Friday, February 28, 2014

Fun Brain Breaks with @GoNoodle

Recently I heard about the website GoNoodle.  We know that sometimes class can lull or we need to just break up our day, and what better way to do that then with a "brain break".  Because of that I have fallen in love with GoNoodle, who exists to do just that!  And best of all?  It's completely free!

But rather than hear about why I love it, I had three of my 5th grade students write "reviews" over three of the videos we watched and worked-out/danced to.

"Shake" review by Kelly
This is a great video because it actually will get kids up and exercising.  Also, it will encourage people to exercise more often while having a lot of fun doing it.  And when you're finished you will be excited wanting to do it again by making you jump, shake, and finally turn!

"Zumbazooka" review by Kaela
Zumbazooka is a fun and interactive dance that will leave you wanting more.  You curve and swerve to the music and follow along with the demonstrators.

"100 M Hurdles" review by Clayton
This is a good video because at the beginning someone gives you exercises and she actually has you run and hurdle!  You need to spread out for this video though otherwise it can get dangerous!

Check it out today!  Your kids will enjoy a little brain break from their day!

Click HERE to set up your account now!

10 stations, TONS of FUN!

I love teaching and have had fun making these great projects and doing these amazing things with kids.  But in all the hustle and bustle in the name of "learning" sometimes I forget that there is so much learning that happens when we allow kids to play.

Today I tried something new with my students.  We had a day of learning, but it was structured very different than my typical class time.  Today there were 10 different stations set up around the classroom and the kids could choose any station they wanted to work at.  After 20 minutes the kids were given the option to switch stations if they wanted, and if no one wanted to switch to their station then they didn't have to!  And if there were kids that had been at a station for too long and someone else wanted to come there, we switched it out.  We made it work.  No tears were shed, no one got upset, and most of all it was just flat out fun.  And best of all tons of learning happened and I saw the kids get to do things we haven't normally done in class.

Station 1:
We borrowed 5 chromebooks and set them up for the site  This is sponsored by and it allows the students to code their own Flappy Bird game.  Let's just say that this station was a hit from the mention of "Flappy Bird".

Station 2:
A good friend of Janet Corder, donated a puzzle to my class.  It's a HUGE jigsaw puzzle.  But even cooler than that, after the puzzle is put together it's actually an Augmented Reality experience!  You can find it HERE (and you can search for more of them!).  The kids have never really worked with jigsaw puzzles in my class and three girls spent almost the entire hour at this station determined to get as much done as possible.  This station will remain in our classroom until we get the whole thing put together!

Station 3:
A few years ago at TCEA I came across the Ultimate Puzzle and right away fell in love.  This is a great station that we've used throughout the school year that the kids never tire of and is actually pretty challenging!  I always promise the kids that if they can solve it I'll get them a meal from McDonald's.  Every year I only have about 3-5 who actually solve it!

Station 4:
When I was a kid I played with K'Nex and thankfully my mom saved all of them!  So I brought them up to school and just let the kids build and experiment. No directions and no building plans!  The kids LOVED this station and they really built some awesome things!

Station 5:
Rush Hour is a game I was actually given as a gift.  We have two of them.  It's all about moving the pieces to figure out how to get the red car out of the lot.  It's a great game that really has the kids thinking about the movements that lead to other movements and their consequences.

Station 6:
Our after school program bought some basic Lego Robotics Kits and so I borrowed two of them and set those up at stations.  Kids follow a plan, build the robot, and then plug the robot into the computer and create the code that tells the robot what to do!

Station 7:
This station was all about tablets.  In my class we take and work with whatever we can get.  We had a Microsoft Surface, Google Nexus 7, and two iPad Minis, and an iPad.  On the iPads we put the free coding app Cargo Bot which came highly recommended from Brad Waid and Drew Minock.  On the Microsoft Surface we had a few coding games and on the Nexus 7 we had Cargo Truck and Light Bot.

Station 8:
On the couple of desktop computers we had around the room kids were able to work on Build with Chrome which allows the students to build with Lego blocks!  They always love that!

Station 9:
Another game I found recently was Brick By Brick.  This game gives the kids just a few pieces and they have to build the image they see on a card.  It is a lot more difficult than it sounds!

Station 10:

At the final station kids could build an iSpy puzzle I got when I purchased and iSpy book.  The puzzle has about 50 pieces and once they put it together it becomes an iSpy game!

Sometimes we just gotta have one of those days where can sit and play and laugh!  Today was one of those days and I am so glad we did it.  The kids have asked if they work really hard every week can we start doing these days on Fridays.  My answer?  Why not!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Math PBL, Benchmark, and Results

The past few weeks we’ve been gearing up to take our Spring Math Benchmark.  Being in a classroom that doesn’t use class time to teach test formatted questions and being that I refuse to do worksheets, I had to figure out some way to review the skills for the upcoming exam.  A few years ago I had attended an EdCamp and heard about a teacher doing a project where the kids had to plan a trip.  So I took that idea and ran with it.

You can find the link to the Google Document I shared with my students HERE.  Essentially what they had to do was plan a vacation for four and stay within their budget of $5,000.  You can read the rest of the expectations on the google document.  When the kids were finished with their planning they had to create some sort of visual (poster, google presentation, etc) to show the class their totals and to talk about how they were planning to spend their vacation.  I wanted an activity that was very set in the real-world and one that would have the students using a multitude of skills.  A project like this also afforded me time to pull small groups throughout class to work on skills they may still be struggling with.

Watching the end results was awesome.  Kids planned trips to Las Vegas, Washington DC, Michigan, Florida, California and everywhere in between.  But one thing that I found the most humorous was that over half the students planned nap times within their days.  Who would have thought?

We did this project for about 3 weeks, and then took our Spring Math Benchmark.  In Texas, in April every year my 5th graders take the math STAAR test.  Last year the state of Texas released the exam to us, so this year we used that exam as their Math Benchmark.  To say I was nervous was an understatement.  I always get nervous when we take standardized exams because I do things so differently.  There are four other elementary schools in my district that I always want to stay competitive with when it comes to standardized exams.  We took the exam on Tuesday and my students were ALL OVER me about results.  They know how hard they work and they want to see how well they compare to others.  But at the same time my students don’t get extremely upset when they don’t do amazingly.  Why?  Because of the way I approach standardized exams.  I always tell them the exams exist to show us our weaknesses and where we need to work.  They don’t exist to tell us we’re failures.  And so when you get a test back, and it’s not what you wanted, all you can do is see where your weaknesses still are and work your butt off to improve those weaknesses.  When we got the scores back we came in second place out of the five elementary schools.  My kiddos were ecstatic.  We had huge celebrations for our hard work and we made sure to celebrate everyone because we work together to achieve great things!

Are test scores the only barometer of success?  No way.  But my kids worked hard for those benchmark scores and are proof that you don’t have to “drill and kill” to find success.  When you build relationships, set goals, and actually let kids create and explore, the learning happens at much deeper and long lasting levels.  I'm so glad I've chosen to teach my students they way that I have!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cracks Left Behind

When I was in High School I ran for Student Council.  Both my freshman and sophomore year I ran and got elected to be a representative.  My mom helped me with my campaign.  She came up with all my slogans.  One slogan that she came up with, and was the most popular, was "Don't get your panties in a wad, Vote for Todd".  I had it on stickers, buttons, handouts, everything.  Even going so far as to use it in my speech both my freshman and sophomore year.  Then my junior year I decided to run for Student Council President.  10 minutes before the election was to take place I got called into the office.  A teacher was offended by the slogan and the principal proceed to yell, yes yell at me.

 Is the slogan a tad controversial? Looking back now, defintely.  Would it ever pass in schools today? No way.  But this was about 10 years ago.  Keep in mind I had never been to the principal's office.  I worked to never be in trouble cause I knew I'd have to deal with my mom!

I can still clearly remember sitting in the principal's office, with the vice principal standing by his side and hearing him say "It's kids like you that ruin our schools.  You probably think you're funny and cute with this campaign slogan.  Well I'll tell you one thing, we don't need or want leaders like you.  You will never be a leader in this school."

Being a student who had never been in trouble like that, I was shell shocked.  That memory is still so clear in my head.  He sent me out of the office, delayed the election by 20 minutes (so they could mark my name off every ballot) and made me sit in the gym that day to listen to the other speeches without giving explanation of why I was removed.  I remember leaving that gym, going to a school pay phone, and calling home.  My mom, being the "mother bear" that she is came up to school a little upset.

 My spirit was broken that day.  By that one phrase of "we don't need or want leaders like you.  You will never be a leader in this school." The terrible part is that a part of me believed what they said.

But I had a wonderful family who supported me through it.  I had adults throughout my life who have reminded me of my worth.

Fast forward to today.  Today I have the privileged and opportunity to impact my students and adults every day with my words.  To build them up and make them believe great things.  But at the same time, my words have the power to destroy too.  And every comment and remark that leaves my lips, I have to evaluate.  Are my words going to crush someone's spirit?  Or will I choose to speak words that will build them up?

Choose your words wisely.  Ears are always listening whether we realize or not.  Broken pieces can be put back together, but you will always see the cracks left behind.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

My New Favorite Tool - @SoundGecko (Guest post by @TechNinjaStacey)

***** Stacey Huffine is a good friend of mine and a fellow ninja.  Though she doesn't view herself as someone who blogs, she found this AWESOME tool called "Sound Gecko" and I told her she had to write about it!  So please go ahead and read through a great post by my friend, Stacey.

I have fallen in love with this site and app. I am all about time saving and making my life easier. I am a busy mother of three and I drive a lot, an hour to work and back every day.  I have articles I want to read and just can’t find time to sit down to read them. Now I can listen to them. This is such an amazing thing to me because I have been listening to audiobooks forever. That is how I completed the Harry Potter series and The Hunger Games. I would have never read those books if it weren't for audio files. I also have lots of friends that blog and news articles I would like to read. With this web site and app combo I now have the time in the car or while doing dishes to “read” them. So imagine my wonder when I could pop in my ear bud in the car and listen to Todd Nesloney’s latest blog post, that in the past I have felt bad for not reading right away :-)

Create a SoundGecko account on the website With an account it will save the audio files of the article to your account and you can access it from the app on your device.  When you find an online article or blog you want to save and listen to simply go to the website and paste the URL for that site. Not only can you pick and choose your own article you want it to save, in the app they have links to some of the most popular news sites...World News, US News, Business, Entertainment, Technology and WAY MORE!!  You now have no excuse for not knowing the current events :-)

Im sure we also have those students that need things read to them as specified in their IEP. Students do not HAVE to have an account to listen to a URL.  If they need help reading research or any website, they can enter the URL and their school email and have it read to them. It will read it on the spot but a copy is also emailed to them. The teacher can also enter his/her email if your students don’t have school email accounts..

There of course is a paid version that will let you do even more with the site and app. The free version is limited to 4000 words per article, two voices to read to you and ONLY 30 articles per day. Im not sure I will EVER hit that limit :-)

**** This post was written by Stacey Huffine

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Learning, Connecting, and Growing at #TCEA14

This week I got to spend some time at the annual TCEA Conference.  TCEA is the Texas Computer Education Association, the largest technology conference in the nation outside of ISTE.  This was my 6th year that I've had the to opportunity to attend and it's always a favorite of mine.

Stacey and I drove in after work on Monday evening.  We caught dinner with our good friends Wendy Sanders and Jake Duncan then headed to sleep to get ready for the next day of fun!

Tuesday started bright and early with our first session Stacey and I were leading at 8am.  This year we decided to do something a little different. We called our session "Tech Ninjas" and instead of just Stacey and I standing up there sharing our favorite tech tools, we invited a few of our former "Honorary Tech Ninjas" to share their tools along with us!  Some of our friends like Matt Gomez, Jon Samuelson, Wendy Sanders, Jake Duncan, Andrea Keller, and more shared their tools.  It was such a fun and different way for us to do our session.  It was also pretty cool that our 8am session and our 1:15pm session were both FULL sessions with over 200 people in each one.  Such a great time sharing our favorite tools.

Tuesday night was also the TCEA Educator Awards, and it was such an honor to even be nominated as TCEA Teacher of the Year, but then when I won the Award that night, I was truly honored.  I have always loved being a part of TCEA and the fact that I now get to represent the organization and the state of Texas is mind blowing and truly humbling.  I can't wait to represent my state and organization at ISTE this upcoming summer.

Wednesday & Thursday I was able to present over my Flipped Classroom and PBL and got a lot of great feedback.  I just absolutely love sharing the things we're doing in class and how amazing my kids are.  I also loved getting to share the video my students recently created about the ways they would change the world.  I got to be such a proud teacher showing off my kiddos.

Then last minute Janet Corder was asked to be a part of an App Smackdown panel in one of the Ballrooms.  It was such a blast to work and present with some friends of mine who I've never got to present with before!

I also got to spend quite a bit of time catching up with two of my friends (Christine and Brett) from Remind101.  I have always loved using Remind101, but the thing I love the most is the incredible team that's running that company.  I still can't believe that I even get to call people like Christine and Brett my friends because they are such awesome people.  Getting to just hang out at the booth, go to a few meals, and even pose in a photo booth are moments I will remember for a while.  TCEA memories are made when you connect with people and I am so glad that Brett and Christine were able to come this year!

The other true joy of the conference for me was FINALLY getting to meet Shannon Miller.  I've met her online and via GHO, but finally getting to meet her in person, WOW!  She is such an incredible woman and educator.  I could have literally sat with her all day just talking and learning from her.  I would also say she is such a genuine and kind person.  It was a true highlight of mine getting to spend a little time with Shannon!  Can't wait to spend time again!

But the true joy of learning at an event like TCEA are the moments I was able to connect face to face with so many people I follow on twitter.  The conversations at meals, in the Digital Square, the Exhibit Hall, and more are the moments I truly cherish.  There is no better learning opportunity than to sit with a few amazing educators and let them talk about awesome things they're doing in their classrooms.  I gain far much more from those personal conversations then any session I ever attend.

Celebrating with Amy, Mindi, Lindsay, Matt, Wendy, Jake, and Stacey.  Eating meals with Don, Ronnie, Brett, Christine, Victor, and Stacey.  And spending time with Terri, Daisy, Angela, Andrea, Kevin, Jerry, Karen, and more.  I could go on and on listing all the awesome connections and time spent learning.

TCEA has always been one of my favorite conferences and this year was no exception.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

When You Choose to Dream Big

I'm a teacher.  I teach my students math.  But I also feel it's my job to teach them so much more than that.  In the past year I've had to pleasure of interacting with and being inspired by Angela Maiers, Steve Mesler, Josh Sweeney, and the Classroom Champions organization.

That inspiration has flowed over into my students.  Kids are imaginative, creative, thoughtful, and inspiring.  They come up with the best ideas.  One thing I want to do as a teacher is empower my students.  Empower them to believe in their dreams, to believe in the impossible.  But most of all to believe that every one of them has value and has something of value to offer the world.

Every child matters.  Every child is important.  If we all spent the time to empower or students to change the world and to do things that touch their hearts, imagine what could happen.  Imagine the avalanche of kindness and goodness that could come.

Below is a product of what my student's have been learning and working on.  Their only directions were, "How would you change the world? Think about what breaks your heart and how you would change it." My kids believe in the impossible and believe in their dreams.

I also have to give a HUGE thank you to Melissa Greene who gave us permission to use her super inspiring song "Imagine" as well.

We hope this video inspires you as much as it has inspired us.