A Bit About Me

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2013 New Year's Resolution

As the new year approaches, I find myself reflecting. However, before I become knee-deep in my reflections on the many trials, tribulations, successes, failures, accomplishments and challenges, I'm deciding to take a slightly backwards approach by first taking on the task of developing my New Year's Resolution.

With each year, we set out with a list of resolutions, some general and some specific. By posting my own resolutions in this format, it will serve as a constant reminder to continuously work towards bettering myself as both a person and as a professional.

5 Resolutions for 2013

1.    I will eat out no more than once a week (that includes Starbucks). 
*Minor edit: Spend no more than $10 a week on food and drink that I don't make myself.
Eating out in general costs money. And, with the looming "fiscal cliff" there's no telling how much money will eventually be lost. Thus, refraining from eating out or ordering in as often, will slightly offset any impending debt that has yet to be seen. Besides the financial factor, let's take a look at the nutrition factor. Being a regular fruit picker (blueberries, strawberries, cherries, etc.), I've always enjoyed the "fruits" of my labor. The same concept could and should be applied to food that one cooks herself. Diverging from the financial and overall good feeling benefits, there is one last area that is effected by this resolution. The children. Eating lunch at work, a few students are bound to pop into the room. If I'm caught eating nothing more than a candy bar or a bag of chips, then what message does that send to the youth. They already notice what I wear and the color of my nail polish, so one can only assume that they're also noticing what I'm eating. Thus, if I'm eating a Twix bar and a bag of potato chips, I'm practically saying, "This is what meals are supposed to look like". With the various eating-based epidemics proliferating throughout society, I'd rather be on the good and healthy end than on the high cholesterol end.

2.    I will compete or participate in one athletic race or event each month. 
Just last month, I participated in a Girls on the Run race as a running buddy for one of my 4th graders. I'm embarrassed to admit this but the fact is that even though the race was only a 5K, I found myself getting winded a bit too easily. In the end, our dynamic duo was the first from our school to cross the finish line, but that doesn't cover up the fact that I found it hard to breath and move both during and after the race. By becoming active and physically fit, I'm essentially showing my students that these are two positive traits that they should aspire to. In this world infiltrated by technology and television, it's important to remember the usefulness of physical activity and to instill those same ideologies in today's youth. 

3.    I will read one book each week.
With literacy remaining as one of our nation's weakest content areas, I believe that it is vital that as educators, we READ. A love of reading is something that is developed through much practice. That same love and desire is one that students need to acquire in order to improve their literacy. By doing my part in reading a book a week, I'm able to honestly tell my students that, yes, adults read. Also, by reading some of the books that are now on the required reading lists for high school, it gives me a better idea of what levels of understanding the students should be striving toward.

4.    I will keep each of my email address inboxes down to no more than 50 messages at all times.
Having two weeks off for Winter Break has given me a lot of TIME. Too much, almost. Over time, I've discovered that I'm one of those people who gets extremely antsy when there is only nothing left on the To Do List. This week though, I've realized that I've been completed bombarded by hundreds of emails that I've never found the time to read or sort. That poses a major problem for a neat freak like me. In the last week, I've successfully cleaned up one Inbox, and am working to clean up two more Inboxes by midnight tomorrow night. Through this cleaning, I've learned that it's easier to stay current when you actually take the time to read email on the DAY that it comes in. Hence, the origination of a lot of my tweets for the last few days.
5.    I will create more PBL learning experiences. 
As a huge proponent of project-based learning, it is my belief that one is able to do a better job of educating the whole student by creating projects that reflect their understanding of and application of taught and learned skills. This creates an exciting opportunity for a new, school-wide initiative that might just work. Teaching technology, I only see each class for 30 minutes once a week. Under normal circumstances this would pose as a major problem. However, in working with classroom teachers, this dilemma can be overcome. 
Most of my projects for the remainder of this school year will focus on Digital Literacy. Last night, I met a college librarian. We had a great talk of the Digital Literacy problems that college students are currently facing as they fail to correctly find information, format papers, or cite sources [or, in a lot of cases, ALL of the above]. In my academic opinion, this is a complete disgrace. Every student who is a product of the 21st Century should be able to effectively research and extract useful information from sources. They should be able to type a paper with proper formatting that contains no spelling or grammatical errors. Last, and most importantly, today's students should be able to correctly cite sources! 
Growing up, I remember having to do all of the above, and that was back when the word processing software was Microsoft Works. There is no reason as to why these basic Digital Literacy skills shouldn't or can't be taught to today's students starting as young as say 1st and 2nd grade. I'm already brewing up some great PBL opportunities for Black History Month and plan to creating additional PBL opportunities to help roll out my school's new recycling program. 

So, I'm now realizing that this list of resolutions is short. Yet, in the brevity, oftentimes there is clarity and focus. In addition to the above resolutions that I plan to work towards, I also plan on creating various iPad apps, finishing the writing of my book, building my PLN, and traveling to some foreign country just to name a list. However, I refuse to specify those here as they belong on a To-Do list, not a resolutions list. 

Resolution: a formal expression of opinion, will or intent

What's yours?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Graphing and the Common Core, Pt. 2

I've recently jumped onto the DropBox bandwagon, and cannot even begin to describe how much I LOVE this file sharing technology tool. Now, I can grade assignments from home as opposed to logging onto each individual netbook to assess my students' work.

Below is the continuation and conclusion of the Microsoft Excel lesson that I began blogging about last month. Keep in mind that these lessons are designed for 30 to 40 minute long class periods, and that the complete lesson of creating a data table and graphing it could easily be accomplished within a 60-minute class period.

Graphing in Microsoft Excel

Phase One 
The first step in this lesson is to have students open their saved files. Based on the operating system and technology platform this could be a simple task, or it could be extremely time-consuming. In my situation, it was the latter primarily due to the lack of a clearly defined "Start" button on the Windows operating system. 

Students become so comfortable with the process of clicking something once to get it to open, so its important that you practice opening files on their computers in order to clearly direct them to click or double-click to access and open their file.

Phase Two
The actual process of generating a graph will vary based on your operating system and the version of Microsoft that you are using. My classes use Microsoft 2010. [Yet my work laptop uses Microsoft 2007 and my personal Mac uses Microsoft 2011]

Once the students have their data table files open, have them select the data by one of two methods:

1.   Click, hold and dragging through the cells with data 

or, my professional preference 

2.   Have them select the cell containing data in the upper-left corner of the table. Hold the 'shift' key 
      and use the arrows on the keyboard to select the cells containing data in the table.

Regardless of the process used, once the table is selected (all except for the starting cell, which will remain white), the mouse clicker or the 'shift' key can be released.

When the table is highlighted, all of the selected cells will be blue with the exception of the first one selected, as is shown in the image above.

Proceeding to Phase Three without properly completing Phase Two will lead to a blank graph as is shown below:


Phase Three
**Reminder:  The following directions apply to Microsoft 2010. Every version varies slightly. 

With the table selected, you will choose the 'Insert' option in order to create a graph. When teaching this, correlate the word 'Insert' with the action of including something on the spreadsheet.

Before allowing students to choose a graph, lead a brief 3 to 5 minute discussion on what type of data could be displayed in each type of graph. Make sure that students understand that a pie graph displays percentages or parts of a whole, as this is a concept that will surely be taught in their math classes and that will definitely be seen on standardized exams. 

Once the students demonstrate an understanding of the uses for the different types of graphs, allow them to graph. 

***When discussing the different types of graph, direct students to choose graphs where the colors in the graph don't touch. More often than not, the graphs with touching colors will generate graphs that do not properly replicate the data found in the data table. See the example below:


From here, the students will undoubtedly have fun exploring the many different graph colors, designs and so much more. 

Phase Four
For assessment purposes, I laid out the following guidelines for students:

1.   Choose a graph that relates to the information being graphed.
2.   Include a Chart Title.
3.   Include an axis label that describes what the numbers represent.

With the great quantity of time in this particular lesson committed to student exploration, I waited until everyone had made a graph prior to explaining the process of making titles and labels.

In this portion of the lesson, it is important to explain to students that the button below the 'down' button is referred to as the 'more' button, and that if they choose that option then they will see ALL of the options of that particular category.

It is also important to explain that the cursor must be blinking before they press 'backspace', because if not the text box will disappear altogether, as can be seen in the following example:


And, last, but not least...YES...you can type sideways.

Below are some of the end products from this lesson. Let's see if you can figure out who earned an A+.












Sunday, December 9, 2012

Keyboards for Kindergarten

This week, I'm really looking forward to seeing my kindergarten classes. For the last couple of months, (seeing each class for only one 30-minute period a week) we've been working on the various mouse functions:
1.  Click
2.  Double-click
3.  Click and drag (a.k.a "click-drap-drop")

They've completed activities like drawing pictures of plants on Paint software, clicking and dragging letters to match the capital with the lowercase in order to create a rainbow, and using Audacity recording software to record a line of their group's poem.

Now, they get to "play games". In order to get these young students to become more efficient with identifying written letters and using the keyboard, I happened to have tripped upon this game that requires students to find and press letters on the keyboard in a timed setting. On ABCya's Typing Rocket Game, students have to press the letter key that corresponds to the letter that they see on the rocket ship on the screen. Every time they get one right, the rocket (which looks more like a firework) explodes.

It's pretty entertaining, and disguising this keyboard familiarity building activity as a game makes it such an easy sell to any class.

The next step will be to incorporate Keyboarding Zoo, a more elaborate activity that requires the students to press one letter of the alphabet multiple times before moving on to the next ordinal letter.

Monday, December 3, 2012

First Grade Lesson: Usernames and Sight Word Practice

Just last week, I completed this really awesome first grade lesson that combined the creation of safe usernames with a fun, sight word game. I cannot even begin to describe how great it was, but, I'll give it a try.

For the first part of the lesson, we discussed the importance of Internet Safety and Privacy. We reviewed the previously taught lessons on information that should be kept private (name, phone number, address, school, birthdate, etc.). Next, we discussed the process of creating usernames based on some of the students' favorite things (like their favorite colors, words, animals, pet names and numbers). After writing a few demo usernames on the board, students were given a pencil and an index card where they were to write down their own unique username. This is where the fun began!

I gave the class 5 minutes to think of and write down their username. [If you're going to try this, make sure that you're very clear about having them write their own, real name first].

The list below shows some of the goofy usernames that the students came up with:

Making the usernames created so much laughter in the classroom as the students would crack up over the silly names that they and their peers had created. 

For the remainder of the class period; in order to put their usernames to good use, the students were directed onto Sight Words Recognition which is a relatively new game that can be found on www.ABCya.com

The game has been so great in so many ways. First, it enables the students to put their usernames to good use. Second, it helps the students to build their sight word recognition levels.

All the students have to do is:
1.   Enter their username.
2.   Click 'join' to join a game, or simply create a new game.
3.   Click 'Start Race'.
4.   When the race starts, click on the written version of the word that you hear.
5.   At the end, you'll see a results place that tells you your rank, your time, and the number of words you got correct within one minute.
6.   If you make a mistake in the game, then you're simply prevented from jumping onto the next ball of yarn.

Below are some screenshots of the game.

 This is where your kitten avatar bounces from word to proceeding word based on spoken version of the word.

 If you are the first one to jump on the couch, then you get a picture of three stars with the word 'WINNER' displayed on top of your kitten's head.

 The results page shows your place, your completion time, your accuracy percentage, your rate of words per minute and any questions that you may have missed.

All and all, I would give this lesson and the Sight Word Practice game two thumbs up, as it's important to hone in on key 21st century learner skills from a young age, while also improving upon their literacy through the Sight Words Practice portion of the activity.