Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Holy Metacognition, Batman! Have you read this book?

The new book is here! The new book is here!

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I am a big fan of Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers of BrainSMART. Their passion for teaching teachers about the learning brain is inspiring. I can say with all sincerity that they have had a profound impact on me as a teacher and an individual. So, when I saw their new book, I knew I had to have a copy. 

I wasn't disappointed.

Wilson and Conyers have hit it out of the park again with their new book: Teaching Students to Drive Their Brains. Both teachers AND students need to know that they are indeed in charge of their own brains, IQ is not fixed, and effort trumps talent. This book guides teachers at all levels to make metacognition an integral part of their own classrooms through the use of metaphors, strategies, instructional tips, and sample lessons. Equip students for lifelong success through the metacognitive strategies in this book. You won't regret it!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Video Reflection Tools for Teachers

I previously posted about the value of using video for self-reflection. The ability to step outside of yourself to evaluate your teaching is something we should all be doing. However, once you get past the initial traumatic thoughts such as: OMG I'm so fat!, That blouse is going in the trash!Is that really how I sound?, or my personal favorite, Did he really just pick his nose and wipe it on that book? Hello trash can!, then it's time to find a focus.

Focus on Questioning

For many years I've tried to fine tune my questioning skills and do less of the talking. Ian Byrd from came up with an excellent tool to track who is doing most of the talking and the depth of questioning. Here is an example of one I filled out:

Here is how you use it. As you watch your video, record every sentence spoken with an S (statement) or a Q (question). Circle the Q for higher level questions. Ian Byrd does an excellent job explaining the reasoning and what to look for in your results on his blog, so I won't go into the details. You can read about this and also download the form free at Byrdseed.

A Next Step

I loved Ian Byrd's tool so much, I wanted to dig even deeper. I created a tool that tracks wait time, depth of questioning, follow up questions, and the ratio of calling on boys/girls/whole class. Here is an example of one of my evaluations where we were going over a chapter in a book.

In the first column I marked every time I asked a question. Circle for higher level questions. I want to make sure I asked several higher level questions.

The second column tracks the wait time. Did you know the average wait time a teacher gives after asking a question is ONE second? That's something we need to be acutely aware of. Some children are slower processors and we want to give them time to generate quality answers.

The third column is for tallying follow-up questions, guiding questions, and making other notes.

The last column is used to track the ratio of boys vs girls called on relative to your class make up. Kids notice these things.

Once you have completed your evaluation, ask yourself what the facts presented say about your teaching. I realized that I did have some one-second waits. Now I am more mindful about that.

You can download this form here.


As you watch your video, ask yourself if you would be want a student in your class. Why or why not? What can you change? Make a reflection tool to track those changes. I will be doing the same for myself.  As I create new tools I will be adding them to a folder for free downloading. Do you have any ideas for me? Leave them in the comments below.

Thank you for reading, and have a fabulous school year!

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 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.

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!