Relationships Reign!

FETC-EXSToday, I attended the first day of the The FETC Executive Summit in Orlando, FL. The Future of Educational Technology Conference is one of my favorites to attend, and being invited to the Executive Summit that includes state- and district-level IT leaders, superintendents and administrators was a huge honor to me. This is the 2nd year FETC held an Executive Summit in hopes to bring these people together to gain new insights and knowledge about major societal and technology trends impacting their schools.

Listening to amazing Edu-Rock Stars George Couros, Dwight Clark, and Thomas Murray, brought me to the biggest theme I took away from today: Relationships Reign. There are so many issues debated in the the education world today: ed reform, school policy, technology trends, national standards, school safety, no child left behind–the list goes on and on. There is one topic that all educators can and should agree on: building strong and meaningful relationships and motivating our students will foster a positive and inviting classroom leading students wanting to succeed in the classroom. Dwight Clark notes, “no significant learning can occur without significant relationships.” When we create these meaningful relationships with our students AND teachers we can inspire innovative learning, come up with solutions instead of excuses, and not necessarily doing something new, but do something better. As educators, if we want meaningful change, we have to make a connection to the heart before we can make a connection to the mind.

Now, I’m not naive to think that this is the only thing that will help students or that it will even be an easy process.  That being said, making this a priority in schools and classrooms will only help the process of improving many issues that may arise.  If you’re a classroom teacher and think, “I’m tied to my classroom. I can’t do anything for the whole school.”  Think again! Think big, believe big, act big, and the results will be big.

Positive relationships and motivation are contagious! In an education system where many of the educators on the front lines—the classroom teachers—are frustrated, motivation to stay the course is imperative. As soon as the drive to be the best at one’s craft starts to diminish, the quality of work and work ethic will quickly follow suit, and so will the students’ drive to succeed. We need to continually ask ourselves, “Would I want to spend the whole day learning in my own classroom?” If the answer is no, how can we viably ask our students to do the same thing? We don’t want our classrooms to suffer from “The Cemetery Effect” as Thomas Murray so eloquently coined. (I particularly like the tennis balls on the headstones to keep them quiet)

A sense of contagious optimism from administration and teachers will help motivate the students in a positive direction. It’s not always easy, but as the great Julius Erving once said, “being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don’t feel like doing them.” There will be days that are hard to handle, but handled with a sense of contagious optimism for students and colleagues, can help motivate that sense of drive to get the job done in an innovative and positive way. As George Couros said, “we need to make the positives so loud, that the negatives are almost impossible to hear.”


Use this positive relationship building and contagious optimism and take a stand to make education FUN! Make your classroom one that your students want to attend everyday! We want our students fighting to want to be at school. Make your students say, “NOOOOO!!!” when you tell them they will have a substitute the next day. Get your students to ask everyday, “What crazy awesome things are we going to do in class today?” Think of your class as a dance party, and you’re the DJ. Do you want your students sitting on the outside of the dance floor, arms crossed, just listening to the music? Of course not! Its your job to get them to dance! Get those students on the dance floor and rockin’ out to their learning! Find the “music” that innovates and motivates their learning and keeps them dancing and begging for more!

Vowel Surgery!

IMG_3240Is there a Word Doctor in the house?! Yes! There are 14 kindergarten doctors in Ms. Neff’s class!  The Neff Hospital was full of “CVC Patients” who required immediate surgery to complete the words!

The little doctors at Neff Hospital had to use their knowledge of word families and letter sounds to complete CVC words. They carried their “patient charts” around the room, and they had to perform vowel surgery on their “word patients” who were missing their medial short vowels. Students looked at the pictures accompanying the word, sounded out the word determining the missing vowel, and using the surgery tools, “healed” the patient and updated their patient chart.

It is so refreshing seeing amazing teachers at work. Ms. Neff took a basic language arts skill that could be done with a simple worksheet, and she turned it into one of the most engaging kindergarten activities I’ve seen. Not only did the students have the opportunity to enhance their learning in content, but they were overly excited to build their words! Check out some amazing pictures from today’s lesson!

Silent Movies in Reading?

51VcEWaqKWL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I love being amazed and in awe of awesome and engaging lessons that I see teachers use in their classroom. This week, a former colleague, Frank Fitzpatrick (Mr. Fitz), posted about a lesson where he taught his students about silent movies through a novel. His students were reading The Invention of Hugo Cabert. This book uses amazing imagery to tell the story. The imagery and illustrations are used to tell the story as a silent movie in book form. It tells the story of Hugo, an orphan, who lives in the walls of a Paris train station. When Hugo gets caught stealing a toy mechanical mouse to use in his attempt to repair a mysterious machine he’s trying to fix, everything starts to get a little bit messier. The owner of the toy shop who catches him is named Georges Méliès – who is also a real-life pioneer of silent film making. These little, real-life nuggets of information are intertwined throughout the entire book by Brian Selznick. Mr. Selznick references multiple silent movies and films and credits them all at the end of the book.

The aforementioned Mr. Fitz could have easily read this book with his students, referenced some of the things talked about, and moved on to the next novel study. What really got me jazzed about this lesson is Mr. Fitz took the real-life teaching moments from the book and taught his students about Silent Movies. All of our students love watching movies, but learning the roots of something they love really set the hook! Mr. Fitz even got so far into the fun that he taught them about Buster Keaton, another comedic silent-film pioneer, and Mr. Fitz’s students used his “gag” style elements in their own movie making! I had to share this awesome video about Buster that Mr. Fitz had found and used with his students! Watching this mini-documentary about him and seeing his students’ work connected perfectly!

Not only did Mr. Fitz get into real world teaching and learning to go along with the novel, but he took it to the next level! Here’s my favorite quote from Mr. Fitz’s, “The Chase” blog post: “I always try to end the novels we read with a creative challenge. For Hugo, I challenged my students to create a silent movie that told a story in the style of the movies that we watched and the book we read.”  

This is what education is all about! Create the hook, engage them in their learning, and let them fly!! Check out this awesome Buster Keaton inspired work from his students!

Want to try this with your students? Check out my man, Jim Covais’ blog post today that has a video organizer you can download and use with your students to help organize their thoughts and plans for different scenes!

I Celebrate Me!

photoSandston Elementary’s School Theme this year is “I Celebrate Me!” One of the biggest things we want to accomplish is celebrating all the accomplishments our students achieve throughout the year. It can be academic related, conduct related, family related, or even something they’re proud of outside of school. Kim Powell, our principal, and I, along with the whole staff are working hard to build and strengthen the relationships we have with our students, parents, and our Sandston Community as a whole.  Being this is one of our big goals for the year, having Sandston STAR Shout Out Celebrations at the end of each grading period is a high priority.  Working closely with our Community Partners, Siemens and the Henrico Education Foundation (HEF), we were able to earn grants and fund this amazing project! What do these celebrations include? First, we have a huge celebration assembly in the morning. Here’s a breakdown of the fun we had at our first assembly of the year:

  • Recognizing student awards: A Honor Roll, A/B Honor Roll, Citizenship, and Attendance
  • Recognizing STAR Character Award winners from each class
  • An appearance from WebstUR, UR’s Spider mascot, to help pass out the STAR Character awards
  • A Whip/Nae-Nae Aerobics Workout performance from the 3rd graders and PE Teacher
  • Recognizing our Parent Honor Roll members who have reached 200 points
  • Awarding the Turkey King/Queen Crown to the teacher of the class who brought in the most cans for the Henrico Christmas Mother

image001For the second part of our Sandston STAR Shout Out Celebrations, the students participate in activities we plan with groups outside of school. As part of our School Wide Behavior Plan, teachers award points to students using Class Dojo throughout each grading period.  If students reach the Class Dojo point goal for the nine weeks, they receive their “Star Ticket” to the activity. Siemens helped provide us with Plush Gold Stars to award the students for this grading period! For our first activity of the year, we used a portion of our HEF Grant to have Richmond Ropes come out! This amazing group took groups of students in 4 one-hour sessions and helped the students work together in team building “low-ropes” activities.  It was an extremely rewarding experience seeing students critically think and work together to solve the challenges.

Today’s events were only the beginning of big celebrations we hope to provide throughout the rest of the year. Check out this small snippet from all the fun today!

Video Story Problems!

Over the past few weeks, many of my teachers have been working with word and story problems with their students in math. It has been fun seeing the work they have been putting in, and it reminded me of Video Story Problems! What are Video Story Problems? “VSPs” are a way to engage and hook the students with real world problems in the classroom. Traditional story problems can be dull, and sometimes it’s nice to spice it up and give the students a chance to work with materials or challenges that they can connect with in a meaningful way.

The best thing about VSPs: There is no set format in how they should be set up. My favorite was just pulling out my phone at random places such as the grocery story and throwing a question together. The kids loved seeing where I would end up next and solving the problem!

The best part about doing this – when the students get into it and start making their own at home to share with the class! This Video Story Problem is my all time favorite – Go Spiders!

Are you thinking this is something you would like to try with your students? Check out of few of these great links!

Video Story Problem Planning Template

Video Story Problem Think-Through Template

Video Story Problems 101 from Ben Rimes

My Past Blog Posts

Five Great Examples

Video Story Problem Channel on Vimeo

Student Led Parent/Teacher Conferences

original-386706-1Parent/Teacher Conference: That scary time many teachers dread. They love working with their students, but there is just something about those conferences that gets nerve wracking. Personally, conferences with parents was one of my favorite things. I love talking about student “glows” and “grows” and generally just making parents proud of their little ones–even if they are struggling.

How can we make conferences a little less stressful? How about having the students themselves run the conference. How would a 3rd grader be able to run a conference about themselves and still be held accountable? Our teachers work with their students to fill out a Student-Led Conference Organizer. To help the students fill out their organizer, each student is also provided a list of all the Learning Targets they worked on throughout the grading period.

Come conference time, the student and teacher can work through the organizer together to help lead the conference and talk to the parents about how things are going. It is such a great way for the students to gain a sense of ownership of their learning and education.

Check out all the documents you could use in this Student Led Conference Folder! Questions? Feel free to leave a comment and ask!

Number Sentence Hedbanz!

headbanzHedbanz is the popular “Who am I?” kids game. One of Sandston’s rock start teachers, Ms. Shepherd, decided to take a different spin on the game and bring it into her math lesson! This 3rd grade class is working on multiplication and division number sentences, so instead of the students trying to guess the certain item they were in the traditional game, the students had to guess which number sentence they were. Also, instead of students guessing clues, their partner gave them clues to guess their multiplication or division sentence.

IMG_2686Before playing the game, Ms. Shepherd and the class had a discussion on good clues using the specific vocabulary terms they needed to understand. For example, they gave clues such as “Your product is 30.” or “The inverse operation is division.” With the clues given, the students guessed the number sentence, and then they received a different number sentence on their headband.  Students continued with the game for about 10 to 15 minutes.

IMG_2687The lesson itself was super fun, interactive, and engaging for all the students. After one student got his sentence correct, his partner was heard saying, “Great Job! Hurry! What are my clues?!” The best part of the lesson was Ms. Shepherd’s conclusion to the lesson.

Once the game was complete, the students did not just put away their Number SentenceIMG_2692 Hedbanz. The class as a whole had a math vocabulary and number talk about their questioning and clues. The class had the prompts on the board throughout the game, but some students shared they provided the actual inverse operation for their sentence clue, such as saying, “The inverse operation is 18÷2=9” for the answer of 9×2=18. Other students discussed that using the word “product” worked for multiplication sentences, but they had to use the word “quotient” for the division sentences. Still others discussed how saying “factors” worked for multiplication sentences, but you had to use the word “divisors” for the division sentences. This math vocabulary and number talk to wrap up the lesson was the perfect thing to help the students understand new ways to provide clues, and they are even more excited to play the game again.

Back to my Roots with Context Clues!

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 10.29.57 PMFor the past two days, I’ve had the opportunity to get into one of my 3rd grade classes and teach some whole group Reading Lessons. Not only did I get back to my 3rd grade roots, but I also got back to my ITRT roots as well. I love getting into all my classes at my school and helping out, but there is just something about going back to where it all started that just makes you feel at home.

This week the 3rd graders are working on Context Clues, and I knew exactly what lesson I wanted to use with them. It is the Nonsense Word Context Clues Game. Julie Goode, aka The Techie Teacher and ITRT I used to work with, came up with this amazing lesson. In fact, Julie is full of rock star lesson ideas you can use in the classroom! You should definitely check out her Teachers Pay Teachers Page and her Techie Teacher Facebook Page! You won’t be disappointed!

For the Nonsense Word Context Clues Game, the teacher uses a nonsense word in a small vague sentence. The teacher reads the sentence, and the students try to guess what the word means. After each student guess, the teacher extends the sentence with more context clues for the students to figure out the meaning of the nonsense word. Here’s an example of what the teacher would read to the students:

I like to lup.
I like to lup outside.
I like to lup outside during the winter.
I like to lup outside during the winter when the lifts are open.

Now, students could easily use a piece of paper to write down their answers as they go along, but a great way for the students to record their answers each time the sentence is read is using a website called Padlet. Teachers make an account, and then they can create a “pad.” Basically what the teacher is creating is a padlet_blog_300Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 8.13.12 PMcollaborative board where students can post notes in real time. Students connect to the board by entering the specific website for the board on a computer or iPad web browser, by using the Padlet App, or by scanning an automated QR Code generated by the website. When we play the game using Padlet, I have the students put their name on the top line, and then fill out their answer each time. Students can view what others are guessing in real time as they type which makes for great conversation if a student makes a guess that is way off, and it holds all the students accountable for actually participating. After the initial set up and getting used to it, we played the game a few times. Here’s what our board looked like after using the example above.  For this specific example we talked about how “ski” is the correct answer, and it sparked another student discussing how “sled” or “tube” could be a correct answer as well! (Click here to check out some other ways you can Padlet in the class!)

5 Innovative ways to Use Voki

voki_logoVoki is a great website that allows you to create speaking avatars.  You can embed these Voki characters into your blog page to play later for your students or use directly from the site. Voki has also expanded their brand to make the learning experience even more engaging with Voki Classroom, Voki Presenter, and Voki Teach. While these options are amazing in their own right, the free version of Voki can be utilized in many fun ways to help engage your students. Below are five innovative ways you can use Voki in your classroom right now. If your interested in other ways to integrate Voki into your lessons, check out Voki’s Lesson Plan Ideas Page!

Presenting on Researched Content
Having students research their own topics or content is great, but many times finding time to have them present their findings to the class can be hard. Using Voki can be a great way to post students’ research. Students can write up a script about the most important facts about their content, and record themselves reading their findings. This one was a particular favorite of mine because the partners created Uncle Si from Duck Dynasty to report the information!

Content Review Activity
Students don’t have to be the only ones to join in on the fun. I love making Voki Characters to help students review content or to give an assessment for me. Students would listen and pause the character when needed to either comment on our blog page for answer, or they would fill out an assessment sheet to turn in. This was a great time saver since I was able to use this as a center as well!

Historical Figures
Want to spice up history class when learning about historical figures? Have students identify important moments from the life of a historical figure. Using their research, have the students write a script in a first-person narrative and have them record themselves reading their scripts.

Mystery Voki – Who am I?
Another fun idea to use with historical figures is a Who am I game. Have students create their script about their about person in a first-person narrative style. Instead of having the students record the information saying who the person is, they read their information and end with the question, “Who am I?” This could be a great review game do use with the class.

Have your students write an autobiography about themselves. We used a simple question starter template with the students to help them with certain things about their life to write down. After filling out the information, the students wrote their paragraph story about themselves, created their Voki, and recorded themselves. The students will have a blast learning about each other!

Move Your Bus!

51EFWCcO5WL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_While I was earning my teaching license many moons ago, I read the book The Essential 55 by Ron Clark.  It quickly became a favorite of mine, and in the midst of all my classes, I had a revelation.  Motivating and engaging students was a passion of mine in the classroom.  I had a knack for it, and the fire was lit.

Just before my 2nd year of teaching, the TV movie “The Ron Clark Story” aired on TNT.  I was overly intrigued and even more motivated. This guy’s enthusiasm for getting results was amazing.

For the next couple of years, I worked hard to show students that school could be fun and exciting. The problem – others around me in my school didn’t see it this way. This frustrated me, but I continued to teach with my style – with the door closed.

300338_10150500390234692_931527970_nIn 2010, my district held a conference, and the keynote speaker was none other than Ron Clark. Suddenly,
everything that had inspired me became even more of a reality seeing him speak in person. One year later I was invited down to Atlanta by Promethean, and I was able to visit the Ron Clark Academy.  Yes, I am Slide Certified! While on my visit, I was able to actually see Mr. Clark teach a 5th grade math lesson.  This quite possibly was one of the most memorable experiences in my entire life.  Seeing my role model and educational hero in action had me chomping at the bit to get back to my classroom.  

In that two year period I realized that being an inspiration to the students that are in my classroom is one thing, but sharing my skills with my colleagues to inspire even more students is much more powerful.

Over the next two years as an ITRT, I was been able to travel all over my district visiting hundreds of classrooms. It was an extremely rewarding experience, but I still felt like I was missing something.  I missed being at that one school working to build a positive, energetic, and lasting culture.  I realized that changing a school’s culture for the better, motivating students to want to learn, and motivating teachers to want to teach in meaningful ways is what drives me every day.

move-your-bus-9781471151682Now in my second year as an administrative resource teacher, the man who inspires my educational work has written another book at the perfect time: Move Your Bus. It describes how leaders and people in schools and businesses can be successful. Imagine your school as a bus that is fueled and moved by people who either help or slow the school’s ability to move forward: drivers (leaders who steer), runners (who consistently go above and beyond for the good of the school), joggers (who work hard without pushing themselves), walkers (who are just getting pulled along), and riders (who drag the school down). It’s the team leader’s job to recognize the type of members that are on the bus, motivate and encourage them to keep the bus moving, and know when it’s time to kick the riders off.

This book is a must for any aspiring leaders or anyone who wants to be successful!  I’ve enjoyed it so much I own a hard copy, an e-book, and the audio version–that Mr. Clark read himself! The whole time I read this book, I felt like I was reading “The Essential 55 for Leaders,” and it took me back to when I was first kicking off my educational journey.  I’m excited to see what happens down the road with my leadership opportunities. I don’t know what to expect, but as long as it involves motivating others in education, I am all for it!  Let’s all get on, Move OUR Bus, and get our RUN on!

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