Friday, November 22, 2013

Proud Day as a Coach and Educator

   The past two days marked two of the proudest days I've ever experienced in education.  Over the past three school years I have taken on the responsibility of coaching the boys' basketball team.  Basketball is a sport I have participated in all my life but stopped early in high school on an organized level.  As I have a coached these past three seasons the two important strands that I have made sure to carry over from the classroom are high expectations and character.  I really value the ability to guide these young men on what it means to be a man and to put them in situations to lead.  Over the past two days I watched these young men I lead rise to the challenge and be give back to their community.
   Thankfully, our school is across the street from an elementary school and through coordination with a wonderful 2nd grade teacher there, Teri Stone, we were able to go over as a team and read to K-2 graders.  The team read to large and small groups and they did a fantastic job.  I enjoyed seeing the excitement of the elementary students towards the basketball team visiting their classrooms.  Each of my players did a fantastic job of reading to the classes and interacting with the children.  I hope this left an impact on my players as much as it did on the elementary students and me as their coach.  I don't what our win-loss record will be at the end of the season but seeing these young men takes steps of leadership encourages me that they will be winners at life!  I know they each will make a positive difference in other people's lives.  Go Chargers!!!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Seeing Summer Ideas Come to Life

   We're fully into the school year now.  It's crazy that the 1st 9 weeks has passed so quickly.  As we are fully into curriculum, I feel that I have more rigor and feel more infused into curriculum better than I ever have.  I think some of that is due to experience and comfort with the curriculum but I also believe I am better connected and comfortable with my classes to jump into our work.  A special, special thanks goes to our ITS at our school who did a wonderful job of getting students their Chromebooks early in the year.  This roll out was so smooth and efficient all teachers were able to get started with using technology in classroom.
   As we've worked this first quarter I've found that a lot of the ideas I wanted to see applied this year are starting to get rolling.  I wanted to get my students into blogging.  [Check]  I wanted to have a running Twitter account of what my class was doing. [Check]  I wanted to chronicle more of my student work through posting pictures and sharing our learning [Check]  Lastly, I wanted students to have presenters come in to our classroom that give students more a real world relevance to learning [Check].  I'm excited to look back at these plans and see that I've gotten them off the ground and we've made them happen.  What is amazing to me is how everything going on professionally for me tugs at my focus.  I enjoy getting to be a part of other committees and presentations on content, leadership, and Common Core but they do take away mental space for how to better engage students.  As I reflect on this first quarter I plan to share posts on the following topics.

- First Across Content Project on the Columbian Exchange with ELA, Science, and Social Studies.
    Students worked to use DISCUS Reference source to research a plant, animal, or disease that was transferred between Old to New World or New to Old World.

- DJJ Store of Hope and Project HOPE to help rehabilitate teenagers who are on probation and need help finding job opportunities.

- Thinking Globally from University of South Carolina.  International Students come to share with our students

- City of Columbia City Planners come and do a presentation and activity tied to our study of River Valley Civilizations

- The use of "soft" data in the classroom to guide instruction.

- Figuring out how to do authentic PBL or Blended Learning.

I'm set a high bar for myself.  Looking forward to sharing.  What are you doing in your classroom that has you excited?  Are you getting your summer time ideas off the idea floor or are they still in a file?  Find partners in learning and get going.  Don't let the normal stresses of the school year hinder you.  I know how tough that is to fight.  Always do your best.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Blogging in the Classroom begins! (finally writing a post again)

  Wow it has been some time since my last post.  I have felt the thrush of the school tidal wave hit and we are rocking along as my dad would say.  We're already 5 1/2 weeks into the year.  I'm thankful for the solid start to my year and I have really enjoyed getting to know my students.  I really have a great group who are willing to take risks and ask insightful questions.  All of my students have realized that history can be interesting and fun to discuss.  Many of them wouldn't have said this at the beginning of the year.  Since my last post here's a brief recap of our progress.  We've successfully set-up our blogs and students have posted three times, Open House for parents, completed our first unit on Native Americans and European Explorers, and completed an inter-disciplinary project with ELA and Science.  Are you tired yet?  I'll be posting about these activities in coming posts but wanted to give a glimpse of our progress.
Blog Day!
      To focus this back on the blog set-up, I could not have had success without the great help of my colleague Lorena Swetnam, Media Specialist Extraordinaire.  She and I were able to meet and plan out an approach to sharing info. about how to use blogs, examples of blogs, and appropriate comments on blogging.  We also spoke about editing one's writing.  In the examples below you'll see strength in making the point clear but help on editing.  Lorena's presentation was short and sweet but incredibly practical.  Blog Intro  After this discussion we proceeded to logging into  I found this site to be the best for my 6th graders.  One, it is safe and easily controlled by the teacher.  Two, I can approve or disapprove comments before anyone sees them to ensure respect is shown.  Third, it allows for my ultimate goal of connecting with other classrooms.  I'm a fan of Kidblog.


  • The free version of Kidblog allows up to 50 students per class.  Since I have 100 students, I decided to create 4 classes.  
  • To get students logged in create a "bulk" list in Excel with 2 columns.  One column titled "Student Name" and the other "Password."  
  • For password, start with something generic: DOB, phrase, or number, and then let students change password to something they'll remember after they log-in.  Trying to each individuals before hand is too much work on your part.   
  • Do those steps and you're all set to start blogging.  No other info. is needed on Kidblog for students to use site.  

The first topic:
  As I told in an earlier post, I used Ashton Kutcher's speech from the Kid's Choice Awards.  I wrote a transcription of the speech and read it to students due my feeling that some parts would be better for me to omit without losing the main point.  After reading, I had students write a post and then react to someone else's posts to get the dialogue going with one another.  Here are some examples:

"While  I was listening to the speech I was thinking that people under-estimate most actors hearing that speech told me that he is not just a shallow rich,actor like all of those magazines say. He is a very hard worker he has already had five jobs in his lifetime and he started at the age of thirteen. The most inspirational part in his speech was when he quoted jobs and the quote said to "build your own life." In my world that means be creative and don't do what other people want you to do, do what you want to do, if you don't you might be unhappy forever. So comment about what you thought it meant."

  Student Comment to this post:

"I thought that build your own life was really inspirational too. I totally agree with you on you post. Also I like how you said “be creative and don’t do what other people do."

Another Post: Great example of reflection but also challenging readers to respond and think.

"to answer the question i will ask another question what will you work hard for. for me i want to work hard on computers to game design that's what i work hard for. for that i need to be smart and patient for this. this is the base of the life i want to build the life i want to live. so what do you want to work hard for and tell us what it needs, what work it needs, and  if its the life you want to live."

Pics of our class work:

Closing and Reflection:
    I was really excited by the posts of my students because they grasped the point of the speech and found ways to make it applicable to their lives.  That's what I want out of learning in my classroom.  Find relevance and a connection.  When these two words meet in the classroom, I find myself in the "sweet spot" of teaching.   

1)  Going forward with blogging.  I'm trying to figure out the best way to view all the posts and provide feedback and assessment.  I don't want to hinder creativity by putting a grade but I do want to reward involvement.  Any thoughts as to how to best assess blogs? 

2) Secondly, the area I see where I need to improve our blogs is in the comment section.  I want students move from just saying good job but more consistently giving meaningful feedback to the post.  In some ways I feel like I should be looking in the mirror because I need to do that for them with the writing assignments I give.  Feedback that doesn't have depth to it is weak and unhelpful.  I want to improve this.  Anyone have successes or ideas for this?  

So glad to have another post written.  I feel like I've saved a quality teaching moment from the depths of "I did this lesson once."  As always, do your best!  

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Make Social Studies Real, Relevant, and Authentic

 I love to make connections.  From the beginning of my teaching career, my principal said that connections were my greatest strength in the classroom.  Thank you Mike Rutherford teaching strategies. A program not funded anymore in my district but a worthwhile approach to effective teaching.  My principal also gave me guidance that if I wanted my connections to be remembered I better improve my classroom management. Since the beginning, I strive to find the best and most meaningful connections for Social Studies.  Examples of connections can be as simple as linking a history concept like irrigation to digging a trench at the beach for your sandcastle or as higher level as discussing NGM's article earlier this year on whether to bring extinct species back to life.  This connects with our study of Early Humans.  I love thinking about what could be.  Where I've tried to take connections to the next level is bringing in speakers.  These folks offer my students first hand accounts of foreign cultures and that impacts how well students retain the content.

   The first group I had last year and am setting up this year's presentations is Thinking Globally.  They are from the University of South Carolina and seek to bring international students into the classroom to speak to classrooms about other cultures, religions, etc.  I teach world religions and world cultures through ancient civ.  As a result, their program hits a homerun for "authentic" connections to our content and that helps make what we study in class more real.  I can't wait for their arrival on Friday, October 4th.

    The second speaker came this past Friday.  His name is Brad Brown and he is the CEO of Uhuru Child.  His organization seeks to alleviate poverty in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya.  They have two main initiatives.  First, build high schools for students who cannot afford to go for further schooling.  The government pays for primary school for everyone and have over 27,000 schools.  High schools number only 7,000 and only those who can pay can get in to these schools.  As a result, the cycle of poverty repeats itself.  Uhuru Child seeks to provide education opportunities to help increase children's freedom.  The second initiative is sustainable jobs.  They provide these jobs by building Shambas (farm in Swahili) that can be a steady income for families but also gain a profit due to selling crops to market or elsewhere.  Where this link of the businesses links to the Uhuru Academy is that the profits made off the farms after paying the workforce go into funding the schools.  This means money from Africa funds the schools rather than the only pipeline of funds coming from the USA.  USA only funded schools unfortunately happen quite often.  As these are well intended efforts, the schools have to shut down when the money stops coming from the USA.  This is where Uhuru Child seeks to separate itself from this approach.  Below I have some pictures from the exciting presentation.  Brad is so passionate about what he does and I am thankful that I know him.  My students are still talking about the presentation and can't wait to see what opportunities will arise.  We're hoping to e-mail, Skype, Google hangout, or something with Uhuru Academy.  The year is full of endless opportunities.

What are you doing to build connections in the classroom?  They come in every size.  Don't miss a chance to make your content more real, relevant, and authentic.  Always do your best.
Add caption
Setting up Musical Chairs.
Talking about the shower buckets that do not shower good rain.  
Brad sharing a what motivated them to start working in Kenya.  

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Social Studies = DULL and BORING . . . NOT!!!!!

Social Studies Begins And What To Do With Textbooks
    The year has kicked into full swing and I have really enjoyed the energy that exists in my classroom.  The students are excited about school and I see the benefits our team building activities had on building community.  After the first couple of days working on team activities we are now meeting with our specific classes and sharing our content with them.  I love History and I work hard to show my students that I am passionate about what we will explore this year.  The first action I have that provides the biggest shock factor is how I view a textbook.  Textbooks are a interesting topic for teachers.  They do provide reference for students to some information but they largely are a hassle to carry around and they limit students to a certain amount of information.  To show students our textbook I hold up the book, flip through the pages, and then drop it into a bin.  I tell students, textbooks are out of date as soon as they are printed because history is constantly changing.  A large amount of facts do remain true but I want to students to see that when archaeologists make new discoveries they are able to inform the public of new information or updates to how different civilizations functioned.  This visual is powerful for students to realize because most of them think history never changes.  I make it clear to them that history is not dead but has new revelations coming out all the time.  I'm so thankful for National Geographic Magazine for their work because they write stories on so much of what I study.  I love being able to infuse their work into my classroom because this allows them to see various sources of information.  My classroom seeks to use multiple sources to explore our content and students know from day one the textbook is not the only place to find answers.

Opening Exploration of Content
      As we began introducing our content I got a great idea from a fellow teacher on how to evaluate student knowledge of our content but also give them a teaser of all the topics we'll study.  I have typically showed an intro video that does some of this but it does not lend itself to as much conversation as this new idea.  For the activity I put 28 different pictures into a PowerPoint and asked students to try to identify the civilization represented in picture.  If it was a person or statue I also wanted them to try and identify it.  I could not believe how excited students were to look at these pictures and guess the civilization.  There were literally arguments between students over what a picture was.  How cool is it to see students arguing over content?  I was so excited.  The pictures were of the River Valley Civilizations, Greece/Rome, Middle Ages Europe, Islamic Civ, Native Americans, Mesoamerica, Renaissance, and European exploration.  The pictures stretched students minds but made them take risks.  One student even said at the end of the class, "You're making my brain hurt!"  I couldn't have been prouder because for that student that represented how hard he was trying to describe the pictures.  Phil Schlecty talks about engagement a lot and says teachers should strive to get your class to engaged.  He has 4 other categories and tons of strategies for how to create this kind of atmosphere in your room.  Schlecty Where do your students fall?  I can't say mine are always engaged but on this day I had never felt closer to having 100% engagement as I did then.  It was so energizing to be a part of the class.

Let Students Have a Say
    When I had the picture activity I saw this as an easy but informative for students as we prepare for the year.  What I didn't expect was what would happen in my 3rd period.  As we reviewed the pictures, some yielded more conversation than others.  Somewhere in the middle of the set we reviewed the Terra Cotta Warriors of Qin Shi Huangdi.  He was the first emperor of China and built this massive mausoleum for himself.  Most students recognized the civilization and what they were but did not know much about the emperor who built them.  As this class talked, one student raised his hand and asked, "Can we study more about him today or tomorrow?"  At that moment, I had a choice.  I started to go into teacher speak and say "We can't do that right now.  We'll study him in a couple of months. I've got a curriculum map I need to follow."  All those statements went through my mind in that split second before my response.  Thankfully as I spoke back to him I didn't say no but honestly trailed off not knowing what to do.  It wasn't until after that class and into the afternoon that I realized how much of a fool I am if I don't do something on Shi Huangdi tomorrow. I thought back to all of my classes that day  Every one of them loved that picture of the Terra Cotta Warriors.  China is by far the most difficult unit for my students year after year.  What am I thinking?  I've got to do something or I'll just allow the lull of the schedule to rule teaching.  I have an opportunity for engagement and I've got the hook.  With that epiphany I realized that this would be a great connection with my talk I like to have about archaeology since so much of my content is known thanks to the work of these scientist.  This was my direct connection and it was better than anything I've done before.  Thank you student for challenging me and asking for something.
     I started exploring and found this article, "The Secret Tomb" , talking about the mystery of his tomb and if archaeologists should dig into his central tomb.  The culture during Shi Huangdi's reign believed in the afterlife and the desire for immortality.  I placed the article in a page protector for students so they could make marks on it with a Vis-a-Vis marker but not ruin my class set.  (Nice strategy to save paper but also teach students how to analyze.)  As we read we found that Emperor Shi Huangdi took lots of mercury pills and even created a moat of mercury around his tomb.  This fascinated students and me for that matter as I never knew that information.  I love getting to learn alongside the students.  I encourage you in your classroom to let students have a voice in what you're doing.  Who knows what kind of learning that takes place.  Here are my suggestions:

- Let students share with you what interests them about your content
- Use this info. to guide how you set up instruction throughout the year
- Be willing to take a detour on your content.  If it relates to what you're teaching but is out a place, who cares?
- Have fun!  If what you do every year isn't interesting anymore, switch it up and do something different.

So what are you doing different this year based on this year's class?  I hope you take that into consideration as you plan.  Each class is different and what helps one gain mastery may not help the other.  Always do your best!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Marshmallow Challenge!!!

   I felt I was getting long winded on the previous post and needed to split up my reflections on the first two days.  At the end of Day 1 we closed with students participating in the Marshmallow Challenge.  We put students in groups of 3-4 students with 20 pieces of fettuccine, 1 yard of string, 1 yard of tape, and 1 marshmallow.  We allowed students to choose their groups.  As you can imagine, led to a mixed bag of output.  Some groups got right to work and had a plan while others thought about ways to look like they were building but really were wanting to chomp on the marshmallow.
   Once all groups got on task, I loved hearing the buzz of students talking and trying to figure out how to build the tallest tower.  Some groups showed an understanding of geometry and formed triangles to build stability.  Others found ways to modify the string and tape to hold up the fettuccine as you would nail 2x4s into a new Palmetto tree to hold it in place.  Watching their interactions helped me see how they think and which students were natural leaders, active listeners willing to work, and those who needed more guidance on how to effectively communicate with group members.  Not everyone built a tower that could stand but I that was not the point of the activity.   I plan to allow students to retry this challenge later in they year.  I  hope to see growth in their ability to work with classmates and evidence that they know concepts and strategies that will help them work better in the process of constructing a tower.
      When we debriefed, I wanted students to see that learning is not only achieved at the end but can occur during the "process."  This is a shift in thinking for students and for teachers.  Getting students to shift to this mindset will help them in our classes as they take on future problem based activities.  I hope they will have lower anxiety on assignments too.  Students are pressured to perform and when so much pressure is put on what is produced they tend to revert to a "getting it done" or a "I give up" mentality and not has well as their ability level.  We have to show students we want them to learn.   I am not saying that the end product has no value but if we do not show students by how we set up assignments that we value the process as much if not more than the end product we will not get their buy in.  I have found ways to apply this idea but am still learning and tinkering with how I can make the process of learning more enjoyable and less stressful.  I want my students' brains to hurt with my work but I want it to be because they have to think about solutions.  I do not want their head to hurt due to stress over what their parents are going to say if they make a low grade. Enjoy the pictures of the "process" and some of the finished towers.  Please share your opening day experiences and what you have found helps get your students excited about the new school year.  As always, do your best!

Day 1 (pre-Marshmallow Challenge reflection)

     Day 1 of the school year finally arrived and with it comes a variety of feelings for students and teachers.  Teachers are excited to get going with new ideas thought about and discussed over the summer and the joy of new start.  For students, especially 6th graders, the year marks a new school, friends, and most importantly a new start.  I find that my students come to school with a mixed bag of experiences.  Many loved elementary school and are nervous of being returning to low rung of the ladder.  Others did not enjoy elementary school and can't wait to be more independent and finally have a locker of their own.  No matter which part of the spectrum students fall, as a teacher I thoroughly enjoy getting to welcome them into our school and help them feel comfortable to their new surroundings.
     My colleagues and I pride ourselves on the sense of community we build in our school.  Everyone that works in our school, from custodial staff to principal, work hard to provide an environment that is welcoming and accepting of students.  The unsung hero of our school is a man named Darryl who leads our custodial staff and tirelessly makes sure our school meets the needs of teachers and students.  He always is positive and shows great leadership of his unfortunately constantly shifting staff.  Despite this difficulty, he has his staff trained on operating at the high expectations he holds himself to.  As he proved once again, he had BMS ready for this year's students.
    As I met my new set of students I sought to learn every name as soon as possible.  By day 2 I knew all 96 students I teach.  I painstakingly work to know their names because I feel that for 6th graders it is important they feel like an adult knows who they are.
    This year's opening was a first for my 6 years of teaching.  Instead of meeting by class period, my team members (CE, AR, DC) brought all of Team Charger (96 students) together to get to know each other through team activities and go over procedures as one group.  We felt taking this approach would limit redundancy, get students comfortable meeting in a large group in our project room, and allow students to see all of their teachers on the same page when it comes to school procedures.  How many first day of schools have you experienced?  Think about it for a moment and see if you can remember the common thread of every one of them.  I know what you're thinking.  B-O-R-I-N-G.  Why not have fun on the first day?  We sought to go against boring and use a more interactive approach.  We played these games: 3 truths and 1 lie, Group Juggling, Non-musical chairs, and the Marshmallow Challenge.  Teachers also participated in the fun.  Here were my 3 truths and 1 lie, in no particular order.  I spent the night with homeless people in Lyon, France.  I'm married to petite ballerina who was able to meet the challenge of  eating a 1 pound cheese burger.  In college I was the University of South Carolina mascot "Cocky."  Lastly, I have played golf in three different countries. Which one do you think is the lie?  Teachers revealed their truths and lie during their presentation on who they were, family info, hobbies, and what they do at BMS.  I learned information about my colleagues that never knew even though we have worked together for 6 years.  Doing our work together allowed for this learning and I am grateful to now know them better.  Enjoy these pics and check out my next post that will reflect on the Marshmallow Challenge.  Always do your best!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

First Student blog topic and the start of school

    The school kicks off for Richland 2 on Wednesday.  We have two more work/meetings as we get ready for the new crop of students.  This past Saturday we had Charger Kick-off for students to pick up their schedules, lockers, and pay fees.  I really enjoy this initial meeting with the parents.  I also enjoy getting to surprise students by how I remember them from our Jumpstart camp that was in July.  Rising 6th graders come for three days to get comfortable with the school, faculty, and expectations of middle school.  We had 150 of our new 230 students.  I value this time with students because I can build a rapport with them, understand their personalities, and help subside their fears of coming to middle school.  This camp is one of the single best events we do to advertise Blythewood Middle and show the family atmosphere our school is.  I love working there.
   Now that school is finally arriving I have most of the start planned.  Some of my work is still big ideas but I have a framework of what I want to do.  Besides the required paperwork and information I have to go over and distribute I plan to do the following activities:
      1.) Team building - We are true teamed this year and my colleagues and I plan to have community activities and PBL lessons throughout the year.  In the beginning we want to get to know how our students think.  To do that we are either doing the "marshmallow" or "egg drop" challenge.  Marshmallow These activities will cause our students to collaborate and show us how they think.  We want them from the start to see our content is not isolated from one another but can be integrated.  We also will use this time together to discuss procedures so we're on the same page.  Lastly, we will have a time where each teacher will talk about themselves and let the students share a "G.L.U.R.P" on who they are.  We want the students on the Charger Team to feel safe, respected, and cared for.
       2.)  Contact Home:  Each year I make a arduous effort to contact every child's parent in the first 2-3 weeks.  I send home a Parent Survey that asks for general information so I can send them my weekly e-mail.  I tell my students their parents have homework before they do.  What I value most on the sheet is the last question that asks, "Tell me anything that I should about your child from your perspective because you know them better than anyone and I want them to have a great year."   I am appreciative of what the parents write because I can know so much more about the child and ensure I implement the best strategies to engage them.  After getting the sheets back I'm able to make the phone blitz and scare parents because sadly most parents have never gotten a positive call from a teacher.  How sad it that?  I can't remember how many I've called and they are terrified that a teacher is already calling.  I'm so glad I can calm their anxiety and tell them my excitement for being their teacher.  Taking this effort is greater than gold in building a strong bond with parents and students.  As a teacher we have to show our parents we want the best for their child because parents are sending their best every day.
       3.)  The last item I wanted to share is my plan for blogging in my class.  As I add this to my teaching I hope that students enjoy the opportunity to write and have others give feedback on what they're thinking.  I'm also pumped that a teacher in my school and outside of D.C. want to join in.  I think this will take it to the next level.  My first topic is going to be on the Ashton Kutcher speech  at the Teen Choice Awards.  Thanks to my awesome wife for telling me about this speech.  He shared some interesting insights that is relevant to today's students.  I love his statement about a lot of times "opportunities" look like hard work.   What a great line for today's children to hear.  I am amazed how surprised students can be that success isn't handed to people but takes hard work.  We don't walk into riches and jobs without ability and effort and I want the students to talk about this speech.  Due to him saying "crap" and "sexy" I may have to create a modified transcript for students to read with key points.  He uses them in a good context but I don't want to cause any riffs with parents at the beginning.  He talks about being sexy as being "generous" and "trustworthy".  Great attributes.  He also said that he never thought he was too good for any job.  I believe this will get lively responses from students and hopefully change some of their thinking since they are listening to a person who has modern day relevance.  Any thought from you as to how I should organize my blogging?
      4.)  The last thing I share as tribute to my late Uncle Mike.  His saying may coming in useful as you hope to do great things this school year.  Remember the 7 Ps and you'll hopefully have nothing but success.  
 Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

Until next time.  Always do your best!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Planning and Getting Ready

   Three days of in-service behind us and the anticipation of a new school year is only building.  Since the end of last school year I have been excited for this year.  I completed my final attempt for initial National Board certification and fingers crossed, I'll get the needed 6 points.  I also was a part of our district's Leadership Academy that was composed of district staff from the central office, support staff, administrators, and teachers.  I really enjoyed the experience and grew as a teacher-leader on my campus.  Having these experiences behind me, I felt I could use the summer to grow my capacity as an educator even further.  

    I had two opportunities to grow and had time to reflect how to implement these ideas this school year.  It started back two days after school ended when I joined my school's implementation team for Common Core.  Moving to these doesn't scare me as I am pleasantly surprised to see that I am using several strategies already.  These include: text complexity, various sources, higher-order thinking question, argument with evidence over persuasion.  Where I see I need to grow is having students have some kind of writing after reading texts.  Any kind of writing from an exit slip to a paper.  I'm glad students can do short and long writing.  I want to make sure my children can read a text, take notes, in order to create an argumentative response.  I do some work with this but not very well with specific texts.  I want them to say "This event's effect on the people came from [specific text sections]" rather than "I think the event was caused by."  The emphasis on this type of writing occurs for me in my class before this year happened when students did their Key Question homework.  Each week students had 4 questions (1 each day from that lesson's focus). They chose which question they wanted to answer and needed to write a minimum paragraph response and support their answer with evidence from our class work or from their own outside research and knowledge.  I want students to take a stance and know with evidence rather than saying "because I think so."  Preparing to use Common Core has helped my planning and I look forward to the new challenge.  
  The other major learning I gained came from my trip to ISTE 2013 San Antonio, TX.  This trip provided new energy for me as I heard about technology and teaching practices I had heard of but didn't have a context.  This conference blew all that away.  I was inspired and stoked for when August would arrive so my students could benefit from these practices.  My media specialist Lorena Swetnam, fellow SS teacher, ITS, and principal learned about strategies that would benefit our school faculty.  The conference is almost overwhelming but by only going to talks and stations my school could use helped me not get lost or overloaded.  It was here that I saw how I could use Twitter to improve my classroom and blogging.  Since then I now have my personal/prof. Twitter: @TylerAbernathy1 and a class Twitter @BMSsocstudies.  I plan to use the class handle to tweet out what we're doing with hashtag #comments4kids and hopefully connect with other classes and experts.  
   The other major learning came in blogging.  Blogging didn't seem like anything I wanted to do but reading others edublogs I realized I could share my experiences and build a larger PLN.  I plan to take blogging into my classroom by having my students blog.  I shared in an earlier post about my presentation to my faculty and I thankfully got positive reviews on the information.  I even got many of them to sign up for Twitter or to be a lurker and use to read edu "#s".  I also have a teacher interested in having her classes and mine blog together so we can enhance engagement and learning.  Perhaps this will then lead to my hope of having classes around the US or world join the conversation with us.  Day 1 is getting closer.  We're going to have a great year.  I hope other educators around the nation are having a terrific start to the new school year.  Always do your best.    

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Teachers report tomorrow and Twitter tips and tricks

  Tomorrow I report for teacher in-service and I can't wait.  I have really enjoyed my summer and feel that I not only had time to unwind and enjoy time with my bride and little girl but grow as a teacher.  I don't know if I've ever learned as much in previous summers.  Tomorrow I am sharing with my colleagues the practical ways to grow as a professional.  Here is my Google presentation:  I'm focusing on the uses of Twitter and blogging.  I am amazed by how many teachers, principals, and other ed. people are using theses means to share and discuss ideas.  I know for some using either of these seem daunting and time consuming.  As I have become a frequent user of Twitter I have found these helpful hints along with what is in my presentation keep me from getting overwhelmed.

1.) Don't follow everyone! (Following too many people overwhelms your Twitterfeed and you can't keep up with everyone's comments, ideas, or links.  I try to keep under 100.  Sorry to some who I may unfollow for lack of tweets or relevance to what I want to read about.)

2.)  Find key leaders in what you care about! (This can be sports, religion, business, education, or local news.  I'm a Gamecock fan so I follow a couple of local news guys who give specific info. on the teams.  For news I follow my local paper and then CNN for any nat'l, int'l stories.  Being a Christian, my pastor, @dicklincoln, @JohnPiper, and @AndyStanley are three men I respect a lot and value their insights. Lastly, on the education front I have a few local friends I follow @MrRichardsAP and then have several national folks that I enjoy learning from them.  To use Twitter effectively, be selective with what you want to follow.  I made the mistake of not doing that with Facebook and now know information about people I never needed to know.

3.)  Follow hashtags (#) discussion groups!  Following a hashtag allows you to filter out tweets that are not relevant to you at a specific time.  Joining #edchat, #sced, or #sschat will allow you to join other educators who are focused on that topic and want to share ideas and get feedback from others.  My teaching has improved because of being a part of these groups.

4.)  Don't sweat missing something!    You can easily lose your mind trying to read every tweet, especially in a #chat.  So many people share their ideas that you can have brain overload.  The best thing to do is don't sweat it if you missed someone's tweet about a certain teaching approach.  If it's a great idea I'm sure someone "retweeted" it and thankfully lots of people are doing innovative work in their classrooms so someone else will have a tweet that is relevant to what you're wanting to do.

  I'll share more reflections in the days to come on our initial work for this school year and how I plan to start the year getting to know my new students.  Always do your best!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Post #1

   The first blog post.  As I embark on this new digital activity I hope it serves several purposes.  I largely see this blog serving my interests in education with the occasional excursion out of that realm into my personal interests of my faith, family, and sports affiliations with the South Carolina Gamecocks and Boston Red Sox.    As I plan to focus mainly on teaching, I think I should give an overview of what I do.  I am honored to teach World History to 6th Graders at Blythewood Middle School in Blythewood, South Carolina.  I absolutely love teaching.  I enter my 7th year in the classroom and feel more excited about this year than any before.  Along with teaching, I also coach the boy's basketball team.  The community I work for is caring and supportive which is huge for student success.
   In my classroom, I am excited about the work we're going to do as we implement more Problem Based Learning.  Our school is set up in teams so the four main content teachers (Soc. St., Math, ELA, and Science) have the same group of kids.  Setting up our rosters this way will enable smoother scheduling PBL activities across content areas.  Each student in our school also has a Google Chromebook to use and take home.  I recognize how fortunate we are to have access to technology and want to be the best steward possible.  As we go through the school year, I plan to map our progress and share my reflections on lessons, activities, etc.   I hope I can provide insights from my teaching that can benefit your teaching experience and I certainly will appreciate any feedback you may have on how to enhance mine.  Let the adventure begin!