Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Teacher "Genius Hour" PD!

Once a month, our district has what is referred to as "Green Day" PD. This is the one early release day where we have the opportunity to offer PD sessions for all of the teachers in the district. Typically, teachers have all been told which session they are supposed to attend, and it is based on content and/or grade level.

This month we decided to try something new. We created "Choice Sessions" so that teachers could choose to learn about something meaningful and helpful for improving learning in their classrooms. We recruited Instructional Coaches and teachers so that we could offer a wide variety of sessions.

We also decided to offer a Teacher "Genius Hour" session. I designed a website to walk teachers through the process, and I will be their point of contact if they have any questions or need support. 

The webpage starts with a quick overview of the session steps:

🎯 Goal: The goal of this session is to provide teachers with the time to       
explore, research, and learn about a topic of interest (related to education).

📋Steps: (1) Learn about Genius Hour. (2) Choose a topic. (3) Create your        "Pitch." (4) Submit your idea.

💡Final Product: Your final product for today's session will be your "Pitch" 
 which is a simple slide deck that introduces your topic to your colleagues.

The rest of the page walks teachers through the four steps.

1) Explore: What is Genius Hour?

The first section has some resources for teachers who are not familiar with the basic idea of Genius Hour. Here are the links:

2) Choose a topic!

The guidelines for the topic were the following:

  • Something that will benefit students, staff, or the school
  • Driven by your passions
  • New to you as a professional

I found these on a website called "Genius Hour for Teachers Guide."

I also provided some examples of possible education-related topics to give teachers a place to start, and I included a link to the full list of topics from Edutopia so they could explore further.  

3) Create your "Pitch"!

Teachers will be creating a "Pitch" using Google Slides to share their idea with their colleagues. This idea came from A.J. Juliani in the blog post "Your Top 10 Genius Hour Questions Answered." 

The pitch is made up of four main components:

     - What are you going to learn about?
     - Why do you want to learn about?
     - How are you going to learn about it?
     - What will be a success in your mind?

I created the example below to give teachers an idea of what their "Pitch" could look like:

4) Submit your idea!

Teachers will submit their topic and the link to their "Pitch" in a Google Form we created. 

Click here to see the Google Form.

I am really excited to see how this session goes, and to get feedback from teachers about how we could possibly improve it. I would also like to see if we can find teachers who chose similar topics to collaborate as they research and try things out in their classrooms. 

Have you tried Genius Hour with your teachers before? I would love to hear about it!

Friday, January 17, 2020

Chat Stations, Summarizing, and Google Earth Voyager!

This week I had the opportunity to do my first round of social studies classroom walk-throughs! It was really great getting to see the teachers in their classrooms interacting with their students. I went in with three main goals:
  • Gain an understanding of how our teachers are forming relationships with their students
  • Collect information about the types of instructional strategies being used in classrooms
  • Provide a follow-up email with a resource based on the learning objectives and instructional strategies I observed
I visited seven classrooms, and I emailed each teacher the next day with some positive feedback and a resource tailored to the learning that was happening in their classroom.

Here are a few resources/strategies I shared:

Chat Stations

In one classroom, students were learning about the effects of the railroad during Industrialism. They had read an article and were discussing and answering them on their papers in small groups. Their teacher would then have some students share out in the whole group. 

While their discussions were really good, there were a few areas for growth. The students were sitting in their seats the entire time, and the energy level was a little low. Some had their heads down the entire time. Also, when it came time for students to share their thoughts with the whole group, it seemed like the same students volunteered and shared. 

I suggested that the teacher try "Chat Stations", which is a strategy shared by Jennifer Gonzalez (@cultofpedagogy) in a blog post titled "Students Sitting Around Too Much? Try Chat Stations." In this chat station activity, students move from station to station and have small group discussions in response to a discussion prompt. 

Here are some of the benefits Gonzalez mentions in her post:
  • increases movement into instruction, helping the brain function better
  • allows teachers to interact more with students on a one-on-one setting
  • incorporates novelty, which increases their memory of the discussions

Summarizing: Somebody Wanted But So

In another classroom, students were writing a summary of a text they had read about the battles of Lexington and Concord during the American Revolution. The students had highlighted the main ideas and supporting details in the text, and they were using that to write their summary on a Google Doc. 

Summarizing can be a challenging skill to teach students, especially if they struggle with reading comprehension. A few of the students seemed to be struggling with how to take the information they highlighted and transform that into a clear, concise summary. 

I suggested that the teacher try a summarizing strategy called "Somebody Wanted But So." This strategy was shared by Glenn Wiebe (@glennw98) in a blog post titled "'Somebody Wanted But So' Makes your kids smarter." This is a scaffolding tool that helps students improve their summarizing skills. 

According to Wiebe, this strategy is great for:
  • seeing the main ideas and specific details
  • identifying cause and effect
  • making sense of multiple points of view

Google Earth

A couple of teachers mentioned that they were having students practice geography skills as part of their "Bell Work." These were typically worksheets that they went over together as a class. In one particular classroom, this practice was followed by a lesson about the causes of WWII. 

I reached out to the teacher after the lesson and shared a resource from Google Earth called Google Earth Voyager: War in the Pacific. This activity guides students through a tour of the sites and remnants of some of the greatest battles of WWII, and it provides background knowledge about each site. Google Earth also recently added creation tools that allow people to "author, collaborate, and share digital stories mapped across the canvas of the planet." You can read about it in this blog post, "Create your own maps and stories in Google Earth." We discussed how he could use Google Maps and Google Earth as a way to help students develop geography skills in an engaging way.

Next Steps

When I reached out to each teacher, I offered to meet and help plan how they could try the new strategy/resource with their students. I had several teachers reply that same day and say they would be interested, so I'm super excited to collaborate with these teachers and get into some more classrooms! 

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Kinders on Chromebooks!

Monday was our first day back after Winter Break, and I was lucky enough to get to spend the afternoon helping some kindergarten friends log onto Chromebooks for the first time! It was exhausting, but it was also super fun!

Before Winter Break, our EdTech team made arrangements to lead "Kinder Chromebook Login" sessions at one of the schools in our district. We originally planned to lead sessions in four different classrooms, but we ended up only getting to two classrooms. 

For both sessions, I took the lead while two other EdTech team members and the classroom teacher provided support. Here are some of my takeaways from this experience:


Hidden Passwords

When our students type in their usernames, they can see it. That means that they can self-asses for errors, and we can easily help them identify how to make corrections. 

Unfortunately, students cannot see their passwords as they type them. This makes it really difficult to identify any errors. A couple of students typed their passwords correctly the first time, but most students needed one of the adults to sit with them and watch them type in their password. It would be REALLY challenging for a classroom teacher to be able to provide that type of support on their own. They would probably need to utilize a small group approach.

Number & Letter Recognition

Our kindergarten students are at many different levels when it comes to their ability to identify numbers and letters. Some students were able to find the numbers and letters in their login information quickly, while others needed significant support.

Special Characters

The district usernames and passwords contain a few special characters, including the following:

  • period (.)
  • at sign (@)
  • dash (-)

Students definitely had a more difficult time locating these symbols, especially if they were not very familiar with the keyboard in general.


Fancy A (@)

I was fortunate enough to observe one of our Instructional Coaches lead a similar session with kindergarten students at another school back in December. I was able to use some of the same strategies she used when I led the sessions this week. One of the most helpful strategies I learned from her was the way she broke down the steps in order to help students type in the (@) symbol in their usernames. She called it the "Fancy A."

I placed a Chromebook under the document camera so I could model the steps on the Smartboard. Then, I walked the students through these steps:

  1. Raise both hands in the air.
  2. With your left hand, press the "Shift" key. 
  3. Still pressing down on the "Shift" key, take your right hand and press the number 2. 
This worked really well in both kindergarten classes!

Blue Buttons

Students have to go through at least 4 different screens before they are logged onto the Chromebook. To move to the next screen, they have to locate and push a button with a different word on each screen, including "Next", "Sign in", "Yes," and "Accept." Our kindergarten students aren't all at a level where they can identify those words. 

Luckily, EVERY button is blue! This made it super easy for our students to identify the correct button, even if they couldn't identify the word or even the first letter of the word.

Kinder Perseverance

The best part of the whole experience was getting to see how hard our little friends worked and how proud of themselves they were when they successfully logged into their accounts! I'm really excited to see what these students can do as they get better at logging in and are able to use the Chromebooks to enhance their learning experience! 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Awesome Projects for January!

This week has been super busy! But it's that awesome kind of busy where I am working on multiple projects for January that I am SUPER excited about! 

Kinders on Chromebooks

We are preparing for our 3rd Quarter EdTech session, and we are planning to include resources specifically designed for our K-2 teachers. We want to create videos in which we model strategies that K-2 teachers can use to help their students learn how to login to Chromebooks. My EdTech teammate reached out to the Kindergarten team at one of our schools, and they were kind enough to open their doors to us! 

We will be working with this team on the first day back from Winter Break in January. Our plan is for me to lead the first session while another EdTech team member records the lesson and assists students as needed. We will be sharing the video footage, along with other K-2 resources, with our teachers during our sessions throughout the 3rd Quarter.

This week I am trying to build a Google Site that will house these resources. Here are some of my favorite sources for K-2 support:

Digital Citizenship PD

In January, I am planning to lead my first PD session on Digital Citizenship. I am really excited about this because it is a topic that I feel like we need to be more proactive about discussing with our teachers and students. I recently watched a really great video called "Rethinking Digital Citizenship" with Richard Culatta from ISTE.

Part of the PD session will be helping teachers explore different resources that can help them get started with lessons in their own classrooms. Here are a few resources we will be exploring:

Social Studies PD Collaboration

For our January PD sessions, our Academic Services department is trying to create a "choice" format so that teachers can select a session that will be meaningful for their own growth. In order to make this successful, we are trying to recruit instructional coaches and teacher leaders to lead sessions in their areas of strength.

I reached out to a social studies teacher who also happens to be one of our talented Teacher Tech Leaders to see if she would lead a session on effective ways to integrate tech in the social studies classroom. Two areas she is really effective in are: 

  1. Using the site iCivics to engage students in civics topics 
  2. Using Google Classroom to manage digital assignments

She was really excited about the opportunity, and I am super pumped to get to collaborate with her and support her in this leadership opportunity! 

January is going to be awesome! =)

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Creating PD Choice Boards!

As the new EdTech and Social Studies Specialist, part of my job includes planning and facilitating professional development for our social studies teachers. Our main PD sessions take place once a month on Wednesdays when teachers are released early from their school sites.

Leading these PD sessions was a part of the job that I was SUPER excited about when I first started. However, there are some challenges that I wasn't prepared for that have caused me to reflect and rethink the way I have been planning. 


1) We have 32 schools in our district, and there are three different release times. To honor everyone's time and make sure teachers don't have to work outside of contract hours, we decided to have two different sessions with a half-hour of overlap time. I set up the activities in Google Classroom, number them, and include videos and directions so that teachers can work through them at their own pace when they arrive. However, some teachers have a difficult time with that amount of self-direction. Also, some teachers have expressed that it is difficult for them to focus in a room where different people are working on different assignments at different paces. 

2) Our state just adopted new social studies standards with a focus on inquiry learning. This is a transition year, so teachers were told they could use the old standards OR the new standards this year. For most grade levels, there are significant changes in the actual content, in addition to the shift to inquiry-based learning. Some teachers are using old standards, some teachers are using new standards, some teachers are trying inquiry activities, and some teachers don't have any clue what inquiry learning means. We are all over the place. So, it has been difficult planning activities that would be meaningful for everyone, and it is even more difficult trying to find the best way to move everyone forward in the shift to inquiry learning.

Choice Boards

I decided to try something new for our PD session this month. I wanted to assess where each teacher is in their ability to plan a unit using the new standards so that I can figure out how to effectively support each individual person. However, planning is such a personal act of creation, and I don't want to force everyone to plan units and lessons the same way I do. So, I set up a choice board activity with four different options. 

For each activity, I included resources, an optional template, examples, and reflection questions. I also gave teachers the option to work on this activity with their teams at their own school site or to come to a central location where I would be there to provide support. 

This activity took a lot of time to design, but I was lucky enough to get really great feedback and ideas from my EdTech teammate before I rolled it out to our teachers. There are definitely parts of this activity that could be better, and I will adjust and try to improve this for the next session. I will also be following up with some teachers who need a little more one-on-one help completing their activity. 

However, I had a really great moment today when I received an email from a teacher that had expressed some displeasure at the way the last session was organized. Her email was titled, "So good!" In the email, she stated the following: "We divided up in our grades and all felt very productive today. Thanks so much." It was a simple message, but it made my day. 

We are all life-long learners. Some days I wonder if I am ever going to figure out how to be good at this new role. Other days, I know that I won't fail as long as I don't stop trying.

Today was a good day. 😊