Friday, December 21, 2012

4c: Communicating with Families with an Open House Video

At Open House in my school district I have 7 minutes to explain my class to the parents before the next class comes in. I was always afraid to forget something crucial so a couple years ago I took photos throughout the year and then created an Open House Video. Every year I tweak it slightly but this is the video I showed last year.

I also post it on my school website so parents or guardians who could not attend can still watch the video.
originally posted on

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

2b: Establishing a Culture for Learning and 3a: Communicating with Students with Online Teaching

Or should I title this: "What could be learned from Online Teaching"?
I'd like to give you a glimpse into my online classroom

and real life classroom.

    I started teaching 16 years ago and taught in a very traditional way for most of that time. I did incorporate cooperative learning and group projects here or there but for the most part I did a traditional lecture from the overhead projector because that was the most efficient way to cover/teach the material. In 2007 I made the transition from the overhead projector to a SmartBoard (interactive white board). This allowed me to use some interactive games with my students but only one student at a time could come up to the board and play the game. Often the students did not want to get up in front of their peers and look foolish as they were playing the game so that was only slightly useful. In  January 2010 I attended a three day Moodle workshop at our local Erie 1 BOCES (Boards of Cooperative Educational Services). I was slightly interested in this new online tool called a Moodle. I actually thought it would be useful only because I wanted to have a website where I could put all of my teaching resources that would be locked down so from outsiders. I wanted to have a place where my stuff would only be available if I wanted to share with someone. Unknowingly, attending that workshop changed my teaching career and my student's scores on the Regents Exam. In the past my students always did very well on the Exam (I had only 1 student fail the exam in 5 years).
     In future blog posts I will address all of the different online tools that I use in my classroom but in this post I want to talk about Notes; or, what we call in the online class; Extreme Notes.

     The online learning platform that I use is called Moodle
 (Angel and BlackBoard are some other examples of online learning platforms)

What I love most about the Moodle online teaching platform is the "Lessons" activity. What this tool allows me to do is as follows:
     I create videos of me teaching the notes. I purposely make them no more than 3-5 minutes long. (I use  
Jing Project

a Bamboo Tablet

and Keynote 

on my MacBook to create the videos but you could use

 a SmartBoard or other Interactive White Board

or a video camera and PowerPoint also.)
 I also scour the previous Regents exams (online at: ) for questions that relate to content and I find YouTube videos that reinforce the concepts I want the students to understand. I then put them into the lesson.
This is how the Extreme Notes works: the students watch a short video and copy the notes (they can pause and review if they need to). They copy down the notes into their binders.

 They then may watch a YouTube video that I have selected to reinforce the concept. Then they are asked a Regents level question. If they answer it correctly, they move on. If they answer it wrong, they are given a lower level question about the same concept...usually to evaluate whether or not they know the vocabulary. If they get that wrong, they go back to the video.  If they get that right, they go back to the Regents question to give it another shot.

The entire process of creating what was a 40 minute lesson takes over 4 times as long to create but there are many benefits that make it worth the effort if you can find the time. When I recorded my videos I taught all four sections of my class the lesson face-to-face then during my prep period at the end of the day I would turn off my lights, lock the door and hide in the corner and record the lessons so I wouldn't be interrupted. Once interrupted, you have to start over. After the videos are created the work is not over, each lesson has to be planned out so the videos, Regents Questions, basic questions, and the sequencing has to be mapped out and put into place. I was on the computer so much at home that my husband coined a new term for me: "A mouse-potato" (similar to a couch potato...but I was always on the computer).

     Here are the main benefits I have found for teaching the content online:
Benefit #1: I no longer have to teach that concept four times in the same day. Although we often make changes to adapt to each classes interests and class discussions, you have to admit that your lessons are still 95% the same in every class. Every time I was lecturing the old way I was thinking to myself that there has to be a better way to do this.
Benefit #2: Because I am not directly lecturing each class for at least 4 times a day...I don't lose my voice in November anymore. In the past I could almost predict down to the day of the year when I would have laryngitis but not anymore.
Benefit #3: I am not distracted by signing a pass, a student who is trying to do their math homework, a student with uncontrollable hiccups, a fire drill, a student trying to get the class off task, etc. I remember exactly what I want to say and exactly when I want to say it and every class gets exactly the same instruction.
Benefit #4: I now am able to assist all of my students when they are confused with something in a way that I couldn't when I was the soul source of information in the classroom. I am now my own classroom aide.
Benefit #5: My students can go through the notes at their own pace. In the past it was a struggle to keep the fast writers engaged while waiting for the slow writers to catch up. Now they can pause the video, copy what they need and listen to the video. Some students also have a problem listening to the explanations while writing. Now they can write then listen, write then listen, etc.
Benefit #6: The students can watch the videos as many times as they want without "looking stupid." They can even download them on to their iPods or iPhones and watch them anywhere to study. I had a girl in my class last year who would watch the videos on her phone while doing her hair in the morning.
Benefit #7: They can access the lessons from anywhere in the world if they have an internet connection. So now if they are on home instruction or on a family vacation, they are still a part of our class and do not miss anything going on in class.
Benefit #8: In the past, I would ask a question to the entire class and it was challenging to get all students to think about the question and come up with an answer. Although there are some ways to get more engagement from the students most often one student would answer the question and we would move on. It was tough to get all of the class to participate in their learning by thinking. By 9th grade they had become skilled in question avoidance (by not looking the teacher in the eye, letting the one student answer, and letting the class move on without them). Now, each student has to answer the questions by themselves. They can use their notes, and take the amount of time that they personally need to process the information.

     At any one time in my classroom there are 24 different students at 24 different places in the unit. They may be on the same assignment as somebody near them but they are at a different part of that assignment. No longer do they have somebody right next to them with the answers. They all have to do the work themselves.

     This in itself have been a huge game-changer for some students. At the beginning of the year some students will resist this new method of instruction. Not because it's new, not because it's harder, but really because they have to be engaged all of the time. It is most beneficial to students who have learning problems, processing issues, and low reading scores because they now can take the time they need to be fully engaged and to learn the material at their own pace. They also can now ask the teacher questions without the entire class noticing that they may not know something and they are more apt to do so.

originally posted at

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

2b Establishing a Culture for Learning, 3a Communicating with Students, 3d Using Assessment in Instruction with a Unit Learning Plan

     This year I have been going crazy with eDoctrina.
For those of you who haven't heard of eDoctrina before, I blogged about it here, but in a nutshell it is a data management system that was locally created in the Buffalo, NY area and I can see it being the next great tool in education.
     In the past teachers have been able to get item by item feedback about a test question by using scan forms such as Scantron and we have been able to see end of the year data correlated to the State Standards but that was it.  With eDoctrina the teacher can get feedback about each student individually, each class, each test or quiz question, all linked to the standards. I am a nut for data and helping my students so I am definitely hooked on this program.
     Don't get me wrong, this doesn't do the work for you. It still requires a LOT of work upfront on the part of the teacher but once the bulk of the work is put in, it is ready to use in future years and teachers can share with one another very easily.
     One of the first tasks is "unpacking the standards." I had never heard this term before last year but this is how I now understand it: when you "unpack the standards" you take the very wordy standards and put them into student-friendly terms.

For example this New York State Living Environment Standard:
     4.1f The structures and functions of the human female reproductive system, as in almost all other   mammals, are designed to produce gametes in ovaries, allow for internal fertilization, support the internal development of the embryo and fetus in the uterus,and provide essential materials through the placenta, and nutrition through milk for the newborn.

Would be unpacked into these student-friendly standards:
  • I can identify the location of the ovaries.
  • I can identify the location of the placenta. 
  • I can identify the location of the uterus. 
  • I can identify the function of the ovaries.
  • I can identify the function of the placenta.
  • I can identify the function of the uterus.
  • I can list the materials that are exchanged at the placenta.
  • I can explain the direction of the movements of certain materials across the placenta.
After the standards have been unpacked for a unit, a student learning plan can be created. Today as my students came into class they picked up the Learning Plan for the current unit and three different colored pencils a green, yellow, and red.

 Here is a link to My Reproduction and Development Learning Plan in my Google Drive

At their seats independently they went through each Standard or Skill and indicated their own level of knowledge for that skill.
          Green = I know this very well.
          Yellow = I know a little about this but I need to learn more.
          Red = I haven't learned this yet.

I also gave them where in the notes they would find each of these skills. This way they can be certain to fill in the gaps to their learning by the unit test.

I plan to create one for the next unit with a self assessment before the unit, and after the unit so the students can keep it in their binders and be able to compare the learning that occurred throughout the unit.

Originally posted on

Monday, December 3, 2012

Teacher Gifts: A Melted Snowman Ornament

     Here's another great idea that I found on Pinterest

     Every year at this time I'm looking for an easy craft so the boys can make christmas presents for their teachers.  The true challenge is finding something that they can make (with a little help of course) and something that isn't too expensive because we like to include all of their teachers including the art, music, and phys. ed teachers, etc.  Overall, we came up with 15 teachers that we needed gifts for.
     The original posting of this craft that I saw was on the blog:

     Here is how we made the ornaments
     We used Fimo soft to make the carrots.

     Make sure that you buy the "SOFT" because the regular is very hard for little hands to manipulate.

     The boys made the carrots and Princess Leia helped (well, she wanted to)

     We put the carrots on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and put them in a 275 degree oven for 20 minutes.

     The only other materials you need are salt (for the snow) and whole peppercorns (for the eyes and mouth.

I had the boys take turns holding the plastic ornaments ($1 at AC Moore) while I poured the salt. 

Then they added 7 peppercorns and the carrot nose. They decided that 7 seemed to be the right number to represent the eyes and the mouth.

     Overall, it was a very successful craft thanks to Pinterest and since the ornaments are plastic I don't have to worry about the boys breaking them on their way to school.  What have you found on Pinterest?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

1c: Setting Instructional Outcomes with a Kinesthetic Tree Identification Lab

     Often in a high school classroom students are sitting. Six and a half hours of sitting with small 5 minute bursts of exercise to get from class to class. I don't know about you but it makes my rear end hurt just thinking about it. So whatever I can do to get my students up and walking around I do it. It keeps the kinesthetic learners more engaged and the students love interacting with one another. I'm fortunate to teach biology which lends itself to laboratory activities and hands on activities that really get all students engaged. One such lab is The Tree Maze (from the Arbor Day Foundation). Here is a link to the lab:

In the lab it gives you a "walking dichotomous key" which are full sheets of paper that you tape up around the room.

You could bring in tree branches for the students to use but I instead printed and laminated cards with pictures of the leaves, bark, seeds, etc of various trees for the students to identify.

tree information cards
The students work in pairs to identify the tree species. Sometimes they need to make a judgement call, and might need to backtrack if they make an error.

They write down their findings in the log
I find this lab works really well for those kinesthetic learners in class who need to get up and move around.

Originally posted on