Sunday, November 30, 2014

Learning Models All Around

We have the tremendous fortune of working with fantastic teachers at our school. We have so many teachers that are working on establishing best practices to support personalized learning. Two of the many teachers that are making an impact are Michele Baumann and Amy Digman. Michele and Amy have been doing some amazing work with team teaching math workshop. They flexibly group their students, and provide personalized learning for their combined math classes. They were also integral in the development of our school's re-purposing of our library into a Learning Lab. 

A while back, Kate posted about the Learning Models that we use in math to provide voice, choice, and differentiation for our kiddos. We have found the work that our students do on these learning models to be more insightful than our end of unit assessments dictated by the textbook. We feel the work they complete is more authentic and a better representation of what they can do with regards to the standards. Michele and Amy recently let us know that they brought our idea for learning models down to the kindergarten levels. The result...MAGIC! 

Michele & Amy's Learning Model Rubric (click to see the entire thing!)
Our wonderful kindergarten friends wanted to share their great learning models with our 5th graders. Our students LOVED seeing the hard work the little ones did. Our students then got to share their learning models with them. For us, watching our youngest and oldest share and discuss mathematics was heartwarming. 

Seeing the progression of their mathematics understanding from where they start to where they can end up really helped solidify the value in the hard work we do.

Here are some examples of the "young" and the "old":

Kindergarten Measurement Learning Models

5th Grade 

~Angela :)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

5th Annual CESA 1 Convening Conference

We were so fortunate to spend November 3rd and 4th at the CESA 1 Convening Conference. The Institute at CESA 1 is a fantastic organization that focuses on supporting personalized learning initiatives in school districts. We are so lucky to be partnered with them and to have them so close to us here in southeastern Wisconsin! The Institute's influence is growing, and they now impact school districts across the country. For the last 5 years, they have hosted a conference surrounding personalized learning.

Last year was our first year attending, and we were in awe of the amazing talent and ideas that we are surrounded with. We left with ideas that we could implement the next day and connections with others that continue to influence our own work. This year, we had the tremendous honor of presenting about our work with TEAM Togetherness.

Our presentation (click image to view)
Minus a few "technical difficulties" with internet connection, we had a great audience. They were engaged and asked fantastic questions. It is so humbling to us to know that our work is helping so many others on their own journeys. 

For me, however, the greatest part of the Convening is the learning from others. We learned from some amazing middle school teachers from the Muskego-Norway School district. Their work with project based learning is inspiring. My head was spinning with ways we could incorporate that work in TEAM Togetherness. We learned new ideas for math workshop from teachers in Pewaukee. We also heard from two amazing keynote speakers: Alfie Kohn and Diana Laufenberg.

Something that really resonated with me was listening to Diana Laufenberg. She spoke a lot about "failure." One of the best sticking points for was the difference between "blame-worthy failure" and "praise-worthy failure." In our punitive society, we often see failure as a negative. When, truly, we should celebrate the small failures that lead us to success. In the classroom, should we not praise the bumps in the road as moments of learning? Our students should not view failure as something they should fear, but rather, as something that helps them on the path to their personal success. One of my favorite things that she shared (and she shared MANY) was this video of a young boy demonstrating praise-worthy failure. What if all of our students had this kind of excitement and understanding of "failure?"

Thank you, Institute, for including us in the Convening this year. It was two days of fun, two days of connecting and networking, and most importantly, two days of learning that we can use to push ourselves even further.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

You Matter Cards

You Matter Cards
We have lots of visitors to our space. It is a true blessing that we get to share our journey with others. We love that we have connected with so many educators from our area, our state, and even from around the country!

We recently began leaving our visitors with a little something to remember us by. They are called "You Matter" cards. We can't take full credit for this brilliant idea. I read a different blog post on Twitter about a principal from a school that uses a similar card for the entire school! I believe he is working with the great Angela Maiers! Talk about making an impact with a small piece of paper! Think of the message he is sending to his entire community when they step foot in his school! Truly inspirational!

When we read this blog in late August, it was a little too late to start a school wide initiative. So, Kate and I decided to start small! We created our own version of "You Matter" cards.
Click to see the full file
We want our visitors to know they are special. We want our visitors to know that staying connected is important to us. We want our visitors to know that we do what we do, because it is what is best for kids. We want them to know that their visit MATTERS to not only our journey in personalized learning, but also in the lives they will now go and impact on their own journeys. 

Our next bring "You Matter" to the kid level. Each student in our space has their own "square" in the hallway outside our doors. We are personalizing those squares with their pictures and work samples. Kate and I are also planning on leaving our students "You Matter" notes throughout the week. We want them to know how much they MATTER to us, as well! Our secret hope??--That it spreads like wildfire and kids start telling each other why they MATTER!

Everyone deserves to know they MATTER--no matter how big or how small--it feels good. It feels right. It is important to our well-beings. It is amazing how two little words can leave such a lasting impact.

Be sure to tell someone in your life that they MATTER to you! What impact can you make?

QR Code Homework Help

We love QR codes...can we just start with that? We use them for SO many things! One of our favorite ways to use them is in Math Workshop. We often offer our students independent "May Do" activities with QR codes attached to check their work. We have done QR code scavenger hunts. They are so versatile! We are continually looking for new ways to use them!

As with any classroom, our students have trouble from time to time with their homework. The typical routine is that they contact Kate or I via Edmodo to ask for help. We often, then, would create Show Me videos from home to post back that would answer their questions. So, it got us thinking...why create the videos on the back end? Why not be proactive

Enter the glorious QR code! We decided to put QR codes on our math homework assignments that give one example or review crucial vocabulary from that mini-lesson!

An example of our QR code homework help

Each QR code links to a Show Me video, made on our iPads. We used PDF images from the textbook website and inserted them as images in the app. We then wrote over them and spoke using the app tools. You, then export the file ("publish" it). Copy that link and paste it into any QR Code Generator tool (online or via apps). Voila! You've got a QR code linked to a video!

From there, you can copy them, cut them out, paste them, etc. Or, for even easier application, print them on labels and have the students stick them on their own homework!

How do you use QR codes? Sound off below!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Learning Models in Math

At the end of each math unit our students complete a Learning Model to show us they have mastered the unit standards. Yes, yes, yes...we still give the end of unit math assessment, but they're Learning Models are uploaded to their digital portfolios to showcase their work for that unit.

We provide our students with a list of skills we'd like them to tackle, along with a rubric, and they are left to show us what they know. Some students choose to do this with paper and pencil, but most utilize technology to share their knowledge.

I can not tell you how impressed I am with what some of our kiddos come up with! I am so proud of our crew!

Check out a few exemplars from the Unit 1 Learning Model!

Grace's Learning Model using Powtoon

Maika's Learning Model using Prezi

Manal's Learning Model using Google Presentation

Way to go, Ladies!!

~ Kate

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Social Contract

One of the best parts of looping is that we could hit the ground running this year. So much so, that we didn't even realize that we hadn't had the "Behavior Conversation" until the 3rd week of school. I'm not saying that we didn't talk about the basics, but it was a very different experience than last year. In all honesty...we didn't really "need" it...our students simply picked up where we left off.

The foundation for our behaviors for last year and this year is our "Social Contract."
Our Current Social Contracts
But to create these beautiful documents, we needed to move in "baby steps!"

Building a Contract
Last year, as our first year in TEAM Togetherness, we spent the first 3 weeks of school building "T-Charts" in SMART files that focused on everyday skills that we needed to practice or discuss as a "TEAM". Examples: Transitioning to whole group, lining up for _____, independent time during reader's workshop, etc. It was time well-spent. We framed the T-Charts as "Looks Like" and "Doesn't Look Like" behaviors, with the skill listed at the top. The students had the most fun coming up with the "Doesn't Look Like", of course, but they really knew what it should "Look Like", as well. These T-Charts were printed for reference in the room until our contract was written. If a behavior were to arise, we could simply use that same language: "Is this was it should "Look Like" or is this "Doesn't Look Like" behavior?" or "Show me what a quiet line "Looks Like"-and they would quiet down and straighten up right away!
Click to see full T-Chart list
From those T-charts, we wrote our classroom social contract. The social contract dictates the rules that we will function under as a classroom community. The students helped us word them and deemed what they thought was most important. We did need to guide them a few times in the "right" direction of how to word things (ex: celebrating differences), but they were very proud of their work.

This year, when we broached the topic of our social contract, we reviewed last year's copy. After a quick discussion, they all agreed that they wanted to continue to work off of that contract--and why wouldn't they??--They wrote it! :)
Click to see the full size version
What we did spend quality time with this year, was writing a technology component.  This was something that we felt was missing in 4th grade. Because our student engagement is so high, the majority of the issues we ran into with regards to behaviors, were minor technology infractions (ex: not being on the site they were supposed to be on, searching for music videos on YouTube, using the chat function instead of working, etc.) We, again, began with T-Charts and discussed appropriate behaviors that tie with our technology privileges. We, as per usual, were incredibly impressed with the rules they came up with!
Click for the full view!
Most importantly for this type of behavior management system to be successful, we had to have consequences that were decided upon by the students. We had to insert one in their list with regards to district policy, but in all honesty, we had to scale them back some! The punishments they came up with were often much more harsh than what we would have generated!

When a student breaks these rules, they have to complete a "Think Plan"--this document gives them the opportunity to reflect on their actions and make decisions about how they will make it right. This document has to be signed by them, us, and their families. This year, we have both contract agreements on the document, so they are visible for their reflection.
Click to See the Full Contract (2 sided)
These foundational pieces are critical in our environment. The student voice and choice involved helps set up our community for success. How do you establish community rules? Feel free to sound off below! We'd love to learn with you!

~Angela :)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Learning from Others

Our classroom is a revolving door for students, teachers, parents, administrators, even community members. We love having people pass through our learning environment to check out our space and see the exciting things our students are doing on an hourly basis. I used to be intimidated by having people observe, now I welcome the opportunity. It gives us the chance to showcase our students' amazing effort and share the exciting happenings in T.E.A.M. Togetherness!

Earlier this fall, Angela and I were approached by the Institute @ CESA #1 with the opportunity to participate in a Round Robin. Typically we are the ones with the teachers rotating through, but yesterday Angela and I had the pleasure of touring KM Explore and the F.L.I.G.H.T Academy within Horning Middle School. It's always difficult when both of us are out of our space at the same time, but yesterday was totally worth it. I always walk away from these observations with my head spinning with new ideas- things I can't wait to try with our own students.

Every time we have had the opportunity to meet with other teachers along the personalized learning journey, we learn something new and bring pieces of their world back to our own (I only hope we do that for others as well). Yesterday was no exception! I walked into a Social Studies Seminar at F.L.I.G.H.T. Academy, and after a brief conversation with a very well-spoken middle school girl, I realized this was something I wanted to start in our space. Immediately.

During a 2am feeding of my daughter Piper, I started brainstorming how I could implement "seminars" in our math workshop. We've used a Bullpen (taken from another wonderful classroom model) to offer reteaching or enrichment opportunities, but typically the students participating in the Bullpen are dictated by the teachers in the space. We always have an optional Bullpen for those that feel they're struggling, but it's not as used as we'd like. This morning, after an 8am staff meeting, I ran back to the room, grabbed a white board easel, and started a Seminar Sign Up.

Before our mini lesson, we told the class about our site visits yesterday and explained to our them that Math Seminars would give them an opportunity to advocate for themselves and seek support in a given topic of need or interest. To start, we decided to address learning targets that have come up within our current unit, but explained that in the future we hope to address students' areas of growth, strength, and interest. This morning's focus was on Subtracting Decimals across Zeros and Writing and Solving Open Number Sentences- two areas we felt students could use additional modeling.

It was so rewarding to watch the students race over to sign up for the seminar sessions. By the time 9:45am rolled around we were ready for our first crew. Way to take charge of your learning T.E.A.M. Togetherness! Next up...Socratic Seminar. Stay tuned!

~ Kate

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Final Space

It FINALLY came!!! We have been waiting...and waiting...and waiting for the final piece of furniture to arrive for our amazing space. It arrived today at 3:30...albeit a month late...we'll take it! Check it out! Isn't it amazing? We cannot wait to surprise the kids tomorrow morning with it!

Add caption
Could this horse-shoe piece be ANY cooler?? We are SO excited!
A Little Background...
When Kate and I first began planning this space, our number one priority was the hole in the wall. We knew it would completely change the way we taught and the way the kids viewed our space. It would not longer be my room and Kate's room. That doorway symbolized the transition to our room. Out of everything we asked for in our proposal (and we DID ask for the moon...), that was our number one. Thankfully, we got it!

In addition to the wall and the amazing technology that we use each and every day with our students, we also asked for money to purchase unique and comfortable furniture. We in no way shape or form wanted a "traditional" classroom environment. We wanted cozy. We wanted fun. We wanted choice for our kiddos. We felt that kids being allowed to work where they are most comfortable would significantly help with their engagement and motivation. Unfortunately, we ran into some "bumps" in our wall-tear-down-road. These bumps essentially "bumped" away our furniture budget last summer. Kate and I made due, for sure. We had lots of tables. We found some great, second-hand green hand chairs. We used a fellow teacher's old counter top to turn an old book case into seating. We bought our futon at Walmart. We used some of our grade level budget to buy odds and ends here and there. We spent our own money, for sure. We were even generously gifted another futon and 2 yoga ball chairs by our amazing families. But, we still felt like we could do more
Our awesome second-hand "hand chairs" that sit in our fiction library.
Our fiction library area.
Our nonfiction library area and "quiet zone". This zone is a silent zone at all times. It also houses one of our Wal-Mart futons and a target ottoman.
Our counter top book case that we made with hand-me-down counters.
Don't get me wrong, we were EXTREMELY thankful for all that we were granted last summer. Our year last year was the BEST work of our teaching careers. But we still longed for some fun furniture for our kiddos.

Welcome to Spring 2014. Our truly amazing business manager for our school district came to visit us. I needed to interview him for my then-grad-program. I have always known him to be open minded and a true team player, but I never realized his passion for innovation and unique spaces until that interview. Who ever is fortunate enough to work with a money guy that is totally into school innovation? He truly understands both sides of the educational coin--the financial side, for sure. But he also really thrives on connecting the financial side to best practices. He doesn't believe in spending money if it is not a priority or what is best for kids. For that, and many more reasons, we have immense amounts of respect for him. We are SO incredibly fortunate to have him as part of our administrative team here in Elmbrook! During our interview, he mentioned how he was looking to redesign some under-utilized spaces in some of the elementary school hallways. We chatted casually about the great things he was doing. And he was off. A few weeks later, he approached Kate and I with an amazing proposition. He recognized that we lost our furniture budget the summer before, and he offered to help us obtain some new furniture as part of his redesign project. Who could say no to such an amazing offer! We worked with him and furniture by Staples, and voila! We received some truly amazing pieces that our students absolutely LOVE (and we do, too!). 
We received the blue modular couch and red step modular pieces this summer. It adds a "stadium seating" effect to our space. It is wonderful for whole group mini-lessons, too!

These other red, step pieces are on the opposite side of our space. They are also new this year.
Do you see the fun "minion" chairs at the S-shaped table in the picture? Those are fabric covered yoga ball chairs! They are the most comfortable chairs ever! Also new this fall. The black futon is one of our Wal-Mart beauties from last summer. It held up surprisingly well!

Standing desks with "wiggle" bars at the bottom that we received from our partnership with our OT team! We had these last year, and can't imagine our space without them!
A great "net chair" from Target. And, of course, more "minion chairs" !
We are SO incredibly thankful for our space and the support of our senior leadership. We cannot thank you all enough. Our space is an amazing place to work, but more importantly, it is an amazing place for kids!

What things have you done to rethink your learning space? We'd love to hear the amazing things you have done! 


Monday, September 8, 2014

Weekly Goal Setting & Reflection

We survived our first week! Woo Hoo! It has been SO amazing to loop with our students! We dove in headfirst into our year, and we are already setting weekly week TWO! Wow! Last year, we didn't begin this process until January! It is a tremendous feeling to see how far they have come as reflectors of their own learning!

A Little Background:
During our first week of school, the students set up digital portfolios using a tremendous tool: Weebly for Education (link to our old post on the tool). We gave them a few "Must Do's" for their portfolios (They needed certain tab titles and sub pages), but the rest...they could completely personalize! Some students really went above and beyond!

Some examples of student portfolios
This week, we taught them how to write their weekly goals as a blog post. This was a shift for them from last year when we used a Google Document with a table format. Today, we had a mini-lesson and discussion about how we could incorporate the various parts from last year's goal setting into this new style. We were SO impressed with all that they remembered from last year! 

The "Must Do's" for goal setting?

  • Goals for each subject area
  • The "other" category is optional (or required for some...) that focuses on behaviors/organization
  • They must have a clear goal that has a "why" as part of it
  • Each goal must have 3 action steps...things they will actually do to meet this goal...this is the harder part...we are working on making them "measurable" (wow...sound familiar?? I just did this as part of my building leadership academy!!) 3 might be a stretch for the 2nd week of school...I'll be happy with 2 great ones right now!
  • A reflection must be completed at the end of each week for each goal. Things they could share: progress on action steps, differences they noticed, what went well, what was hard, next steps, etc.

The results? Amazing, thoughtful goals! Granted, many have a little ways to go...but for the second week of school...we couldn't have been more proud! We continually remind ourselves that our kiddos are only 10 and 11 years old--there are ADULTS that can't even do this! :)

How do you set and monitor goals with your students? Feel free to sound off on the comments below! We'd love to hear from you!


Thursday, September 4, 2014

White Board Fun!

Kate and I have been crazy busy updating our space! We are so excited for the great new furniture that we recieved...and the biggest piece is still on its way. We'll be sure to write a post all about it and our thinking behind it once the final piece arrives!

During our reshuffling, we were mulling over our existing tables...what to keep? What to pitch? What to put out in the hallway for the many "scavengers" that would snatch it up in the blink of an eye (we love all of you...and we totally get it! This time of year, furniture is a hot commodity!:)

We were looking over some old tables that we scavenged ourselves last year. How could we make them better? More useful? (Not to mention the fact that they were pretty ugly...) Voila! Enter the fantastic world of white board paint!! Here is what we used:

Click on pic to be directly taken to the Home Depot site...I'm sure you can find it at Menard's or a Lowe's as well! We couldn't believe the price! Such a deal, but we really didn't know what we were getting into.

STEP ONE: Use a very fine sand paper or sand block and scuff up the surface you want to paint. Then clean all of the dust thoroughly off. Make sure it is completely dry!

STEP TWO: Use an indoor primer and a foam or smooth roller to apply it. We used two coats:

STEP THREE: Once the primer is dry (we waited overnight due to the timing of our day), you are ready to apply the white board paint! It works similar to home hair dye...there is the paint can, and an "activator" can. You pour the activator into the paint can and stir thoroughly. Here is where it gets need to apply all coats within ONE HOUR!!! So, be sure to plan accordingly!

Again, you will want use a foam brush or smooth roller to help prevent streaks. It goes on almost watery. I had to "reroll" the lines out a few times. You really get quite a bit from that one box! We painted two old half circle and one trapezoid table...both pretty beat up and out dated. We also painted a new 4 foot round table that we are planning on using during our math workshop  "bull pen" time to help kids see the work easier (along with about a gazillion other uses!) When we got two coats on all three of those tables, we were actually kicking ourselves for not prepping an small rectangular table, too! We would have had plenty!

STEP FOUR: Wait...and wait some more! Because it is a form of epoxy, it will be dry to the touch in a few hours, but need 3 days to "cure." The results? Pure awesomeness!!

The kids love it...and we now have tables that are not only beautiful, but also crazy functional!

Check it out! You won't regret it!


Sunday, August 17, 2014

What is your "Why"?

What is your "Why"?

As the beginning of the year draws closer and closer, I had the great opportunity to be a part of my building's "Leadership Academy" team. This team has representatives from all grades and areas, and we work to look over our building data (yes...I'm a total data geek! I fully admit and accept that fact! :) We, as a team, use this data to set goals for our upcoming school year. Tough, but extremely rewarding work! I look forward to this every summer!

At our first meeting together this summer, my building leaders shared the following video with us to get our gears moving. Their hope was to help us narrow our building "why":
It's a great "oldie, but goodie" and totally worth the 18 minutes. I saw this during my most recent grad program, and it inspired me to get and read the book: Start With Why by Simon Sinek. It's a wonderful and fast read, and it really helps you reflect on your practice.

It's funny how you can see something at different times in your life and it means something different each time. Seeing the video again (even if it was the 10+ time I have seen's that good) in my current situation, it was wonderful to use it to help me reflect on the "why" of our program in T.E.A.M. Togetherness.

What is our "why" in T.E.A.M. Togetherness? I think if it really came down to it, our first and foremost goal is for our kiddos to show growth. Why do we do what we do?--We believe that all kids can grow. But I think it goes deeper than just the word "grow." We want our kiddos to grow:

  • As learners--we want them to know more than they did before.  
I think most teachers would say that. Who wouldn't, right? But I think it goes even deeper than that. We also want them to grow:
  • As collaborators--we want them to grow their skills and strategies in working together
  • As problem solvers--we want them to grow their thinking and attack any problem they are faced with
  • As questioners--we want them to continually ask questions to learn, to challenge their thinking, and to push the thinking of those around them
  • As failures--we want them to be okay with their failures/mistakes. They can work to grow their thinking and learning from those mistakes and setbacks. Fail FORWARD!
  • As reflectors--we want them to grow in their" thinking about their thinking", set goals, and reflect on their progress
  • As 21st century learners--we want them to grow with and understand the digital tools at their fingertips and the responsibilities that go with them
  • As contributors--we want them to grow in the quality of their contributions to our classroom community, as well as in the world they enter outside of our space
  • As the little, wonderful, individual people that they are--we want them to grow in their own confidence, abilities, and understanding/respect of themselves for WHO THEY ARE--to be proud of that--and to know enough about themselves to use their strengths and weaknesses to their advantage throughout our year together--and in their future lives!
Whew!--That's a lot for that one little word--GROW! I'm sure I could keep going. I'm sure that our thinking will change, too, as the year progresses and those little people push our own thinking with their amazing growth! So, to follow Simon Sinek's bullseye completely through (similar to his Apple model):
  • Our "Why": We are a team that believes all students can show growth
  • Our "How": We will provide them with what they need, when they need it, and give them choice and ownership in the process. All this takes place within...
  • Our "What": Our personalized learning environment...Wanna join us?
Our district has an amazing phrase that I feel truly connects to our "why": Every Student. Every Time. All the Time. This year, our school will have this posted in every classroom and connect it to all that we do and communicate. Could there be an even better message?!--I think not! I absolutely LOVE it!

I feel that we, in T.E.A.M. Togetherness, a personalized learning environment, have that full potential to reach "Every Student. Every Time. All the Time." And our "Why"?-- to help our kiddos grow--in the ways that they need, at the times that they need it.

As you start your own year, I challenge you to think of your own "why"--why do you do what you do? Can you communicate it to your families? Your leaders? Your peers? And most importantly: Your students? When you pull out that thing you've "always done, every year, for the last X years"--ask yourself "why"? and does it match with your foundational "why"? Or is it merely a convenient "what"? Could you change it? Could you make it better? Could you scrap it altogether and start with something more meaningful that truly connects to Every Student. Every Time. All the Time? Feel free to comment below with your own "why"--we'd love to learn with you!


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Classroom Response Systems!

Classroom Response Systems (CRS) are a great way to increase student participation and promote active learning in the classroom. Students can submit answers to questions anonymously via some sort of "clicker". A CRS is not only interactive, it's downright fun! I love them because the students do not feel pressure about getting the right answer, plus the students are provided with immediate feedback. You can use a response system, across subject areas, to activate prior knowledge, maintain student attention throughout a lesson or assess comprehension of a concept after the lesson.

Kahoot!: If you're looking for FUN, this is the option for you. Angela and I recently taught a class about personalized learning, and one of the men in our class introduced us to Kahoot! He created a question set and our class had a ball answering the questions on our own device. Teachers can create quick quizzes/surveys or more in-depth questions. The best part of Kahoot! is that the question sets are easy to make and even easier to respond to. When you launch Kahoot! on your classroom whiteboard, students go to, enter their game pin and start playing! They can do this from any device (iPad, iPod, Chromebook, laptop, etc.) There is no need for kids to create an account to play. Students can take on the leadership role by creating their own Kahoots! to share with fellow classmates. Teachers can use the formative assessments to track student understanding and differentiate instruction accordingly. This game-based learning is highly engaging and a ton of fun for students and teachers! It can be timed, untimed, and they have other options, too, to truly differentiate the learning for your students (we all have those kiddos that take a little longer to process that this could be frustrating for otherwise!) Use this at your next PD and your teachers will have a ball!

Senteo Interactive Response System: I have had a set of these "clickers" in my classroom for years. The kids love using them. SMART Notebook allows you to create question pages within a SMART Notebook file. Students can play anonymously or with a log in option. SMART Exchange also allows you to download a variety of question sets all ready for classroom use.

ExitTicket: This was another great "find" from teaching our class this summer! This app is available through the Google Chrome Store and iTunes. In order to respond students need their own technology. Classroom teachers can create question sets for their students and share them with colleagues. As students answer, their responses are tracked without importing or exporting data. They have different types of question sets depending on the teacher's need. I have not personally used ExitTicket yet, but will definitely be playing around with this option this year.

Do you use a classroom response system with your students? If so, share your thoughts, tips, tricks or favorite ideas! If this is a new idea for you, give it a try. You won't be disappointed!

~ Kate

Monday, August 11, 2014

Meet and Greet

It's that time...the clock is ticking...we are inching closer and closer to the day they return! For us in Elmbrook, that day is "Meet and Greet!"

What is "Meet and Greet"? For us, it is a day the week before school starts where the kiddos come in and meet their teachers. They also have the opportunity to drop off their school supplies and have their class pictures taken. It is usually a whirlwind, fast, HOT, and fun! This year will be a refreshing change of pace, as we are looping with our kiddos, so it will be more of a "reunion" versus "introduction." We can't wait to see our friends again as that evening will mark the beginning of another wonderful year together in T.E.A.M. Togetherness!

"Meet and Greet" does take some preparation, though. Kate and I are what some like to call "Type-A" (What?! ME?! Well...her, too :) Our program has really helped us let go of some of that, because we are no longer "in control" 100% of the time (the kids are). But for evenings like "Meet and Greet," some structure is beneficial.

A Checklist. One of the tools we use to help the time flow more smoothly (and it really helps save time on Day 1) is a checklist for where to put everything! Because we work in a community space, our students do not have their own desk or "seat." We share many of our supplies, but students do have blue bins (the ones we use are out of stock, but they give alternative suggestions) that they house their personal belongings in, a locker, as well as a mailbox. This checklist is inside each students mailbox for them to grab upon arrival:
Link to full PDF of the entire list
Get to Know You Survey. Another great tool that we use is Google Forms. At "Meet and Greet", we have some of our Chromebooks set out with a link to a Google Form up on the screen.
Last year before "Meet & Greet" started. We had 15 total computers set up throughout the space.
Google Forms can be used for ANYTHING...surveys...formative assessments...exit tickets...the possibilities are endless! For "Meet and Greet", we use Google Forms for a "get to know you" survey (or in our case this year..."help us update your info" survey). Every time someone fills out the form, their responses are automatically sent to a spreadsheet. This spreadsheet now houses ALL of that great information in one place for you to access! Here is a screenshot of the survey we used last year along with a link. This form was much more descriptive, as it was the first time we were meeting our families.
This year, we modified our form to be more specific and to separate each parent's e-mail. We found that the results will be clearer and easier to navigate. Here is a link to this year's form.

The second week of school, we host a PIN night (Parent Information Night). It is then that we cover specific curriculum items. We'll post more about that fun evening as we get closer.

What do you do for "Meet and Greet"? Do you have any fun tips and tricks to share?


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Digital Portfolios!

Our students' digital portfolios are a place for them to house artifacts that they feel showcase some of their best work. Last year our students started their portfolios using Google Sites.  We created a template for them to use and they did their best to make it their own. The students introduced themselves with an All About Me page and updated their data page throughout the year. Every few weeks we would have a portfolio "dump" and new artifacts would be added.

We heard about Weebly at the Convening Conference put on by the Institute @ CESA 1 last November. Angela and I were pretty established with our classroom website and the students' portfolios, so we didn't think too much about it until this past summer. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been blogging for years, but Google Sites does not come easily to me. I find it difficult to navigate and adding to our website was always cumbersome to me. We felt the same frustration from the kids. Because of that, we were looking for a new platform and remembered that someone had mentioned Weebly.

After playing around with it for 30 minutes I knew that it would not only be a better option for us, but also for our students. There are tons of themes/templates to get you started, and the drag and drop interface makes it very easy for adults and kids to use. If you visit the Weebly for Education site you'll see you can manage multiple student sites from one account and their are a variety of easy to use features. As the teacher, you control what is posted and you can be certain that your students' sites are kept private. I also love that you can easily add text, images, slideshows, audio, links, documents and more!

Since we are looping with our students, and our parents are familiar with our classroom website, Angela and I will be continuing to use Google Sites this year. Next year we will move our website to Weebly. Our students, however, will be recreating their digital portfolios this year using Weebly. Here is a sneak peek at an example of a student portfolio. The students will have the opportunity to make it their own, but they will be expected to include the given tabs across the top. Check back throughout the year for updates on their portfolios. I will be sure to post a few student examples once they're up and running. It'll be a great back-to-school activity within the first few weeks!

~ Kate

We're Blogging!

I'm Kate, the other half of T.E.A.M. Togetherness. I have been writing on my personal blog for the last 8 years, but this is my first attempt at sharing professional tips, tricks, and ideas. When Angela told me we were starting a classroom blog I was over-the-moon excited, but a little nervous too.  For starters, I do not consider myself to be the best writer...I write like a speak, usually too fast, without thinking things entirely through. I don't do well with rough drafts and tend to hit "publish" before I reread. With that said, I will try VERY hard to proofread my posts prior to publication (how's that for alliteration!). 

Rewind. I met Angela in August of 2012. She was new to Elmbrook and Swanson. I saw her at our back to school inservice and immediately introduced myself. I had been teaching in the building for 12 years and couldn't imagine how she'd be feeling walking into a brand new school after having an established career in a neighboring district. From the get-go I knew I liked her. She was approachable and very down-to-earth. Plus, truth be told, she had on a darling pair of Levi's and I had to know their number! As the school year started our days were quickly filled with teaching and I didn't see Angela very often. Swanson is a big school- she taught 2nd grade downstairs and I taught 5th grade upstairs. Now you're probably thinking, big deal, but with a school our size and opposite schedules, you don't often run across people. That year though, I made an effort to get to know her. I found some of her handouts in the copy room and I tracked her down begging her for them. She graciously said "Of course!" and from that moment on I would make weekly visits, soon to be daily visits, down to her room. Her 2nd graders freaked me out a bit (they're so little), but in the same breath my 5th graders intimidated her a tad too. 

Towards the end of the school year I found out I would be leaving 5th grade and moving down to 4th. I had taught many years in 4th grade, but had fallen in love with 5th graders. I was apprehensive and very sad to be making the move, but I trusted my administrator and knew deep down that it would be just fine. Status quo just seemed to be easier at the moment. I remember being in the middle of teaching Social Studies when I looked up and saw Angela standing in my doorway. It wasn't a totally unheard of thing for her to be in my room, but when she asked if she could talk to the hallway or maybe the back of the room, I wondered what in the world was going on. Keep in mind, I was in the middle of teaching thirty 5th graders about the Revolutionary War. I sent them on their way to work and stepped aside to speak to Angela. Little did I know in that moment my entire teaching career would change. A split second decision would turn my professional life upside down and send me on a journey that would grow me in ways I didn't know possible. 

When Angela asked me to embark on this adventure I said yes without any hesitation...I had NO idea what the "Uncommittee" was, I could not comprehend what it was that was going on in her head, and to be quite frank, I barely knew the woman. We had spoken at work, she had shared a few student handouts with me, but it's not like I had known her very long. It didn't matter though. I was thrown back to that first inservice day, when I introduced myself and my gut said, "I like her." With a smile from ear to ear, I walked back into my classroom and continued on with my teaching. 

In the next few weeks, as news of our idea spread throughout the staff, I was faced with a lot of people who were apprehensive and questioned my decision. One teammate kept asking me if I knew what I was getting myself in to. My response every time was, "No, I have no idea...but I don't care. It's going to be great. I just know it." Now, as we start Year Two, I am confident saying that it was THE BEST decision I have made professionally. My excitement for teaching is back and I look forward to teaching each day. I have grown so much as a teacher over the last year, and I am confident that this year will be even better! 

Thank you, Angela for asking me to join you on this journey! I am forever grateful. 

~ Kate

The Birth of a T.E.A.M.

Now that we've started this blogging journey, we should probably back up a little to the "birth" of T.E.A.M. Togetherness.

After 11 years of teaching in one amazing district, I had the tremendous fortune of joining my current district. I have tremendous respect for the new senior leaders and would follow them anywhere. When they took their new positions, I, too, applied, and was accepted.

In January of 2013, our senior leadership developed a new initiative called "The Uncommittee." The purpose was to rethink instructional practices and explore innovation. They invited teachers from throughout the district to be a part of the first cohort. We partnered with the amazing Jim Rickabaugh at The Institute at CESA #1, and visited schools and districts around us that were successfully implementing personalized learning. We observed, learned, and brainstormed our own ideas to bring to our district. In April, we were given the opportunity to write our own proposals for funding.

I approached Kate with my hair-brained idea, and without hesitation, she agreed. She didn't know details. She didn't know the plan. She simply trusted me and agreed. I can never thank her enough for that. From that one encounter, our partnership was born.

Our Plan
We teach in a very traditional district. Change was going to be tough. Sometimes unwelcome. Sometimes viewed by others as "crazy." Knowing that, we decided to go as "crazy" as possible!
1. Knock down a wall between two classrooms to create one shared learning space
2. Share 50+ 4th graders
3. Recreate the space to not include desks or seating for each student. Include unique layouts that provide alternative seating options for students to choose from
4. One-to-one technology via Google Chromebooks
5. Utilize inquiry, project-based learning, collaboration, and student interest to drive instruction
6. Students share and reflect upon learning using digital portfolios and weekly goal setting.
7. and more!
The wall finally came down mid-August 2013
The summer of 2013 was spent planning, stressing, planning some more, meeting with our new 4th grade team, stressing, and finally stressing. Communication with families was critical, but we will save that for a future blog post.

Ultimately, it all came together (by the skin of our teeth) and we met our 50 wonderful darlings at the end of August.

We have so much to share about our first year in T.E.A.M. Togetherness (which, of course, I won't do all in one post!) The ups, the downs, and the in betweens. We are now looping with our kiddos to 5th grade for the 2014-2015 school year. We will be continuing our journey and sharing our work. Thanks for learning along with us.