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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Immersive Virtual Field Trips? Rock on!

I got to experience - well, actually watch others experience - Google Cardboard at the #TCEA16 conference in Austin, TX. The reaction of those individuals participating in the immersive Mt. Everest expedition was enough to sell me. My favorite part was when the participants all jumped at once as they all looked over the edge of a cliff that the rest of us couldn't see. That's when I knew I had to have it! I went straight to Amazon and purchased a Google Cardboard for about $17.


If you've never heard of Google Cardboard, it is similar to the old Viewfinders we had as kids. The Cardboard housing is different because it is simply folded cardboard with special lenses. You put your phone in the cardboard and run one of the free Google Cardboard or Virtual Reality apps for an immersive and engaging experience. I will share the apps I use below.

Move forward 2 weeks. Now I'm at school with a group of 4th graders taking a field trip to the Alamo...without leaving the school! We were learning about the Texas Revolution, so the Alamo experience was a meaningful connection. They were able to stand in the middle of the plaza and see ghost walls superimposed over the current plaza to get the feel of the actual size of the Alamo. They were also able to actually look down at their feet to see the possible location of the "line in the sand" drawn by Col. William Travis. This was on the DiscoverVR app.)

Half the fun was honestly watching the kids as they were engaged in the immersive experience. I wish I had a video to share. Below are comments from students about the trip:
It was so cool! I think this can influence and make you dig down deeper because it is fun! It feels like you are really there. It wasn't you talking to us, it was the tour guide people so we were having to listen and think for ourselves. We should do more of this because everyone likes it. Thank you for letting me have this experience. ~J.S.
I liked the Alamo field trip. I liked how you could see everything so it looked like you were actually there. In the video I saw the ghost walls where the borders were.  ~A.S.
Once students experienced the Cardboard, they went home to share the experience with their parents.
A drink holder is a handy device too.
The parents then bought their own Cardboards! Now we have several students who can bring their cardboard/phone setup to school for the next virtual field trip.

Now for the apps. I have used several so far and am in the process of searching for more. The interesting ones so far are:
  • Cardboard, 
  • RollerCoaster, 
  • YouVisit VR, 
  • Street View, 
  • Discovery VR. 
All of these apps are free. I will add to my list as I try new ones. Please let me know of any great ones you find! Additionally, Google is creating some amazing virtual trips called Google Expeditions specifically for educational purposes. Go to the Google Cardboard website to find out more and sign up. I can't wait!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Need a Powerful Method of Reflection?

When I was in college to become a teacher, one of the most valuable things I learned was the skill of reflection. One method of reflection we were encouraged to utilize was to video ourselves teaching and reflect on our performance. What a powerful tool! It is absolutely amazing what you will notice about yourself and your students when you are looking from the outside in. Maybe you ignored Sally's raised hand or that little Billy was focused on picking his nose rather than absorbing your brilliant lesson. The next time you teach, you'll be more aware of the raised hands and, um, little Billy's hygiene.

Using a Flip camera was my first line of attack. During my first few years of teaching, I was able to use my Flip camera to fine tune many teaching methods. These ranged from making sure my mini lessons were mini, to making sure my Number Talk lessons were on target. One thing that stands out to me with Number Talks was the realization that I was doing more talking than the kids. I was then able to refine my performance to let kids do most of the talking.  It made a pronounced difference!

A screenshot from a Swivl video
The only problem at this point was, I had to stay in the same general area to make sure I got everything on film. Finally, after my second Flip camera kicked the proverbial bucket, I stopped filming. But hey, I was an experienced teacher by then...right?

Enter the Swivl!
At Learning at Lovejoy, the Professional Development conference my district hosts every summer, I saw it. The Swivl!! I swear the clouds parted majestically and gleaming rays of sunshine shone on it...but maybe that was just my overactive imagination. The camera was filming the speaker...and I get a bit choked up at this part... the camera was following her! In case you missed it...it was following her! Wow! It catches the voices and the video.

I put it to the test as soon as I could get my hands on it! A couple of years had passed since I'd last seriously filmed myself. I was surprised at what I saw. The first outstanding thing that jumped out at me was I need to lose weight that even though I have grown as a teacher, I still have a lot of growth that needs to take place. I noticed that I still need to let the kids do more talking in some areas. My mini-lessons aren't mini enough in writing. Hmm, is there a pattern here? I also noticed that sometimes I stop questioning students before digging deeply enough. While I've improved greatly from my first years as a teacher, I now see a need for growth in the same areas, but in slightly different ways. I find that to be a striking argument for continued self-analysis and goal setting.

What Have I Learned?
Never stop reflecting as a teacher. Don't quit using video reflection. I cannot recommend this enough for any teacher that sincerely wants to grow and develop their craft. Whether you use a Flip, iPad, iPhone, or Swivl, our students need us to be at our best every day, and using video is an easy way to help yourself be the best you can be.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Delightful Book Teaches Kids To Be Happy With Who They Are

Introducing a fabulous new book, Is There an App for That?  My students loved it! We are all used to having apps available to solve all kinds of dilemmas. From leveling our classroom libraries to tracking our health...there's an app for that! In this book a girl named Hailey discovers a mysterious app that can make her faster, smarter, taller, and more. After going through several changes she finally realizes that she is perfect just the way she is.

The author, Bryan Smith, is an elementary school counselor. He is able to use his unique experiences as a counselor to write books targeted to help kids with issues they deal with every day. Keep writing Bryan!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Tool for Teaching the Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset

Wow! I just ran across this on Pinterest and then found it on TPT. It's a bulletin board that teaches kids and teens about the growth mindset. This should be actively referred to ALL year to keep it in the forefront of students' minds. Be sure to teach the concept of neuroplasticity along with it and I can guarantee you will have a positive lifelong impact on your students!


I've purchased it from Mrs. Moore's TPT store. Here's a direct link to the product. When I made mine I ended up using a tri-fold presentation board. I also made the words a little bit bigger and drew the brain myself on poster board. Here is my finished product...


The colorful statements on the right are attached with velcro so students can work together to determine which growth mindset statements best overcome each fixed mindset statement. I'm such a geek.

Kids/teens need to know that they are in charge of their actions/thinking/reactions/learning etc. I was not explicitly taught this life changing concept until college. Let's begin teaching our students NOW.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Books that Teach PreK-3rd Grade Thinking Skills

Last week I had the opportunity to present classes about brain-based teaching at Learning@Lovejoy. I mentioned several books that I read my class in addition to the BrainSMART curriculum. Several teachers asked for a list of the books that I use. Here it is!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Day 4 of the #30DayBlogChallenge: The 2nd Big Idea for Effective Teaching

Alrighty then! I made it through the first week of school alive. It's going to be a great year. Now I can write day 4 of the 30 day blog challenge (which is actually something like day 12, but who is counting!).

In my last post I talked about the plasticity of the brain as the first big idea for effective teaching in Wilson and Conyer's book Five Big Ideas for Effective Teaching. Today I will introduce the second big idea which is closely related to the plasticity of the brain. Potential.

Potential
There is a pervasive belief in our society that intelligence is fixed. You've simply got ability or you don't. In light of all the available research on the plasticity of the brain this thought is clearly incorrect. Rather, effort is closely tied to ability. Unfortunately many believe, quite incorrectly, that if they have to put forth an effort then they must lack potential. This is known as a fixed mindset. In the book Wilson and Conyers put it this way,
"Thus, the fixed mindset prevents individuals from achieving their potential in life - or even acknowledging what their true potential might be. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, are more likely to keep trying until they achieve their goals, more confident that they will succeed."
This reminds me of a former principal of mine, Kellie Rapp. She encouraged us to apply the growth mindset to our coworkers as well. What an excellent point! Clearly we should think in terms of a growth mindset with our students. However, we tend to get frustrated with coworkers who don't "do their job." Maybe we can gently help them reach their potential rather than getting frustrated.

What does it all mean?
In any event, realizing potential depends on opportunity. We have to give our students (and coworkers) opportunity to develop their potential. "Opportunity includes the environment, education, structure, and time" (Wilson & Conyers). A positive learning environment with a teacher who understands the link between effort and potential is critical for many learners. We must let kids know that their future is in their hands!

My next post will discuss the third big idea for effective teaching. Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Day 3 #30dayblogchallenge: The First Big Idea for Effective Teaching

For the third day of the 30 Day Blog Challenge, I'm going to review the first big idea from Wilson and Conyers book, Five Big Ideas for Effective Teaching.


The first big idea relates to the implications of neural plasticity for learning and teaching. Scientists used to believe that intelligence is fixed, however advances in brain research have proven quite the opposite. This is a concept that both excites and fascinates me because it can be a life changer. Wilson and Conyers cite many studies to support the concept of brain plasticity and its implications and applications to the classroom.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

How Do I Explain My Strategies?


The new school year begins in my new district on Monday. I'm thinking about all the metacognitive skills I teach my students and how to go about sharing brain-based strategies with those who inquire. The easiest way would be to direct them to the book, Five Big Ideas for Effective Teaching: Connecting Mind, Brain, and Education Research to Classroom Practice by Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers. Wilson and Conyers used several of their BrainSMART graduates as examples of research in action. I'm one of the graduates they used and as a result I, along with other graduates, are referred to throughout the book. Sometimes I find it difficult to articulate exactly what I do in the classroom that is different because brain-based strategies and reasoning permeate everything I do. When I first read the Five Big Ideas I exclaimed, "This is it! This explains it perfectly!"

One thing I love about the book is that it is well researched, yet still an easy and engaging read (at just under 200 pages). That said, I want to touch on the Five Big Ideas over the next few days to give readers an idea of the rich content available in the book. Maybe this will assist me in articulating the range and reasoning of what I do in my classroom. Stay tuned!