Friday, December 6, 2013

Big Ideas Fest 2013

So, one of the things I love about my new school are the opportunities I have had professionally - and I'm only in my third fourth month (wow, where'd the time go?) of teaching here. This week I am attending the Big Ideas Fest Conference in San Francisco, California. My principal asked me before the iPad summit if I would be interested in attending and creating a committee to help our school develop the next big idea to implement. I jumped on board for multiple reasons, including that it sounds awesome to be at the forefront of new ideas instead of constantly feeling like I'm playing catch-up. The conference has just started, but I'm already feeling super excited and motivated. It helps that Taylor Mali is sitting at the next table over, and that the co-founder and CEO of the Malala Fund spoke last night. ;)

I'll let you know more of what I learned later!


Monday, November 25, 2013

ThingLink Fun!

One of the coolest sessions I attended at the iPad Summit in Boston two weeks ago was about ThingLinks.  I had never heard of these before that session, but they are so easy to make and so useful in the classroom - especially 1:1 classrooms.  You can take any image and insert any type of link over top of it - basically creating a guided lesson for students to follow.  I created two this week - one for each of my math groups.  They worked out perfectly - as I was teaching one group, the other group was working through their ThingLink and vice versa.  I was even able to include videos that I had created so that students were still getting some instruction from me!  Here is the first ThingLink that I created:

I created the image in PicCollage using screen shots of problems they had already completed.  The videos linked over the images were created in Educreations.  I created the videos explaining how to do each type of problem.  Then, the question icon is their independent practice.  They can use the videos to help them solve all of the problems.  My students are very sweet, but not very independent yet.  By giving them the videos, I am giving them a resource to use so that they aren't constantly approaching me about each problem.  (And as much as I would love to, when you have 25 students in a class for 60 minutes, you cannot teach each of them one on one.)  Giving them the videos gives them a crutch, and allows me to be able to really work with other students that I may not have been able to get to before.

The second ThingLink I created is here:

This ThingLink is obviously focused on absolute value.  While the first ThingLink was designed as more of a review for students, this one was created to teach the initial lesson, and then I pulled them together as a group to clarify any misconceptions.  This was for my faster group of students who are a little bit more independent.  I created the image in PicCollage again.  It includes a video that I created in Explain Everything and posted to Vimeo.  While I love how that looks, I didn't realize Vimeo was blocked for my students - so I'll be using Educreations for now on.  I also linked to a website that had some practice problems, and included a Brainpop video/quiz that I wanted them to complete.  I edited the BrainPop image in Skitch to include the arrow, and text.  

A lot of these apps may be very familiar to some of you, but I really felt like I stumbled on a wealth of information during that session.  One of my favorite things about ThingLinks are once they're created, they're good to go - you can edit them if needed, and reuse them again and again.  They would be great for webquests too!

Do you guys have any cool ideas I could use these for that I may not have thought of?


Monday, November 18, 2013

Frustrations and New Motivation

Well, if anyone is still following me, thank you.  I know it's been quite the hiatus. I am having a difficult year transitioning to 1:1 iPads, and was really feeling like I didn't have much to contribute, which kept me from writing.  The change has also kept me very busy, which has prevented me from blogging as well.  Going from teaching with paper and pencil to a paperless environment was a much harder transition than I had anticipated, and doing that with a very sweet, but very low group of students has made it even more challenging.  Thankfully, my principal provided the opportunity this past week for some colleagues and I to attend the iPad Summit in Boston.  This conference was so inspiring, and I really feel rejuvenated going back to school this week.  I love it when you have terrific professional development that just re-energizes you.  I learned so much and realized that I am greatly under-utilizing this fantastic tool that I have.

One of the most coolest things I learned about were ThingLinks (which can be used without the iPad) and I will be using them this week.  This website,, allows you to upload ANY image (as long as it is a picture type file), and then insert ANY type of link over the image (video, other images, text, soundbites, websites, ect).  I am going to use it as a station next week, where my students visit the image, and access the links to learn about absolute value and practice graphing absolute value.

TechChef4U (click here to go to her blog) was the presenter of this session at the conference, and this was her ThingLink that is filled with examples, and directions:

If you click on the little circles, or numbers on top of the image, you will find the things that she has linked to. She is also one of the speakers that inspired me to start blogging again.  I realized that I am really much more excited about teaching and much more creative when I am sharing my ideas, and so I need to start doing that again.  Once I finish my ThingLink, I will share it with all of you!  I am also going to share some of the other great resources, apps and ideas I learned about while in Boston over the next few days/weeks, I promise!

What are some ways you keep yourself motivated?


Friday, August 2, 2013

New Country, New City, New School

Well, it's been a big month for us.  We have moved back to the East Coast from Okinawa, Japan, have been lucky enough to have a mini vacay in Hawaii along the way, visited with both sets of parents, took a week long vacation in the Outer Banks with my sisters and some of our best friends, moved to South Carolina, bought a house (we close today), and I am extremely thankful that I was able to get a job here as well, teaching 6th grade math and science!  Whew, that's a list.  I am thrilled with all of the new developments in our lives, and I am absolutely beyond excited about my new position.

While I love teaching math, I really have missed teaching science the past few years, so I am happy to have that opportunity again.  When I interviewed for this position, I just felt like this school would be such an amazing fit for me, and would challenge me to become a better teacher.  It is a 1:1 iPad school, and has managed to become almost completely paperless. They are also working on moving towards an entirely project based learning (PBL) approach where students are learning the material through authentic, cross-curricular projects. I am teamed with another teacher new to the school, and we are the only two person team (he will cover history and language arts).

My new principal is awesome (from what I can tell) - she was there when the school opened and is the one who said she wanted iPads. She also had a hand in every part of the school, including the tables and chairs that were ordered (no desks for us!). She truly believes that if public education does not change, then we will disappear - and that there are charter schools and private schools doing some really innovative things that we need to catch up with.  There are a ton of other really great things going on here (like supplies being available on each hall for students to use for free for projects), but I'm sure ill hit on those in later posts. I don't want to overwhelm anyone with how awesome my new
job is. ;)

I probably won't being doing math notebooks again this year (little disappointed about that), but since the school is paperless - literally, the only thing on the supply list is earbuds - I will have to move in a different direction.  I WILL be doing stations though and LOTS of projects. Stay tuned for more!

What do you think about 1:1 iPad programs?


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

More Laptop Fun

I was really worried a few weeks ago about how I was going to integrate the laptops into my classroom.  Don't get me wrong - I was excited as all get out - but still anxious.  My school  administration has been very good about not putting a ton of pressure on us to use them daily (or even weekly for that matter).   The overall feeling has been, use them when you can and for lessons where it works - in other words, don't force it or stress over it.  I was trying to figure out how I could use the laptops in ways that I already teach - and I was coming up with very few examples - it was stressful!  Once they had the laptops though, I realized now I can do the lessons I wanted to do before, but couldn't because I didn't have the resources.  For example, now I can have everyone complete an online activity at the same time instead of as a station.  This is great because a lot of online activities require more time to complete than one station rotation.

Students working on their laptops - I had to rearrange my classroom for my pretty new SmartBoard (see it on the wall?!)

I already shared this website, but is just awesome.  The more and more I go through it, the more pleased I am.  I found the website I used for my lesson a few weeks ago on percents with discounts, interest and tips on here.

I had students visit  The website calls this a game, but I would describe it more as an activity.  Anyways, the students select their character and visit different stores in a virtual mall where they solve all kinds of percent problems.  They have to calculate tip at a cafe, interest at the bank, and discounts at the toy store and gym. Even better is the students get to make decisions that create the problems - they chose what to order at the cafe, how much money to deposit at the bank and what toys to buy at the toy store. The activity breaks the problems up into parts (and my only complaint is that they never really give them a chance to solve the problem from beginning to end without breaking it up for them), but I really liked it as an introduction to how to solve these types of percent problems.  I followed up this activity with some additional practice that offered less guidance.

The Home Screen for the game - students can choose where to go from here.
The Cafe in the game - students can select what they order here - I put out a few options of my own as an example.

What are some websites you've found that are just great?


End of Year Reflection

As the end of the year approaches, I like to look back and reflect on things that have gone really well this year and some things that, well, haven't.  I started the year with three big goals that I wanted to accomplish: using math notebooks, learning stations, and math bucks (you can read my post about them here.)  Overall, I was really pleased with how I accomplished those goals.

1) Math Notebooks

I am THRILLED with how my math notebooks turned out!  I loved how they required students to keep everything in one place, and because everything was glued in it meant that they weren't losing the notes we had taken throughout the year.  I am able to tell students to look up something we've already covered that they might have forgotten (integer rules, or common fraction to decimal conversions) which puts the responsibility back on them instead of me. 

I used their notebooks as a quiz grade at the end of each quarter, which helped keep them responsible for them.  I still had a few students who would spend the last two weeks of the quarter desperately updating their notebooks because they hadn't kept it up to date throughout the nine weeks, but overall they did very well with them.  One thing that I will make sure to focus on a bit more next year is the table of contents - my students didn't understand how to fill that in correctly using their own notebooks, and often would wait until the end of the nine weeks to come in and copy mine.  It wasn't until the third nine weeks that I realized this was happening (when I hadn't updated mine and they were all in a panic because they didn't know how to do it).  Next year I'll make sure we really cover this at the beginning of the year.

I am going to try to do a really in depth post on our math notebooks over the summer - I'm even thinking about including a video so you can see EVERYTHING we did with them!

2) Learning Stations

How I organize stations (ignore the voting in the corner - that was for something else)

This is probably the one thing that didn't go as well as I had hoped.  I started off they year strong, but about the time I started slacking with the blog, I started slacking with stations as well.  It's a shame too because my students really enjoyed them and got a lot out of them.  I created quite a few activities for the stations that worked really well and that I will continue to use.  Whenever I did stations I tried to have one technology station, one game station, one independent practice station, and one partner practice station.  I was really happy with the technology and game stations I came up with, but really struggled to come up with meaningful independent and partner practice activities.  On top of that, creating the technology activities and games was also very time consuming.  I am hoping that next year, since I have some of these already created, it will be easier to implement consistently.

3) Math Bucks

You can find math bucks here, on Teachers Pay Teachers - (not my product)

I was happy with how using the math bucks in class went.  It was a very effective classroom management tool and my students loved it. One thing I did up changing part way though the year was the cost of certain things (mainly right or wrong on tests, and hints).  I realized around Dec/Jan I wasn't handing them out as often as I really needed to for them to be effective, so I dropped the 'price' to reflect that.  I have gotten better since then, and I think I will start with the original prices next year, and just really try to make sure I am handing them out more often.

One thing that did not go as well this year as I had hoped was this blog.  I got very overwhelmed around the beginning of the new year with my husband deployed, the graduate classes I was taking, math department chair, our impending move back to the states (woo hoo!), and the roll out of all the new technologies (1:1 laptops and new SmartBoards).  I was really hoping to have a new post at least every week, and that obviously didn't happen.  I would like to use this summer to try and post about some of the things I did this year but just couldn't find the time to write about.

What are some things you're reflecting on that went well, or maybe not so well?



Monday, March 4, 2013

1:1 Laptops are HERE!

Wow!  We have finally rolled out all of our 1:1 laptops, and it is cool!  Our school is one of the pilot schools for DoDDS, and we have been preparing and planning all year for these suckers... and they're finally here!  We rolled them out one team at a time, and because I teach math I have students from all different teams.  That was a bit of a bummer because it meant that half of my students had laptops at the beginning of the month, but I had to wait until last week for the last group to get them.  Anyways, I didn't waste any time once they had them - we did our very first activity using the laptops the very next class. 

Our Assistant Principal sent the math department a great site ( which is filled with online resources.  The best part is that they have an entire section devoted to the common core, with links (notice that's plural - more than one) for each standard within the math common core.  I found a link on there reviewing a skill I know my students are still struggling with, and copied it to my homepage as a warm up.  When students came in, I had them log on, visit my homepage and click the link.  Then they completed the practice problems on that site while I took roll and all of those other management things.  The site I chose kept track of how many problems students had attempted and solved correctly, so I made my way around the room and took note of how everyone was doing.  These are the exact same types of problems I would have given them on paper, but unlike paper and pencil, I had no complaints (and even had someone ask if we could keep doing warm-ups like this).  Crazy... but very cool.

After a few minutes of this, I had students go back to my homepage and close their laptops.  I don't know if anyone is familiar with the website, but it is AWESOME!  I highly recommend it.  They have videos and corresponding challenges that show students how math is used in real professions - and they're jobs students think are cool - like video game designer, fashion designer, recording studio execs (is that what that would be called...?), and so on.  They also have extension activities where students can solve other, similar, challenges. 

I used the recording studio challenge already this year.  It was related to proportional reasoning, and showed the students how you have to be able to find a unit rate to mix two tracks of music together.  The students really enjoyed it - especially the extension activity where they picked their own songs to mix.  The only problem was that I only had five computers at the time, so I either had to put students in groups or have them rotate through the computers.  I had students watch the video as a class, and together we completed the first challenge.  Later on, I had them revisit the site as a station activity and mix their own music.

This time, we were working on percent application, so we completed the fashion designer challenge.  In this challenge the students are given a shirt that the designer has decided is too expensive to sell as is, so students have to choose from a predetermined list of choices to lower the price.  They have to calculate what the wholesale cost would be before a 220% markup, and then select their changes, and reenter the cost break down on a spreadsheet. I had students watch the video together as a class, and then we had a short discussion before I let the students begin.  I let them work in pairs (but required them to each complete the work).  I had some students who were struggling with how to complete the spreadsheet, but overall the activity went very well.  A few of the boys were not so pleased with the fashion part of it, but I only had one student (who happened to be a girl) who was not engaged in the activity (and that was out of 80 students - pretty good, I'd say).

I was very happy with how my first attempt at integrating the laptops went, and it definitely made more excited to use them again.  The students are much more engaged, which means they're learning that much more. 

Does anyone else have any really cool sites they want to share?