At first, I had to really search to find them but that shows just how much of a treasure they are.  I have stumbled upon something so worthwhile.  Connecting and collaborating with so many talented, creative, passionate, and innovative educators on Twitter has been the single most important thing I've done this year to enhance my professional growth.

I have heard some teachers say that taking part in Twitter chats or really trying to build their PLN through social media would take too much time and really isn't worth it.  I say that reading the posts/links and sharing ideas is time well spent and I'm shocked that anybody would think it's a waste of time!  Actually, having a PLN has saved me time.  For example, just this week I took part in a 45 minute Twitter chat about extension activities in math.  Educators from all over were joining in and posting links, sharing resources and ideas, and encouraging each other.  By the time the chat was over, I had 30 tabs open which were full of relevant information and resources.  Do you think I could have found all that information in 45 minutes on my own?!  Sure, I could have surfed the web and found many math sites, but I knew this was valuable information.  I could trust the sites that were recommended because they had been used by other teachers whom I respect.

I also love that I can pose a problem or question and (sometimes within minutes!) teachers in my PLN will tweet a response, doing their best to help.  A Twitter PLN is so supportive and helpful.     

I am so thankful for all the creative and passionate teachers out there who are willing to share ideas and resources with me, along with lots of encouragement and support.  There is great value in a Twitter PLN! 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Ron Clark Academy

After 8 months, I think I'm ready to share with the blogging world about my RCA experience.  It's about time, huh?  ;)

I first found out about Ron Clark in 2006 when I was in college.  A TNT movie special, called "The Ron Clark Story" was coming on one night and I decided to watch it in my dorm room.  I knew it was based on a true story and I was inspired throughout the entire movie.  At the end, just before the credits rolled, I read the caption, "His school, The Ron Clark Academy, will open in Atlanta, Georgia in the Fall of 2006."  Really, RCA didn't open until 2007. 

From then on, I read whatever I could about this amazing, energetic, bold, and creative educator.  I got my hands on his books, The Essential 55 and The Excellent 11, and I told my professors and peers about him and the work he was doing.  By the time I graduated in 2008, Ron Clark...okay, and Harry Wong...were the two main educators I wanted to model myself after.

Throughout my years of teaching, I kept myself updated on things going on at the Ron Clark Academy.  I heard about how unique it was and that they allowed teachers to visit, but never dreamed that I'd be able to go.  Last summer, I decided to take a chance and ask my Headmaster if I could go to a teacher workshop at RCA.  He and I had been talking about my doing new things in the classroom for the upcoming school-year and I suggested RCA would be a model school for me to visit.  I almost fell out of my chair when my Headmaster told me I could go!  I remember being SO unbelievably excited; I could hardly contain myself!  Yes, as cheesy as it sounds, that was one of my favorite moments in 2012!

So...on Friday, September 21, 2012, I, along with a hundred or so other educators from across the country, visited the famous Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia.
I arrived at RCA around 8:00 a.m. and waited outside the gate until it was time to go in.  I remember seeing Ron Clark beyond the gate, wearing a mustard-colored jacket and walking across the parking lot from one building to another.  Oh, my goodness!  It was like I was seeing a celebrity!  In my head I kept asking, "Is that him?!  Is that him?!"  I smiled and waved and...would you believe...Ron Clark waved back AT ME!?!  I could have fainted right then and there!  I reminded myself to stay calm, cool, and collected...but it was SO hard!  I was thrilled to have this opportunity. 
Eventually, Robyn Johnson, the Educator Training Coordinator, asked that the gate be opened for the visitors.  Everyone was greeted by the 8th graders and given a name tag.  I was immediately impressed with the students.  They were warm, friendly, and welcoming.  They asked me questions about my job and where I was from and really seemed interested in what I had to say.  I've never had a conversation like that with an 8th grader! 

The students escorted us to the library and I was one of the first people to enter the building.  I felt like a rock star when I walked through the door.  Music was blaring and students were lined up alongside a red carpet cheering for us and welcoming us to their school.  I rocked my way down the carpet and was overwhelmed by the smiles, the cheers, and the claps.  I turned the corner and my heart started racing as Ron Clark himself came up to me, gave me a huge hug, and told me he was glad I was there.  He asked what I teach and when I said, "5th grade--all subjects," he pointed at me and said, "YOU are coming to my 5th grade math class first thing this morning!"  Awesome!  He went on to greet other teachers and I was able to mingle and get to know the kids.  Those children were the most well-mannered and polite kids I've ever met and I really enjoyed getting to know them.  It was a little difficult to carry on a conversation due to all the music and people and students jumping on the bungee trampoline!  Yes--kids were taking turns on a bungee trampoline that was located in the middle of the library.  It looked like so much fun! 
Eventually, all the visiting teachers were escorted out of the library and into the main building.  Again, music was blaring, kids were cheering and clapping for us, and Ron Clark was dancing!   
Once the music died down, the children left us, and Ron Clark and Kim Bearden spoke to us about the RCA methods and the day's events. 
At RCA, the focus is on passion, rigor, and manners/respect.  It is such a positive place and the teachers all have high standards and expectations for the students.  I could listen to Ron Clark and Kim Bearden talk about education all day long!  I love their ideas.

Around 9 a.m., it was time to watch Mr. Clark in action!  We made our way upstairs...the steps have coins in them, by the way...currency from all over the world:
And we stood outside the doors to Mr. Clark's room:
He has sliding doors to his classroom, which look like bookshelves--and he told us that this idea was inspired by Scooby Doo episodes.  He also shared that there are all sorts of secret passageways at RCA; we shouldn't be alarmed if we happen to see a child randomly come out of a wall! 

I'll go ahead and say this now...later in the day, another curious teacher and I found one of the secret passageways:
We didn't spend too much time exploring because it was dark and we really needed to catch back up with the rest of the group.  It was fun to step in, though, and snap a quick picture.   

Anyway, back to Mr. Clark's math class.  These students had only been in school for two weeks, but the 5th graders were solving equations like little mathematicians and working on 8th grade algebra!  Mr. Clark was very engaging and I noticed that he used a lot of Whole Brain Teaching strategies.  The students sang at times, gave oral responses in unison, learned songs to remember math rules, and encouraged others when they were stuck on a problem.  If Mr. Clark called on a student who didn't know the answer to a problem, he would not move on to another child for the answer.  He waited on the child to think it through, or he would guide them through the problem.  He later told the visiting teachers, "Too many times, we call on a student and if they don't know the answer, we move on to another child and say, 'So-in-so, would you please help her out?'  Well, I don't do that here and the students know it.  When I ask a question of a particular student, that is their question and I expect them to answer.  If they can't answer, I know that I need to guide them more.  However, I will not move on and let them "get out" of answering."  I really like this approach but felt a little guilty because I tend to move on to another student in order to hear the right answer.  This was a habit I tried to change once I got back to my classroom.

I loved how Mr. Clark taught manners as he taught math; he also required the students to track him with their eyes.  He demanded focus.  He said, "Good mathematicians are always ready.  They're on it, focused, and ready to go.  It's gotta be boom, boom, boom!  When I come to you, you've got to be, like, 'Three!  One hundred!  Negative five!  Come on, what's next?'  You have to be on it, focused, and ready because when you are, our class goes like this...psh, psh, psh!"  Imagine him saying all this while walking on the desks and using dramatic hand gestures.  The students turned things around and even earned a red button...but you'll need to go to RCA to find out what that means--it's awesome!

After observing Mr. Clark, my group moved on to Kim Bearden's classroom which had been transformed into a football field.  All the tables and chairs were pushed out of the way and the yard lines were clearly marked on the floor.  The students took part in a grammar activity and eventually sang a preposition song to the tune of Queen's "We Will Rock You." 
Part of Mrs. Bearden's classroom
Mrs. Barnes's 7th grade language arts class was next.  She combined reading and drama and I appreciated how her students encouraged each other after they performed their scenes. 
I observed Mr. Townsel's 8th grade science class next. 
His classroom is through the right door.
His students were working in groups to create density columns with various liquids.  I loved the animals in his classroom and was a little jealous of his really cool table that looked like part of the Lunar Module:
6th grade Social Studies/World Geography with Mrs. Hildebrand was next.  It was in her classroom that I realized none of the teachers at RCA used a textbook as they taught.  (Even in Mr. Clark's class--he never referred to a book when he wrote those massive equations on the board!)  I'm not sure of the curriculum they use.  All I know is they have to know their material well!
The classroom observations ended too soon for me, but I was happy to eat lunch!  I enjoyed lunch with the sweetest girls--a 6th grader and a 5th grader--and a visiting teacher.  The girls told me about the "houses" they were in and we later learned more about this from Mr. Clark:
In the afternoon, we visiting teachers attended a variety of workshops.  My first one was with Mrs. Bearden, who shared with us how to bring learning to life for our students by transforming our classrooms.  I implemented one of her ideas once I returned to school and you can CLICK HERE to read all about it.  She was inspirational!
Another inspiring lady was Mrs. Barnes.  In her workshop, I sang the blues and learned how to make more cross-curricular connections in my units.
Mr. Clark led a workshop about working well with parents and students and at the end of the day, we experienced a treat!  Each Friday, the four "houses" compete by giving creative performances, which we were able to see, and the students were amazingly talented!  I was so impressed.  Before we all left, the students performed for the visiting teachers!  I loved their song and dance--what a great ending to a wonderful day!
Before we left, we had the chance to be "slide-certified" and get pictures with Ron Clark.  I wish I had gotten a picture with Kim Bearden too!
I also had Ron sign my copy of The Essential 55.
He got the date wrong; it was actually the 21st, but he's totally forgiven.  ;)

I learned a great deal from my visit to RCA and was so inspired when I returned home that I read all his books again!  Here are a few questions that I came away with:
  1. What can I do to get my students excited about learning?
  2. How can I encourage manners and respect in my classroom?
  3. What can I do to show my students that I care about them?  How can I make them feel special?
  4. How can I create a supportive classroom environment for my students?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

"Genius Hour" "20% Time" "Passion Projects"

I didn't know about "Passion Time/Genius Hour/20% Time/whatever you want to call it" until this year and a week and a half ago I took part in a Twitter chat to learn more about it.  The chat helped me understand it a little better and in my opinion, @PaulSolarz has the best resources on the topic.  I think he's done a wonderful job implementing Passion Time in his classroom.

For those who are unfamiliar, this idea (as I understand it) is based on Google's "20% time" or "Innovation Time Off" which is a policy that allows employees to use 20% of their work time actually working on ideas/projects that interest them instead of just working on those that they are required to do.  This practice has now found its way into classrooms and many teachers/students are taking part.  I've read about teachers allowing their students an hour or so each week to focus their learning on whatever they are passionate about (hence the terms "Passion Time" and "Passion Projects").     
After taking part in the chat, I was inspired to try it out in my classroom.  The only problem was, I only had one week left in the school year!  I told my students about "Passion Projects" the day after my chat and they said they would love to try it out.  So, during the last week of school, we had a modified "Passion Time" where students were given freedom to work on a project that they were passionate about.  I even had a few students begin their projects at home over the weekend.  Hey, that's okay!  That shows that they are definitely passionate about it! 

I wanted students to work individually, but some shared the same passion and wanted to work together.  I allowed no more than two students to a group.  I had a pair of students who told me they wanted to learn more about ocean creatures (particularly sharks).  They researched information online and used books from our classroom library to create a PowerPoint that showed what they learned. 
One student in my class is passionate about acting and has even auditioned for several roles in local productions at FSU's film school.  He's actually been in several short films this year.  He and another student spent their Passion Time filming and editing clips using the apps iMovie and Action Movie FX.  They showed the class their "movie" at the end of Passion Time and everyone raved about what they were able to put together.
A couple of my girls want to be fashion designers.  They love drawing and creating dresses and even have a composition notebook full of pictures of outfits that serve as inspiration.  One of the girls created this sample dress:  
And the other fashionista designed several outfits, along with a board on which you can mix-and-match clothes to see what you'd like to wear. 
It was amazing how quiet my classroom was as the students worked.  They were so focused and engaged during this time and they enjoyed being able to present at the end. 
I'll have to do more research on this activity over the summer and see if it's really something I want to implement next year.  I still have a few questions about it.
Here are a few links to sites I've found helpful: