We All Want to Feel Special

“It is my belief that we all have the need to feel special. It is this need that can bring out the best in us, or the worst in us.” Janet Jackson

I was recently awarded Bank of America Outstanding Teacher for STEM along with 42 other teachers in our district. It was an immense honor!

The day was filled with activities and we, the teachers and our one guest, were treated like celebrities. We were served amazing lunch where we also participated in a raffle with to pick the driver we would be paired up with to ride a lap around the track. I chose Jeff Burton, because I recognized his name when it was my turn. I have to admit, I do not know much about NASCAR besides I use the sport to teach force and motion to my students because a lot of my students are NASCAR fans. The teachers, our guests and I got to go into the “pit” and view the pit crews working on the cars before the race. We received amazing gift bags that included Bank of America-NASCAR shirts. We got to be announced with our drivers, walk across the stage and carry their flag. We stayed with them until the race began.

Some of the drivers were very nice (Landon Cassill was amazing to everyone that he passed, teacher, fans etc) while other drivers blew by us like we weren’t even there. During this time, I was reminded how amazing it feels to be treated so special. It got me thinking about our students. It stroke a chord with me that we need to make sure that everyday we are making all students feel as special as I felt yesterday. Even a hello in the hallway can make a students day, just like it made my day when Landon Cassill said hi. To the students, we are their celebrities, if they are student in our own classroom or not. If students are feeling special, they will feel happier and it will lead to better behavior, test scores and less drop out rates. I know all teachers try to make students feel special but sometimes it is hard when so many things are thrown at us such as testing and district mandates along with the many “hats” we wear.

Here are 5 ways to make students (or anyone) feel special daily:

1. Say Hi to all students when passing in the hallway. Even if your hallways are silent, you can do a silent wave!

2. Listen to what they are saying! We are all busy, but take the time to really listen; this goes for your co-workers as well!

3. Eat lunch with them, even if it is once a week. They will feel important, which they are!

4. Ask questions. Most teachers take time in the beginning of the year to get to know your students by asking questions, but why stop. Students are always changing. Run out of thinks to ask them? Ask them how their
night was or weekend?

5. Remember details about your students and then use the details you learn in conversations with them.

Many teachers do this often, but even the best teachers forget how important it is to help students feel special everyday!

Landon Cassill’s Trailer

Waiting in line with our flags before meeting our drivers!

Twitter Has Changed My Teaching Life

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.” Henry Ford

About six months ago I was introduced to Twitter by @technology_tim. I had been always under the impress that Twitter was for celebrities’ and their fans. Who really cared about what Justin Bieber was doing? But after talking with Tim, he inspired me to at least give it a try and I am so glad I did; Twitter has changed my teaching life. Here are my top 3 reasons how….

1. Chats: There is so much out there on the internet that it used to take me hours to find sites that were really good or that fit my classroom wants and/or needs. But on twitter chats, everyone shares their resources and ideas that have worked for them resulting in saving me time. It also helps me reflect on my teaching practices. For example, I along with another teacher, started kid-blogging with our math class to integrate more writing in math this year. We thought it was going well but when I chatted on last weeks twitter @5thchat I learned so many more ways/ideas to make the blog experience even better for our students. We have become researches to what works or doesn’t work in the classroom based on experience.

2. Followers/Following: Twitter introducing me to the most amazing teachers who I never would have met if it wasn’t for this social site! It is great to see what other teachers are trying and exploring in their classrooms. They are the best Personal Learning Network (PLN) I could ask for! Following them truly is a pleasure. How this is different from chats is that chats are on one topic a week verses the people I follow post tweets of articles and topics they have found interesting. I only follow people that have the same passion for education as I do. I as well, post articles and ideas that I think is worth reading/exploring.

3. Global Learning: On Twitter everyone is from different places around the world not just your district or state. This gives you different perspectives on education. Twitter helps you learn how to communicate and collaborate in multicultural setting with other educators. (Which is also what we want our students to be learning to do as 21st century learners, so shouldn’t we be modeling this ourselves?) Twitter allows for open conversations about different cultures outlooks on educational news, classrooms resources etc. I have learned so much about “flipped classroom” through the educators I follow from Australia, as they have been doing this for awhile and know what is working and what is not.

Twitter can be used as a powerful tool to build your PLN, promote your ideas and/or raise awareness of different topics globally. I hope with this blog post more educators will jump on the bandwagon and share their ideas. Don’t forget to follow me @Edu_Thompson.

Girls and Science

“Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”. Ralph Waldo Emerson

This week I was able to go into a lot of classrooms and teach science. It was magnificent seeing so many students having fun with science. They saying things like, “Science is awesome,” and “Science is my favorite subject”. These students had true smiles on their faces and enjoying learning which is every teachers dream.

But I was thrown off guard when a little girl wasn’t having a lot of fun. Of course I zoomed in on her and her giraffe. (Students were making giraffes out of clay to show how we need bones, as the clay wouldn’t stay up without bones. They would then add “bones” by adding toothpicks so the giraffes would stay up.) “Wow, I love your giraffe! Isn’t science fun, I love science,” I said enthusiastically as I watched her write her observations into her science journal. Her unpredictable response was, “Its okay, girls can’t really do science.” I was stunned. Who thought like this in the 21st century? Girls can do anything, forget that, no matter who you are you can do anything that you put your mind too. Of course, I got defensive to this little third grader and said a string of things such as, “Girls can be scientists, look at me, I am a girl and a scientist. Look at your classmates, they are all scientists. Anyone can be scientists.” She looked at me like I had ten heads and didn’t respond, not even a smile. I sadly, walked away and helped a few students that were calling me. Science was over so I left the classroom as they moved onto math but I continued to think about this little girls comment. How many other girls, still though like this? I knew this was a problem when I first started teaching but I really though that we had got past this stereotype.

Let’s flashback to me in high school, I HATED science. I thought it was a waste of time. I could care less about where rocks came from or what cloud type was in the sky. I didn’t think girls should do science. Not until college did I think science was okay and that girls could do it because it was my first real exposure to a female scientist. Then I was forced to really learn science due to the fact it became a “tested” subject. (Wow, look at that, something good came out of testing!) I took every class I could possibly take to learn the curriculum. It wasn’t until I took a graduate class on ‘Teaching Science in Elementary School’ that made me realize, I really liked science.

My first year, I taught science and I always heard girls say, “Science isn’t something that girls should do. Or Science is hard.” This is when my passion for science kicked in. I was determined to change these girl’s minds and get them to realize they could do anything. I started teaching Camp Invention and making sure I taught hands-on science all the time.

I became an advocate for science and inquiry learning. I needed to get other teachers on board. I started small by teaching teachers how to use science notebooking and getting them to buy into its importance on my grade level. I started directing Camp Invention (http://www.invent.org/camp/default.aspx) at my school. My first year we had over a 110 students sign up, awesome I thought, students loved science. But when I looked at the ratio of our numbers there were only 20 girls. The following year our numbers grew and we had 120- 30 were girls. I decided to start coaching Science Olympiad during the school year. The first year only a few girls signed up but the next year we had a few more. Girls were starting to participate in science during class time more and more as well. We were making progress. The next year, we had had two weeks of Camp Invention because so many students signed up. Out of the two weeks, only one of the weeks we had ½ of our total participants were girls. This past summer we had the same amount of boys, as we did girls, both weeks of camp! I felt that girls were learning they could “do” science; after all the data was proving that from the interest in Camp Invention and Science Olympiad.

Then why was this student still thinking that girls couldn’t do science? I started thinking about what I could do to help promote science for girls. What female scientists did I know of, I couldn’t I think of any right away!! I decided this weekend to research girls and science. I wanted to make sure we were moving forward and that I was doing my part as an educator to help all students, including girls, love science. I created a link on my website called, “Science for Girls” to help provide girls with science sites that are girl friendly, positive and encouraging. I became conscious I need to continue to be an advocate as my “job” was not done. http://jillthompson.cmswiki.wikispaces.net/Science+for+Girls%21 As much as I have helped improve students love for science, I realized I still have a long way to go. I’m glad that this little girl brought this problem, back to my attention.

“If you know you are on the right track, if you have this inner knowledge, then nobody can turn you off. . . no matter what they say.” Barbara McClintock (American Scientist. Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1983.

Top Websites I use in the Elementary Classrooms

“The traditional school often functions as a collection of independent contractors united by a common parking lot.” – Robert Eaker

Recently I was asked what websites do I use in the elementary classroom and how do I use them. After this conversation, I decided to come up with a list of my top ten favorites but in no particular order!

1. Edu.glogster: http://edu.glogster.com (Free) What is not fun about making interactive posters! The students love that they can be creative and create their own poster for a topic. It is a great way to use formative assessment. I can see through their glog if they understood the main points of the topic. For example, I had my students complete a glog on simple machines. I could tell if they understood the difference between all machines along with understanding the definitions. Example of a glog http://jillthompson.edu.glogster.com/false-4394

2. Popplet: http://popplet.com (Free) Popplet is a mind mapping website. I have the students create circle maps on a topic and have them tell me everything they know in their notebooks. For example, ecosystems would go in the middle and they would write words around it that they know about ecosystems. What I like about Popplet is when we come together as a class and talk about what we know we create a Popplet as a class. Everything we know is displayed in one color, for example blue. I save it and then we go back to our Popplet mid-unit and in a different color we add what we know now. We do this again at the end of the unit. This helps to show the students how much they have learned about a topic from beginning to end. You can upload them to your site or make them into PDF’s as well.

3. Voki: www.voki.com (Free) I love creating vokis as much as the students. A voki is an avatar that people create to express thoughts. There are endless ways you can use vokis. I have see students in second grade make vokis and summarize books they have read. I have used vokis in the classroom to give directions during a transition time (They may love you as their teacher but they love hearing things from the voki more!) Here are other ways teachers have used vokis. http://www.voki.com/lesson_plans.php

4. Kidblog: www.kidblog.org (Free) This is a great site where a teacher can create a class blog and so do the students. Each student gets a user name and password. It is protected so only those invited get to view. I recently helped another teacher set this up in her classroom to have the students write about math. The students have been loving it and are doing math not only in the classroom but at home too. They have even been coming up with their own problems for each other as well.

5. Wordle: http://www.wordle.net (Free) Here students can create word clouds. I have had students create Wordles using different vocabulary words for a unit. I have had them copy and paste in their short stories and see what words come up the most often that they might want to change. There are lots of different ways to use Wordle and here are some more. http://issuu.com/ugaetc/docs/thirty_eight_interesting_ways_to_use_wordle_i/1

6. Tikatok: http://www.tikatok.com (Free) Here students can create their own ebooks. A teacher uploads a roster of their students and they each get a username and password. From any computer, home or at school, the students can create ebooks. You can also send them to their families and if the parents want to purchase it they have that option too!

7. Discovery Education: http://www.discoveryeducation.com (Paid) I use this site all the time as it doesn’t just have science but math, reading, social studies too! All the curriculum for each state is matched to the states standards and recently also to the common core. Short video clips are a great way to engage students for a new unit or for them to review a topic. DE has more to offer then just video clips but lesson plans, class assignments, quizzes etc!

8. Wallwisher: www.wallwisher.com (Free) This site is easy to manage and a great way for students to complete exit slips or to get their thoughts on a topic. They have to be able to summarize their thoughts in less than 160 characters so it makes for great way to have students synthesize information!

9. Prezi: http://prezi.com (Free) Prezi is a great way to present information differently. It is similar to PowerPoint but what makes it better (in my opinion) is that Prezi is more fun to create and engages the audience more. “The zoomable canvas makes it fun to explore ideas and the connections between them. The results are visually captivating presentations that lead your audience down a path of discovery.” (From about-prezi.com)

10. Edmodo: http://www.edmodo.com (Free) Edmodo is a classroom community! You can create groups for your class and have online discussions. If you want more individualized groups then you can create small groups for example for novel studies or book clubs. You can post questions, for students to answer or assignments. Assignments can include videos and articles links. You can create polls for students to vote on topics. You can also grade right on the site but it is private so only that student can see it.

There are sites such as http://pbworks.com that I loved using but have been blocked at school recently. I know there are other great sites that I haven’t tried such as www.Kerpoof.com (the next website I will be learning and trying). If you have a site that you use often in your classroom, I would love to hear about it and how you use it!

Using ShowMe App for iPad in the Classroom

“Technology is not a new tool for learning. It’s a whole new way of learning.” Dan Roberts

Recently at an iPad chat, I discussed along with other educators, the benefits of certain apps for the iPad in the classroom. The app I discussed was ShowMe, which allows you to create whiteboard tutorials and share them online. I was surprised how many educators did not know about this app so I decided it needed to be my blog topic this week.

Why is this app ShowMe amazing? Here are 10 reasons!

1. It is a free app, as educators we need that

2. Once you create an account there are numerous already created tutorials’ in the ShowMe community

3. You can create videos for your “flipped classroom”

4. It is so easy to use; 1st graders I worked with were able to use it

5. Great way for teachers to assess student’s knowledge

6. You can change the background from the whiteboard to a map (or any background) and use it to enhance your lesson

7. Can be used for any subject (Ex. Math-how to add fractions)

8. Receive information through visuals as well as audio

9. Can be shared easily by embedding it into your website or sending a link to email, Facebook or Twitter

10. Videos can be as long or as short as you want them to be. I taught the students how to use the application in just a few minutes.

Below is a fifth grader using the ShowMe app as a way I assessed his knowledge. I gave him the task, “Using this app, describe the water cycle.” I walked away and worked with other students. When I came back, I taught him how to save the video with his name and topic. I then was able to go back later and view his water cycle video. I was able to see that he understood the water cycle and the key vocabulary.

Some of you may be saying, but he could of just drawn the water cycle on a piece of paper and handed it in. True, but having him complete it on the ShowMe app he has able to take it a step further and explain how it works verse just drawing it. This shows true comprehension of the topic.


Flipped Classroom in Elementary School

‘It is today we must create the world of the future.’ Eleanor Roosevelt

The new buzz word in education is the ‘Flipped Classroom’. I have used the flipped classroom and have found it quite successful. Many people say to me, ‘I am intrigued by the flipped instruction, what is the best way to implement this in my classrooms?’ I decided to blog what I have found works best for me in my classroom.

For those of you not familiar with flipped classroom also known as flipped instruction;  the basic ideas is that as educators we flip
our instruction so that students watch and listen to lessons for homework, and then use our class-time for tackling difficult problems, working in groups, collaborating, and creating. Students are expected to watch the vodcast, take notes, and understand the concept being taught. During class time you would do a quick review then work on an activity where the students can collaborate with their classmates on more challenging real world problems.

The first time I tried the flipped classroom, I tried it with my fifth grade math class. I was lucky that all my students had computer access. The students watched a Khan Academy video on how to multiply fractions. The expectations given to them were to take notes as if I played this video in class (I modeled my expectations many times with also guided practice before assigning a video for homework).

I considered it a success as all the students had mastered the concept based on my quick assessment.  They loved the hands-on multiplication activity we did in groups. The students also had great feedback to make it better! As part of my closure I had students fill out an exit slips answering this question, ‘What is one thing you like and disliked about the flipped classroom experience?’ One thing they didn’t like about it was they couldn’t ask questions. One way to solve this problem was to use Edmodo, a wiki or a wall wisher so the students could post questions and I or another classmate could answer them. Many students loved that they could watch it multiple times and stop it when they needed to. They also liked that if they didn’t understand something shown in the video, there was videos on the side that could also help them understand or they “googled” it.

I think educators should try the flipped classroom.  My advice (I am noexpert) for those that want to try this in their elementary classroom is:

1. Model your expectations in the classroom. Show a video and stop often to show students how to take notes. Then move to guided practice before assigning it for homework.

2. Remember not all students have computer access at home so have a “back up plan” such as having students stay after school to use your computers or see if your technology teacher would let you borrow the computer lab.

3. Think about what your goal is. Ask yourself exactly what do you want your students to master.

4. Start small. Try one subject and see how it goes for your students. Make adjustments as necessary.

5. Use videos that are already made
from sites such as http://www.khanacademy.org, http://streaming.discoveryeducation.com
or http://www.mathpickle.com/K-12/Videos.html to start you off.

6. Try making your own videos once you get the hang of it. The kids love seeing and hearing you!

7. Use it as a way to differentiate!

8. Read up on it! There are lots of great articles out there and if you are on twitter follow #flipclass and see what educators are doing and saying all around the world

Using the flipped classroom will help your students take ownership of their learning, a great 21st century skill we want all students to master! It will also help them become independent problem solvers along with collaborators.

My favorite component of the flipped classroom is it changes the role of you, the teacher! You become more of a facilitator and guide their learning. The classroom becomes an inquiry and/or problem based learning zone verse lecture.

The flipped classroom is not for every student, but it puts forth the best way educators can increase in-class learning. If a student or small group of students needs more instruction that still can be done without holding others back. You won’t know unless you try, so take a risk and see what happens! If you have used the flipped classroom and have other tips or insight please sure by commenting below!

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” Colin Powell

Core of teaching and learning…Inquiry-based learning!

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” Chinese Proverb

I believe inquiry-based learning is the key to developing students understanding along with assessing their knowledge. Inquiry based learning is involving the learner and leading them to understand by asking good questions. I believe it is the core of teaching and learning. Questioning along with finding answers is an exceptionally important aspect of inquiry based learning as it helps the teacher facilitate students to effectively generate knowledge.

I’m often surprised how many teachers want to always be right with their student’s, which leads them to not ask good questions. I think one of the reasons why I am successful in the classroom is because I pretend I don’t know the answer to problems to help probe the students to ask more questions. For example, when we do our inquiry-based experiment-Does it sink or float? students always ask, “Why does the diet coke float and coke sink?” I could answer this two ways; I could tell the student the answer or I could simply say, “I don’t know, what do you think?”

Good questions always lead to more good questions. This question now opens the student up to start thinking why and leads them to ask more questions such as; how would the cans react in salt water? Or does it matter if the soda is room temperature or cold?

If it doesn’t lead them to more questions then it leads them to at least wanting to know the answer. This is when it is important for the teacher to say, ‘Why don’t you see if you can find the answer,’ verse telling the student the answer. When students discover the answer on their own it impacts them more and helps them understand the process of learning. Within a few minutes at the computer the student found this great video that explains why diet floats. http://www.sciencedojo.com/?p=192 . This leads to a great opportunity to ask the next question; “When would you see this happening in the real world?” This brings students to make a connection to the inquiry-based experiment and the real world.

Inquiry-based learning is not just for science but for all subjects. When teachers ask good questions, it can motivate students to want to learn new things, investigate why things work or how to solve a problem. Students need to be involved in the learning process. Asking the right questions in the right way, and you’ll engage students!