Back To School, Digital Style

Back To School, Digital-Style

This year I’m going back to school with a twist – I’m going digital-style with my syllabus and lesson plans!

A few years back I experimented with different ways to engage students on the first day – and first weeks – of school. Building relationships, engaging my classroom and creating a sense of excitement helps me to keep a high energy level – absolutely necessary for teaching middle school – and also sets a tone of exploring new ideas, trying new strategies and risking failure.

Because seriously – we teachers are constantly asking our students to “push themselves”, to step out of their “comfort zone” and present their very best work, right? And yet how many teachers actually walk their talk? I’ve discovered that I build better relationships with my students when I do what I ask them to do, and as a result, we have a more productive, more creative and more growth-oriented classroom.

Last year was the year of hyperdocs for me – I wrote about how to teach narrative writing with hyperdocs, and have begun transforming nearly all my units into a digital-style package of pedagogy. I like that. I’m energized and invigorated and when I see what the students produce…mind blown!

This year I decided to go digital-style as much as I could for the first day, the first week, and beyond.

Going back to school, digital-style:

First, Creating a Digital Lesson Plan Book

To begin, I signed up for planbookedu.com. This is a HUGE step for me – I love tech, but still prefer to read a hardcopy and write in a spiral planner. I decided to switch to planbookedu, however, because in the process of hyperdoc-ing and transferring file cabinets to Google Drive, I found it challenging to access all the lessons that I had written down but had no direct digital link to. Having a digital-style plan book allows me to manage my multiple preps (4), to link my digital files onto each day/period, to copy the lesson for the one class that repeats and to search and save the plans for next year. I can also print it if needed. After researching the cost of purchasing a new paper planner, the fee for planbookedu seems well worth it.

Then, Digitizing My Syllabus

Back To School,digital-style

Next, I decided to digitize my syllabus. I’ve seen this trending online this year, and I found a shared Google Slide template I thought I could adapt. You can get a copy of it on my ‘free teaching and parenting resources’ tab of my website, jenniferwolfe.net. I’m not going to lie – it took me a good 4 hours to fiddle with the template, to fit in what I needed, to edit, revise, and edit some more…but then once it was done for one class, I just modify for my three other preps!

The amazing part of going digital-style with my syllabus was that it forced me to really THINK about how I wanted to present myself to parents and students; my hope is that the syllabus sticks around with them and becomes a reference point during the school year. On that end, I created a new technology and plagiarism policies and linked them to the syllabus for parents to review and return. I add links to my teacher Google site, to my class photo slide deck, my grading policies and my REMIND codes, and because it’s so visual I inserted more information than my paper syllabus ever did!

Finally, Using Google Slides For A Digital Daily Agenda

back to school digital style

Finally, I’m using Google Slides for creating a digital-style daily agenda that can be embedded on my website, shared with students and parents, and easily updated from home or school. This is probably my favorite change of them all. Last year I used a plain slide deck that I switched up fonts and colors every month to keep students engaged – this year I’m going to get a bit more stylized! I’ve almost entirely given up directly assigned ‘homework’, so my daily agenda will follow the ‘must do’, ‘should do’ and ‘could do’ format. I use “due dates” instead of “homework”, allowing students more choice and control over their work. I love using funny gifs or images or quotes to start the day off, and by using a digital template I save tons of time by not having to rewrite everything every day! You can also see and grab a copy of my digital daily agenda template on my ‘free teaching and parenting resources’ tab of my website, jenniferwolfe.net.

back to school digital-style

I’d love to hear some of your ideas about going digital-style with your teaching and moving your classroom into the 21st century – please leave ideas in the comments below!

*This post first appeared on theeducatorsroom.com – please visit this awesome website written BY teachers, FOR teachers!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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things teachers should do before the first day of school play dohJPG

5 Things Teachers Should Do Before The First Day Of School

Have the teacher dreams started? Does your heart pound when you see the school supply section at Target? While you’re relaxing on the beach, have you defaulted to lesson planning over reading novels? To help calm your nerves, I’ve compiled notes about five things teachers should do before the first day of school – and I guarantee you’ll have a great start!

Things teachers should do before the first day of school:

  1. Organize your classroom

Kids (and administrators) love to walk into a classroom and feel the structure you’ve created.

  • Think about how you (and the kids) will move around your room. Create clear traffic patterns to get in and out, as well as to the trash can, pencil sharpener, and your desk/computer!. Make sure the ‘big’ furniture is in place before school starts.
  • Make supplies visible – labels and signs help everyone know where to find – and put back – their stuff.
  • Figure out your seating chart and how kids will find their seats. I use numbered groups, and each seat has the group number (ex, 5) and a letter (ex, A). I project the seating chart on the screen, and kids find their way.
  • Make bulletin board space for students to put up their work/projects. I have an “A” wall for my kids to hang up work they’re proud of.
  • things teachers should do before the first day of school organize

 2.  Sketch Out Your Year

I’m a HUGE believer in balancing planning with flexibility. At the start of the year, I like to have a road map for what strategies I want to teach, and what content I’ll use to teach them. I’ve found using sticky notes really helps – as I set up my plan book for the year, I create sticky notes for novels/units/strategies, and place them on the monthly page where I think I’ll teach them. Moving the ideas around is much easier when I don’t have to erase – and I like the physical part of placing the notes. Then, talk to your colleagues – can you collaborate on projects, share materials, or build curriculum together? Collaboration is much easier when you do it with a friend! Finally, think ahead about what facilities or tech you’ll need, and sign up! Try not to be last minute and you’ll find that your teaching goes much smoother, and you’re able to conquer so much more than you ever thought you could!

things teachers should do before the first day of school plan
Paper planner or digital?

3. Plan Activities Get To Know Your Students – And To Share About You

One of the most important things teachers should do before the first day of school is to think about how you can infuse a ‘get to know you’ activity for part of every day during the first week. And make sure you create a lesson to help kids get to know you, too! I’ve got some neat ideas on my Pinterest board, Beginning Of The School Year Ideas. Take something and adapt it for your grade level/subject and have fun!

things teachers should do before the first day of school play dohJPG
I surprise my students with Play Doh the first day – they make something that represents them!

4. Get Kids Moving On The First Day

There’s nothing more boring than kids listening to their teachers drone on about the syllabus on the first day of school. For middle schoolers (who I teach) that can really set the tone that your class is going to be B-O-R-I-N-G! Be that teacher who switches things up – I love to use stations for the first days of school. It lets kids get up and moving with hands-on activities, and I can observe and interact with kids as they work. Use this time to learn their names, to teach your classroom signals “1-2-3 eyes on me”, and to establish a student-centered classroom. You can read about my back to school stations here.

things teachers should do before the first day of school stations
Back to school stations can adapt to any curriculum or grade level!

5. Plan On Incorporating Technology

Teaching in the 21st century means meeting kids where they are, and technology is front and center in their lives. If you’re a veteran teacher, plan on how you can make some simple adjustments to use technology in your lessons. Have you tried Google Apps? Can you stream YouTube or Shmoop videos instead of direct instruction? What about trying lessons with kids using their personal devices? Whatever you do, think about your comfort level with technology, and find someone on your site who can mentor you. Join a twitter chat (#2ndaryELA is one of my favorites) and meet educators online who can give you ideas – and confidence.

things teachers should do before the first day of school tech

For more tips about things teachers should do before the first day of school, check out two of my favorite websites – Education World and Scholastic – they’re full of great ideas! And if you have any teacher friends, please share this post and add your ideas in the comments!

What other ideas do you have for a great start to the school year?

Best of luck for an inspiring school year!

 

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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STEM in U.S. Schools

Do you know about the state of STEM in U.S. schools?

Do you know about the state of STEM in U.S. schools?

If you’re a teacher, you likely have at least heard of STEM – but if you’re a parent and don’t know about this cutting edge opportunity for your kids, and the state of STEM in U.S. schools, I’ve got some exciting information for you!

As an AVID teacher and coordinator, I was invited to San Diego to attend a conference about the state of STEM in U.S. schools, sponsored by U.S. News and World Report to learn more about how to include STEM into AVID’s college and career readiness program.  STEM is an acronym representing the intentional inclusion of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math in our academic programs; STEAM adds in the arts.

Keynote speaker Eric J. Gertler, Co-Chairman and Co-Publisher, New York Daily News; Co-Chairman, U.S. News & World Report; CEO, Ulysses Ventures, talked about how six years ago U.S. News created their first STEM conference to address a need for a ‘culture shift’; the science and education communities felt a broader awareness of what STEM is and why it’s important was necessary to address the growing need for skilled workers in STEM fields. At this time, media companies with smarts and money were able to engage public with ‘state of STEM’ as they saw it. 

What is the state of STEM in U.S. Schools?

Brian Kelly, Editor and Chief Content Officer, U.S. News & World Report and main moderator of the conference, shared not only a journalistic perspective about STEM but also his strong belief that as the chairman of U.S. News STEM Solutions, a national forum that brings together corporations, he can work to “assist educators and policymakers help the U.S. fill jobs by creating a more skilled and competitive workforce”.

Have you seen these recent videos bringing a current look to STEM?

 

Microsoft’s ‘Make What’s Next’ Ad Shows How to Pursue STEM | CMO …

LeBron James and Adriana Lima Tell Kids to Be Scientists, Not – Adweek

It is through such use of media and journalism that companies can begin to identify what STEM is for the general public – because as the saying goes, “If you don’t know what it is, you can’t become it”.

How do we spotlight students for STEM in U.S. Schools?

STEM in U.S. Schools

Peter Callstrom is the President and Chief Executive Officer, San Diego Workforce Partnership, which “funds and delivers workforce programs to train and support job seekers to meet the needs of regional employers (and) also conducts in-depth labor market research in order to understand employer’s needs and trends in our economy”. Mr. Callstrom illuminated us to an ‘awareness gap’ going on in our schools which may be contributing to the low numbers of students (especially girls) who are studying STEM in lower and higher education programs. It makes one wonder – how are kids going to join workforce/careers they don’t know exists? And how can teachers/administrators/parents begin to bridge this gap? Through his work as CEO of S.D. Workforce Partnership, he has identified that 5 mil American youths are not working or in school between the ages18-24. To help address this issue, he created the Life Sciences Summer Institute, which offers paid internships to youth studying STEM fields. In addition, he spoke about the Amgen Foundation Biotech Experience, which is training teachers in STEM techniques.

STEM in U.S. Schools

How do we recruit teachers to spotlight STEM in U.S. Schools?

STEM in schools

Katherine Wilcox, the Executive Director of the EnCorps STEM Teachers Program which “empower(s) STEM professionals to transform public education through teaching and tutoring in high-need communities” EnCorps is the only non-profit dedicated to recruiting STEM professionals. Currently,  the United States is facing one of the worst teacher shortages since 1990. According to research from California State University, California alone needs 33,000 new math and science teachers over the next ten years! EnCorps estimates that there are 35,000 high need students receiving high-quality math and science education by an EnCorps STEM Fellow since 2008. These fellows averaged 17 years in a STEM profession prior to joining EnCorps, and 82% of the participants have either a STEM Masters or PhD. EnCorps has partnered with over 250 schools, school districts, and program organizations to help solve the STEM Teacher crisis, according to their website (http://encorps.org 2017).

STEM isn’t going away. The state of STEM in U.S. schools is evolving, but not at a pace healthy enough to fill all the open jobs and to push the U.S. to the forefront of our global quest for a better quality of life. The U.S. News STEM Conference is one positive step in the right direction.

Stay tuned for more about the STEM revolution in higher education in future posts!

Click to VIEW the 2017 STEM conference SCHEDULE.

This article was first published by Jennifer Wolfe on The Educator’s Room.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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4 Reasons Why I Love Teaching With Chromebooks

I cannot deny it any longer – I’m in love with Chromebooks.

Chromebooks have transformed my teaching. All those times in the last 25 years when I used to say, “Well, that would be easy if I had a class set of computers” has turned into my reality.

Chromebooks have become a wonderful tool for teachers in the 21st century.

A recent article in Education World tells us that “For the first time, Chromebook sales surpassed 51% in the K-12 market nationwide in the third quarter, according to a recent report by market researcher Futuresource Consulting,” according to USA Today. Now, why doesn’t that surprise me?

Because when schools embrace Chromebooks, and teachers step out of their comfort zone to use them in their classrooms on a regular basis, students are happy. And happy students means more learning. And more learning means higher test scores…

Now, I’m certainly not a digital native. In college, I typed my thesis and remember the woes of correcting ribbon. According to Education World, “Getting teachers and students to adopt (sic) to new devices in the classroom isn’t always easy. This is where the Chromebook shines. Simplicity always makes for easier transitions into blended learning and these devices are tailored towards doing so.”

Chromebooks in the classroom

I have to agree. In my classroom, I’ve stepped up and bear-hugged those 34 Chromebook machines that reside in the front of my room. I’ve seen more experienced teachers light up after their first successful foray into Google-land. It’s taken some effort, to be sure, but here are the top four reasons why I’m in love with Chromebooks in the classroom:

1. Student access to information.

Every Monday my AVID students use a Chromebook to log into their School Loop account. They check their letter grades, view their grade trend and record the number of ‘0’ marks they have. Just like adults monitor their checkbook, having easy access to their performance information allows my students to analyze their success and plan the week. When my English students ask about missing work, or what they need to make up from an absence, they can take control by using a Chromebook. My students routinely use Chromebooks to turn in digital assignments to their School Loop account, too.

2. Improved communication.

With Chromebooks being Google based, students have the easy capability to collaborate – with each other and with their teachers. We regularly utilize Google Drive for assignments, including presentations with Google Slides, collecting data and assessing students with Google Forms, editing with Google Translate, and analyzing data with Google Sheets. When absent, I can share a document with a student and chat through the comments feature.

3. Easy ability to create projects and study tools.

Before, I was lucky to get my students into a computer lab with desktops chained to study carrels. Now with Chromebooks, my students routinely use technology as their first ‘go-to’ point for projects and study tools. They love creating study flashcards and playing review games using Quizlet. When we wrote narratives, after drafting using Google Docs, students used their Chromebooks to create professional looking books on Storybird.com. To introduce the novel The Pearl, my students used Chromebooks to create Prezis about different research topics. Chromebooks make activities like web quests easy and fun, not to mention the ease of delivering lessons through sites like TedEd and the Khan Academy.

4. Enhanced inquiry options.

Years ago I decided not to be a walking answering device. I was tired of spelling words and being asked to provide answers to factual questions. With Chromebooks, my students have learned not to even ask (“She won’t tell you, you know” they are fond of saying). Instead, they’re learning how to figure out the answers to their questions, how to be independent thinkers and learners, how to analyze information and evaluate sources. And best of all? They’re satisfying their curiosity and developing skills to take with them into all aspects of their lives.

And best of all? With increased use of Chromebooks, my students not only are feeling like school is fun and time flies in the classroom, but they are also satisfying their curiosity and developing skills to take with them into all aspects of their lives.

That’s Chromebooks for the win!

I’d love to hear your favorite ways for using Chromebooks in the classroom – drop me a comment and let me know!

I wrote this article first for  The Educator’s Room. 

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Teacher Tips To Communicate With Parents – And Vice Versa

Teachers, how do you communicate with parents? Are you leveraging pro-active communication, or waiting until ‘something happens’ to make your first contact (definitely not ideal). I know a large part of the education workforce is comprised of ‘digital immigrants’, but with a little time and motivation, all teachers can (and should) utilize technology to increase communication with parents and students. It’s definitely not too late to start this school year. Here are my eight favorite ways for teachers to communicate with parents (and students) – let me know if I’ve missed one that you use, and which way is your favorite! And parents – what tools do you use to connect with your child’s teacher, and how do they reach out to you?

Still smiling after a long week of teaching!
Still smiling after a long week of teaching!

Teacher Tips To Communicate With Parents

  • Email – This is the easiest way to start communicating with parents. If your school doesn’t collect email info at registration, consider asking for it on a take-home handout, or better yet, create a Google Form (see below) and ask for it. I know teachers who send out weekly updates, communication when they start a new unit, or only email at grade reporting time. I personally like to send out proactive, positive emails at the start of the year to build my relationship with parents before anything challenging happens. Teachers can even keep documents with scripts they use on a regular basis as a template. Email is perfect for beginning digital immigrants!
  • Weekly progress reports – As an AVID teacher, I require my students to utilize a weekly progress report that they take to their teachers for information about their grades and citizenship. They also set goals and track their GPA. This year I’m going to experiment with using Google forms for students to enter their data and then share with their parents. I think a running record of grades, citizenship, GPA and goals would be a great conversation starter for dinner table conversations, and by sharing it with parents, we would ensure they have seen the most current information about their child.
  • School Data Systems – My school uses School Loop for grading and data, and I’ve found that updating the assignment calendar weekly and entering grades bi-weekly really has made grading conversations much more proactive and meaningful. For big assignments, I quickly enter a ‘0’ if not turned in on time; this reminder has really helped increase my turn in rate, and parents appreciate the timely feedback. I do educate my parents at BTSN about my turnaround rate for grading, and let them know that it’s not up to the minute. I remind parents to use School Loop as a conversation starter, and to have their child follow up with me (rather than the parent taking me on) so we can resolve any confusion.
  • Remind – Knowing that teens respond much more readily to texts than email, I began using the Remind.com system to send communicate reminders about assignments, due dates, or just to send encouraging messages or digitally share relevant materials I come across when I’m not teaching. I love that Remind doesn’t require the sharing of phone numbers – it’s a free service that allows subscribers to send/receive text messages. Set up and subscribing are easy – and teachers can set office hours, too!
  • Social Media Facebook/Instagram/Twitter – Since social media is such a part of our society in the 21st century, why not harness its reach and use to communicate what’s happening at school? I know many teachers and counselors who set up Facebook pages (separate from their personal page) to share relevant material for their students. Parents love to see what’s happening in the classroom – why not set up an Instagram account for your class and post snaps of lessons, activities, and field trips? Twitter is a fun way to showcase what’s going on at school, too.
  • Websites – Blogs are a fun and easy way to communicate both informational materials as well as showcase student work. WordPress and Blogspot offer free blog space, as does Google Sites. If your school site doesn’t offer you a website, try using a blog to start one for yourself. Kidblog is another fun tool for student blogging. Digital portfolios are gaining in popularity, and I’ve set them up with both Google Sites and by creating shared folders on Google Drive – quite a few of my teacher friends use Seesaw and love it. I’ve also used YouTube to post and share class videos – you can set your channel to private and just share links with parents, too.
  • Google Calendar – I love all things Google, and Google calendar is an awesome way to communicate with parents. I use it for scheduling conferences by creating a separate calendar and sharing it with families. Google calendar is also great for scheduling and communicating about field trips and special events, as well as for setting up guest speakers.
  • Skype, Google Hangout – Once you’re comfortable with utilizing tech for communicating with parents, you could rely on Skype or Google Hangout for virtual conferences – it’s a perfect (and free) tool that could help you meet with parents who have trouble making it to the classroom during the school day, or could help teachers with their own small children find a more convenient time to meet with parents. There’s nothing better than face-to-face time, even if it’s virtual!

I’d love to hear your ideas for communicating with parents and teachers in the 21st century – please leave your favorite methods in the comments below!

This post originally appeared on The Educator’s Room.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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