Who am I?

Sarah Allred is the Instructional Lead Teacher at Braxton Craven School, an all 6th grade middle school. She has 15 years of teaching experience at the middle school level. Her educational background includes a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education earned at the University of NC Greensboro, National Board Certification in Early Adolescent English Language Arts, and a Master of Arts in Education in Instructional Technology earned at East Carolina University. She has taught language arts, social studies, science, and technology. She serves her school in many leadership roles. Her passion is searching for new ways to use technology to improve student learning. Additional roles she fills are mother of two amazing kids, and wife of a police officer. She enjoys reading, gardening, and digital photography.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Using eBooks in Your Classroom

EBooks are accessible with any internet capable device, so you could display in your classroom using the projector, have students access individually with laptops or using the Nooks.  With many of these eBooks, students can mark, highlight, and add notes to the text without having to use up your copies.  Best of all reading on a digital device can greatly increase student engagement!
ClassScape Benchmarks have already moved to online assessment, and soon EOG’s will too.  To fully prepare our students for being assessed this way, we need to have them practice reading this way frequently in our classrooms as well!

Tips for getting started with eBooks:

1- Before you put a student in front of a device, locate the reading material you want them to use, and try it out yourself on the device that you plan to have them use.  See below for a list of eBook sources.
2- Start by reading an eBook whole-class with your projector. Modeling of what you expect students to do is important!
3- Make sure you plan ahead, and test everything out before you hand it over to students – I’m repeating this because it is probably the most important thing to do to make sure this goes smoothly.  It never fails when you are trying out new technology, you run into glitches – don’t let that get you down, the benefits are worth any struggle.
4- Start with a relatively short text, and print out a hard copy to fall back on in case you have tech issues.
5- Check out these websites with more information about using eBooks in the classroom.
Technology and Reading eBooks in Education    http://www.drscavanaugh.org/ebooks/

Sources for FREE Online Books!
There are tons of sources out there, but these are good starting points that I have explored some.

Kids 4 Classics http://kids4classics.com
Access to multiple classic books in eReader and PDF format.

Lists of multiple sites to locate ebooks.

Wired for Books          http://www.wiredforbooks.org/
Poems, stories, plays, essays, lectures, and interviews for children and adults.

Book Pop         http://www.bookpop.com/index2.html
Picture books with read aloud.

Bartleby          http://www.bartleby.com/index.html
The Harvard Classics are among many free texts offered online at this award-winning site. There are also many classic reference works available here.

Free eBooks by Project Gutenberg     http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page
Access many eBooks!  Can be opened as a web page file, Kindle, PDF.  This collection includes books that are out of copyright.

Using the Nook to Read a Downloaded PDF Book
“Golden Advice” – Before trying to use this with your students use it yourself a couple days to get the hang of how it works.

Opening the book . .  .
1.      Press the Ç button to open the menu.
2.      Choose “Library”, then “My Stuff,”  “Files, ” then “Downloads.”
3.      Tap on the book title to open.  (The first time a window will come up asking what you want to open it with. Tap in the box beside “do this every time” and then select using “Reader.”)

Once the book is open . . .
·         Swipe to turn the page.
·         Double tap or pinch out to zoom in
·         Single tap the page to bring up the menu.  This allows you to go to a certain page, bookmark, or note, look up something in the book, and adjust the screen brightness.
·         Touch and hold on a word to bring up the notes menu.  This allows you to highlight the word, add a note, look up the word, or find all of the other places it is used.  Any notes and highlights become searchable for locating later. To clear these, tap the “Clear All” button.

Usage Ideas . . .
·         Vocabulary Instruction: When presenting students with the list of vocabulary terms they will study, instead of making them look the words up in a dictionary, have them use the search feature.  This will bring up all the times the word is used in the text, so students can study the usage of the words and use context clues to come up with the word meaning. You might have them record a couple of the sentences the word is in, write their own definition, and then use the Look Up feature to see the dictionary definition. This will engage students in making meaning of the words rather than just receiving the info from you. (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.)
·         Mark in Text: You can ask students to highlight certain things (vocabulary, evidence for an answer, parts of speech, punctuation usage, etc).  You can also ask them to stop and make notes on their thinking at certain points in the text (like our old Interactive Readers). The notes and highlights are saved in the book until you clear it – this will allow students to see what other students are thinking to learn from each other.  If you don’t want students to see what others mark, have them clear the marks before putting the Nooks up at the end of class. (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Visions of Common Core and Essential Standards

Now that we are really getting into the meat of the school year, I have been encouraging teachers to reflect on how they are implementing Common Core and Essential Standards in their classroom.  It appears that this has our faculty feeling overwhelmed and insecure, and understandably so.  Those feelings are a good sign that we are attempting to embrace the changes even though it is uncomfortable.

I don't want our faculty to feel disheartened and give up from being so overwhelmed. I absolutely believe we are on the right track, and have begun taking the small steps that will eventually get us where we need and want to be.  This morning I spent some time visiting classrooms looking for evidence of these small steps with CCES to prove that we are doing it, and I want to share some of what I saw.

  • One class had created character portraits for a book they read, and had to include on the portrait a quote from the text with the page number cited which gives evidence for the characteristics they included in their drawing. (adding depth and text based answers)
  • In two classrooms, students were working on a tic-tac-toe choice board to research information about Ancient Egypt. (differentiation and writing from sources)
  • In another class, students were designing human eyes based on radial design, warm and cool color schemes, and accurate eye structure. (working from sources and integrating science)
  • In another class, students were doing research on a particular animal and creating a brochure product using Microsoft Office. (writing from sources and integrating science)
  • Another class was practicing math skills with the activities differentiated to meet the level each individual student is working at. (differentiation and taking ownership of learning)
  • A final class I visited was discussing how to read word problems and translate them into numerical expressions. Students were going to discuss this in collaborative groups. (21st Century Skills and Mathematical Practices 1 & 3) 
These are some great example of how we are rising to meet the expectations of Common Core and Essential Standards!  We can do it; in fact we are doing it!  Remember CCES is not about a one size fits all program or doing a song and dance.  It is about facilitating learning for students and pushing them to greater depths of understanding. 

So,  as a great book which I read often says: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." Gal 6:9 NIV

Monday, September 17, 2012

Teacher Pay Teachers Pays Me $500!

Just 6 months ago I began an experiment to see how Teacher Pay Teachers might work for me.  (see April 6 post).  During my first quarter of participation, my products earned me a bit over $100 -- not too bad for selling teaching materials I had created for my own classroom.  I have continued now through my second quarter, and at this point have 21 resources available in my "store.". This quarter isn't quite over yet,and I have earned over $500!  Wow, this is much more successful than I ever expected! I think I will keep it up!

Right now I have 14 followers for my store and I would love to have more... So if you have an account on Teachers Pay Teachers, follow me! When I reach 50 followers, I will post a new free teaching resource.  If you don't have a Teachers Pay Teachers account create one, follow me, and then try posting some of your own teacher materials for sale! Who couldn't use a few more bucks in their wallet?

One last thing, if you are one of my BCS or RCS colleagues, email me about my special 100% off colleague discount!

Click here to create your own account.   https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Signup/referral:sallred 

Click here to see my store.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Overwhelmed by Curriculum Changes?

It is a daunting task to figure out how to completely implement Common Core and North Carolina Essential Standards curriculum all at once. If you are struggling with this, I would suggest by breaking it down and starting small.  Below is how I would approach it.

1- When planning lessons, take the time to write a “full out” lesson plan like you used to have to do in college until you get the hang of the changes.  Make sure to include an EQ or I Can statement for every lesson, and record which new standard(s) it addresses.
2- For math teachers, focus on using the 8 Mathematical Practices. (I would even suggest picking one a week to focus on until you are comfortable with them so you don’t feel so overwhelmed.)
·         Standard 6: Attend to precision

3- For LA teachers, focus on the 3 Literacy Shifts. (I would also suggest picking one a week to focus on until you are comfortable with them so you don’t feel so overwhelmed.)
·         Build knowledge through content-rich nonfiction and informational text.
·         Reading and writing grounded in evidence from the text.
·         Regular practice with complex text and its academic vocabulary.

4- For all teachers, make sure you add literacy elements as often as you can (focusing on the 3 shifts also).

If you can make a dedicated effort to do these things during this school year, I think you will be well on your way in terms of implementing CC/ES.  It will take some time to learn the curriculum standards and the new approach, and that is expected. The only way you can fail would be to keep teaching the way you always have and using the same lessons you did in years before.  I don’t mean that you have to throw everything out and completely start from scratch, but you should be taking some time with your old lessons and materials and adjusting them to meet the new requirements.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

They Have Arrived!

After spending countless hours during the 2011-2012 school year in professional development, study, and planning for the Common Core and Essential Standards, they are finally here! We've gone through all the build up for this giant shift in education .... Now what? When you walk through the doors of your school and into your classroom what are you doing differently? Could a visitor look in your window and see the changes CC and ES have inspired? What would a visitor see?

I wonder how this transition has manifested itself in our classrooms? Is it totally different, like being in another world? Are there small changes that you will gradually add to? Or are things going on as they always have?

Food for thought.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Data Boot Camp

Tomorrow morning I embark on another adventure on my journey as a Lead Teacher. I'm going to boot camp. . . Data Boot Camp.  Lucky for me, running is not on the agenda for this NCCAT training. Instead I will be learning everything I can about data in instruction - data collecting, analyzing, and planning from it.  The adventure will start even before the training begins.  I'm leaving bright and early to drive to the NC coast where I will catch a ferry for a 2 1/2 ride to Ocracoke (no, it won't be a three hour tour). It's been a long time since I last visited the Outer Banks - I hope I can sneak in some time to see some sights and walk along the shore.  For now, I need to finish packing so the adventure can begin.

Ocracoke Island Welcome Site

Friday, April 6, 2012

Teachers Pay Teachers Update

I posted a few lesson materials on Teachers Pay Teachers about 2 weeks ago, and I am excited to report that I have had several sales already earning almost $10! Not a huge amount obviously, but some cash anyway. I really think its something worth teachers trying out. It could at least earn you some extra bucks for classroom materials. Click on my referral link here to sign up for a free seller account!

Sarah Allred‘s Unique Referral Program Promotion Link:


Good luck selling!

TeachersPayTeachers® is an online marketplace where teachers buy and sell original downloadable educational materials, hard goods and used educational resources.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Teachers Pay Teachers

For several months now, I have been checking out the great instructional resources which can be found on Teachers Pay Teachers (http://www.teacherspayteachers.com).  The site is a pretty ingenious idea.  Members can go there to search for and download/purchase all sorts of teacher made classroom materials.  I have found some excellent resources there, many of which are free or low cost.  The beauty of this idea is two-fold.  First it gives teachers a channel to collaborate and share materials.  Secondly it offers a way for teachers who create their own instructional materials to make some money on the side from their hard work.  Very cool, in the age when teachers in my state are the 48th lowest paid in the country!

So I have opened my own store on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I have posted several lesson materials, some free and some for a small fee.  My goal is to share the best of my work in hopes that other educators (and students) can benefit from it.

So here's my first "official commercial!"  Please visit my educational materials online store and follow me at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Sarah-Allred. Help me spread the word that my work is out there for others to use.  You can also follow me on Twitter where I post links to instructional materials/tools.  @RockstarTchr

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

It's Been a While . . .

You can definitly tell when things get crazy busy at school. . . no posts for a while.  What have I been doing? Feels like I've been running a marathon.  Here a quick rundown . . .
1- More Common Core and Essentials training from DPI.
2- Presented Common Core PD for all the county's ELA teachers - through this collaborative PLC we created a curriculum map, and are now working on Theme Based units for each grade level. (more on this later).
3- Planning after-EOG enrichment and remediation for my school (more on this later too).
4- Planning additional PD for my staff on 21st Century Skills(more on this later too - see a pattern here?).
5- Planning a presentation for parents on Common Core and Essentials to be presented at an upcoming parent night and posted on our webpage. (more on . . . well, you know)
6- Attended NC Middle School Conference

Whew!  That's just the big stuff for the last month and a half!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Blogs as a Collaborative Research Tool

Science and Social Studies teachers at BCS have worked hard to integrate writing and writing instruction into their classroom activities and I recently observed a class using blogs to do this. Blogging is a great way to integrate writing and collaboration into any subject area.

Mrs. H's class was doing research on Ancient Chinese Philosophers, a new topic added to our curriculum by the  Essential Standards.  She provided students with a table to collect specific information about an assigned philosopher/philosophy and students were instructed in how to search online and select information from reputable sources.  Each student was working independently on his or her own research, but as you may know research can be quite a struggle for middle school students, so they often need help.

Mrs.H used a class research blog to allow students to collaborate with each other through writing.  The blog site she used is Kidblog (http://kidblog.org/home.php_) This site allows teachers to create individual student blogs in a password protected environment without students having to have an email address.  Mrs. H introduced the use of the blog by explaining what blogs are, discussing safety precautions, and then describing how she would like the blog to be used.  Students were directed to post comments about their research progress, and questions they needed assistance with. After the comments were moderated by Mrs.H (while students were working) students could go back to the blog to respond to each others questions and see what answers they received.

This was an excellent way to allow student's the use of an online communication tool for learning purposes.  It gave students a chance to feel what it is like to collaborate with others, in real time on a project through the use of technology. This is a real world application of web tools that many adults use in their professional work.  In addition to providing practice in this 21st Century skill, it also assisted students with the research process allowing them to see that others had similar questions and could share strategies to find solutions.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Welcome to Next Year's 6th Graders

It seems strangely early to be doing this, but yesterday we started the tours for our upcoming class of 6th graders.  Since we have 5 different elementary schools feeding into us, these usually run through several different days.  This is for many students, their first introduction to BCS.  So what do we do to make a great first impression, and begin building relationships with our future students?

Groups begin their visit in our school media center.  There they have several people speak to them about what life at BCS is like.  The guidance counselor began by discussing registration for courses. Next, the lead teacher (me) shared some details about how middle school is different from elementary school and answered the BIG questions incomin 6th graders always have. Next, our media specialist showed a short video introducing our school.  This video included interviews with several current students, photos from various school activities, and photos of the faculty and staff.  After the talk in the media center, students were split into small groups and were taken on tours of the school led by Student Council members. On the tour, students got to see all the key locations in the school and ask some questions of current students.

At BCS we feel like it is important to welcome our upcoming students and help make them feel comfortable in the transition to middle school.  Hopefully this visit was a helpful first step in that transition.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Middle School Madness

Whenever I get the privilege to tell someone that I am a teacher, the next question that is sure to follow is: "Oh! What grade?" which is followed by a bright smile that lights their eyes.  As soon as the reply leaves my lips, "6th grade," their smile freezes and slowly droops to a concerned frown, and the twinkle in their eyes transforms into a look of pity and sympathy as if I had just said I have a terminal disease. Then their struggle to think of what to say next gives way to somethg like-
You are braver than me, I couldn't do that, or
oh my. . ., or
well bless your heart.

I must admit that anyone who chooses to spend so much time with middle schoolers has to be a little . . . um, special. I guess that I am a lot special because I have been in 6th grade for almost 15 years now, and I have to say working with those guys can be quite unique to say the least. These 11 to 14 year olds are now referred to as "tweens" which sounds slightly alien to me. This alien-ness is rightly so because these humans are in a sort of twilight zone part of life, not yet teens but desperate to not be children either.

I have learned so much about tween-agers during my time in middle school, some of it amazing, some frightening, and some absolutely puzzling.  With my oldest child on the brink of middle school and showing some definite signs of morphing into a middle school alien, I have been reflecting on what I know about these quasi humans.

In short, when kids reach this age, it truly seems as if another being has taken over their body and mind. What once was a sweet, little boy, who loved to snuggle with mom, turns into an odd smelling stranger who speaks another language and becomes physically attached to a set of ear buds and a game controller. The cute little girl, who you dressed in cutesy outfits with matching bows, now communicates primarily through grunts, sighs, eye rolling and exasperated expressions, and is happy only when she is texting a friend. It seems almost as if all logical brain function ceases and gives way to bizarre thought processes and ideas.

I realize there is a scientific/medical explanation for all of this – HORMONES – but that doesn’t change the fact that tweens are consistently inconsistent, and can drive their parents and care givers to the brink of insanity.  Whoever you think you know your child is, he/she will become strange and different at this age.  Their peers become key players in their lives, and they themselves are the center of the universe.  This is the age to try on different identities, so you may see your child dressed as a glitzy pop star one day, and in cowboy boots and flannel the next. Life as a tween is an emotional roller coaster, going from the highest high one moment, to the lowest low the next with seemingly meaningless instigation for the change. 

Tween-agers say and do things that make their parents speechless because they never thought their child would do something like that. They push their parents to want to hug them tight and protect them one moment, and then squeeze the breath out of them the next. They can force a parent who has ALWAYS stuck to “We don’t say those words in our house,” to want to scream profanity at the top of their lungs (and sometimes follow through).   It is all or nothing, feast or famine with this age group. They can have loved something yesterday, but hate it today.  The never ending contradictions can be maddening.  I have often thought that the idea of a boarding school somewhere far away from me would be the ideal fix for this age, but then they do or say something so genuinely thoughtful that gives you brief glimpse of the person they will become.  That’s all it takes to string along a parent’s (or teacher’s) hope that just maybe something they are doing is making a difference.   This is why I endure the madness of middle school; it’s like working with a diamond in the rough, dreaming about the beautiful gem it will be one day.  And well, to be honest, I probably do it because I’m a little crazy too.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Winter Technology Camp

With school budgets so tight, many schools are finding that dollars for professional development for their faculty is nonexistent.  Every excellent educator knows that it is vital to keep learning in spite of funding for several reasons.  First we are lifelong learners and know that the way to keep things fresh and engaging is to learn and employ new strategies.  Besides that, we are required to have a certain number of professional development credits to renew teaching licenses. (NC has recently made some changes to these requirements - see http://sbepolicy.dpi.state.nc.us/ for more info.)

With all that said, my principal and I are looking for ways to utilize the expertise of our faculty to provide high quality professional development for each other.  From this was born our idea to have a Winter Technology Camp for our teachers.  At this point all the planning is done. Let me share what this will look like.

Winter Technology Camp will be held during 2 full teacher workdays in January 2012.  All teaching faculty and other staff have been invited to participate.  Certified staff can earn up to 1 CEU toward license renewal by completing 10 camp sessions.

Technology training sessions will be presented by faculty members from our school. During the planning stages, I polled the faculty to determine who had technology expertise they could teach, and what technology topics were of interest to learn about.  From those responses, I set up a conference type schedule of topics which camp participants could choose to attend.

Each session will be 1 hour in length.  We will have 2 sessions running simultaneously in different locations to allow for a choice of topics.  On the first camp day, there will be 4 session times available, and on the second camp day there will be 6 session times available.

The session topics which will be included are:

 Intro to Geo Caching­- Learn the basics of geocaching (using a GPS device to locate hidden items) and how this might be incorporated into classroom lessons.
Airliner Tablets- Learn how to connect and use the Airliner tablet in your classroom, a cool tool which will help engage students in your lessons.
CPS- Learn how to connect and use the “clickers,” as well as ideas for how to use them in your lessons.
Edmodo- Learn about how Edmodo provides safe and easy way for  educators to harness the power of social media to customize the classroom for each and every learner.
Links to Real World Problem Solving- Learn how to embed links to a variety of online resources which will send students on a quest to learn about and solve a problem.
LiveBinders- Learn about an amazing, free, online tool that allows you collect documents, video’s, webpages, and other files all in easily accessible online binders.
Movie Maker- Learn how to create and edit a professional looking video with music, titles, and credits using a FREE program!
Promethian Interactive Board-Review  the basics of working with your Promethean Board, and learn about some more advanced interactive features which really get students engaged.
Smart Board- Review  the basics of working with your SMART Board, and learn about some more advanced interactive features which really get students engaged.
SMART Response System- Learn how to use the “other clickers” which connect with SMART software, including how to use them with the Study Island program.
Study Island and Common Core- Take a look at how the Study Island software is reflecting changes to Common Core and Essential Standards, new features available, and  ways you can use it as an assessment tool.
Teacher Web Page- Refresher on the basics of working on your teacher web page, and learn about some more advanced features.
Twitter as a Personal Learning Network- Think Twitter is just a silly social media tool for teens? Wrong!  Learn how Twitter can connect you to education experts all over the US, and keep you up to date on trends and new ideas in education. Twitter can help you create an online PLC where you can learn great ideas for your classroom.
Using Destiny to Support Common Core and Essential Standards- Learn where the resource lists for our library Common Core text exemplars are, how to use "One Search," and how to make your own resource lists in Destiny.
Voice Thread- Learn about this neat interactive online tool which can get students collaborating, discussing, and evaluating in your classroom.
Word/Excel Mail Merge- Learn how to use mail merge to make administrative tasks easier.
Writing in the Content Areas Using Blogs- Learn what a blog is, how to set one up, and how to incorporate it's use into writing activities in the classroom.

School staff were given a Technology Camp Brochure which included the session schedule and a description of each topic so they can choose which sessions to attend.

Twitter as PLN Training Presentation

AS I began collecting materials for this session, I decided to put it together on a website so that any of my teachers who couldn't attend the session could have a place to learn the material on their own.  This is what I ended up with.http://tinyurl.com/twit-pln    Hoping it will go well with my teachers on Jan3!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Twitter as PLN

I am continually learning how valuable Twitter can be as an online Professional Learning Network.  I am working on a presentation to share with teachers at my school about how Twitter can be an amazing teacher tool. Once I get my presentation plans together I will post details here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Instructional Coaching

I attended an excellent training today titled Introduction to Instructional Coaching provided by PTEC and presented by Michael Price.  This was a very informative and timely professional development for me.

By this point in the school year, I have settled in to my position as Lead Teacher at BCS. I feel good about some positive effects I believe I have had, and am ready to reflect and improve from here.  Looking back at the goals I had as I began this position, I feel like I have had some successes.  I think that I have gone a long way in transforming the role of Lead Teacher at my school to that of a colleague who is there to collaborate and assist, who can be trusted and seen as a colleague rather than another administrator.  I feel like I have continued to encourage my staff toward collaboration in order to work smarter and share the load.  I also am happy with my efforts to keep parents more informed through our weekly email newsletter, and more detailed web page. I have also encouraged teams to build identities and team spirit which is a valuable part of a positive school climate. I have most definitely been very busy with many projects that also come as a part of my role, and have done fairly well in keeping up with these.

My biggest downfall at this point is that I have not been in classrooms as much as I hoped, and although I have assisted in rooms some, I haven't had the opportunity to do any co-teaching or modeling.  I also have been able to assist teachers in finding  resources, however  I haven't done any coaching, or assisting in instructional planning.  I also haven't collaborated as much with my principal as I would like because we are both in the midst of so many projects and duties, that we at times are just able to catch each other quickly in passing to discuss what we need to. I don't see any of these things as failures, though, just as things I would like to work on improving to be as effective as possible.

With that said, I am putting together a list of goals for the rest of the school year:

1- Learn more about and practice instructional coaching. Steps:

  • Read the book by Jim McKnight.
  • Put together a presentation to share with the staff the 3 roles I will work with them in (resource finder, coach, evaluator) and how the coaching process will work.
  • Prepare or locate forms/documents to use in the coaching process.
  • Model for teachers the coaching process by having them observe, record, and coach me.
  • Invite teachers to engage in the coaching process with me, and set aside time for the full coaching cycle.
  • Share copies of the walk through forms I complete when visiting classes, and encourage teachers to use this to identify areas we might address through coaching.
2- Schedule a time to meet with my administrator regularly to discuss needs and goals.

3- Be in classrooms more frequently. Walk through each teacher's classroom at least ____ (twice?) per week, and aim to do a longer observation (30 min or more) once a month.

4- Continue to be a support assisting teachers to become familiar with the Common Core and Essential Standards, as well as planning units to use with them.

5- Continue to keep parents informed through the email newsletter and webpage, and explore the options of using Edmodo or a texting tool.

6- Continue to support team identities and team spirit to boost morale of students and teachers.

I realize these are many goals to consider in combination with all the other projects that I frequently must work on.  I don't necessarily expect to complete all of these goals 100% by the end of the school year, but I plan to make a diligent effort to work on each.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

21st Century Skills Walkthrough

Today I was able to take the time to walkthrough almost all of the classrooms at my school.  I was particularly looking for evidence of 21st Century skills being taught.  I saw some impressive things going on.  Here are a few . . .

In Mrs. J's math classroom, two things stood out.  First was the math word wall - its so important to bring that focus on literacy into every class!  On a bulletin board I also noticed posters sharing the different responsibilities for student roles when working in cooperative groups.  It is vital that our students learn to work in collaborative groups in order for them to be college and carreer ready, unfortunately this is a skill that doesn't come naturally and can be quite challanging.  Setting up guidelines for the roles can help students begin to learn how in a collaborative group, every member has an important job and responsibility to the other members!

Mrs.T had some students working on their argument for a court case the class was working on.  She discussed with a student how she would be the judge and they would have to convince her of their opinion.  Such a powerful real life us of writing and speaking skills!

Mrs.S's Social Studies students were working in the Media Center on a project which Mrs.S had collaborated on with the Media Specialist.  Students in her class got to see their teacher working cooperatively with other faculty, and at the same worked in groups with their peers to research and create a project focused on an aspect of life in Ancient Greece or Rome. The project allowed students to practice skills of finding information from multiple sources, and then creatively design a product to reflect their learning. It was so exciting to walk in the media center and see all the project materials out and in use! The learning environment was a polar opposite of the traditional read and be silent atmosphere of a library. Students were engaged and active in their learning which resulted in noise and mess, but most importatnly powerful learning for students!

Something I noticed was that our teachers have gotten very adept and comfortable at using our technology such as computers and Interactive White Boards to present instruction, which is great.  To up the level of impact on student learning, now teachers need to get students engaged with the interactiveness of the technology -- a good goal for me to help the faculty to work on.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bottom of the First Hill

A school year is very much like a super awesome thrill ride at an amusement park. We anticipate it all summer as if we are listening to the chink, chink, chink of the chain pulling us to the top of that breathtaking hill. Then the year begins and we are off at a blinding speed with lesson planning, staff meetings, parent nights, and staff development. It is a thrilling experience to say the least, but as we near the bottom of this first hill, teachers begin to tire, we are overwhelmed by all the meetings, paperwork, and the Hurculean effort to keep it all under control and still be the top notch 21st century educator that our students need.

By this point in the year many teachers feel exhausted by the effort to hang in there, knuckles white from holding on to the lap bar to be sure they stay safely in the coaster seat. We love the ride way too much to want off, but need some relief so we can hang in until the end. There's just so much thrill anyone can handle in a thrill ride. So what's an educator to do? How do we get some relief in order to take care of ourselves, and continue to be our best in the classroom?

I'd love to hear from other educators about your ideas of how to get this relief, how to take care of ourselves, and keep the roller coaster car on the track so to speak.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

BC Walkabout

One of my very favorite parts about my new position as Lead Teacher is being able to go into different classrooms on a regular basis to check out what is going on across our school.  I wil say I had the opportunity to do this as a classroom teacher, and did so once in a while, but as a classroom teacher there are just so mnay responsibilities that fill up your time making walkthroughs hard to fit into your day.  Now, that is part of my responsibilities and I am so glad!  I am even more convinced now that BCS is the best school around! Let me share a few things I have seen through the first month of school.

One activity I observed was a writing activity in Mrs. M's classroom.  When I walked in the room the kids were working in a super focused manner in small groups.  They had Lego pieces and parts spread all over their tables and were discussing which part could go where and for what purpose. Problem solving and collaboration skills were evident in each table's discussions.  But wait!  I said it was a writing lesson, right?  Legos?  The task given to the students by Mrs.M was to create a machine that would perform an action of some sort, and once sgroups were done building, they had to write a paper explaing the use of and reasoning behind the machine they created.  Talk about rigor, relevance, and student engagement!  This was awesome!

Another activity I saw in multiple Sci/SS classes was the use of Interactive Notebooks and Cornell notes.  Not only were the teachers instructing students on the curriculum, the were teaching them organization and study skills at the same time. In another classroom, I saw students taking a multiple choice test. What's so special about that?  Students were directed by Mrs. T to bubble in the correct answer (have to practice those testing skills), and beside each response they were required to write their reasoning for selecting that answer.  This is a great way to ensure that students really think things through rather than just randomly choose answers!

In a different Language Arts class, I saw a unique approach on reading a class novel. Mrs.N's class was reading A Long Way from Chicago which she says has chapters which are almost short stories in themselves.  To get the whole class through the book in a limited amount of time, small groups were each assigned a chapter to read and study. Then the groups had to create presentations for the class about the chapter which included key story elements and vocabulary from their section. This seemed to be a great way to get kids hooked on a book that they would later read all of on their own!

I was most impressed on several occasions when I visited PE classes at my school.  Due to some teaching allotment changes, and an increase in student population, our 2 PE teachers have classes of 40-50 students. It frightens me to think of trying to manage, much less teach, such large groups in an active course like PE!  Mr.M and Ms.S have things totally under control though.  They have set up such great organization and procedures for the students that things have been going great in their very challenging situation.  Today I observed one of the classes as they learned to play volleyball.  The class was split in two.  One group was practicing bumping and setting on one side of the gym, while the other group was practicing the procss of serving and rotating in a volleyball court set up. These teachers are a super example of doing whatever it takes for our students.  Luckily they won't have the challenge of such large classes for much longer, as we have just been alloted a new position which will be used to hire another PE teacher.

I can't wait to see what other treasures our BCS teachers have going on in their classrooms as I continue my Walkabouts this year!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Graduation Week

Yes you heard me right, this week was graduation week at BC Middle School. Seems a little out of place since it's the beginning of the school year, and 6th graders aren't normally graduating. Did you know that early middle school is a great time to start talking to kids about graduation and college. many of their actions and choices in middle school can have a major impact on a student's path and success in high school any beyond. So this week BCS had some fun and got studnents thinking about college.

The events of this week were prompted and sponsored by the Connect Initiative which RCS is participating in. Holly Grissom, with the help of a few others, planned some great activities. All week students participated in a guess the college mascot contest, and viewed commercials from several universities and community colleges during daily announcements. To end the week, Friday was wear your favorite college colors or shirt day, and I was thrilled by how many of our 460 sixth graders participated!

We also had one last contest to finish the week going during lunch time today. I had the best time helping with this because I got to see and talk to every class in the school. We had our teachers bring in cap and gown pictures of themselves from college or high school, and then the kids had to guess which teacher was which. What a great experience! Our students really got into trying to figure this out -- and it was so neat for them to see their teachers as real people (younger and much skinnier in many cases). Even the teachers got in on the fun of guessing who was who!

Graduation week ended up being a great community building activity and was a big success in getting our students thinking about college. To pull our parents into the fun, we are having a guest speaker from College Foundation at our interim report parent night to talk about getting middle school students on the path for college.

So ended a great week at BCS -- I have to say, I'm proud to be a Bulldog!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Common Core Quick Reference Chart ELA Gr6

With the transition to Common Core State Standards coming up in the near future, I have been doing some serious study of the standards for my grade level and subject area. As I read over the English Language Arts Grade 6 Standards, I decided to reformat the standards as a chart.  I just like charts because they help me to comprehend information.  I think I ended up with what will be a helpful tool as a result.  In case you are interested, click on the link here for the pdf: Common Core State Standards English Language Arts Grade 6 Quick Reference Chart 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Digital Art Portfolio

Ever since my first child began preschool, I have Loved it when my kids brought home school work and all those cute art projects! The hand print art, strings of colored macaroni, and multitude of drawings. These are treasures to a mom and dad, but unfortunately as time passes these treasures look worse for the wear. Besides that, there are SO many of them I want to keep them all. How could I throw our something my sweet babies made? At some point a problemem arises. What do you do with all this stuff?? Add to the fact that I am hesitant to throw things out, my daughter is showing frightening signs of wanting to be a hoarder (kidding . . . A little). How can I save all these great memories without being buried by all the paper?
Technology to the rescue! This afternoon, my daughter (10 yrs old) photographed each of her artistic masterpieces she had created so far this summer, and then I taught her how to upload the pics to a cloud storage tool. Finally I helped her set up a LiveBinder (www.live binders.com) where she could organize, name and save all her creations. She was so excited that she could then share the binder with Grandparents and friends, or even do a formal presentation from our computer screen! Great way to save her creations AND clear out the paper clutter!
We still have lots of art my son created in preschool this past year. Tomorrow I think we will try photographing with my smartphone so we can upload straight to Dropbox with one less step. I will share a link to my LiveBinder once we get it in presentation condition.

(As a side note in respect to my quest to find an ePortfolio tool to use in my classroom this year . . . I think this may be it!)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Scenic Route

I have gotten VERY sidetracked in my journey to find a way to implement ePortfolios in my classroom.  I have to say, although I haven't made it to my destination yet, the scenic route has been quite a treat.  I have found all sorts of great new tech tools to use in my classroom and in my personal professional learning.  I have grown to absolutely LOVE LiveBinders.  I have been working on binders for 3 topic which I am studying in preparation for the upcoming school year.  Feel free to check these out, and share resources/tools I could add to them.  Check them out if you are interested!


Common Core State Standards

Data Walls

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

ePortfolios Episode 3

So I have to say that I'm feeling frustrated with finding the perfect solution for this right now. There are obviously tons of web 2.0 tools I could use for ePortfolios. I have to have something that allows kids under 13 to register. I want something that students can use to work on assignments and collaborate with others AND showcase completed assignments. I also want something that would not be overly difficult for students to use on their own. Google Apps for Education seems to be the perfect solution, but I need district approval, etc to get that going and I have yet to hear back from my tech department in response to this.

I am playing around with Wiki Spaces and LiveBinders to see if that would work, but I am unsure if either will offer all the functionality which I want.

I know the solution is out there - I've just got to find it!

Feel free to comment with any suggestions!