Sunday, October 19, 2014

CT GAFE Summit 2014: Day 1

A couple of weeks ago @fouss put out a tweet asking if anyone was going to the GAFE Summit in Louisville.  Having only recently figured out that GAFE stood for Google Apps for Education, I googled the GAFE Summit and was intrigued to find that there was one two weeks later at my alma mater, Manchester High School in Connecticut.  I put in a request and was given funding to go to the conference.

So this weekend, I spent two days jamming information about all thing techy and Google.  This post is attempt to download some stuff from my brain before I forget what I need to remember and take away from some excellent presentations.

Day 1: Keynote by James Sanders @jamestsanders
Very entertaining keynote. My favorite part had to do with the theme of failures and making mistakes.  He shared a url for a site to share your teaching failure stories.  I failed to write it down and have been unable to locate it.

Session 1: Beginners Guide to Admin Console by Peter Henrie
Very basics of setting up the structure of GAFE. I was relieved that some of the things I did but wasn't sure about turned out to be the right thing to do.  I probably really needed to go to the next session he offered, but was trying to spread coverage of what I was seeing.

Session 2: Digital Portfolios with Kern Kelley @kernkelley
This was awesome.  So much packed into this session on the process of getting work digitized and then developing digital portfolios.  He provided great resources explaining his process.  Digitized work all gets uploaded to Drive.  Older students then create Google sites with self-selected artifacts to emphasize.  I need to look through all he provided when I have some time.  I think our school could really benefit from digital portfolios. I made lots of notes during this session that I hope will make sense when I look back at them.

Session 3: I had intended to go to the Chrome Support for Struggling Readers and Writers, but it was unfortunately canceled, so I went to another session by Peter Henrie on 10 ways to drive Google Apps adoption.  A few takeaways here included Templates for your domain (turns out I didn't set this up, so our domain didn't have the ability to submit them.  It does now). Positive use for Google Apps is using a calendar to manage resources that need to be signed out. Great general utility share was on the Chrome extension called One Tab - this is for when you have like 24 tabs open it will condense all the open tabs to a list that you can then share as a webpage.  Also a recommendation to browse the edu section of the Chrome web store.

Session 4:  Google Tools and Universal Design for Learning by Denise Jaffe @djaffe0660
A few notes here NewsEla has articles at differing lexile levels, Dogo News (I don't remember why I wrote this down).  My favorite tip that I know I will use from this session was that in Sheets under Tools if you select research, you get a side bar on the right that you can do a search in without leaving your document and you can drag and drop images straight from this side bar into your doc and it will make a citation at the bottom of the page automatically.

Demo Slam
This was fun and energetic.  Sadly, I did not win a Chromecast or a Chromebook.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Baseline 3-2-1 Summary

This week in my middle school science class I gave my students a short article on scientific method and asked them to complete three tasks. The article was one page, highly structured and scores about grade 6.5 using the Flesch-Kincaid grade level formula

0.39 \left ( \frac{\mbox{total words}}{\mbox{total sentences}} \right ) + 11.8 \left ( \frac{\mbox{total syllables}}{\mbox{total words}} \right ) - 15.59

Three Tasks

1. Read the article
2. Take notes
3. Answer 8 questions

Two Days

Students were give 70 minutes of class time split across two days.

The purpose of this activity was to get a baseline on where they were starting from in terms of their ability to expository text independently.

Results (out of 7 students)

  • Following directions is not a strength of this group.  They needed a lot of verbal repetition of the three tasks (even with the list written on the board).  One student did not take notes as part of his completion of the tasks.
  • Out of 11 ideas I recorded on my notes, students identified between 3 and 7 of those ideas
  • Only 1 student put a title on their notes
  • 2 students had trouble putting notes in their own words and just copied long sentences of information
  • Only one student completed a summary at the bottom of their notes (a la Cornell Notes)
  • 1 student did not even start to answer the questions, he spun his wheels on day one unable to start the task. On day two, I cut the task in half and gave him a starting point and he was able to take notes.
  • 1 student answered all 5 of the questions that could be found directly in the passage correctly, but was unable to correctly answer the 3 questions that require application or making connections.
  • 1 student did not answer any of the direct questions correctly, but had great answers to the questions requiring application and connections.
  • The other students fell in between those two extremes with mixed results.

One priority follow up

In class this week I will hand back their notes with feedback only (no grades) and we will develop a class resource of what is expected for notetaking.  I will post a picture of this resource after it is developed.

This 3-2-1 Summary is part of the weekly #MtbosChallenge

Sunday, August 24, 2014

3-2-1 Summary - week #2

3 - Days of Preservice Training

A lovely change this year was that instead of 5 days of preservice training, we only had 3.  Of those 3 days of training, MORE THAN HALF of each day was set aside for prepping lessons and getting classrooms ready. It was awesome.

2 - Days of Weekend 

I spent the weekend at the fair with my kids and my in-laws.  It was grand fun, but I am tired and I did NO school work.

1 - First day of School

Tomorrow is the first day of school with the kids and I am so not ready.  I did however get a kick out of my sons' reactions to the list of things I was gathering for tomorrow:
  • every deck of cards we have in the house
  • a hula hoop
  • a ball of yarn
  • a mason jar
  • card stock

The deck of cards is for my Algebra 1 group, we are doing 31-derful tomorrow and the rest of the items are for some ice breakers I'm doing with the whole school (really, really small school).  I'm looking forward to the start of the new year!

Monday, August 18, 2014

3-2-1 Resolutions

Sunday 3-2-1 Summary (on Monday)

I find as a teacher there are two New Year's Days, January 1st and the first day of school. So I find the beginning of the school year just as natural a time to make resolutions as the beginning of the calendar year. In some ways these resolution have a chance of being more successful as I'm relatively fresh coming off of summer and in the process of establishing the new routine of the school year.

3 ways I want to be better to myself

  1.  Go to sleep at a reasonable time.  
  2.  Eat better while not depriving myself of small treats
  3.  Exercise more
During the school year I find that I often put myself on the back burner. I'd like to prioritize myself and my health toward the top of this year's list.

2 ways I'd like to be better at my job

  1. Continue participating in #eduread, book chats, #spedmath chats
  2. Blog
I start the year off well, but then school and life takes over and I drop off the digital world.  I am a better teacher when I'm engaging in great conversations and when I am engaged in self reflection.

1 way to make my home a better space
  1. Spend at least 15 minutes each day decluttering/cleaning
By June, my house often looks like a tornado has whipped through it. I try each year to start with a blank slate and a clean home, but I never really recovered this year.  I find visual clutter overwhelming and right now I am overwhelmed in many rooms in my house.  I'd like to make a small effort each day to make my home a more pleasant place to spend time.

I hope I am successful. The next step is to put structures and parameters into place to make these goals possible.

Do you have any New School Year Resolutions?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

First Five Days

Week #1 of the #MTBoSChalleng - My first 5 days plan for the 2014-2015 school year.

Day 1:

The first day is usually pretty much the same at my school.  We start the day off with a whole school student meeting.  We go over some important information and discuss what this year is going to look like. We address the really important things first including answers to the two questions our principal says the kids are worried about most: Where do I put my stuff? and When do I eat?  So at this meeting we talk about the bell schedule and when lunch and snack breaks are.  We also let them know when we will be assigning lockers.  At this meeting the kids all introduce themselves, share a little something, and share their goal for the school year.

After the student meeting, we have a snack break and then get together in advisee groups for usually the rest of the morning.  In advisee groups we get the kids set up and organized for the year.  The school uses a standard binder organization for all students.  We also have them date their agenda books and write in the period numbers and class names.  This time is pretty easy-going and gives us time to chat with our new advisees about their summer and whatever else they feel compelled to share.  Then we have lunch (although lunch is late this year so we may have a class before lunch).

After lunch we usually have one class. It looks like that will be my Algebra class. This is a 60 minute class and I anticipate that we'll have the whole time.  Day 1 I am going to start with the normal routine. We will start with Estimation 180. Since some students had me last year and did Estimation 180 with me, this year we will start at Day 123.

Then we will complete a warm-up fashioned after Saxon Math's PowerUp.  My kids will do a 1-minute fact practice timing followed by 5 questions that will review calculation problems or hit on IEP objectives that I will be measuring.  Right now the categories look to be whole number operations, fractions, decimals, word problems, and basic algebra.  As the year changes and IEPs get updated those categories will most likely change.  I'm working on a form for this and will share when it is complete. Then I we'll do 31-derful as described over at Everybody is a Genius. 

If they finish up they will start the cover for their Interactive Student Notebooks.  Personalizing their covers is step one to their ownership.  The covers will be a Numbers About Me activity.  I'll either use this one or leave it more open-ended with this one I made last year.

We may have a second class, but that would be my plan period.  After that we gather back in our advisee groups to complete any unfinished tasks. We also have a chart share where students share their progress (or work on) the fluency skill practice they completed over the summer.  We dismiss a little early so that we can go over the dismissal procedures and so we can learn the kids' buses.

Days 2 - 5:

After day one we hit the ground running with a regular schedule.  Here's my outline of what I think I'm going to be doing.

Instrumental Enrichment

As discussed previously I'm going to use Q-bitz to start this metacognitive learning class.  Day one students will play the solo style version in pairs.  Day 2 we will review the 7 steps in the 7-step plan and begin analyzing the Q-bitz game using the plan. Focus on day two will be the first two steps: articulating the objective or task clearly and listing givens or known facts about the task.  Days 3 and 4 we will discuss effective strategies for solving a card beginning with starting points and listing sequential steps to solve the task.  Day 5 we will finish up with reflection on what we learned, developing a general rule from it and making bridges, or connections, from this task and what we learned to the world outside the classroom

General Science

Days 1 and 2 I am going to start with a demonstration to get the students to think about scientific method and observation.  Plus it is fun to start with something cool. The demo uses milk, food coloring, and dish detergent. Here is a good explanation of the demo and above is a video of what it looks like. I've drafted a file for students to work with. I'm not quite satisfied yet.  We will relate the scientific method to the 7-step plan they are already familiar with.  Day 3 we are going to do a sort and categorize activity with different branches/types of science.  I made cards with different field of science and the students are going to group them.  This will give an opportunity to talk about some overarching qualities of science and to talk about some word parts/morphemes that will come up often (-ology, -ist, bio-, geo-, etc). Day 4 we will continue our vocabulary investigation with an introduction of some key terms for the first unit which will be about minerals. Day 5 I will introduce the SAFMEDS method for studying vocabulary. Since the focus at our school is building independent learners, teaching the strategies for getting meaning from words, mastering vocabulary, comprehending text, note taking, etc are just as important as "covering" content.


This is a remedial reading class  using scripted curriculum from SRA Decoding. Looking over the IEPs for students in this class, I may have to integrate some spelling instruction here as well.  We will hit the ground running in this class as they already know the routine.

Middle School Literature and Writing

Day 1 we will start by watching a Simon's Cat video.  We will use it to complete as a class a Story Grammar Marker that will be used for the students to write a summary of the short video. This article at MindWing Concepts is where I got the idea.  This class of three students (grades 7 & 8) are still struggling with decoding (they are at maybe 3rd/4th grade level).  I thought introducing the elements of story grammar through a video would be less intimidating.  This class is 75 minutes and I have a lot of thinking of how I want to break this class down.  I have a general outline of where I'm going, but I need to see how they react and work before I can nail down an effective routing. Days 2- 5 will involve exploring the different aspects of the SGM through one or more Simon's Cat videos and then using those elements to write and edit a summary.


Day one was described above.  Days 2 - 4 will start with Est 180 and our warm-up and then will involve setting up Interactive Student Notebooks and some work with integers and integer operations. I think I also want to include Fawn's ark problem in during this first week. This will get nailed down a little more as I get into my office at school to select some materials and activities. I ordered new curriculum and can't wait for my CME Project Algebra 1 texts to come in. This class doesn't meet on Friday, so that gets me through the first week.  Sadly, this class has gotten the least amount of thought so far because I'm the least worried about being competent to teach it!

So that is my #1st5days Plan for 2014-2015.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Productive Procrastination

I often procrastinate working on one thing by working on something else that needs work, but isn't as hard or challenging.

Today I went into school with the intent of doing some data entry on our reports system (like a student information system) and to do some looking into the Next Generation Science Standards so I can do some planning for my General Science class.

Task one was a success.  I got overwhelmed with task 2.  I went to National Science Teachers Association and I did print off the middle school standards, but then I felt overwhelmed and flooded.

And then my packages from Amazon arrived.  Contents: Book of short stories for my lit/writing class, box of rocks and minerals,  hardness collection test kit, Algebra Out Loud book, Swish card games, and Q-bitz.

I had my kids with me, so of course I broke out the Q-bitz and we started to play.  This game requires you to recreate patterns from a game card using a set of 16 cubes. There are variations on how to play including racing to beat others, memory versions, and luck of the draw.  We went noncompetitive and  worked solo to recreate our own card patterns.
And that's when I decided that this game might be the exact right way to start my metacognition class this year.  The group I have is a mix of year 2 and year 3 students, so they have covered different amounts of the FIE curriculum.  This kind of analysis and visual manipulation is just the kind of abstract task that makes up the FIE curriculum.  I think that I can use this game to review the basic 7-step plan we use for problem solving and introduce Cognitive Functions (thinking processes) in a low-entry way that won't repeat any of the instruments.  This will put the two groups on an even playing field and unify the class so that I know where everyone stands before we start a new instrument together.

So, I was supposed to be planning for science, but instead I now have a solid plan to start another class.  Productive Procrastination.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


It is the beginning of a new school year. The school where I work is a rather unique and amazing place.  One of the things that makes it so special is that we start with the kids, their needs, and their IEPs and from those needs we develop a schedule.  Because of this, what I teach can vary greatly from year to year. Some years I teach a lot of math. Others, not so much.

In addition to the variety of what I teach changing from year to year, the student make-up of the class changes the focus. So, even a class I've taught before may be radically different from year to year.  I have remarkable freedom in my content classes to select what I cover and how I choose to cover it. While this is great, it can make classes outside my comfort zone challenging to plan for since there are no set requirements.

I'm trying to nail down my plan for the year, so I thought sharing it here might iron out some wrinkles.

So what does this year look like?

I start the day with a half hour of fluencies. Fluencies are 1-minute skill timings in reading, math, and typing.  This period also serves as a morning homeroom of sorts.  I'll have my 5 advisees for this group. I've had all these students in classes before.

First period is a metacognitive class called Instrumental Enrichment.  It is a 45 minute class. We use the FIE curriculum and I've taught this class at some level for 15 years.  This class has 10 kids and is a mix of year 2 and year 3 IE.  They are a great mix of kids and I think we'll have some great discussions.  I've got no worries about this class other than not repeating instruments that the year 3 guys have already done and going to fast for the year 2 guys.  I think I'm going to start the year with Categorization and then go to Numerical Progressions.  Then I'll think we'll swing back and finish the end of Organization of Dots. If you are interested in FIE, the folks at IRI have a nice overview document of the program.

Second period is a middle school General Science class.  This is also 45 minutes. This class has 7 kids and is a mix of grades 6 through 9, but heavy on the grade 8s.  I love science, but I don't teach it every year so this class is going to take a lot of my planning time.  To start the year we are going to attack the general branches of science as a structural guide.  I'm going to split the year in thirds, covering some earth science, some life sciences, and some physical science.  Some of these kids haven't had much science background and I'd like to provide a foundation so that whatever science they have next year won't be completely foreign to them.  I've selected 3 modules from the Jason Project to help structure our investigation. I need to become more familiar with the Next Generation Science Standards to make sure I'm not missing essentials for this class. I need to make sure that I plan regular hands-on experiments and demonstrations for this group.  I'll be working on comprehension of expository text, note taking, and study skills.  I'm nervous, but really excited about this class.  I'm thinking of doing Interactive Student Notebooks with this class, but I'm not sure if I want to go composition book size or spiral notebook size. I have A LOT of work to do.

After second period students have a 15 minute snack break. Third period is 30 minutes and it is a planning period for me.  I'll probably need to eat something this period since lunch is really late this year.

Fourth period is a remedial Decoding class. This is a 30 minute class.  We use a scripted curriculum for this class from SRA.  I've got 4 kids in this group and three of them were with me last year.  Given that this is a scripted class, planning is straight forward for this class.  I just hate correcting the workbook!

Period 5 is the class I'm most worried about. It is a 75 minute literature and writing class of 3 students.  They are 7th and 8th graders.  Optimistically, they decode at about a third grade level and their writing is equally challenged.  I'll be working on narrative structure to start the year using the Story Grammar Marker from MindWing Concepts. I'm going to use the Simon's Cat videos to introduce the components of the SGM and use the organizer to have them write retellings of the stories.  For the first quarter, we'll be reading short stories. I'll be introducing this group to Bookshare with the goal of helping them access more complex literature and novels as the year progresses.  For writing I'll  be using Co:Writer as an assistive technology application to help with their writing. I feel most out of my element in this class and still have a great deal to do to be ready.

After period 5 we have a 35 minute lunch.  (This is 12:45 and I'm going to be hungry.)


Period 6 is Algebra 1. This 60 minute class has 5 students all of whom I've taught before.  I'm definitely doing Interactive Student Notebooks with this group.  I'm looking into adopting the CME Project Algebra 1 curriculum as the existing materials I have are either too simple for this group (Pacemaker) or way too overwhelming (Prentice Hall).  I requested a sample and looking over the book, it seems to have nice visual and conceptual introduction to concepts and structurally it is organized with the topics and sequence that I end up rearranging other curricula.  I will probably supplement with material from the Transitions to Algebra curriculum.  I participated in the pilot and even was quoted in their brochure!  I think the emphasis on mathematical habits of mind in both curricula will mesh well.

Period 7 is 45 minutes and my second planning period.

I end the day with a supported/structured study hall with the same 5 advisees that start the day with me.  Here we work on organization, planning, study skills, and homework completion.

I still have a couple of weeks before school starts, but I have a lot of details to work out before then!