Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wordless Wednesday - iPad Apps

I love this Wordless Wednesday linky
hosted by Mrs. Decarbo! 
My DonorsChoose project was funded and I'm SUPER excited to say that my students will have iPads in their classroom next year!!!!!
One problem.
I have no idea what the best apps are! S.O.S.!!!! I've googled of course, but I'd rather hear from the teachers themselves.
What apps are most effective in your classroom?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

20 Tidbits From a Career-Change Teacher

I remember the day I decided to change my life and become a teacher. Something clicked that day and I knew in that moment that I was going to make it happen! The thought of leaving the production industry behind had crossed my mind many times before but I was always too afraid to make a change (a light background about me: I worked in video/event production starting as an intern in high school until I was 25). I researched and mentally planned how I would leave a job I really didn't love to chase my teaching dreams, but it wasn't until after I had my daughter that I got the courage to become an educator. AND YOU GUYS! I can't believe I waited so longI am going on my third year as a teacher this coming Fall (2015) and I still have to pinch myself sometimes. I feel so much pride when answering the question, "What do you do?" Of course there are hard days, just like any other job, but when you find your passion you just know and I consider myself fortunate to have found mine. Okay, enough babbling!

If you're like me, and you're thinking about changing your career path and becoming a teacher, this (not so) little blog post could be for you. I'm no expert but I want to share what I've experienced so, without further adieu... 

I've come up with 20 tips for you to consider on your journey to the classroom.
#1 Ah-ha Moment
When you realized you wanted to become an educator did you feel like a light bulb went off? Did you feel completely sure that this was the right choice for you? If you envisioned yourself instructing a class and thought THIS MAKES SENSE! or if the thought of getting the key to your first classroom made you feel totally-crazypants-batty-excited... this teaching thing might be for you. I guess what I'm trying to say is, there will be moments that test your patience but if you're passionate about your decision, you'll be just fine.

Last day of my first year!

#2 More Than Just a Job
If you're thinking of becoming a teacher, you probably already know that it isn't your average 9-5. I don't mean to toot my own horn TOOT TOOT but being a teacher is an amazing thing. It's an important job and I have so much respect for all teachers and look up to so, so many of them! When I worked in production I met a lot of interesting people and worked on some great projects. I had fun! With teaching, you will have so much more than fun. You will have days where your lessons went so perfectly that the day just flew by, you'll have students that will be super difficult to reach, insanely early mornings, awesome cafeteria French fries ... but mostly you'll have an undeniable sense that you can make a difference, even if small, in someone's life.  DAILY.  Not all professions have such a privilege.  

On set, 2009.

#3 Must Like Kids
Captain Obvious, here. If you're not really into kids on the whole, teaching might not be for you. Seems obvious but if you don't enjoy spending the better part of your day with people younger than you, teaching will be a rough transition. You're more than entitled to prefer adults to the latter. NO judgment here! But if that is the case, probably best to keep out of the classroom. Just try to envision yourself tying 13 different kids' shoelaces a day and see if it makes your eye twitch or not. Fail proof test.

#4 Volunteer and Sub A LOT
If you don't have an education degree, chances are you haven't had much experience in a classroom on the other side of the desk. Substituting and volunteering at schools is a great way to get to know the campuses around you, the faculty, principals, and if you enjoy being in the classroom. Subbing is the teacher equivalent of frat house hazing. Sink or swim, my friend.

#5 Know Your District
What are the demographics? What curriculums are used? Has Common Core been implemented? You'll need to have at least a basic understanding of what your district expects and how it operates.

#6 Connections

I found getting interviews wasn't as easy as I hoped it would be. If you have little to no experience, principals will probably pass on your resume. If you have any friends or family in the school system, now's the time to ask for a favor! Getting your foot in the door is more than half the battle. If you really want to be a teacher,  you'll do your homework and you'll ace the interview... but first you've got to get it!

#7 Be Forever a Student

As a teacher, you'll be required to attend all types of professional development to learn new best practices, new strategies, curriculum, etc. You'll constantly need to be learning on your own time too if you want to stay ahead of the game. This is an area I need to improve on but here are a few books I've read that have given me some perspective:

#8 Enjoy Education
There are a lot of opportunities other than just your school to meet like minded teachers. There is a world of forums and communities where teachers share and connect, and discuss important (and maybe not so important!) topics :) Have a hand at making some of your own classroom materials. Decorate your classroom so you love being there. Make the most of this new and exciting community!

#9 Get Ready to Keep TONS of Data
If there's one demand I've encountered as a teacher it is organizing my paperwork! There are whole Pinterest boards dedicated to this art form. Papers to grade, copies to make, forms of all kinds... it's crazy. You'll need to make organization a priority if you want to stay sane!

My dining room table.

#10 The P Word
Your first parent-teacher conference will probably give you anxiety! It can be very intimidating in the beginning. One of my favorite quotes to remember is "Every child in your class is someone's whole world." Remember that and always be kind, prepared, and honest. If you're lucky you'll have a lot of parents that want to work as a team to help their child succeed, but it's not a perfect world and there will be instances where you realize that this area is one of the harder parts of the gig. As a parent myself, I try to understand how other parents feel. If you try to put yourself in mom or dad's shoes, you'll have a much better working relationship with the 'rents.

#11 Have a Team Mentality
Teachers are collaborative by nature I think. So many are willing to share their resources, their insight, and their expertise. Bringing that willingness to your grade team is important. 

#12 Get into it!
You will have so many opportunities to engage and excite your students through learning. There are soooo many amazing ideas out there for every topic in every subject. Putting the extra effort in to find and implement new ideas in your own way usually pays off. 

#13 Play The Part
You're going to make mistakes. You're going to learn from them and you're going to move on! Just like any job, the best experience comes from experiencing it. Teaching is no different. Have confidence in yourself as a new teacher! Don't let the fact that you don't have an education degree fool you. "Withitness" is often just as valuable in this profession.
#14 Find a Mentor or Mentors
One of the coolest things about teaching is this: You can learn amazing things from newbies and veterans alike. Most of the teachers in your school will have something to offer. Everyone's classrooms are different, everyone's had different successes and failures. Make it a point to meet people in your school, especially those willing to help you grow.

#15 Ask 1 Million Questions
Be resourceful but don't be afraid to ask for help! You're new to this and there will be a lot of unfamiliar territory. There will be many times you'll learn through trial and error and that's okay! That's the best way to learn but when you can, ask ahead. 

#16 Collaborate at Every Opportunity
If you have a great idea and think it could work for your whole grade level, share it! If you found an amazing resource that worked like a charm in your classroom SHARE it!

#17 Be Willing to Do A LOT of Paperwork 
We talked about keeping track of paper work but we haven't even gotten to filling it out. IEPs, PMPs, 504s, GIEPs. Learn your acronyms... and get a really cute pen you like writing with. You might even want to get one of those hand work-out things. The ones you squeeze. I'm kidding. Am I?

Coffee is your friend.

#18 Study
Passing your teaching exams isn't as easy as some people will tell you. You will need to study! Research your state's test and see if you can find study guides and practice tests. I bought a book on Amazon that aligned with my certification exams and I found a study guide that I added tons and tons of notes from said book to. I brushed up on math that I hadn't done for years and grammar rules you might forget from too much texting! Seriously.

#19 Be Grateful

You'll get your first job and you'll be so excited! You also better be ready to hit the ground running! Teaching is a special profession. When there's clearly a full moon because your class is in rare form or the copy machine has jammed for the 7th time at 5 o'clock on a Friday... Repeat that to yourself. Teaching is one of the hardest and best things you'll ever be lucky enough to do. 
Crazy kids!
You get to work with kids all day! They're, like, known for being the most fun!
I know this was long! Thanks for sticking with me.
I'd love to hear your take on these teaching tidbits!

Friday, April 17, 2015

GradeCam: A Quick Summary

If you're interested in exploring GradeCam, think of this post as a starting point.  There are video tutorials and webinars available if you have time to watch them but if you're like me, you just want to understand the bones of a program and then unleash your mouse clicking skills onto it. I usually click every. single. button. until I figure out how a program works. This is not the most refined approach I admit, but I've learned many programs just from exploring them!

I debated even posting this watered-down "tutorial" because I haven't used GradeCam in my classroom yet (I'm on maternity leave you see). However, you don't need to have used the program with an actual assessment to understand its usefulness. You'll see what I mean when you start clicking around. So, let's get to the bones of GradeCam. I've compiled what I think are the most important things for you to know to get started.

What do you actually use GradeCam for?
GradeCam is basically a glorified scan tron grading system. It allows you to gather data from your students instantly without ever having to use a red pen to grade. The program is web based which means it is hosted on a webpage. You create an account on the website, free or paid.  GradeCam allows you to grade your students via the GradeCam version of a scantron by simply holding up the student's answer sheet in front your web cam or document camera (I have heard of people using iPads and iPhones but I've also heard there are glitches with these devices being used as cameras). The camera scans the worksheet simultaneously inputting the child's score. Once you've scanned all your kids answers, you will have a complete list of their data for that particular assessment.

Here's what the GradeCam form looks like:
Very much like a scan tron right? You create the answer key within the program on this form and you also administer your test with it. You access this form by going to the Forms tab. You can print it from there as well. But we're getting ahead of ourselves!

Before you can use GradeCam to collect your test results, you will need to create your class list. GradeCam gives each of your kids a student number, which will need to be bubbled onto their test form. You could also use your own numbers or import a class list with numbers (I haven't imported but there are video tutorials out there that will show you how!). GradeCam also has this cool feature that allows you to print forms with the student numbers already bubbled in for each student. This works well for younger grades! You can create your class list under the Classes tab. You can also have multiple classes which is great if you're departmentalized or if you teach middle or high school. 

Once you have a class list, you can create your assignment. Go to Assignments>Create
You'll name it, assign the amount of questions, the date given, and manually input your answer key. 

You can also print your forms from here with or without the student numbers by clicking the button that says Forms (on the main Key screen). Super easy!

Once your answer key is inputted you're ready to start scanning the students' forms. You just hold each bubbled in test form in front of the camera and the results will be inputted. You can also change the view to Student View and let your kids scan their own tests without seeing their peers' scores.

Student View option

Once all of your kids' tests have been scanned in, you're ready to analyze the data. Click Summary to see the results. This is where I think GradeCam is very useful. You can actually see data by TEST QUESTION! I can see this data being very handy for Learning Team Meetings where we try to pinpoint areas of weakness and strengths of our students.

To sum up...
Step 1: Create an account
Step 2: Create or import your class list and student numbers 
Step 3: Create an assignment (you'll be prompted to set up/install your camera once your answer key is completed)
Step 4: Scan student forms 
Step 5: Analyze your data 

Miscellaneous Tips

  • If you'd like to alter your forms simply go to the Forms tab and click Advanced Options. You can change the format from letters (ABCD) to numbers for example. You can also enlarge the form.  
  • Installing your camera should be very easy. You'll be prompted to install your camera within the assignment tab, after you fill in your answer key. There's a simple install process and your camera should easily link to the program. If it doesn't... I can't help you here unfortunately. There is a help page of course within the webpage and this company seems to be pretty grass roots, so I don't think it would be hard to get someone on the phone if you needed assistance.
  • You can change your answer key even after the test has been given and results have been scanned in.
  • You can assign Common Core Standards to individual questions when you are creating the key for your exam.
  • With the free version of GradeCam, you can only create ten question exams.
  • You can use your document camera as a camera supposedly. I haven't tried it but this is what I am hoping will work in my classroom since I don't have a laptop with a camera and my school PC doesn't have a camera. The GradeCam website lists all compatible doc cams.

Overall, I think this program is awesome for collecting on the spot data and for testing one or two standards. I don't see how it could work for extended response questions but maybe I'm  just not thinking outside the box. As a data collection tool, it seems wonderful. You could use GradeCam to grade homework in the morning and give feedback then and there! You could use it for exit tickets as well.

I hope this short summary helps you if you decide to check out GradeCam. I do think it could be a really useful tool! If you have any insight on this program, please share in the comments!

*I'm not affiliated with GradeCam in any way.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Currently April 2015

I have to return from maternity leave for the LAST two weeks of school. Should be terrifying! I had a rowdy group this year but the last two weeks of school could turn even the most docile bunch into a barrel of monkeys. To save myself from drowning in the madness, I've been trying to come up with activities and ideas to keep the kids interested those final days of the school year.
Last year, another teacher and I joined forces to create a fun couple of days for the kids with our Minute to Win it School Edition. It was a huge hit and I will definitely be preparing for that again this year! What activities do you do the last weeks of school?
I'm also loving this linky! Check out what everyone is up to via Oh Boy 4th Grade by clicking the picture. Here's my Currently for the lovely month of April:

Have a great holiday weekend!