Friday, March 2, 2018

First Attempt At Bitable

#CelebrateMonday on Biteable.

I heard about this tool in a webinar that I watched today. I had fun making this. It was pretty easy!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

SPIDER Web Discussions

     In January of 2013, Google launched an initiative called, “Project Oxygen.” They used thousands of performance reviews, surveys, employee nominations, and every byte of hiring and firing data since the company started in 1998 to crunch the numbers and find out the characteristics of their best managers. What Google found out shocked everyone. They call the list The Big Eight, and here are the traits ranked in order of importance:
  1. Be a good coach. Give specific, balanced, positive and negative feedback.
  2. Empower your team and don’t micromanage. 
  3. Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being. Possess insights into others including their values and different points of view.
  4. Be productive and results-oriented.
  5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team.
  6. Help your employees with career development.
  7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.
  8. Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team.
     Last on the list is “technical skills.” The majority of the most desired skills for managers are “soft skills” having to do with collaboration and communication. Google was also able to identify some pitfalls of the company’s worst managers. Essentially, they found out how crucial it was to be able to work well with a group.
     Google provides a glimpse of what the real world is requiring of our graduates: good collaborators, communicators, and feedback givers and receivers. The natural question then is what are we doing on a daily basis to prepare our students to be better communicators, collaborators, and critical/creative thinkers? How are we assessing those skills? How are we tracking growth? How are we developing our students’ ability to work as teams?
     Developing a trusting classroom culture is crucial for learning, and I don’t know of a single classroom teacher that doesn’t try to build and maintain a positive climate throughout the year. I also know that it’s a common practice to do team building activities. But, in my search for wanting my students to dive deeper into meaningful conversations, I found and am learning more about Spider Web Discussion- a tweak to the popular Socratic Seminar.
     Spider is an acronym for Synergetic, Practiced, Independent, Developed, Exploration, with a Rubric. The Web comes from the web-like graph that the teacher draws to document the discussion in real time and uses it for debriefing. The teacher prepares by using backward design and identifies the goals of the classroom discussion by listing them for a rubric. Short and sweet rubrics are best. For example, I want everyone to participate and strive for a balance of voices in the discussion. This requires that those students that love to talk to monitor themselves and not monopolize the conversation and my quieter students to stretch and contribute. I also want my students to listen to understand by using specific language that encourages others to share or elaborate on their thinking.
     Secondly, the teacher will want to choose a good discussion topic and/or text. The key is to find something engaging that your students will be eager to talk about with their peers. Before any discussion, I like to give my students time to reflect and write down some thoughts on the topic. This is a good strategy that helps all students but is almost essential for my more introverted students because they need more time to process and think before speaking. When we’re ready to start, students sit in a circle so that everyone can see each other. I quickly review the rubric. The goal is for the class to collaborative work together to “earn an A.” I’m not grading them for a grade in the grade book, but I am encouraging them to reflect and improve after each discussion. During the discussion, I map the flow of the conversation and note the number of interruptions, great questions, and insights, encouraging phrases, etc. Unlike the Socratic seminar, the students conduct the conversation, and the teacher “disappears.” They have to work collaboratively to keep the discussion moving forward with everyone participating and showing respect and understanding for various points of view. After the discussion, the teacher debriefs with the kids and fills out the rubric. An excellent book about Spider Web Discussions in great detail is The Best Class You Never Taught: How SPIDER Web Discussion Can Turn Students into Learning Leaders by Alexis Wiggins. It is a step by step guide and an easy, quick read.
    My first attempt at having a Spider Web discussion was amazing! I was in awe as I watched and listened to my students. Students never cease to amaze me when there are high expectations, and they are empowered with their learning! I can’t wait to continue using this “strategy” and to track their growth. (I think of this type of discussion as more about classroom culture rather than a teaching strategy.) I was able to visually see evidence of who talked the most, who didn’t participate, who asked thought-provoking questions, who used encouraging language, who interrupted, who had inspiring insights, who was willing to take risks, and who was able to jump into the conversation but only repeated what had already been said. Although I could have predicted much of the outcome, there were a few surprises. I was also really proud of my class for being able to honestly reflect and talk about how they could improve for the next discussion. In my opinion, I think the Spider Web discussion tweak has the potential to be a real game-changer!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Anticipation...It's Almost Here!

Winter break is a great time to rejuvenate and reflect. This year, I had an extra long break because of shifting to B track in a year-round school. I have to admit that I spent a little too much time in my PJs and my favorite blanket curled up reading. It was awesome! Part of my time was spent planning for the next chunk of time with my kids at school. 

While most people will be groaning and dreading going back to school in a couple of days, I'm completely excited! The anticipation is almost more than I can stand! I haven't seen my kiddos for over a month and I miss them! 

Tuesday morning, I'm going to take my kids on a field trip to ancient Greece. Earlier, I sent out invitations to them to come prepared to wear their chiton/toga for the next couple of weeks. I'm sure that they're wondering, "What is Ms. King doing now?" I only had a little over an hour to decorate the hallway and classroom. I don't have everything set up yet, but I'll get there! (A disadvantage of year-round schools is moving classrooms. It's a lot of work!) Things don't look exactly how I'd envisioned them, but it'll be enough for the kids to get the idea.

Here's my plan:

There will temporarily be an empty room next to mine. I'm going to take my kids in there for attendance, lunch count, morning announcements, etc. When everyone is dressed and ready, we'll go next door into our classroom where we'll be on Mount Olympus complete with fog and music in the background. Kids are divided up into city-states. They will work with their polis to complete the QR hunt to build background knowledge of ancient Greece.

When I taught sixth grade, the study of ancient Greece was a five-week simulation. But since I teach fifth grade, I only want the kids to have a little bit of background knowledge. I'm tying ancient Greece in with our study of government, Latin-Greek roots, speaking/debate, Olympics, and science. Of course, reading and writing skills are embedded into all of our learning.

After the QR hunt, we'll play a game to test their newfound knowledge. Our next activity is the one I'm most looking forward to. While sitting on the floor in a circle, eating olives and fish crackers, we'll discuss their off-track activities and the books that they read. It's downtime to some, but I see it as an opportunity to build relationships and get to know my students a little bit better. The day will continue with hands-on activities centered around our science unit of magnetism and electricity. I hope it'll be a fun day. I hope to create a MOMENT to be remembered.

I haven't done this before in fifth grade. I don't know exactly how things will go, but that's the fun part. We'll see!

Friday, December 29, 2017

One Word 2018: Arete!

     The ancient Greeks examined their life and set goals to achieve. They called this quest arete (air-ah-tay) which roughly translated means the pursuit of excellence.

     During 2018, my one word and focus will be Arete.

     Although there is no direct English translation, arete to me is an all-encompassing word that includes many of my values, goals, and aspirations. It is climbing the mountain before me with courage, focus, and grit. Arete is about learning, growing, and improving. This is my quest.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

It's Not Always About Fear...

unsplash-logoDan Roizer 
The speed of change in how we teach our kids has changed dramatically during the last decade! Technology makes it possible for students to learn and create in ways never before imagined.  There is a myriad of tech tools for teachers to use to engage their students. However, it can be overwhelming for teachers to learn and implement everything that's "out there." Each app or web-based program comes with its own learning curve. The learning doesn't stop once the basics are learned because each tool is continuously being updated and changed- sometimes to the point of not being recognizable. And then there's always the issue of investing the time to learn something only to have it disappear. Along with the many pedagogical shifts of the last decade, the age of testing and accountability, and the many school and district initiatives, the plate gets pretty full! Losing focus is easy if the attention is on all of the shiny new tools. Teachers need to keep experimenting and learning new ways of engaging students to avoid becoming stagnant and irrelevant. But, they also should remain focused on student learning outcomes as they plan their lessons.  Just using technology is not the same thing as integrating technology to enhance a learning experience. Great teachers engage students in creating, communicating, collaboration, and critical thinking. Yes, there are many tools to use. It's not always about a fear to not try them. It's more about taking the TIME to augment great Tier 1 instruction with technology. Administrators can be supportive by recognizing the effort that teachers take to learn and implement even a few tools well.

My Favorite Things

Seesaw and Flipgrid
Promote student voices.
All things with Google give people more choices.
Edmodo, Class Dojo, Kahoot and Buncee
There are many web tools for teachers to see.

Remind to get updates and Classcraft gold pieces
Creating with Touchcast the fun never ceases
Newsela and Reflex Animoto and more
Tech tools for teachers- so much to explore!

Plickers, Socrative
Assessment that’s quick
Nearpod, GoNoodle, for learning to stick
Improving our reading with Lyrics2Learn
Hundreds of tech tools wherever you turn.

When the time’s short
When my plate’s full
When I need to plan
I simply remember a few focused things.
And then I don’t feel so bad!

Edpuzzle and Thinglink
Plus apps that are free
QR codes and Augmented reality
Kidblog and Tynker
Powtoon IXL
Using these tech tools
Help kids to excel.

GoFormative, Quizziz,
Whiteboards to write on
Learnzillion for flipping
Math lessons from Al Khan
Storybird, Quizlet to name a few more
Extensions for Chromebooks you just can’t ignore.

Singing with Flocab, writing with Quill
StoryboardThat and 100’s more still!
Smore for newsletters- There’s no end in sight!
SAMR helps teachers use all the tech right!

When the time’s short,
When my plate’s full,
When I need to plan,
I simply remember a few focused things.
And then I don’t feel so bad!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Evidence of Neglecting to Blog

I just spent the last 30 + minutes trying to figure out how to log into the account associated with this blog. I couldn't remember the gmail account information nor the password. Sigh.....

It's not that I haven't been thinking and writing down ideas. I have. I'm just having a hard time blogging and even being on any social media at all. I don't know why.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


I haven’t posted a blog post since last April. Even the few blog posts I published back then didn't make me happy. I’m struggling as a writer. It’s not that I don’t have plenty of topics to write about because I do. I’ve reflected and thought quite a bit about a whole host of subjects. But, when I’ve sat down to write, the words haven’t come. Sometimes I’ve written some thoughts and deleted them. I shouldn’t do that. I should keep them to revisit them later. Sometimes I've composed thoughts in my head with just the right words, but my critical voice rebelled and pushed them out of my mind quickly so that I couldn't recall and write them down.

I’m rusty now. I’m out of practice. I’ve worried about things that I shouldn’t worry about like who will read my posts and what will they think. I know better. Blogging is about reflecting and growing as a person. It’s a place to jot down thoughts about where I am in this space and time. Opinions change. My views have changed considerably about a lot of things since I’ve become a connected educator. It’s good to ask, “Why?” It’s good to have my ideas and practices challenged. It’s good to go back to read about where I was and where I am now. This journey is an "edventure, " and I need to share my story.

This blog post is bland and unimportant. But, I’m posting it. It doesn’t matter to me if anyone reads it. I need to take this step to help me get back in the routine of reflecting and writing down my thoughts.

I don't feel like I'm living true to my one word. Maybe that's been a roadblock too.