Saturday, August 31, 2013

Whew, I survived

I can't believe I survived the week! Okay, so I passed out at 9 pm on Friday from pure exhaustion, but I'm still so invigorated about this school year.

Monday I had to give a three-hour presentation to over 60 teachers about our reading curriculum that I helped create in Google Drive.  I created the presentation in Drive, too. Who has ever heard of Drive crashing for over 30 minutes? Well, it does and it did right when we had to present.  Amazingly, we continued on, and the Google Drive was back up right when we needed the videos and links.

Tuesday I totally shocked my co-workers with the photo booth.  It was a hit! Even the principals did it.

I couldn't wait for Wednesday to see the students' reactions in getting to play with Play Doh (Thanks to TLAP).  I couldn't believe what they ended up creating!  I play with this stuff all the time with my daughter and never thought you could make something like these.  I always just make snakes or baskets made from making a lot of little snakes.

I stayed up late the night before the "big day" and made a little treat for my students.  You can get this template for free thanks to Eighteen25.  I heard many "awwws" as I handed them out at the end of class.  

Of course in order to have a TLAP "hook" for tomorrow, I told them their homework was to bring in a Hawaiian shirt and/or beach hat.  I told them to borrow if they had to since I was borrowing mine.  They had to create their Edmodo accounts, too.

If you haven't read Teach Like a Pirate (TLAP) yet, then I'll let you know that Dave Burgess likes to dress up a lot.  I didn't think I would do that.  I don't recall if he does for his day two island lesson.  I certainly couldn't bring myself to fly around the classroom like a crazy person and then pass out on the floor!!! Dressing up in a Hawaiian shirt and beach hat at work was already pushing it for me who even dresses up on Fridays when all others dress down.  However, I did come up with an idea to make the day an adventure.  I saw on one of Burgess's retweets of a teacher who had the students flip their desks and pretend to fly when they learned about Lindbergh.  I do know how to make a movie using iMovie so I went on YouTube looking for plane crash videos.  I can't believe there are real ones on there.  I certainly didn't want to use those so I found one that had the entire crash from Lost (my all time favorite show).  I also found some shots of Hawaii from a helicopter company.  I took both videos and created a two minute video, but I didn't want the sound that they had.  I couldn't believe iTunes has a plane crash sound that was 30 seconds long.  99 cents was a little pricy, but it's for a good cause, right?  I put Jimmy Buffet's "Volcano" for the island shots and weaved in the crash right with the first jolt in the video (I'm super impressed I could do that.  It took a lot of patience and effort to get that just right and the students probably didn't even notice.).  Then I found a song called "The Ocean" by Yuto Kanaza who created it about the tsunami that hit Japan.  You can view the final product here.  

I brought in extra shirts and hats for students to borrow.  They grabbed them up right away.  They were extremely confused on why some of the desks were upside down.  I had two chairs flipped in the front.  I was their pilot and easily got a student volunteer to be the co-pilot.  While watching it, I had students clapping their hands and dancing.  When the crash came, they LOVED screaming.  My teammate said the class on the other side of my wall was wondering what was going on.  Once it was finished, I told them they were a survivor.  I switched gears and had them be the captain of the boat who was going to save 5 out of the 10 survivors.  As they worked in groups on the assignment, I learned so much about how they will work in groups and saw the roles that they automatically took.  I used it as a time to talk about group expectations and what makes a good group.

I stopped by the office while I took the students to lunch since we have it in the middle of class.  The secretary wondered what my outfit was all about.  My principal, who has read the book, loved it.

My "hook"/homework for Friday was to bring in their best "thinking cap".  At night, I used Remind 101 to send a message out about not forgetting their "thinking cap".  

I have to have two Student Learning Objectives as part of my evaluation.  On Friday, I had students do the first of the two tasks that gives me some baseline data.  The only thing I could think of to make it an adventure was to have them have "thinking caps" and allow them to wear them in class.  Also classical music is known to help, so we listened to it quietly during the entire task.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Want more parents at parent/teacher night and more?

I just finished reading The Ten Minute Inservice by Todd Whitaker (love his books; quick timely reads) and Annette Breaux.  This book is more for administrators, but I found five things I could do myself that I loved.  I've tweaked a few TLAP (Teach Like a Pirate) style.

Inservice #17 was about getting parents involved.  Whitaker suggests personally calling parents and inviting them.  In years past, I've suggested this to my teammates to make phone calls home to personally invite parents in to our conferences night.  We broke down the students by homeroom.  If we couldn't get in contact with a parent, we left a message and/or sent an email.  We did see some increase in the attendance. I plan to do this again, but we will entice them to our P/T conference as if it were a CARNIVAL.

This year I want to get even more parents to visit. Whitaker suggests door prizes and food.  Since my team is all together in one corner of the floor, I was brainstorming how I could TLAP (if I can make that into a verb) our P/T conferences.  We have tables in our rooms.  If we brought them into the hallway, we could have a craft table, a popcorn/coffee/pizza/water table, and a family photo booth (a take on my first day of school idea and I can reuse all the work I did).  I found some great crafts on Pinterest that would not cost much and are easy to do.  Also just having some coloring pages and crayons for younger siblings is great.  This way we are entertaining them while they wait and learning at the same time.

Pipe cleaner Ninjas
Monster Bookmarks
For Younger Siblings
For a door prize, we would make a basket of games for a family game night or a movie theme for a family night at the movies.  We would create a scavenger hunt or reward card for visiting each classroom.  The students could turn them in once complete or in school the next day for a raffle ticket for a gift card.

For the food table, we would have a popcorn container (or maker) with small popcorn bags for self-service, a coffee urn, and small red pizza slices (You have to be from RI to know how good these are!!!) along with water.

Unfortunately my district doesn't have a Back to School night at the middle school level. It's conference-style where we meet one-on-one with students' families.  This leaves many waiting quite awhile to see all of us.  We've tried many ideas to see parents faster, but have yet to find a great solution.  If you have an idea, I'd love to hear it.

Inservice #21 is creating a Student Appreciation Week! We celebrate everyone else in school why not the students! Since I co-chair our school improvement team, I know I can bring this up to our Culture and Climate Committee (CCC).  They will love the idea and create unbelievable things like they always do.  My favorites of Whitaker's ideas are a different student each day get the comfy teacher's chair, ice cream in cafeteria, no homework all week, signs of appreciation around the school, teacher announcement on why they appreciate the students, raffles in teachers' rooms, and thank you notes to students.  It would be the best week ever if we could have all the teachers who join my TLAP book study to do a TLAP day during that week.  We would rock it pirate style!

Inservice #23 is the classroom makeover.  Again our CCC would help tremendously by creating a contest for the teachers to makeover their classroom and win a gift card.  Whitaker notes you need only four criteria to get a ticket:  signs of welcome, basic organization, display of student work, and color.  This would get our entire school to be a more pleasant, welcoming environment for out students.

Inservice #25 is positive communication with ALL parents.  Since the implementation of the new teacher evaluation system in our state, we need a Professional Growth Goal (PGG).  Last year, almost all teachers, including myself, created our PGG around calling more parents.  Like me, most did not state if they were positive or negative calls/notes home/emails.  I would like to do more positive ones than I was able to do last year.  You can get the one I made for my school on my Freebies page.  It's in .docx format, and you can just add your school's logo or a picture.

Inservice #26 is a teacher report card.  I always do this at the end of the year for the following year, but I like Whitaker's idea better. Do it at the end of each quarter.  Duh?!? This makes sense so that you can improve and change it up for the students you have now.  This way they get to benefit from giving you the feedback.  Just like Whitaker says, I have the students fill them out just like you do after taking a college course.  No names and one students puts them all in the envelope for the teacher.  Visit my TPT store to download it for free.

I have so many other TLAP ideas that I've worked on all summer that I'm "dying" to tell you about, but I'm trying to wait to write about them until I implement them starting with my first two days which is still 15 days away!  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

First Day Fun

I saw tweet on #tlap (teach like a pirate) of one teacher making a photo booth for her students on the first day.  I loved this idea but will tweak it in two ways.

Way #1  I thought why have it for my 110 students when I can do it for over 1300 students if I did it for the entire school.  Then I thought it'd be a fantastic idea to do it as a fundraiser for my team.  Students will take 4 quick shots, and they will be printed just like the ones they get in photo booth at the mall for $5.  Click here for student order tickets.

Way #2  With my mind not turning off, I thought why not make it a blast during our first faculty meeting of the year which we have before the first day of school.  One:  It's a way for the staff to have fun and get pumped about the new year all while goofing off with their teacher friends.  It will be great team building.  Two:  It's a way to publicize our event so that the teachers bring their students to have their pictures taken.  Three:  Great pictures for the yearbook!

Now I just have to get my principal to agree to both these ideas.  Since I got him to read the Teach Like a Pirate book (which he loved), I think I have a good shot.  UPDATE: I got approval!

I began my search to find how to make the props (for a not-very-crafty person) and what would be the best app on the iPad to use.

After many sites searched, I couldn't believe the fabulous print outs I can get from this site for FREE!  I figured it will be easy enough to cut out the ones I want and attach them to a wooden dowel.  I visited Hobby Lobby and saw the dowels for 29 cents each.  Perfect!

I proceeded to read about the best apps to use.  I found two that are free and have worked:  Insta Booth and Pici Booth.  I tried printing a practice one at CVS and Shutterfly, but it doesn't print correctly. They will print correctly if you print them on your home computer/printer.  Insta Booth allowed me to print right from my iPod 5th Gen and printed out correctly onto a Brother printer.  Pici Booth gives the options to email or save to camera roll and then you can print them.

Check out my photo booth board on Pinterest for other ideas I've gathered.

I'm sorry I don't have pictures to share.  I'm doing all this while on vacation visiting family.  I will add pictures to this post once I've created the props for the photo booth.  In the meantime, you can see how much I had fun with the app!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

One week in the blogosphere and nominated for a Liebster award! CRAZY!

A Liebster Award for me! Already?  Thanks so much to Kristen at Chalk & Apples for nominating me.

Liebster awards are for blogs with less than 200 followers.  In order to accept the nomination you need to do the following:

  1.  Link back to the person that nominated you.
  2. Answer the questions from your nominator.
  3. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 5 more blogs with less than 200 followers.
  5. Pose 11 questions for your nominees
My Answers:

What do you teach?
I teach seventh grade ELA.

What school supply do you love most?
Tough decision! I just love them all and have too much of them.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Words with Friends and Candy Crush Saga

What's your go-to caffeine fix on sleepy mornings?
I actually never have caffeine in the morning.  Just a glass of OJ to start my day.

What are you most excited about this school year?
Implementing my ideas and techniques learned from Teach Like a Pirate and using Edmodo

Who is the teacher who inspires you most?
Any teacher who goes the extra mile and gives more than 100% of themselves each and every day.
If you were giving your students a wish list for Christmas gifts, what would be the #1 item on it?
30 iPads/Macbooks so that I can have 1:1 computing in my classroom

What's your favorite Pinterest recipe?
I just started by account a week ago and haven't seen any recipes. I've been focused on finding educational ideas.

If you could go anywhere on vacation, where would you go?
Greece and the Azores

What time do you wake up in the mornings?
An hour before I have to be at work.

If you had a day off, and nothing to do, how would you spend it?
READING, of course!

11 Random Facts about me:
1.  I have three friends in three different countries that I have a pen pal to for 18 years.
2.  I prefer sugar candy over chocolate!
3.  I buy too many books from Scholastic book orders that I ended up donating hundreds to fellow ELA teachers and my library.
4.  I have a pet cat even though I'd never liked my sister's cat when growing up.
5.  I could spend every day reading and learning about being a better teacher and learning more about administration.
6.  I've been stuck in 7th grade for so long that I find bathroom humor funny.
7.  I love USA network shows way too much.
8.  I refuse to get an iPhone because I don't want to spend another $240 a year on an already too high cell phone bill.
9.  The highlight of my career is when a 12th grader told me he was still in school and graduating because of me.
10.  I also work with ELL students.
11.  I'm extremely proud of a former immigrant student when he graduated Fairfield University this year and that I was able to share that moment with him.  He's now a citizen, too!

I am nominating . . .
2.  Teacher Aha! Moments
3.  Teaching Isn't Scripted . . .
4.  Teaching with Class
5.  Technology Up to Speed

Your 11 questions are:

1.  What/who was your inspiration to become a teacher?
2.  What is your favorite grade to teach?
3.  What is a goal for this year?
4.  What is a pet peeve of yours?
5.  What is the best book you've read that didn't have to do with the education world?
6.  What is the best teacher resource that you've come across?
7.  What are three of your favorite apps for your classroom?
8.  What is the best lesson you've done?
9.  Why did you start a blog?
10. What is one thing on your wish list?
11.  If there was one thing you could change about the city you work in, what would it be?

Thanks again, Kristen, for the nomination!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


A half day of Edmodocon and all I can say is . . . WHEW! So many ideas and so much information.

So far my biggest take away is understanding what I am trying to do with my classroom this year and learning that is has a word.

In other words, I want to give control of students' learning over to them, and I'm just there as their captain.

Putting together ideas from Dave's Pirate book and using Edmodo to create more of a blended learning environment is going to put me on a HUGE learning curve.  Hopefully I will be able to keep myself afloat. 

While Edmodocon is on their lunch break, I've worked on tweaking a video I made for my class while thinking about the reality TV hook from the Pirate book.  

"Fish Cheeks" by Amy Tan has a fabulous array of foods that many of my middle schoolers, who don't like the wheat pizza in the cafeteria, would deem as "gross":  prawns, rock cod, tofu, dried fungus (mushrooms), squid.  My thinking is what better way to create excitement about the story then to have a Fear Factor competition to see who would eat all of this food.  Of course I plan to pick those who have never ate any of these before.  

You can check out the video here:  Fish Cheeks  I used Animoto to create it.  You can get an upgrade account if you apply as a teacher.  I find it very easy to use.  Go to the freebies page for Fear Factor sign up cards to use if you make a video yourself.

Also I realized I haven't told you what PIRATE stands for.  

Ask and analyze

Stephanie at Third Grade Thoughts did an excellent write up about the sections of the How to Teach Like a Pirate book along with some freebies.  Check out her blog here PIRATE techniques

Heading back to Edmodocon!

Monday, August 5, 2013

After Edmodo, there came the Flip Your Classroom book

I was waiting and waiting for this book to be published.  I was so excited for it that I didn't realize that I ordered two copies of it!  This happened because the book was published as a joint effort between ASCD and ISTE (my two favorite organizations).  I ordered the book from each of them.  Thankfully I was able to send one back.

I read this book in one sitting because of it's an easy read and had tons of fantastic ideas.  The authors, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, teach high school.  While I read it, I didn't know if I could completely flip my classroom like he did.  I felt it would be easier if I was at the high school level.  Being in the middle school, I thought I'd start small by sort of flipping with my homework assignments since quite a few of my students have no access to the Internet/computer at home and no way to get to the library.

I really liked Jonathan's syllabus that he used for his class.  I tweaked it and added in the the Common Core standard.  Also, I decided that I would vary the days that each of my class turns in the assignments so that each day it would take me less time to correct.  It is very important for me to have extra time since I have a 2 year old at home.  Check my Freebies link for the shared document!

I decided on 12 assignments since that what fit into a quarter time frame given the length of time to complete each one.  After I created the assignments and syllabi, I searched the Internet for the best resources that would be most helpful for seventh graders.  In Edmodo, I created a folder to put the syllabi, assignments, and resources needed in case some students wanted to work ahead  (I'll be flabbergasted if many do that!) or if they were absent.  My students in my "Fun Summer School" loved the idea and thought having the extra resources at home were very helpful.  Only time will tell.

I didn't want to keep this great book for only myself so I donated it to my school library to be part of our professional collection.  If your district is desperately needing funds like mine, and you have professional books you're done with, I urge you to donate them to your school library.  This way when you talk about it with a colleague, you can tell them to "check it out".

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Before the "Teach Like a Pirate" book, I discovered Edmodo

What teacher in his/her right mind, is thinking, planning and excited for the next school year in the last two weeks of school?  I'm definitely not in my right mind.  This was me when I discovered Edmodo.  I couldn't believe with all the technology classes and research I've done that I didn't know about this site.

My excitement spilled over into an offer of a fun summer school to my soon-to-be former students and showing them about Edmodo.  I was amazed that I could upload a video and mp3 that I created (up to 100 mb) and could actually share it with the students.

Being in 7th grade, I like to put as much ownership on the students to do what they need to do for their learning.  I have always posted their homework on my team website that I created (, but I can't grade it on there nor award badges.  I feel this will be very helpful for when students are absent or want to work at their own pace.

Badges that are not just for girl scouts!  My summer students are loving the badges.  I am, too! I love giving them, getting them from other teachers and creating them.

I love all the learning game apps, too.  My students love Minecraft and earning free time to play it.  I think it's hilarious that they want to play a game where graphics are so low tech that it makes the first Atari look awesome.  I'm hoping to transfer that love over to loving the learning apps.

Here are some great articles about the power of game-based learning.

On August 7th Edmodo is hosting Edmodocon.  I'm excited to see what new ideas this will bring me.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Book Find of the 21st Century

Somehow through click after click after click, I landed upon an amazing book, Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.  I read the book in one day and was overwhelmed with creative ideas to engage my students more and to get them to want to go to my class.  I will be using this blog to give you an insight on how this book and new ideas change the motivation of my students.  I will also chronicle the book study group that I will be doing.  I hope my blog inspires you.