Last year as I embarked on my Canvas Journey, making modules became like a game to me. What could I do better and differently than I did in the last one? What was it that the students liked or disliked about how I put together a module? As I watched them interact with Canvas, what was it that caught their eye in each part? I took each of those questions, when I sat down with my laptop, and used them to challenge myself to make the next module better. Yes, of course, I asked my students what they liked or disliked about the modules.
This year I started off week one with Canvas. I was diving in head first, bound and determined that my kids were going to be on track, and this was going to be a great year! I wasn’t going to have my “homeroom kids” for reading like a typical elementary classroom. We were going to switch our kids up. This took some time to figure out, and slowed things up for me getting started with Canvas. Once, we figured out what was best for our groups, we switched out kids in Canvas and off we went!
As my kids were working, I saw that they were staying in one area of my module and not proceeding to the next area. What had I done wrong? Did I not show them the “next button”? Were they fixated on that part of the module; did they not know how to “do” something? We talked it out. They simply just liked what I had at the start of the module and were not moving past it. Hmm.
In my next module, students were doing the work but not completing all the tasks. What do I mean by that? They were doing the reading part, but not completing the assigned task that went with it. Or, they were doing the activity, but not the follow up. Ugh. We had another discussion about it, and I again showed them what was to be done.
After contemplating things for my next module, I sat down with my kids. I asked them what THEY wanted to learn about, and HOW they wanted to learn it. After hearing what they had for me, I created a module based upon what they told me. It was amazing; the kids followed every step of the module and completed it, some a lot more quickly than others. They would tell me, “I’m done, what can I do now!?” I wasn’t expecting them to finish so quickly based on other modules, so I had to make a quick adjustment.
I was beyond excited with what they were doing. They were excited with what they were doing, and they were eager to get into Canvas. One teacher came to me and said, “Ms. Benner, I don’t know what you are doing in reading, but kids are asking me every day when they come back if they can log in so they can work on your assignment!” That’s it! They were hooked!
I’m ready to build another module for my students, so what will I do? You had better believe I’m asking my students what it is they want to learn and how they want to learn it! They have changed up some things, and given me some new ideas for the module! They even asked me to look into a new program for some books online. (I hate to burst their bubble when I tell them it is a paid site now.) However, I’ll keep looking for something else that they may like!
Giving the students choice in their learning has brightened everything up! They are so much more excited, they are eager to learn, and share about it. They are coming up with new and different ways that are, at times, more challenging than what I may come up with. It is one more step out of my comfort zone that I’m willing to take after seeing how this group has handled it.
Today's post comes to us from Ms. Kathy Benner. Born and raised in Richmond, Kathy Benner graduated from RHS in ‘97. She attended IU East and earned an Associate's Degree in General Studies and a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education. Kathy started her teaching career in Centerville, IN and came to Richmond in 2008. In 2011, she earned the No Excuses Award and REA Teacher of the Month. Kathy has taught Special Ed, 1st, 4th, 5th, but the majority of her career has been in 3rd grade. She loves working with technology: Spheros, Ollies, and Osmo. In her spare time Kathy enjoys singing, playing guitar, and putting together Lego sets. This is Kathy’s second year in the Cadre
We all love the feeling of comfortable routine. Knowing what to expect and when to expect it gives a sense of safety. For students, though, always doing things the way you’ve always done them can be boring and leave learning feeling stale. I’m not talking about never having any type of routine; that is too chaotic and leaves some students so out of sorts that they break down. But there are ways that using new tools can bring a fresh breath to the same old thing.
I’ve been trying to change some of my stale routines this year, like always using the same routine for vocabulary acquisition or note taking. I’m thrilled to have each student have their own laptop for use at school and home. Even with all of the issues of students wanting to play games and watch YouTube, their laptops are a wonderful tool to have and I consider myself lucky to teach in a district that is able to pull this level of next level stuff off. It hasn’t always been comfortable for me or them, but this year I set out to try new things, live outside of our comfort zone a bit, and always, always learn together.
I have been trying to introduce a new tool or way of doing things each week this semester. I feel it is important to try some things more than once because there is a learning curve in doing old things in a new way. I’m very up front with my students that I am trying something new and if it doesn’t work well the first time, that’s ok because we are learning together. I tell them that we should keep trying, even though things may not go smoothly at first.
After a short conversation with a fellow science teacher, I decided to have my students try digitally submitting their notes for me to grade. And by grade I mean hold them accountable for taking said notes. So far this semester, we have taken our notes on paper (I’m not willing to go digital with notes because of all that the research has to say about handwriting and knowledge acquisition) and submitted through Canvas using our laptop cameras to record video or take pictures. I then asked my students to upload their video or pictures. Voila! I can now grade notebook entries from the comfort of my home without toting a huge cart home. I don’t have to try to plan a class period in which they can work without me so I can circulate and check notebooks. I had students ask if they could just take pictures or video with their phones which is of course, a fantastic use for those things. Great idea, right?
Well, it didn’t go so well. More than two weeks after asking students to do this, I am still waiting on a significant number of them to submit their notes. Here we are at grading period’s end, and I’m still chasing their notebook entries. After meeting with small groups I found that I had a few that had their notes complete and were confused about how to use their laptop camera to turn in their assignment. Good to know and I was able to clear up their confusion and help them submit. Then I had more than a handful that hadn’t even taken their notes. It’s hard to say right now if this was due to the calculable percentage that were out sick in January and February, or that they just didn’t take their notes. Either way, I am going to try this method again because learning a new way of doing things can sometimes take a few tries.
I tried a couple of rounds of station labs for science. Students rotated from station to station and complete a series of tasks that introduce them to science concepts. Some stations were technology based, such as a video introducing how to calculate average speed, or an interactive site that created a motion graph of a moving object. Some were based on reading a short passage and answering comprehension questions. Some were stations where students have to physically manipulate materials and record data. Some were card sorts in which students had to make connections between parts of a concept. Though this was great and got students out of their seats, I wouldn’t want to use this method all year because after two mini units this way my students were already showing signs of being bored.
Another way I have changed my old way of doing things is in how I am presenting information for students to take notes. I used to have PowerPoints that I presented to my classes so they could write their notes. Late last year and at the beginning of this year I embedded Power Points on Canvas and had my students take their notes. I’m still going to use that method, especially with my students at the beginning of the year who need to learn how to be high school students instead of middle school students, but I’m going to spice things up as the year goes on. I plan on using Nearpod to create interactive note-taking sessions. I did this last week and had lots of students give me positive feedback. I want to continue to tweak how I use Nearpod and give Nearpod Gold a try. I really like to have my students pace themselves and leave the presenting to technology so I can circulate among my students and answer questions or guide them as needed.
As the year continues I want to try some of the other apps out there such as PearDeck and EduPuzzle to see how I can fit those in as well. The more the merrier as long as we take some time to familiarize ourselves with each one, right?
I want to try some completely new ways of doing things, too. I want to make my upcoming energy unit lessons through mastery paths on Canvas so I can differentiate in a new way. Later in the year I want to try to use mastery paths to create a gamified choose-your-own-adventure style unit on waves. I also want to make my unit on electricity into a maker space.
All of these ideas push me and my students outside of those old comfort zones. I’m getting great feedback from students on how much they are enjoying my class and the way I am doing things. Most importantly, I feel like my students and I have bonded. I feel like I’ve had more time to build relationships with my students and that has been so much fun! I feel like I did in my first few years of teaching, but without all that stress over classroom management because, other than the occasional student with a bad day, I have few behavior issues right now. So, I figure I must be doing something right in pushing past the same old same old
Today's thoughts come to us from Ms. Sarah Hawley. Sarah is in her 17th year of teaching in Richmond Community Schools. This is her second year teaching 9th Grade Integrated Chemistry and Physics at Richmond High School. Prior to teaching high schools, Sarah taught 7th grade science for three years at Dennis Middle School, 5th and 6th grade at Elizabeth Starr, and 5-8th grade at Discovery School. She coaches the Science Academic team, is the HOSA co-chair, and is a cub-scout den leader. Sarah is an Army brat who moved around a lot as a child. She was born in Alaska and has lived in Kansas, Germany, Indiana, Texas, North Carolina, and Montana. She loves to travel, knit, sew, read, hike, and sample foods from different places. Sarah is married and has two sons, Desmond and Felix.
While explaining one of my chaotic paint/spindle collages to a viewer, I was reminded that at some point a work of art has to come together, that the main object had to come into view. My art inquisitor asked what that chunk of wood in the upper left quadrant of the piece, the one just emerging from a slather of pink and green acrylic, represented. Represented? Good God. I thought a moment, cocked a smile and informed her that the chunk of wood was what I called the Dairy Case.
I gloated. Where is the Dairy Case located at every supermarket you’ve ever entered? Far back wall, Right? You have to walk past everything else to get to the milk, cheese, and, uh, Greek yogurt. So, she queried, that chunk of wood is the key to this collage? I hemmed. I hawed. Maybe not. It could be. She shook her head, no longer interested in the musings of the artist. Hey, we’re still in Deconstruction, right?
So what does the dairy case have to do with Don Wettrick? Don is the guy running an amazing program in Noblesville which, according to his notes, “Allows students to explore beyond the classroom . . . students take on events – really whatever they are passionate about--.” His wide-ranging program has high school students starting, for instance, a sustainable school in Ghana. Wow. His students learn from failing, succeeding, and trying things different ways. Aha. ‘Beyond the classroom’, ‘passionate’, ‘failing and succeeding’. I get that. Those of us working to blend our classrooms with technology understand the struggles and successes. We squint and strain to spot the objective somewhere up ahead. Don Wettrick has set up the dairy case back there at the far end of our educational supermarket. We and our students must travel the long aisles past amazing bargains and baubles, apps and sites and blogs, back there where the coolers hum and a blue light of hope glows.
Under the tutelage of Kevin Schamel, eLearning guru, I took one step toward that place. The idea: have teams of art students compete in the creation of a sculpture. Each team would choose an artist whose work they embraced. They would design a plan that would help them win, in this case, a pizza party. Students imagined the result, created an archive of their struggle, of their successes. Not exactly a sustainable school in Ghana, but at least my kids have moved past the deli counter, the frozen mac’n’cheese dinners and waffles, and staked out a place far from the teacher-driven classroom they once inhabited.
So how did this go? I’ve run collaborative projects for many years. Now, the notion that I was no longer the classroom art enforcer, but the guy who fulfilled wish lists of materials, gave mentorial comments when needed, the one who cleaned brushes in the back, discreetly staying out of the way, shaped not just my new role, but my students’ new roles. Choices had to be made. Various tasks had to be accomplished. A presentation loomed up ahead, two weeks hence. I offered the pizza party as an enticement, but student interest and passion, the energy of unfettered cooperation drove the project. Yes, at times I had to shove my hands in my pockets and become slightly deaf and blind. No, not every task was accomplished with polish and vision. But the results of their work traveled far from any solution I would have anticipated. And I managed to know my students better in those two weeks than in the previous ten. Also, new skills needed to be learned and employed to progress in this project. True to Keeler’s suggestion, I let students struggle with this, not allowing them, of course, to run too far ahead of me! Yup, I was a learner, too, in a community of learners.
Key to this team process was the ‘Group’ feature contained in the Canvas ‘People’ tool. It allows teachers to communicate with small groups. (I prefer the designation ‘teams’.) Lessons can be honed to each team’s specific needs and processes. I’ve only scratched the surface here, but it is a wow discovery. You could say that this ‘Group’ feature gives me a glimpse at Wettrick’s glowing challenge. Was this project successful with all my classes? No. Another 7th/8th grade class was unable to embrace the leadership, decison-making, and self-driven energy necessary to succeed. I returned to my old role with them and did my best to inch them forward. Joy Kirr remarks that her shifted classroom took years to develop. So goes the struggle.
A new wave of students is due in my classroom next week. What will their natures allow? How far toward independence will they venture? What sort of passion will carry them along? The difference: a new vision exists for what is possible. Further, another blended piece in the puzzle of readiness has fallen into place. This dramatic shift informs measures I should be taking to prepare my 5th and 6th graders for this process.
That glowing place at the background of our struggles, that chunk of wood in the slather of our trials . . . (OK, lousy metaphor) . . . should be the objective toward which we advance with our students. This is about their process, their struggle, their independence. Maybe, like that Deconstructed artist, our view is not the vital part. Their view is critical and the object of their struggle must involve their vision and their successes.
Did I mention how much fun it was watching this unfold? Move forward and enjoy.
Today's thoughts come to us from Mr. Richard Green. Richard currently teaches art at Dennis Intermediate School in Richmond, Indiana. A native of Massachusetts, he taught in the Bay State for a decade before making his move to the Sunshine State. During his tenure in Florida, he spent a year in Nagano, Japan as an exchange teacher. This eye-opening, life-changing experience fired up his teaching with a worldview and the confidence that comes from pushing outside your comfort zone. Now a resident of Indiana for nearly a decade something just as awesome has happened. He found a home and a renewed clarity for teaching art. His passion for teaching, writing, and producing his own brand of art continues to rise.
Do you find yourself watching videos that other people post on social media? I don’t. My wife will ask me, “Did you see so and so’s video?” And, I typically reply, “No.” I don’t watch short videos in my personal life, and I didn’t think I had a reason to watch them in my professional life. If I don’t watch You Tube, my students shouldn’t be either.
During an after-school Coffee with the Cadre meeting I asked Mr. Shunneson if You Tube could be blocked at the middle school level. Anyone that teaches middle school knows the students lack self-control and self-direction and have difficulty using many things appropriately. You Tube is no exception. If I had a penny for every time I told a student to get off You Tube and finish their assignment, I could quit teaching. Surely Mr. Shunneson would agree. But he didn’t. He told me there was too much good information on You Tube to block it.
Challenge Accepted. How can I harness the power of You Tube in my classroom? I decided to have my students find videos on certain subjects, upload a screen shot of the video, and write down one thing they learned. Some of them liked it, some of them didn’t. One response changed my mind about You Tube: "his videos help me learn better."
This student doesn’t do much: assignments, reading, etc. But, this student took the time to leave a comment that wasn’t required to let me know they liked this assignment AND learned something. They didn’t get the screen shot uploaded, but they did learn something.
I have used You Tube videos more often since this first assignment. I decided to use my energy allowing the students to learn in a more intentional way, than to continually tell them to get off You Tube.
Today's thoughts come to us from Mr. Wayne Cox. Wayne is in his second year of teaching seventh grade science at Dennis Middle School. He worked with individuals with developmental/intellectual/mental disabilities before returning to teaching after a 23 year hiatus. He fills several leadership positions in his church, and is a volunteer summer camp counselor for his church. He is married to Julie and has two sons Wes and Will.
It’s Valentine’s Day as this blog hits the presses – or whatever word might better fit. So, I want to reflect on something that I love. This entry is aimed at professing that love. I’m hoping it will go over better than those little candy hearts with cute sayings. Here goes: Richmond Community Schools, please be my valentine.
About eight years ago, I cut my educational teeth with Richmond Community Schools. As a man transitioning from one career to another, my first experience leading a classroom came at Dennis Middle School. Following that, I worked at Richmond High School as a long-term substitute. In 2011, I took my first full-time job as a teacher at RHS. Like any young teacher, those first couple years seemed a blur and I never felt adequate in what I was doing. But Richmond loved me back. I had great colleagues, administration, and everything else. I just didn’t know how much they loved me and how happy I’d be to see them again after teaching elsewhere for a few years.
That real love affair with RCS, and I swear I am in no way being compensated for these thoughts, came in 2016 when I returned to the district. Of course, there was one problem: I was required to attend a new teacher orientation. What began as an annoyance quickly became quite a beneficial activity for me. Sure, there was the bus tour of town, a place I knew well from my undergraduate days at in-town Earlham College, and there was a flurry of financial papers, speaking of…can’t wait to write the tax day blog. It was during one of those orientation days when the Richmond eLearning team came to present to us about this learning management system: Canvas. I had experience with eLearning gurus before and it hadn’t been a pleasant experience. Past relationships? #amIright?
But Kevin and Tim and everyone else who talked to us about the potential power of a blended classroom and a learning management system really were speaking to the idea of change. I was ready for a change. So, a year and a half later, here I am: I’m still looking for change. Because that’s what a good relationship does: it forces you to constantly reevaluate yourself and realize what’s best. Sometimes, those changes don’t go quite your way. My one month as a vegetarian proved that; although, for the record, you can get a sweet rice and bean burrito at Taco Bell. But my love for Richmond Community Schools hasn’t changed because there is a real tangible power that exists right now to be innovative, to not settle for the status quo, and to keep exploring how things can change in order to make classrooms better.
This is a cheesy first blog entry from me. But, sometimes cheese goes well with other Valentine’s Day treats. My love of Richmond has been solidified by people in this cadre of learners and innovators, as well as the previous year’s group. There are so many people to hand out little Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle valentines to this year. There are the Cadre folks. There are the administrators of RCS. But really, I want to spread some love to those people in Richmond High School who have motivated me through their presentations and desire to change those around me. Thank you Jason and Jeremy and Joel and Marc and Bill and Hunter and Jay and Jessica and Lauren and so, so, so many others. Please, all of you: be my valentine.
Today's thoughts come to us from Mr. Brian Bennett. Brian Bennett is in his seventh year teaching. He works at Richmond High School where he teaches dual credit classes in speech, composition, and literature, as well as 11th-grade English. He also works as a varsity boys basketball assistant coach and is co-chair of the English department. He is a two-time graduate of Earlham College and also has a masters degree in journalism from Northwestern University. He has a son, Stone, who rocks. In his spare time, Brian enjoys traveling and listening to music, mostly Pearl Jam who also rocks.
As I started this year with a corporation that went 1:1, I have to admit that I was skeptical about how I could use that laptop with my kids effectively. I mean I teach 7th grade math. How can one teach math with a computer? I can proudly say that I have seen the light, and I DO use a computer to teach math.
This revelation did not happen overnight. I did not just snap my fingers and let the magic happen. Just like with any other change, it takes time, sweat, and maybe a few tears. At first, this is hard to actually put out there but, I just scanned some worksheets and put them in modules. Then at least, when I was asked by anyone else, I could say yes I am using canvas. Yikes, that is not using technology in any purposeful way. I did not have a well thought out canvas page. I did not have any assignments on canvas, just a whole bunch of PDF files.
I was then asked if I wanted to attend a Blended Live conference. I am always interested in learning more, so I said sure (not even knowing what the conference was about). Wow, that conference opened my eyes to how much better my class could be. I learned all about blended learning, specifically station rotations. I went back to work that next Monday, and I began using station rotations regularly, 3-4 times a week.
Part of what makes blended learning is incorporating technology into the stations. This was going to be my biggest challenge in using stations. With the help of the e-learning team, I slowly started adding pieces to my class. I started with Math Space. I am lucky because our district has a student account for each student. It took an investment of time to spend a few class periods specifically showing the kids the skills needed to be able to work on Math Space. Once the kids were really familiar with Math Space, I added CK12, again investing a few days to show the kids the basics of the website to make them independent on it. They at least knew how to access help on the websites before I set them free to do it independently. I like both of these because when I am working with a small group on another topic, other small groups of students in the class can be working on these websites. Both the websites have hints and videos that students can click on while working through problems. This allows the students to use their resources to answer their own questions.
Thankfully I am part of the NexGenCadre, which continues to push me to find what is new and try it. I have also used canvas discussions, Flipgrid, Padlet, Kahoot, and Ixl. None of those are math specific, but can be used in math just like in any other subject.
Some people ask me how I use technology or how I use station rotation model in middle school math. I am here to say it can be done. What works in my classroom, might not work in your classroom, but unless you try something, anything, you will never know. We ask our students to try new things and have an open mind; we need to model that too. Students will surprise us with their ability to adapt and change, and you never know, they may even be able to teach us a thing or two.
Today's thoughts come to us from Ms. Katie Belanga. Katie is a 7th grade math teacher in her second year with Richmond Community Schools. Katie received her bachelor’s degree from The University of Toledo. She has previously taught in Columbus, Ohio and Nashville, Tennessee. Katie was honored to receive a Rising Star award from Richmond Community Schools for the 2016-2017 school year. Katie and her husband Chip have three children, Logan, Gavin, and Addie, who keep them busy. The family also has a one year old golden-doodle named Oakley. Katie likes to be outside in both the summer and winter in her spare time.
Every day numerous students struggle with reading comprehension. There are all kinds of programs and tools on the market to help. However, funds are tight and we typically do not have time to test all of the different products offered. Today I will highlight a tool that is free and readily available.
Microsoft o365 offers an Immersive Reader in Word, OneNote, and PowerPoint. (The Immersive Reader is located under the View tab.) There are 4 features that I find valuable to struggling readers: Read Aloud, Text Preference, Grammar Options, and Reading Preferences.
Do you have text that needs to be read to a student but you cannot find an audio copy? Would you like to simply listen to an article? Read Aloud (found at the bottom of the Immersive Reader) can do that for you. Place your cursor at the beginning of the text, click the Play arrow, and the reader begins. It is surprisingly accurate and the voice uses inflection. You can adjust the speed of the reading and you choose between a male or female voice.
We see more and more students with vision issues across our district. Text Preferences (found at the top right of the Immersive Reader) can adjust the font, size, spacing, and theme of the text. These options are great for making the text more visible as they not only adjust the layout, but they can improve glare issues as well.
Do you have students that need extra practice with the fundamentals of language? Grammar Options (found at the top right of the Immersive Reader) allows text to be broken down by syllables. It also can highlight (in different colors) nouns, verbs, and adjectives. This is helpful when looking to edit for fragments and run-ons or to check word choice by looking for descriptive adjectives.
When I learned to read, my mom made sure I stayed focused on the text by moving my finger along the line as I read. Reading Preferences (found at the top right of the Immersive Reader) makes this option available as well. One, three, or five lines of text can be highlighted at a time in conjunction with the Read Aloud feature.
Although we have just recently begun using these features with our students, we have found that they are beneficial. I am sure there are plenty of other applications we have not yet considered. If you have any thoughts on additional applications, or you have questions about how we are using the tool, feel free to contact me via Twitter @Jeremy__Hill.
Today's thoughts come to us from Mr. Jeremy Hill. Jeremy has worked at Richmond Community Schools for 20 years- he taught English for 18 years, was English Department Chair for 8 years, and has been the eLearning Specialist at RHS for 2 years. He is also the AD for the RCS intermediate schools and the assistant AD at Richmond High School. He earned his Bachelors from Indiana University East and his Masters from Earlham College. Jeremy is married to Tiffany Hill and they have a daughter, Sophia. Jeremy enjoys spending time with his friends and family, fishing, and attending sporting events when he is not at school.