Sunday, June 22, 2014

Land of the Midnight Sun

Alaska is nicknamed the land of the midnight sun and with good reason. In the summer months the sun remains visible past midnight. Hope you have some good blackout curtains or you’ll never get to sleep. On the summer solstice (June 21) the sun is actually visible for 24 hours straight – it’s the longest day of the year and it’s pretty spectacular. We won’t talk about the winter solstice, or the shortest day of the year, that’s too depressing to think about at a time like this.

For the past 32 years Fairbanks has hosted a Midnight Sun Run.  It actually starts at 10 pm. My husband and I signed up for the 10k a couple of weeks ago. All day yesterday it rained and I kept telling him that it was a sign we didn’t have to run it. I even begged for him to let me off the hook. I’ve just recently started running again and I feel pretty confident running 3 miles… but 6.2, that’s another story. In any event, he wouldn’t let me get out of it! (He never does) Lucky for me he’s a pretty great guy and he ran, well jogged, with me the whole time. I’m proud to say I didn’t take even one walking step.

After the race we stopped here for some late night food. This is the sky at 12:33.  

Friday, June 20, 2014

Got Google?

Yowza! I am just coming off of a two day Google Solstice workshop. I consider myself pretty tech savvy and most computer skills come second nature to me. But I now know that l have been missing out -- majorly! Who knew there was so much to Google?

The conference opened with a TV/Film producer, turned teacher, turned world traveling education technology consultant. He’s not only a Google Certified Teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator, and certified trainers for both, but he’s also a great presenter. I followed him around to his breakout sessions for most of the second day and I was blown away. I learned how to set up a classroom YouTube channel and then, even cooler, I learned how to edit within YouTube to create what he calls “cinematic narratives.”  For a storytelling geek like me, this was huge. I was giddy the entire day knowing that there is something else out there other than just iMovie.

Coming into the workshop my goal was to use Google Docs to help me get serious about organizing my files. Especially now that I am creating products I think it’s crucial that I have my stuff saved, filed, and somewhere safe other than just on my computer. I know… I know… most of you probably think of Google Docs as old hand. Hopefully I’ll be joining you all, as I continue to create, share, edit, file, and save Google Docs too.  

I also attended a session on Chromebooks. I was happy to learn that you can still work offline on a Chromebook. For those of you that don’t know, Chromebooks are “computer-like devices” that run Chrome OS as their operating system. Basically, they are meant to be used online to your web-browsing delight.

They also:
  • start within seconds so there is no long “booting up” time
  • update automatically and there’s no need for antivirus protection
  • have an app store full of cool free and paid add-ons
  • are cheap super cheap - $250-$350

Our district is looking at Chromebooks as a way to facilitate our state assessments that are supposedly going to be given on a computer. Are your districts doing the same thing, or do you already use Chromebooks?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Better, Faster, and Easier Feedback

Like most teachers, every year I pick one or two things to really focus on improving. This past year was my first time teaching first grade (coming down from upper elementary), so I felt like I had WAY more than one or two things to focus on….. IE, OMG, how in the world do you teach a child to read?!

So… that was overwhelming! In any event, one of the things that I have always struggled with is giving timely and effective feedback. This year I made that one of my professional goals.

One way I was able to do this was by grading small things every single day. First grade is all about routines. I like structure and so do my students. One thing we did every day was edit a sentence together. I quickly graded them daily and then tallied up their final grade on Friday.

This is what I found:

1.     My students LOVE the feedback! The rubric is out of 5 and we talk a lot about what a 5/5 looks like. (They are learning fractions at the same time!!) They even say things like, “I know this will be a 5/5 today!” If they don’t get a 5/5 they are told why on the rubric and they work to fix that problem the next day.

2.     I draw a star on 2-4 students’ work each day. The next day these students get to put their work up on the screen and the class and I talk about what they did well. After modeling this for a couple of weeks students start to raise their hands and say things like, “I think you gave him a star today because he has really good finger spaces and that’s something he has been working on!” It’s such a great way to honor students for their hard work. The point is not to always put up the best of the best each time. Talk about differentiating and learning from other students’ hard work and successes. Plus, they get SO excited when they see a star on their paper!

3.     It takes me 10-15 minutes to grade their sentences daily and I usually do it while they are at Specials. My students are trained to turn their packet in open to the day’s work. When they come in the next morning I have it on their desk with their morning work. Best part --- I’m not sitting at home on the weekends grading a hundred papers. All my work is done and it actually helped my students!

I firmly believe this was one of the smartest and effective things I did in my classroom this year. If you want to try it out for free  for a couple of weeks you can get my freebie here.

If you’re sold on the idea and want to use it for the whole year, click here for all 30 weeks.

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