Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Evolution of a Teacher- Finding Your Passion Again

When I became a teacher in 2005, I could have become a rich woman if I had requested a dollar for each time I heard, "Don't smile 'til after Christmas."  I even sort of naively bought into this notion my first few years of teaching!  In fact, in one of my professor's observation notes it was mentioned, "Your classroom management is excellent, but you need to smile more!"  That comment has ultimately hung with me even after a decade+ of teaching in my classroom.

When I first starting teaching, I put my students in rows. I did so because that's what I thought teachers were supposed to do.  I used every textbook, every workbook, every lined piece of paper activity I could find.  I walked my students quietly down the halls, tracked their testing growth, and made my newsletter diligently each week. I did everything I thought I was supposed to do to be a "good" teacher.  I was joyless in my profession.

Four years in I was thinking, "Is this it? Is this really what I wanted to do with my life?" At the very least- I was considering a position change, at most- leaving the profession all together.  Teaching was not what I thought it was going to be.  One day my husband had a very honest discussion with me. He told me how much it hurt him to see me so passionless in my job.  As someone who has always been a leader, I had resolved myself to following and had even convinced myself that I wasn't even good at being a teacher.  Together we decided it may be good to make a big change.

The next year I began work as a third grade teacher in a new building.  I felt excited and renewed.  I even mixed up my seating arrangement to include table groups! Then something amazing happened.  Our district began a digital initiative.  I can only describe this as the spark that reignited my passion for teaching once again.  It wasn't just the technology that did it either.  It was the amazing and overwhelming philosophies that came with it.  For me, using technology has never, ever been about tech.  It's been about allowing students the freedom to explore and create in ways previously unheard of.

With this change, I began to find myself excited and energized to come to school.  Project ideas and activities that got kids up and moving overwhelmed my brain.  I began devouring blogs such as Matt Miller's and anything George Couros wrote.  I stepped away from textbooks, embraced the PBL movement, curated digital content, relaxed with my students, facilitated learning, flexed my seating, and more! I attended conferences and suddenly found myself wanting to share this passion with other teachers locally which led to presenting around the state and eventually nationally.  Sometimes my excitement is too much for some people, and I've learned to refine my passion in such a way that it is not overly aggressive.  I get to work with teachers all across the nation with the singular goal of inspiring them to step out of their comfort zone for the sake of kids.  There is nothing more amazing than that to me.

Eventually, I've found my way here in the middle school...teaching Digital Literacy which is a course I've had the creative freedom to write and develop using the Indiana Computer Science and ISTE Standards.  On a daily basis I get to play, explore, discuss, and create with kids. I smile more these days, and I'm sure my professor would be proud. I look back at twelve years of teaching and smile, shudder, and shake my head at this incredible evolution that's been my teaching career.  On that day when I considered saying goodbye to this profession, I would have never dreamed of the position I have now or the opportunities I get to share the gospel of freedom in teaching.  I'm oh-so-thankful God didn't allow me to cave to my insecurities, but gave me new life in this profession that allows me to reach so many young people.  In the end, it's all about that.  The students.  Our future. #teachon

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Inclusion in the Techy Classroom: Modified Sphero Mazes

Recently we had a PLC meeting where we were asked to share one way we make considerations for our students with special learning needs.  Since I teach students with both learning and behavioral IEPs, there are many things to think about when tackling a project in our Digital Literacy classroom.

Most recently, we have been working on a Sphero Maze Challenge.  Students are required use the Tickle app to successfully program a Sphero to navigate a maze with a few challenges.  Let me break down a few of the components of this project that were carefully and thoughtfully created with our special learning needs in mind. The following photo breaks it into four categories to explore.

1. Leveled Challenges

As you can see in the photos above of our mazes, each maze has a different level of difficulty.  The mazes are leveled by number of turns to complete, width of paths, and overall length.  The more turns students must navigate means more lines of code to write.  The narrower the path means the students must be more precise in their code.  The overall length again adds or takes away from the lines of code students must write.  Few students, even my principal, did not outright notice the differences in the maze difficulties.  For me, this is a success.  When all students feel challenged at their level, they can all feel that sense of pride and accomplishment without feeling different from others. 

2. Choice Groups

When selecting project groups in the inclusive classroom, it is important to pair students with those that compliment their strengths and weaknesses.  I use a variety of techniques for assigning groups, but for this particular project I knew it was imperative for each group to have a strong coder.  This is where I started when determining groups.  What I've found with students who demonstrate difficulties in other subjects of study, they often shine in technology situations.  This gives them the opportunity to feel strong success.  I also make sure each group has a student who demonstrates budding leadership qualities.  I don't always choose the "typical" leader.  I look for the student who hasn't been given enough chances to flex this skill in the classroom sometimes due to their learning struggles.

3. Written Work Modifications

As a part of this project, groups are also asked to record their daily activity in their Sphero Maze Log.  We use the Book Creator app for this activity.  One person is "in charge" of making sure the log is filled out each day, but all members are responsible for contributing to the book.  In the log, I make sure to require a variety of artifacts that demonstrate their learning.  Photographs, videos, written word, etc. are all valid and important pieces of information that give a glimpse into the group's learning process.  Because it isn't all written, all students can contribute in ways that fit their learning style and needs.  I've included some sample pages below.  Other pages include end of project group reflections and any other additions the group wants to make to their log.  

Book Creator makes these logs simple and convenient as they are all kept in one place on their iPad.  Students who struggle with organization appreciate this feature Book Creator provides. For more about how Book Creator can work in your classroom, be sure to check out my other blog posts about this versatile app. 

4. Modified Goals as Needed

As students work throughout the process, I carefully monitor their progress. If I note that a particular group of learners need a goal modified, I will do that.  Modified goals are the business of the group and other group is privy to this decision.  Sometimes in the case of students with behavioral IEPs (or even those who don't have an IEP), they are very opinionated about what the goal should be or how it should be achieved.  I've always had the mindset that students often have better ideas than I do, and I am willing to listen to their opinions and often work out a compromise that both achieves the learning goals and their personal choices.  One of my biggest pet peeves in education is when educators expect students with behavioral needs to complete work or be disciplined the same as every other student.  I feel that this is no different than asking a person confined to a wheelchair to walk up the stairs the same way as everyone else.  We would never as a society ask that this be done! Why then do we see behavioral and emotional disabilities as anything lesser? I digress from my soapbox... In a nutshell, it's my job as an educator to meet my students where they are and give them the taste of success they earn. As my principal likes to stress, learning isn't about equality.  It's about equity.   
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