Thursday, March 28, 2013

EdCampFSE - Week 26 March 25-28, 2013

First off I have to say I work with some pretty incredible people.  So I heard about the whole EdCamp idea last year when I attended EdCampDallas.  I fell in love with the idea so much that now I am in the midst of planning EdCampWaller for our area.  When explaining what an EdCamp is to one of Reading Teacher partners, she said "Wouldn't it be cool to do that with kids??".  And from that idea EdCampFSE (Fields Store Elementary) was born.  So thank you Jean Marki!

We took our spring benchmark about a month ago.  From those results, the students who earned commended spent the last three weeks creating a 15-20 minute presentation over our state standards that were scored lowest on the Benchmark for Reading and Math.  We didn't give them any instructions besides...
 - Make a 15-20 minute presentation
 - It must be hands on
 - It must include technology somehow

The commended kids took the idea and ran with it.  They worked during our class in groups of 2-4 every day, while I was able to teach my other struggling students.

It all built up to this week.  Yesterday afternoon I met with the groups that were to present.  We sat down together and created a schedule for EdCampFSE.  We had a total of eight sessions planned throughout the day.  We also sent out an email to about 20-30 other educators in our area but only heard back from two.  So thank you Lauren Crites (our District Reading Specialist) and Terry Garrett (our campus Assistant Principal) for also leading sessions during our EdCamp.  Us teachers were very hands off and only there to monitor, take pics, and add advice.

By the way, these are FIFTH graders.  They did INCREDIBLE!  Sure there were some presentations that struggled  but these kids haven't had a lot of presentation experience   I had kids that used Google to create and share presentations with their entire group.  Kids that created games to play with their group.  Kids that took their group outside to measure things on our school property, kids that used a presentation tool called Presefy which allowed them to stream their presentation to every students device....and they came up with all these ideas completely on their own!  We've worked really hard to build creativity, independence and sense of fun and learning in our students and it is really showing more than we ever imagined.  In all honesty, who cares how are kids do on their state standardized test, our kids are LEARNING!

The kids also had a blast learning from each other and getting to CHOOSE what sessions they wanted to attend....we had sessions...

- Poetry Please - all about poetry
- Lights, Camera, Drama - about the different types of stories we study in 5th grade
- Got Organization? - about organizing your story and cause and effect.
- Bac Bac - about identifying and working with prime and composite numbers
- Simplify ME! - about simplifying fractions
- What are the Chances - about probability
- PA Hunt - an outside scavenger hunt about perimeter and area
- Yummy Fractions - about adding, subtracting, and converting fractions
- The Future is NOW! - about predictions
- Graffiti Wall - this session was designed to have kids write inspirational messages and reminders for their test next week.
-  ESL - lead by our AP about using dictionaries and how to work through a test if you're an English Language Learner
- QR and Reading - This session was lead by Lauren Crites about using QR codes and how to prepare for the Reading Test.

The kids were rockstars.  They were super professional and their sessions were better than some adult presentations I've been to.  Yes they were short (less than 20 min) but honestly with 5th graders that's about all the attention span you had!

We also hosted a "Presenter Lunch" where the students were able to eat lunch and get a free dessert with us if they were a presenter and at the end of the day, just like a real EdCamp, we gave out door prizes and had a SMACKdown where the students shared their favorite parts of the day!

I know we are already planning a second EdCamp for the end of the year, except that all the sessions will be kids presenting about things they're interested in.  One of our state standards in 5th is to teach researching, so when we teach that we're going to have kids research something they're passionate about and present about it.

Here are a few pictures from our day...BTW I also recorded all the sessions and will upload them and post the link soon! (Hopefully in the next week!)  Feel free to leave any comments below!

Monday, March 25, 2013

I hate STAAR - Week 25, March 18-22, 2013

So, yes I know, the title to this post is very negative.  But it's very true.  STAAR (or the state-exam for Texas) is crazy.  Now, honestly I'm all for testing.  I think our students should be tested for what they know and have learned that school year, but WAY too much emphasis is put on the STAAR test and it's results.

Here's why I say that...

This year I've turned my Flipped Classroom into a completely Project Based Learning environment.  My students are learning at a much deeper level than ever before, and we're having a blast!  My scores have increased, and remained very competitive with the other five elementary schools in my district.  My entire team (I only teach math and social studies) have discussed the huge difference we've noticed across the board in our students' understanding as we've all began to move to PBL.

BUT regardless of all the work I've done, I was still informed that I HAD to teach test formatted questions to make sure my students were prepared for the STAAR test.  Now that drives me insane.  Why should I have to teach formatted test questions when my students are performing fine on all exams by NOT teaching formatted test questions.  I'm teaching my state standards, and that's what I should be doing.  But, on the other hand, I kind of understand.  Scores are very important to my district (as they are with most districts).  We were a recognized school district last year.  But me not teaching test formatted questions makes my district nervous, cause they want to be guaranteed good scores, which in turn means I have to teach a test for a few weeks.

So this week, that's exactly what I did.  And it was HELL.  I hated it, the students hated it, and no one could understand why we were doing this.  But I did as I was asked.  What I find even more humorous is the fact that I was told to use a Pearson book to get all my Questions out of, because Pearson wrote the test, so the Pearson book is a good indication of what we'll see on the test.

Well that's what I did.  And half of the questions I found in this Pearson book WEREN'T EVEN ON GRADE LEVEL (they were a grade, sometimes two grade levels, higher).  It's kind of hard to teach test formatted questions when they questions I'm being asked to pull have math that the students won't be introduced to until 6th or 7th grade.

I guess we all forget that Pearson is a very large company, and a very large company whose only concern is to make money.  So yes our State paid them millions of dollars for our State Exam, but they are a large company who makes the same review book for all the states but just changes the state standard wording.  It is beyond frustrating.

So I guess I'm done venting.  I taught the way I used to teach, last week.  The style of teaching that almost made me quit my career last year.  I taught a test.  The kids hated it.  I hated it, and I was quickly reminded why so many of our students are "checking out" mentally from school.  Because it's not fun, and it's become an environment that isn't preparing them for a future where standardized tests are not part of a career.  I can't wait til next week when we take the test and then I can get back to teaching them their state standards by doing different projects and hands on activities where the knowledge will stick in more than just to bubble in the correct answer.

Feel free to leave comments below!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

20 to Watch

So last week was my Spring Break.  Instead of enjoying my Spring Break relaxing like most people, I spent my Spring Break traveling to San Diego, California.

In about Early February I had gotten a notification that I was selected by the National School Board Association as one of their "20 to Watch".  They choose twenty people in education that they think are going to change the face of education with the things they're doing.  You can learn more here

I was shocked to be selected.  I'm a teacher from a little ole' town in Texas.  The other winners were superintendents, directors, and so much more!  I still am in shock that I was selected.

But the NSBA held a ceremony for us on Monday March 11.  So I packed my bags and my wife and I drove from Texas to San Diego (yes a 23 hour drive)!  But I wanted to be there and since I had to pay for the entire trip myself driving was definitely cheaper than flying!

On the 11th (which just so also happened to be my Birthday; what a great gift, right?) first I showed up at 11am for an Interview.  Each of us had about a 10-15 minute video interview about why we won and what things we were doing at our schools and they're going to cut the videos down and make one big video with clips from each of our interviews (I'll post that link as soon as I get it!)

Then I got to go to a "Meet & Greet" with the other winners who were able to attend the conference (15 out of the 20 attended).  That was incredible because I got to hear people from all over the country talk about the amazing things they were doing.  Man did I feel out of place then!  Now I know people have told me before "You deserve it, hush!" but when I hear these other people in education talk about the amazing things they're doing sometimes I feel a little out of place haha.

After the Meet & Greet, then we headed over to our Recognition Program where Douglas O'Brien from TechSmith presented us each with a framed certificate, iTunes Gift Card, and some free TechSmith Software.  Quite the honor!

After the recognition reception we headed over to "Little Italy" and TechSmith treated all of us to a three-course meal with the menu in our honor!  It was just a great stress-free time to interact with and talk to all those amazing people!

It was also really cool to meet a few of the other 20, because I had already been following a few on Twitter!!  So making that face to face contact kinda made it feel like I was meeting some celebrities, and they were more cool than I even imagined!

I had such a blast at the entire experience.  I am so honored but I also know that I did not win the award on my own merit.  I am part of a team.  My district, my school, and several of my co-workers.  It's because of how well we all work together that I won.  So yes I got the award, but I really feel more like it's a reflection of all the hard work the people around me do!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Week Twenty-Four, March 4-8, 2013

This week has been the best week of my professional career.  I have never had as much fun or been as impressed with my students as I was this week!!

So, about a month and a half ago I had an idea.  I've always seen teachers and schools that do science fairs. I love watching them!!  But as a math teacher I've always been slightly jealous that I could never do that with my kids.  Then I thought, "why can't I??"  So that's when the idea of a Math Fair came to mind.  So I told my students that I wanted to do a Math Fair...and it was perfect timing too because we had JUST done a Skype with Jack Andraka (winner of ISEF 2012) and they had gotten a glimpse of his Science Fair project (as well as he sent a "good luck" tweet to my students the day of their big math fair)

So what we did is I allowed them to pick any topic they wanted to.  Something they were passionate about or had an interest in.  And then all they had to do was show me at least 6 ways that math was involved in their topic.  The kids chose all kinds of awesome topics...A few were Minecraft, Zoo Keeper, Jack in the Box, Sonic, Machinist, Architect, Football, Ballet, Karate, Macaroni and Cheese, Nike, Birdhouses, and sooooo much more!

The kids had to design a complete project.  They had to have visuals, a two minute minimum presentation, and they had to "dress the part".  I've attached a rubric so you can see how I graded them and laid out my expectations:

I gave them a little over a month to work on their projects and we did not spend one second working on it in class.  Now, to say I was nervous about the outcomes is an understatement.  I have spent the last 7 months teaching my students in a completely PBL (Project Based Learning) environment.  They are clear of my expectations.  And I was very clear on this project that I wanted them to think outside of the box, be as creative as possible, and blow me away!

The projects were due on Tuesday of this week.  So Tuesday and Wednesday the students had to present their projects in class so that way not only could they practice but also so the other students and I could provide constructive criticism and feedback.  When the students started presenting, I was blown away!  They had come soooo prepared....keep in mind these are FIFTH GRADERS (10 year olds!!!)

Now granted, there were some kids who just read off their poster or didn't make much eye contact, but they're not used to presenting, so I gave quite a bit of feedback and let them really know what I was expecting of them come the night of the math fair.

As the week continued and the students saw more and more projects, they became more and more competitive.  I had students begging to me to take their projects back home so they could make some alterations (after they had seen some of the other students).  I was shocked by their imagination and interest in continually making their projects and speeches better.  All I told them was that they better make sure their projects were back in my class by Thursday.

Thursday afternoon from 1:20pm-3:15pm my students set their projects up in our cafeteria so that the other grade levels could come through and check them out.  Out of my 75 students only 2 did not do a project.  That's amazing.

The other grade level kids were blown away!  I know they learned so much by listening to my 5th graders.  And my 5th graders loved it because it gave them lots of practice before their "big debut" that night. (Several also made a comment about how hard it is to talk and stand for a while and I told them "welcome to my world" haha)

That night from 6:00-7:30pm we had our first ever Math Fair.  Now, I made presenting at the math fair MANDATORY and told them if they weren't there it would be points off their grades.  As a school we have never made anything after school mandatory.  But I am a firm believer that if you set your expectations high and don't back down students will rise to your expectations.  Out of 75 students I only had 3 students not show up (and two of those were the boys who didn't do their projects).\

We also had over 250 adults show up for the math Fair.  I can tell you that in my 6 years of teaching at this school, I have NEVER had that many parents show up for anything we've done.  But my students were so professional, they were so well spoken, and most of all they were ALL beaming with pride about their projects.

I had several parents comment to me about how shocked they were at how well put together, organized  and flat out impressed they were with every presentation.  Parents kept wanting to tell me congrats and to give me the credit, but I continually had to tell them, that I was completely hands off and the kids did ALL the work themselves.

I can honestly say that I have never been more proud of any group of students I have ever worked with.  These kids blew my mind with the amount of work and creativity they instilled in their projects.  I had students bring real life horses and ponies for their projects.  I had students making food, doing science experiments, and bringing other items to pass out at their booth (of course it always had to do with their project).

And my favorite booth was "Jack-in-the-Box".  Not only did this kid do a magnificent job presenting but he also made his entire costume!! Including the Jack head made out of paper mache.

I will add though that I had parents vote with ballots on their favorite presentations and the next day (Today; Friday) we announced the top 20 projects!  I also had my wife go by every booth and take a picture of each student with their project so that we can create a giant collage to hang in the foyer of our school.  And the Top 20 best overall projects are getting a pizza party and their own "Top 20" Collage poster also in the Foyer.

As students showed up for school this morning they were STILL talking about how much fun they had. To me, that is the biggest sign of success.

Inspire your students.  That's a statement I live by.  I am continually trying to find ways to push my students to better than they ever imagined.  This is a random idea that just came to me and the outcome has been more than I could have imagined.  I have never seen kids so proud of themselves and the work they put into something, much less the pride on the parents, grandparents, neighbors, and staff members faces.  And my students have set the bar SO HIGH for next years group!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Week Twenty-Three, February 25-March 1, 2013

This week was fun!

On Monday we went over the benchmark that we had taken from the previous week.  After adjusting the scores to match the pass rates of the STAAR Test (our State Standardized Test) we ended up with having 84.7% passing!  That was great!  Way better than my last year Spring Benchmark scores.  It's just more proof that not only does the Flipped Classroom work, but also proof that if you have a completely PBL (Project Based Learning) environment with NO test formatted questions  you can still score high!  You DON'T have to teach a test!  I'm just so excited that all the work I've put in this year is really paying off, and since I'm completely PBL I've had soooooo much fun in the process!

Tuesday-Thursday we FINALLY got to play the board games the kids spent two weeks making!  Talk about fun.  They kids had a blast playing each others games.  And they got to grade each others games too and they were tough!  But my students have really started creating exceptional final products (except for a few students that I'm still working on).

This week I've also been rotating groups through our PPCD Class (that is the class that houses young children with unique needs).  I want my students to respect, love, and value those that are different then them, and this has been such a heartwarming experience watching them work with those students.  I know the PPCD teachers have loved it too and we're definitely going to continue it throughout the year!

Friday I was gone at a conference so the students worked in groups figuring out different word problems.

I am SOOO excited about next week though because our first ever 5th grade Math Fair is Thursday March 7th!!  The students have been working for over a month and a half on their projects and I can't wait to see the finished products!

I'm also excited that I can FINALLY announce that I was selected by the National School Board Association as one of their "20 to Watch" for 2013!!!  So Pumped!  You can read more about it here

Please feel free to leave any comments below :)