Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Girl Next Door

I am now closing my classroom door for the 9th year in a row.  In many ways, this was one of my best and favorite years.  Most of the reasons involve things that happened inside my classroom.  It was a fun year.  I enjoyed what I was teaching, how I was teaching it, and found myself excited about the things to come.

However, one of the reasons for "the best year so far" didn't happen in my classroom.  It happened in the one next door.

You see.  My sister was teaching in that room.  Her second year of teaching, first one at Cheney.

It was about this time last year that we knew we would be seeing A LOT more of each other.  Everyday.  All year.

I know this happens in small schools all across the country.  But for us, when she applied for the 6th Grade Communications job, we both initially saw it as a long-shot.

But then she got an interview.

And the call with the offer to teach in the room directly next to me.


Growing up, we fought quite often.  Only four-and-a-half years between us, and different personalities made for interesting times sharing a bedroom.  However as have grow up and become successful adults we have grown to appreciate our differences as well as seen them shrink.

The highlights of this year shared with my sister include...

The first day of school selfie we sent to our mother (who is VERY jealous of us working in the same school).

Twin Tuesday.  We dressed alike for the first few Tuesdays of the year.  Then we got busy and forgot.  Or ran out of matching clothes.

I "Shushed" her.  In a meeting.  And didn't even realize I did it until is was pointed out by another staff member.  They thought it was hilarious...

She told my class of 7th graders that they didn't have to do anything all day.  They believed her.

I told her 6th graders that I am WAY cooler and they better believe me because I will have them for the next TWO years!

She stepped outside of her box and directed the 8th grade play.  I am so amazed by her determination to learn something new and then have it turn out awesome.

We learned out personality "colors."  I am GOLD which means I like things organized, on time, planned out, and I'm bossy.  Yep.  That's me.

She is ORANGE.  Go-with-the-flow, creative, not on time (or doesn't stress about time).  Yep. That's her.

She entertained the staff with stories about her miraculously cured eyesight, which she determined was her healthy eating habits, that turned out to be two pairs of contacts, and astonishingly announcing that they "let a man eat a little boy for his last meal before execution" only to find that the article was published by The Onion.  -- We were in tears.

And finally...the last day of school selfie we sent to mom!

Here's to more great years with the girl next door :)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Infographics: My 8th Grade Final

We made it!


My 8th grade students have actually been waiting and looking forward to their Social Studies Final this year.  They knew it was coming.  I did a "practice round" of infographics earlier in the year.  (Read about that here.)

Infographics are a visual image such as a chart of diagram used to represent data.  Infographics can help you simplify a complicated subject or turn an otherwise boring subject into a captivating experience.

After our practice round I felt confident that the students would be able to use Piktochart and improve from their first attempt.  I specifically showed the kids a few "tricks" that I learned from some of those "overachievers" the first time.  I showed both good and bad examples of things I wanted and didn't want.

Every single student improved.

I was so impressed to see how they took a couple of suggestions on fonts, text boxes, backgrounds, and pictures and ran with it.  Their topics were taken from the 4th Grade Kansas Social Studies Standards.  Not only did they have to do research on each topic, but they also had to remember that their audience.  4th Graders.  Everything on the page had to be written at a level they could understand.

Enough with the words.  Let's see some of the final products.  **I asked permission from the students to use their infographic and list their names as the creators.**  This is just a sample of many, many great results!

Created by Will
Created by Hunter

Created by Johnny

Created by Morgan

Created by Ben

Created by Emory

Created by Natalie

Created by Jaiden
Created by Taryn 

What I learned from this project...

  • The kids love this!  By far this was the most well-received project I have done all year.  The kids KNEW they had to do a good job.  They KNEW the final product would be used.  
  • I love Piktochart.  They have the "self-guided" tour to allow the students independence in learning the program.  I didn't have to guide them every step of the way.  It truly was independent. 
  • With a good, solid rubric, this was easy to grade.  
  • The peer evaluations were super effective for everyone involved.  I warned them that as they are critiquing their peers it is NOT their job to guard the feelings of their partner.  It is their job to point out what does and doesn't work on the poster.  
  • The pairing of the peer evaluations were differentiated.  Those who struggled with design last time were evaluated by those who have a knack for design.  Those who excel at content were to evaluate someone who struggled with gathering information.
  • Compliments from me were genuine.  Faced beamed with confidence.  I even overheard "Hey, did you see my infographic?  I'll show it to you it's awesome."

I first got the general idea for making infographics at a conference I go to four times a year.  We are part of an original group who came together because of a grant from Teaching American History.  I wrote about this group here.

I cannot stress enough how important it is for teachers to attend and participate in professional development workshops.  As we dive into another round of school budget cuts, I am fearful that many teachers will lose the opportunity to attend workshops because it can be seen as an "easy" cut.  However, research has shown time and time again that the most important factor in a students' successful education is the teacher in the classroom.  I hope that districts across the country will continue to support the continuing improvement of all their teachers.