Hack 5: Student Tech Gurus #d100bloggerpd

“Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.” The opening  to “Hack 5” of Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez’s book, Hacking Education: Ten Quick Fixes For Every School, begins with this incredibly eye-opening quote. Immediately you begin to reflect on your practice as an educator. However, the quote also brings it back to the most important piece of the puzzle, the students. It’s not uncommon to hear teachers, admin, board members and even parents make the claim that “when they were younger, they didn’t do ‘it’ this way. In this instance, “it” can reference just about anything; seating, scheduling, programming, testing and the always popular, technology. I’d like to focus specifically on the technology piece because much like education, technology is constantly changing whether we want to accept it or not. It seems the only real constant, we can count on, is change. If we, as educators, are not willing to adapt to the constant changes in education, much of which are partnered with changes in technology, we will quickly become “extinct,” just like every other living or non-living thing that was unable to “adapt.”

Don't limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time. -rabindranath tagore, bengali writer, philosopher, artist and composer

Adapting to these changes, however, is much easier said than done. With new programs popping up constantly, teachers are finding it increasingly more difficult to keep up with the rigorous demands of curriculum changes, new building procedures, standardized assessments, and meeting the needs of ALL learners. Pile on learning new programs, systems, codes, logins and MORE, it’s easy to see why some teachers are so hesitant to change, especially if it means having to learn it on their own, with “not enough tech support.”

Barnes and Gonzalez tackle this problem head on in Hack 5 of their book, “Student Tech Gurus.” As educators themselves, Barnes and Gonzalez understand the high demand of integrating technology into the classroom. Along with those high demands comes “higher expectations for teachers.” (Barnes & Gonzalez) In order for anything to function at it’s highest level there needs to be some instruction and support for our teachers. Unfortunately, most of us know those things tend to be in short supply when it comes to bringing on additional staff members to fix some of the problems. However, Barnes and Gonzalez have come up with an incredible way to “hack” this problem; “Student Tech Guru’s.”

Essentially these “Student Tech Guru’s” are a “team of students who can be trained to provide tech support to their classmates and teachers.” (Barnes & Gonzalez) As educators, we need to be honest with ourself and come to the realization that yes, there are going to be students who know more than we do on the devices in front of them. As educators, we need to understand it’s okay that they know more than we do. In fact, they should know more. They are the consumers, utilizing the product on a daily basis with no inhibitions or fear of failure. They explore, they try, they fail, they learn. Let’s use this to our advantage. Please teachers, do not be afraid to say you “don’t know how to do something.” These vulnerable moments are when rapport is developed and what better way to model learning, than by learning yourself.


In our district, we have a team of “tech guru’s” already in place. iSWAT or “I’m a Student Willing to Assist with Technology” is our student technology club. I am fortunate enough to be the leader of this club in my building and through this experience as leader, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with some of the most talented tech students around. Recently, after reading Hacking Education, I took a chance and implemented the “Irving Help Desk” at my school. I sat down with Jim Mukite, our districts IT Systems and Network Specialist, to talk about ways in which the Irving Help Desk would be most effective to him, our staff and our students. We went through his “help desk” tickets he receives from our building and generated a list of things our students would be able to fix. I then selected three students to work with him directly to begin their training for the “Irving Help Desk.” They each created a “tech support booklet” so they could reference it if they needed to during any calls and also created an “Irving Help Desk” ticket on GoogleForms for teachers to submit for any problems that arose in their classroom.

I'm A Student Willing to Assist With Technology

This past Wednesday we had our first successful Irving Help Desk ticket. We had a 3rd grade student coaching a teacher on how to change her displays on her Smart Board and explaining the connectivity settings on her computer. Since it was our first Help Desk, I did go along to facilitate, but was not gladly not needed. I simply stood back and let him go. He was professional in his demeanor and represented iSWAT incredibly well. He even introduced himself upon entering the room. Talk about REAL WORLD SKILLS people. These students are equipped to repair numerous devices, training teachers on how to utilize these tools in their classrooms and gaining unbelievable experiences in communication, networking and development that they would have never received in the classroom. Did I mention they are all under 10? This is invaluable, both to the students and also to our staff. This problem is something that would have taken days to fix, but instead, our Irving Help Desk staff was able to fix the problem in a matter of 10 minutes.

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For individuals who are skeptical about starting a help desk or concerned about loss of class time and resources, don’t be. Below you’ll find a summary of some answers Barnes and Gonzalez provide to general anxieties some teachers and administrators face when first implementing a student run “help desk” at school.

  1. Claim: Our students are too young. Trust me when I tell you, they’re not. These students have likely been playing on devices since before they were potty trained whether you want to believe that or not. They are already very knowledgeable on these devices and as stated above, we have a third grader working with us right now already fixing problems in real time. Of course, use your discretion when selecting students. Be mindful of behaviors, academic successes and overall communication with teachers and peers. You want someone who is always able to represent your school in a positive light.
  2. Claim: These tech kids will miss too much instructional time.- Barnes and Gonzalez claims “by only recruiting students with strong academic records, you significantly reduce the chance that occasional absences will hurt grades.” They also state that the teacher as well as the supervisor can make “participation guidelines” much like a sports team, where the student must meet a certain amount of predetermined requirements in order to participate as a “tech guru.” The coordinator could certainly speak directly with the students’ teachers to block out any specific times the students are unable to miss class due to content being taught. For example, during our first help desk call, I coordinated with the students’ teacher first, prior to pulling him from class, to verify he wouldn’t be missing valuable content. My absolute favorite thing Barnes and Gonzalez say though is “even if students are missing some class time, they are still growing in their communication and technology skills, which will both be useful in their future academic and professional lives.” All I can say is, PREACH TEACHERS PREACH!

If you’re interested in some input or need assistance in any way I’d be happy to help in any way that I can or just be an ear to listen as you launch your Help Desk. Moving forward with our help desk, I plan to have our kiddos create screen casts of how to solve problems on specific programs teachers need assistance with and how to access some programs teachers are unaware  we have access to in the district. Overall, the possibilities are endless, and as Barnes and Gonzalez say “if you start thinking of the ways [students] can authentically contribute to your learning community as teachers in their own right, you have already shifted in the right direction.” Consider how powerful this could be. Don’t limit your children to your own learning or due to lack of fear. They know what they’re doing. Learn from them! Let them go! 


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Part 3- Move Your Bus #d100BloggerPD

Back in November, a colleague and friend, Kim Palmisano over at Special Ed Sanctuary, introduced me to a tiny red book with a cartoon school bus on it. She insisted that it would change my outlook on teaching, just as it had done for her when she first read the book. Little did I know that this 164 page book would take me deeper into reflection about both my personal and professional accomplishments, than any other book had. Fortunately, our school’s reading specialist and my unbelievable mentor, Colleen Noffisnger of Literacy Loving Gals, partnered up with her “teacher twin”, Kristin Richey at Reading and Owl of the Above, to launch the next installment in the #D100BloggerPD book study, Move Your Bus by Ron Clark. If you haven’t read this book yet, please do yourself a favor and add it to your list of “shelfies”, you won’t be sorry. It’s an incredibly quick read, and applies not only to teachers and administrators, like Ron Clark, but across all dimensions of the professional world.

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If you’re just joining us in our journey, thanks for jumping on. You can catch up on all of the blog posts from this Book Study by visiting Literacy Loving Gals kick-off post and use her “link-ups” at the bottom of her post to follow along. Each blog post should connect to the next person’s post.

My portion of the study starts off in part three of the book entitled “How to Map the Route.” In this section, Ron Clark shares some strategies on how to become a more effective “driver” of the bus. Think of the driver as the individual trying to steer the organization; principal, C.E.O, founder, etc. I found that this section in particular provided lots of opportunities for reflection in both of my roles as a teacher and a business owner.

Chapter 23- Allow Runners to Shine 


A “runner consistently tries to go above and beyond what is required” of them. (Clark, 4) I envision a runner as someone who sees any assignment as a challenge, essentially asking themselves, “how am I going to take this to the next level?” They are constantly reflecting and challenging themselves for the betterment of the company. However, a runner is only able to move with this type of “forward-thinking,” if he/she has the proper guidance from the “driver.” A  type of driver who allows his/her “runners to shine” in every sense of the word. Ron Clark prefaces the chapter with a story about himself as a young teacher, when an administrator asked him to keep the door of his classroom closed. The administrator requested this because other students, parents and teachers were becoming increasingly “jealous” of the “happenings” in his classroom. Clark complied, but inquired, “why do the ones who do the most have to downplay” their work? (Clark, 124) As a “driver” it is very important not to “hide [the runners] light under a bushel basket.” (Clark, 125)

It’s crucial for drivers of any organization to create a safe space for runners to feel encouraged and uplifted to always WANT to do more. Often times, Clark says, runners are perceived as a threat, and joggers, walkers and riders, will band together to discount the hard work of your runners. This jealousy will cause your runners to feel defeated, possibly even wanting to leave the company, feeling like they’re the only ones putting up a fight and pushing for hard work for the company. The question then becomes, “how can I let my runners shine, without stirring the pot and creating resentment among other workers?” Unfortunately for some, there is not one solidified answer. However, Clark reminds drivers not to hide the light of runners specifically because holding back a top performer “does nothing to further the goals of the organization.” He claims it is like asking an Olympic Gold Medalist to slow down during a race so the other runners don’t feel bad. Clark simplifies it when he says that the jealous individuals have to simply, “get over it.”

This thought reminded me of the mentality of our younger students. For example, a teacher compliments a student on her “pretty dress” and every other student in the classroom runs up to the teacher asking if she likes their shirt, shoes, hair-do, drawing, etc. They don’t let one another shine, because they quickly become jealous and want the attention on themselves. As educators, if we are aware of this primary behavior, why do we behave like this in the workplace? No employee or leader paved their way  to the top by belittling the accomplishments of those around them. Instead, we should be lifting one another up and join in on each other’s journey. Just like a teacher must help a kindergartner understand that it’s okay if she compliments another student, a driver, must not only empower the runner, but also must help individuals who seek to marginalize the efforts and contributions of runners, to “get over” their jealousy and instead turn that animosity into something that supports the growth of the runner and company as a whole.


How do we do this? Clark tries to explain a little bit further in his next chapter, “Help Joggers to be Their Best Selves”


Chapter 24- “Help Joggers to be Their Best Selves”

Chances are, a company will not be comprised of all runners, you will likely have many joggers in the mix as well. Business leaders, “drivers,” must work with “joggers and figure out ways to boost their performance.” (Clark, 132) Boosting the performance of a jogger can be tricky for the simple fact that they may expect that one major project throughout the year is enough to keep them at the top of the leader board, and still reap the benefits and rewards. It’s important to plant your joggers near runners, Clark says, because they could very likely be “inspired to run just by the company they are keeping.” Essentially, the joggers will want to work harder when planted near a runner, to keep up with that runner.


Think of it as running in a major race. You’re nervous and scared that you’re going to be mediocre, but as soon as the line in front of you takes off and you’re surrounded by energy and excitement from all the other LITERAL runners around you, you immediately feel empowered, like you could fly, or change the world. That’s the same concept that Clark is describing here.

He also makes the claim that by giving joggers projects that align with their passions, that the buy-in from joggers may be significantly increased as well. It’s important to always check in with your joggers to make sure they are being supported as well.

As an educator, I have found my marigolds and runners who I feel I learn from and grow from every day. I have found these people in my building, in my district and even across the country on social media platforms, such as twitter. I know my place with them and I know that by planting myself by their side, I will grow with them and they will help me in my professional journey, just as much as I will help them in theirs. We are truly present when we are with one another and this bond and relationship is something I never want to lose.


However, as a business owner, I reflect on this in a different way. My biggest take away or question has quickly become, what do you do when you’re so passionate about the work that you’re doing, but can’t find anyone else who is as passionate as you are? For the past three years, I’ve built a business on my own, hoping that at some point down the road there would be some “buy-in” from other individuals in the field or “dance world.” After all, isn’t that how all great businesses or non-profits take off? One person spear-heads the idea and along the way they find someone who has completely bought into what they believe and together they make something amazing. I have yet to find that passion amongst anyone else, yet.

Now please don’t take this as me saying that I am not being supported, because that is so incredibly far from the truth. Over the years, I have had so much financial, emotional and even sometimes physical support from my family members, friends, colleagues and local business owners, that it’s almost overwhelming. I have so many people to thank and I worry that their devoted efforts go unnoticed. I hope they know how much I appreciate each and every one of their efforts no matter how big or small. Everyone has been so kind, and supportive and has truly helped grow Chance to Dance into what it is today. All of what I’ve done would not have been possible without the help of these very special people who are so near and dear to my heart.

However, aside from one of my incredible friends and colleagues, as far as someone to work with and lean on daily, to divide tasks between, to bounce ideas off of, I have yet to find that. I have yet to find that passion or the buy in. My 16 year old sister has quickly become my business partner, and although she’s never danced before at least she’s a body in the room so that when one of 37 Kindergarten through Second Graders say they need to go to the “potty” she can be there to take them. I’m so thankful for her! However as I expand, I’d love to find more help, more teachers and more individuals who have that business sense.  I’d love to hear some suggestions about finding individuals who are willing to be as passionate and dedicated as you are in the business world and where you can look for help.


All in all, no matter where you work or what you do, you should ultimately be looking for others who inspire you. Try to find passionate individuals and leaders who have dreams and goals that mirror yours and latch on to those people. While chasing their own dreams, these special individuals will help you and push you to achieve your own dreams. Allow others around you to shine and let their light cover all of the darkness, negativity and jealousy. Don’t hide behind your accomplishments for fear of hurting someone else. Sparkle and shine as bright as you can and most importantly remember that “blowing out someone else’s birthday candle doesn’t make your’s shine any brighter.” Drive by example and model the mentality that we can all be runners and we can all succeed.

Follow along with the rest of the study and catch the reflection on chapters 25 and 26, on The Bazz Blog coming to you live on Wednesday, February 24. Don’t miss out!

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You Can Learn Anything- LearnStorm 2016

Another blogging hiatus broken by a long overdue post about one of the most incredible days of my life. On January 28, 4 of my students from iSWAT and myself, headed over to the Jesse White Community Center in Chicago on the near North Side to partake in an event that I feel changed all of our lives. Sal Khan, creator of Khan Academy, along with Hyatt, teamed up to bring together some Chicagoland elementary and junior high schools to launch their LearnStorm competition. LearnStorm is a 9 week competition, challenging students across the Chicagoland area, to practice and improve their math skills. Something that we likely all need to work on. Through the use of Khan Academy, a non-profit organization, students login to their account and participate in grade level competitions to help close gaps that they may have in their mathematical foundation. Through mastering mathematical challenges and persevering through tasks that seem difficult at first, students earn badges, awards and points and can reach a top spot on the leader board for all of Chicagoland.


On the bus ready to go. Representing Irving iSWAT in the best way possible.

Along with many other students in our district, we were invited to see acts from the Jesse White Tumblers, hear a speech from astronaut and NFL superstar Leland Melvin and meet Mayor Rahm Emmanuel who all talked to us about the importance of understanding that you can do anything you set your mind to. The most exciting part for all of the students, okay maybe just for me, was when Sal Khan spoke about growth v. fixed mindset. Below you’ll find Sal Khan’s speech that he gave to the students that day which was incredibly uplifting and inspiring for everyone. Sal preached about the importance of having a growth mindset and believing that you can learn anything. Essentially saying, the more you practice something, the better you become.The students left that day inspired, and ready to take on the world. Truth be told, so did I.


Click here to hear Sal Khan’s speech about the importance of having a Growth Mindset.

I was fortunate enough to also spend the evening with Sal Khan at the Merchandise Mart in the city. Sal gave a similar introduction but also gave us educators a vision of something I had never thought of before. He equated education with the construction of a new house. He stated “picture an empty lot, that you’d like to build a house on. The contractor comes and says you have 6 weeks to get as much of the foundation completed as possible. Good luck. The construction workers built and laid the foundation and when the six weeks were up the contractor came back and said, ‘well the cement is still wet over here, that pillar isn’t quite strong enough, but I’ll give it an 80%.’ The builders said, well that’s good enough to pass inspection, let’s keep building.” You can imagine that as the story went on, the pattern repeated itself where the builders were only meeting expectations about 80% of the time. Once they got to the top of the house, the whole foundation collapsed under itself, because the house was never stable to begin with. This, Sal stated, is what we do with education. We build and build upon foundations that aren’t stable and sturdy and expect that by the time children get to upper elementary, that everything will be in place, which we all know is certainly not the case. This is where Khan Academy comes in to play. Giving a “free world class education to anyone, anywhere” is the mission of the program and I believe, it’s living up to it’s potential. It allows for differentiated education, practice, and flipped classroom videos all for free. What teacher doesn’t love free? It also is cross curricular and standards aligned providing for flexibility and data collection. Even better, it’s offered in multiple languages for your ELL kiddos or students in other countries.


From an evening with Sal Khan at the Merchandise Mart.

From simply implementing the program in my classroom on the 29th of January, my kiddos have grown leaps and bounds in their growth mindset and math skills. They take the initiative to learn all they can and are persevering through difficult problems. Of course there are days when they still get down on themselves, but that’s when we share our troubles and remind ourselves that mistakes are gold! I’ve also implemented a new ticket system in my class. For every 20 minutes spent on Khan Academy, either inside or outside of school, my students receive a “You Can Learn Anything” ticket. They can use these tickets to cash in at the normal prize box that we have in our classroom, or they can save them and cash them in for a special “You Can Learn Anything” reward. Check out the reward list, and tickets below. Feel free to comment or message me if you’d like me to send you an editable version for free.

I’ve been so impressed with the work ethic of my students and mostly their perseverance. Last Tuesday, the leader boards were announced officially on the LearnStorm website and I almost broke down when I saw one of my students holding second place for hustle points. These points are given to students who push through hard problems and don’t give up, even when it gets tough. If he is able to hold on to his second place spot in the competition, he will receive an invitation to the final celebration at the end of the competition, a prize he certainly deserves for the amount of work he puts in.

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My student holding the second place spot on the hustle leader board!

LearnStorm and Khan Academy have completely changed the face of our math classroom as a whole. We are now using Khan Academy as a center, not only because of the Learn Storm competition, but because it aligns directly with MAP scores. I can make recommendations based on the students RIT score from MAP which is an amazing way to practice skills and begin to close those gaps that have already been specifically targeted with standardized testing data. With the help of my amazing iCoach, Jenny Lehotsky, over at Teaching and Learning Redefined,  we’ve been able to use our goal planning sheets to personalize our math class even further, by recommending tasks for students based on specific data off of MAP. It’s incredible and has so many benefits for personalized and differentiated learning. I really encourage you to try the program if you haven’t done so already.

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Direct links to assignments on Khan Academy aligned to standard of individual student based off of MAP data acquired in January, 2016.

LearnStorm and Khan Academy have also given us the chance to provide free internet to our students with no internet access for 6 months while the competition is taking place so that they can practice at home. In addition, our school has applied for a DonorsChoose grant through LearnStorm of $5,000.00 to hopefully get some new tech supplies in our building to make differentiated and personalized learning more accessible to our kiddos. As soon as I have the approved link to our project, I will be sure to share it with you.

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LearnStorm and Khan Academy have motivated us in ways that I didn’t think were possible and I’m loving hearing that my students are correcting each other in class by saying “yet” after they hear a student say they cannot do something. Here’s an example. “I don’t understand fractions.”said student A. Student B hears this and says, “you don’t understand fractions…YET.” The power of yet has taken over and has even motivated me in ways I never though possible. What are you hoping to achieve, but are telling yourself you cannot do. Take your can’t statement and put YET at the end of it. See what a difference it makes in your life.

“The More I Learn, the Less I Know”

It has been exactly 5 months since I began my life as a teacher. 5 months of constant planning, preparing, failing, falling and growing. 5 months of wonder, enjoyment, happy tears and countless memories with my first class of “Brainstormers.” It’s been an incredible ride. Yet here I sit, blogging and reflecting on my journey and this thought keeps popping in my head “the more I learn, the less I know.”

Now of course, I don’t mean this literally. I can in fact acquire and maintain knowledge and take that knowledge and turn it into some kind of product, which may prove that I have some intelligent life in my brain. What I figuratively mean by “the more I learn, the less I know” is that I have come to the conclusion that I am on an endless journey of constant betterment of self. I have no destination, no final product, just growth and perseverance.

I attended the CARA Conference over the weekend with Keynote speakers and authors Kristin Ziemke and Katie Muhartis who talk about how technology can amplify your classroom. Both Kristin and Katie were incredibly eloquent, knowledgable and down to earth speakers. They shared many insights into how technology can amplify your classroom. One of the best things that they said during the entire conference was that the best practices with technology start with their “why”. The teachers who utilize technology to the highest degree aren’t thinking about what app is the best app to teach letter sounds, their thinking about the lesson and standard they need to teach and find a way to enhance that learning with technology.


A favorite and final quote from the Amplify conference on Saturday 1/23/16. 

What stuck with me the most though, was that, Katie, while speaking, stated that there are still days where she feels like a failure. After all of these years as a teacher, with published books on how to become a better teacher, she still feels like a failure. It was so refreshing to hear that even unbelievably talented professionals have their days.

As a first year teacher I am constantly fighting with my inner voice questioning every day if what I am doing is “right” or “good enough”. The more I learn from others, the more ideas I receive, and the more ideas I am blessed with, the more I realize how much I truly have to learn and how much I genuinely do not know. It’s as though with every click of a link on Twitter, every search of a blog post or idea on Pinterest, there is always more to find, discover and learn about. It never, EVER ends. Hence the no destination journey I am on as an educator. I have such a passion to continue to know NOTHING and fill my brain with as much knowledge as possible. I feel so lucky to be connected with so many incredible educators who push me everyday and show me that learning never stops, it’s a never ending journey.

“The more I learn, the less I know, but the more I learn, the more I grow”, a mantra I hope all of my “marigolds” and kiddos believe for themselves.



Global Connectedness

Social media, whether we like it or not, is here to stay. In 2005 approximately 10% of all internet users were on some form of social media, which at the time was likely MySpace, due to “Tom’s” tremendous influence over deciding who your “top 8” friends truly were. Now, in 2016 after a plateau of social media usage, we have still seen statistics sky-rocket. Approximately 76% of internet users are on some form of social media platform. As evidenced by the data presented, and likely your own experiences, social media has changed the face of how we interact with one another. It has essentially given everyone a soap box, in which to share their feelings, opinions, hopes, dreams and desires upon. Want to test a new product, have a book club, create a focus group, participate in professional development, heck, even workout with someone? It can all be done on social media. Sure, it has it’s pitfalls, and often contains content we don’t want to see or hear about, but for the most part, it has defined our world in a somewhat positive light, at least from my perspective.

You might be asking yourself, well how does social media definite itself in the world of education? It’s easy–global connectedness. Research Professor and 3 time New York Times Best Seller, Brené Brown states that “connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard and valued- when they can give and receive without judgement.” b9f63f79e9e7c985418b93884c15b083

We’ve created a world in which this connection can happen instantly at the touch of your fingertips. This is especially important in education, because as educators, it’s often times hard to see outside of the four walls of your classroom. It’s easy to become isolated, feel alone, and maybe even like a crazy person who tells herself jokes in her head about events that happened during reading group, just to make it through the day. To each their own. However, with social media, and more specifically, Twitter, educators can now connect with one another. From your classroom neighbor, to other teachers in the district, even nationally and globally constant connectedness is a reality. We can now easily find like-minded educators, who share our same vision, hear our problems, value or opinions and help us create change, without even needing to get out of our pajamas. If I could encourage any educator who is just starting out, or a veteran down the line, make social media your best friend. Instead of telling you all the great benefits social media has, I’d like to share two national connections our class had this week as a means of modeling those benefits of social media.

Mystery Skype- South Riding, Virginia- 701 Miles

I initially signed up to Mystery Skype after hearing about the global Skype-a-thon on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Little did I know how huge Mystery Skype actually is. Microsoft has an entire Educator Community, from virtual field trips, to lectures from celebrities and professional educators. Mystery Skype itself though has many benefits. First and foremost it is a global guessing game. Essentially your class pairs with another class, somewhere in the world. The way Erin Broy and I formatted the Mystery Skype, was to have her class guess our exact location first, and then we would Skype again so that our class could guess where her class was. The students developed a series of systematic questions that would essentially narrow down where the other students were located. Some of the questions included, “what is your state famous for?”, “how far do you live from the state’s capital?” etc.




There are so many benefits to this national connection. First and foremost, it gets our kids familiar with geography, which has taken a back seat in our Common Core world. It also introduces students to different cultures as well as similarities and differences of students all over the world. Just like teachers, students often do not know what the world is like beyond the boundaries of the school yard. This is especially important for students who aren’t given opportunities to travel often, both within and out of the country or have that background knowledge about the world around them, which lets face it, most children do not have. This helps my students to expand their cultural awareness and knowledge of other students and gives them the chance to travel the world, without having to leave their desk. Since both schools now know where the other is located, we will be maintaining our connections through virtual pen pals and other collaborations that are in the works. We’d love to hear any ideas that you may have for virtual collaboration. Thanks so much to Erin and her class for embracing this new challenge with us. We are so thankful for the new friendship we have made with them. Also, did I mention that their school is also the Eagles. How perfect?!

#gmttc5- Edison, New Jersey- 791 Miles 

Last Sunday, a teacher from Edison, New Jersey reached out to me via Twitter to ask if I’d like to participate in a #gmttc with her class. My initial thought was that I had no idea what a #gmttc was, but that we of course would love to participate. After researching the hashtag, I discovered that it stood for a Global Math Task Twitter Challenge, which in my opinion is just the coolest thing. After collaborating and discussing our action plan via Twitter, Vicki and I decided that we would start the challenge on Monday. The challenge did not take the place of any content, instead it was used as the student’s PBL for the week in a center, in both of the classrooms. We may have formatted our centers a little bit differently, but nonetheless, they were supplemental.

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I use Blendspace for centers in the classroom thanks to another amazing teacher, Ginny Burdett. 

On Monday during our Math block, (luckily we seem to have the same math time) I received a tweet from Vicki and her class that I projected up on the SMART board for the kiddos to see. My kids, much like any other students I would imagine, love a friendly challenge and competition and were so motivated by the word challenge. What is so great about the #gmttc is that you don’t necessarily need to be working on the same standard, to take the challenge. Our kiddos are in two different places, but we were still able to share and challenge one another. We each used an Illustrative Math Task but since our chatting I think I’m going to try to utilize TenMarks more, thanks to Vicki! MARS tasks would work great for this as well!


Throughout the week our kiddos would work on the challenge in pairs and get their answers checked by me to move on to the next problem. My favorite part of all of this, was the errors that they made and how much they learned from their mistakes. I wouldn’t tell them why something was incorrect.  Instead I asked them to find their error and then come back and chat with me after they thought about where their error was and why it happened. Such an amazing growth mindset time in the classroom for our kiddos. Students who finished early had the opportunity to Screen Cast their thoughts on the computer that we then shared on a Padlet wall with Vicki’s class. Of course I didn’t see the tweet on Friday with the link, so we have to share our answers with them on Tuesday, but it was our first time, so cut us some slack. =)

After lunch on Friday we had a Voxer chat with Vicki’s class, asking questions about our task challenge’s and our school environments. We also came up with the idea to continue to challenge one another in math and…wait for it… COLLABORATIVELY READ A BOOK TOGETHER AND SHARE ABOUT IT! How amazing?! Our classes are so jazzed. We’d love to hear some reflection, suggestions and ideas on how to make this come to life!

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Don’t you think our classes look alike?! Love the connections! Oh, and we both have a Jasmine! =) 

Again not only is this great for global connectedness, allowing students to see beyond the classroom but it also provides opportunities for growth mindset, problem based learning, incorporation of math practices and friendly competition. I’d also like to tie in a piece of public speaking into this since our kiddos chatted with one another via Voxer. While not face-to-face, the students still needed to articulate their thoughts clearly in front of an audience of their peers. Kiddos who aren’t normally excited to volunteer, jumped at the chance to chat with new friends. They could “be seen and heard” without judgement, and therefore, felt the CONNECTION.

This weekend, Vicki and I are working on some guiding reflection questions for when the students screen cast. This way they are talking more about the “why” instead of the “how” they did something. A few of our kiddos sent me their files over the weekend for their math task challenge which I’ll upload to our class YouTube Channel. Make sure to check it out and to subscribe. I’m so thankful to have found a new Teacher Friend in Vicki.

I’m excited to continue on with these global connections and find some more ways in which we can grow our collaborations. I’m so thankful that I found these two teachers across the nation. I feel our teaching styles and passions reflect each other tremendously and we’ve never even met in person. Get connected and see what benefits you can find in your own life.

It’s All About Your Mindset

My mind often wanders and makes me believe that I am not competent, that I am not doing enough, or am simply achieving what others are achieving. This negative mindset takes over and eats away at my confidence like a disease. On Tuesday, we had our bi-weekly district twitter chat in which the topic discussed growth mindset. Thanks to our #d100chat I received a lot of feedback from other teachers who are faced with a similar problem. I realized that I am not alone, and that instead of feeling this way, I need to change my mindset and repeat to myself that “I Am Enough” and that I cannot compare my journey to that of anyone else. It also helped that my winter break anxiety subsided the second I saw my kiddos faces. It’s the most amazing feeling coming to “work” everyday and loving exactly what you do. I feel that I sound like a broken record, but I am so blessed to be working in a profession that I fall more and more in love with every day.

Although some teachers may feel the need to jump right back in to where we left off in the curriculum, I took the time to ease my students back in to the swing of things. It’s a hard transition to go from two weeks of no school, sleeping in, and playing video games to dividing decimals, writing an informational paper about the Revolutionary War and understanding text structures of informational text. Instead of bombarding them with all of this content we took this week to review, not just content, but boundaries, and the environment of our classroom.

In math, I flipped the classroom to give the students complete control. If you’ve been following along with my blog, my last post touched on some New Year Resolutions I had for myself, which included “giving students a standard and letting them come up with the assessment.” We took it one step further in the classroom and let students create a full lesson based on their standard and an assessment to administer to the entire class. I split my students into groups of three and assigned them a standard that could have been all the way from the beginning of the year. The immediately fell in love and bought right in. The best part was referring to all of them as Ms. Rodriguez or Mr. Ramirez. They loved it! On Friday, we shared all of our presentations by having each group take the main stage and teach their classmates about their standard and then assess them. We also made them answer any questions that their classmates had during the assessment. It was completely hands off for me, within reason of course. There were a few questions that my kiddos needed assistance on, which was TOTALLY fine because I want them to make mistakes. That’s when they really learn.


Students teaching and assessing one another in math. You can see the eagerness of the classroom in the middle picture. goFormative and Schoology were used for assessments created by students. 


After our presentations were complete, the students were given the opportunity to take a challenge and create a song about their I Can statement. They’re still working on them, but some of the songs that I’ve overheard already were “Hello from the Decimal side”, “Now Watch Me Solve, Solve this Division Problem” and “Learn from Each Other, Assess One Another.” We also had a student complete a song to Ed Sheeran’s song Photograph about how hard math problem solving can be. Such a fun way for them to review! You can listen to that groups song here. This was completed at home all on their own! So impressive! I love watching them get excited about projects.


I can now check this resolution off my list and continue to utilize it as a way to review and push my students to learn from one another. Since I was working on my resolutions, I wanted my kiddos to have that same opportunity. I was able to collaborate with a family friend and colleague from District 58. Lauren is truly an inspiration in her room and I am inspired by her everyday. She’s such an incredible teacher, always making her lessons engaging and meaningful for her kiddos. She reached out to me and shared her “Appy New Year” project that she was working on. Essentially, a writing activity where the students design and create an app about their resolution for the New Year. With her help I was able to throw a QR Code on there to incorporate a fluency component and voila, our iPhone Apps are up and we’re sharing our resolutions. I’m so thankful Lauren shared this with me. My kiddos all loved it and were engaged in meaningful writing activities for the whole week.


This week, we have a lot of fun, new  and exciting things coming up. First and foremost The Brainstormers were invited to participate in our very first #gmttc, which stands for Global Math Twitter Chat Challenge. Victoria Ruane, of New Jersey, fellow Fifth Grade Teacher and Ambassador for TenMarks reached out to me via Twitter to ask us to join in. Essentially our classes will challenge one another with a math task from Illustrative Mathematics, a phenomenal common core aligned site full of math tasks for your kiddos. Our students will work on the problem through the week in math centers and then at the end of the week, we will share our results live on Padlet. I’m really excited about the opportunity to collaborate with a classroom across the country and challenge my kids to a little friendly competition. The love when they’re challenged.

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I’ll also be introducing my kiddos to an “I Can” checklist aligned with our new topic 5.NBT.B.7. Through distributing this, I am hoping to set the expectation before we even start learning so that the students know what they will be responsible for throughout this unit. I modeled it off of a single point rubric which allows for tons of student reflection. I’m hoping that they will find this useful. I’ll make sure to share about the successes and constructive tips for use as we go through the unit. Please share if you yourself have any critiques or changes you think I should make for this rubric. If you’re interested in a word document copy let me know and I’d be more than happy to share it with you.


The Brainstormers will also be connecting with our Mystery Skype friends this week. It’s our turn now to use geography and critical thinking skills/questioning to figure out where our friends are located. We already know a lot about their school, but don’t know where they are physically located. We’re super excited to chat with them again and hopefully continue our relationship throughout the year with virtual pen pals.



This week also marks the start of the third year of Chance to Dance, my non-profit organization. Chance to Dance provides low-cost dance classes to children of low income families. We have serviced District 100 for the past 3 years and hopefully will continue to expand our reach. I am anxious to see how many students enroll this year to see if we are going to reach our projected growth of 70 families. Check our our website here and if you’re in the area,  share with any friends or family members you think might be interested in participating.



In a few weeks the #d100bloggerPD will be back with their next book study on Ron Clark’s “Move Your Bus”. You do not want to miss this one. Make sure to follow along on Twitter and on our blogs. This book is not only a quick and easy read, it’s also incredibly eye opening and will motivate you to reach your fullest potential as a “runner.” JOIN US!

For one last final note, I want to share about a book that I’ve been reading. “Mathematical Mindsets” by Jo Boaler is one of the most eye opening books I’ve ever read, regardless of subject. Boaler’s entire book articulates perfectly the development of “growth mindset” and how crucial it is in mathematics, since we live in a world that believes only certain kids will be successful in math. I’m only three chapters in, but already my mind has changed. As one of those kids who was afraid of making mistakes, and determined my intelligence based on the amount of math problems I got correct in class, made me accept the fact that I just wasn’t smart and that I was “not a math person.” Even in my adult years I would classify my intelligence as my ability to do math. This shouldn’t be the case! Boaler says that math is the subject that is most in need of a mindset makeover, a term I absolutely love! If you haven’t picked up this book yet, make sure you do. It’s life changing and I’m only 100 pages in. It will change your mindset and your idea of successes/failures.

I’ll leave you with this idea from Peter Sims, a write for the New York Times, who says that successful people do 7 things. Try to incorporate these affirmations into your day to day life and the day to day life of your students. Watch the change happen before your eyes!

“Feel comfortable being wrong”

“Try seemingly wild ideas”

“Be open to different experiences”

“Play with ideas without judging them”

“Be willing to go against traditional ideas”

“Keep going through difficulties”





Runners, Resolutions & Relaxation

Another hiatus of non-blogging finally broken thanks to the two week holiday break that I am currently basking in. While I love, love, LOVE to be busy and constantly have things to do, the three weeks leading up to winter break were rough and I was ready for a “brain break.”

Over the past two weeks I’ve had many exciting endeavors and events take place which is why I feel even more exhausted. We participated in Hour of Code through code.org  and were fortunate enough to work with a talented computer scientist, Sakina. Each of our kiddos received an award for participating and overall it seemed that the whole school saw a great turnout. We also launched our class youtube channel which acts as both the platform for my classroom videos as well as the iSWAT News Channel, “News from the Nest.” You can check out our math screen casts and the debut of “News From the Nest” here.

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The most exciting meeting that took place during this time was my second observation in math. If you’ve followed my blog in any capacity, you may have recognized my battle with the way our math program was set up in the classroom. My assistant principal was kind enough to set up my second observation for the same subject, math, so that he could provide me substantial feedback on things that have been changed within our format. Despite the fact that two of my kiddos got in a shouting match over seating preferences, very out of character for them, the observation went incredibly well and overall, my AP had lots of great things to compliment and also constructively criticize. He has a very special way of letting you know what you can work on and HOW you can get there. In addition, he has way of empowering you to continue to push yourself beyond what you thought you were capable of, which is something that I am always looking to accomplish. I am so thankful for someone who is willing to sit with me and figure out ways that I can continue to grow and will push me as much as I push myself.

I am hopeful that through relationships, such as this one, that I can learn to help my students develop in this same demeanor both inside and outside of the classroom. I am constantly looking for ways to motivate my kiddos both internally and externally. I love studying the way students think and act and often reflect on myself and my learning history about how I was motivated. I have always been and will likely always be the student that wanted to go above and beyond. This attitude and ability is something that I am always looking for in others as well.

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Crash Course by Kim Bearden has motivated & inspired me in so many ways. Make sure to put this on your “shelfie” list for the new year if you haven’t already. 

I mentioned the amazing Annie Forest in my previous blog post as someone who is forward thinking and always pushing herself and her students to do more. Before we left for break, Annie shared an incredible article with me about being a “marigold” and finding other marigolds amongst the people that you work with both directly and indirectly.  I’d like to share the article with you here so that you may reference it and also use it to find the other marigolds amongst you. I’m hopeful that my kiddos can find their own “marigolds” and “runners” in their groups of peers and within me. Check out her blog using the hyperlink above to see where she’ll be speaking in the new year! Hopefully you can make it to one of her presentations. She’s something special!

As  I’ve had a little bit of time over break to sit back and relax, the classroom never seems to escape my mind. As I participated in Twitter Chats and read holiday blog posts, I began to compile a virtual notebook using Evernote, or New Years Resolutions I’d like to achieve in my classroom. Two of my favorite ideas as of right now came from a Twitter Chat through @goFormative. If you don’t use Formative, I highly encourage you to check it out in the new year. The possibilities for use is endless and for those of us that like to accomplish a lot in a little bit of time, this is for you.

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The reason I bring up Formative, is because two of my most prominent classroom resolutions involve assessment and CCSS aligned activities, as PARCC quickly approaches.

The first thing I’d like to try and achieve in my classroom came directly from a goFormative twitter chat and co-moderator Michelle Malone. She’s an assistant principal and full of ‘growth-mindset’ ideas. I was inspired during our last twitter chat when she stated that we should give the kiddos a standard and let them create. It’d be incredibly interesting to see the results of the formative assessments that they create and also collect data based on student created assessments. In addition to that, it gives students more accountability and responsibility of the content created and learned in the classroom.

I’d also like to try to develop an I Can checklist- either virtual or printed- prior to every unit so that students can keep track of their goals and pacing throughout a unit so they know in advance what they should be responsible for and what they need to achieve by the end of the unit. I think this has a lot of potential for both Standards Based Reporting and aligning Common Core into your classroom. I think I’ll try to create these for math prior to our unit of study first to see how it goes. I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew by setting a goal of creating a checklist for every subject and every unit.

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A personal goal I have for the new year is get back to my old exercising habits and healthy eating ways. It’s incredibly hard to  make time for yourself, and I need to make sure that I am doing that and prioritizing my health in the new year. I was fortunate enough to find a #fitnessedu twitter chat and am hopeful that through participation in that every Sunday night that I can find some inspiration and healthy virtual buddies to keep me going and remember my goal!

As much as I am loving break, I have a very hard time relaxing knowing that I have things I could be doing looming over my head. I am constantly looking for ways to calm myself down and not think about school for just a second, but am still finding myself waking up at 5:30am just to check my Twitter or read an article that I’ve saved to my reading list. I’d love to hear any of your tips or tricks for relaxation and letting some of those anxieties go.

Hope all of the teachers out there are having a wonderful relaxing break. I’m excited for what this new year is going to bring and can’t believe that we are halfway through the year already. Crazy! Hope you had a Happy Holiday and a wonderful New Year!


“Love What You Do and Never Work a Day in Your Life.”

It’s been two weeks since I’ve blogged and am happy to be back. The two weeks before Thanksgiving break were crazy and I also came down with walking pneumonia, causing me to miss the two days of school before break. I never realized how hard it would be to miss school as a teacher, not just for the lesson plans and extra prep work you need to do, ( which luckily I didn’t have to do because of my co-teacher) but because of how much I missed my kiddos. I am so thankful for a job, students, staff and PLN that make me cry when I have to miss work. Luckily I’m feeling better and am in the swing of things again. I did get the chance to start and finish a book over break that was recommended to me by a colleague, “Move Your Bus” by Ron Clark. It’s an unbelievably meaningful and life changing read that I highly recommend. I’m moving on to Crash Course written by a teacher from Ron Clark Academy. I’m slowly becoming a groupie.

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The last blog post I shared was part of the D100 book study on Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild. The blog post and book itself were both incredible, engaging and an overall amazing learning experience. If you want to continue to follow along in the book study you can click HERE to view the schedule and all of the direct links to each blog post. Thanks to Colleen, my mentor and remarkable educator, over at Literacy Loving Gals for putting all the direct links in one place.


Since having blogged last, there’s quite a bit to catch up on. Irving hosted our Student Recognition Night, in which we took the opportunity to recognize some of our students in our class who have gone above and beyond. The awards of recognition included, Student of the Month, Apple Mac Pro Award, Heart of Gold Award, Class Dojo Champion, Academic Excellence and the Caught Doing Good Award. It was such a fun night being able to showcase the excellence and achievements of our Brainstormers. We also had some students come in to recognition night to showcase how they have been going “above the SAMR line” in class. These students showcased book trailers and math screencasts that they’ve created that will be posted to our class Youtube channel to share these resources with other students.


Student of the Month | Heart of Gold | Class Dojo Champ | Mac Pro Award


SAMR Students sharing their creations

Just before Thanksgiving break the students finished up their very first math unit in the new structure, utilizing Blendspace and goFormative to differentiate, engage and change up the structure of the math classroom. Overall, the results of each student’s math score improved significantly. However, what I was really looking for as a teacher was not if they could memorize something for a test, but if they could legitimately understand and explain what they were doing. It was so special to see some of our kiddos with math goals pushing themselves to explain their thinking in places where they weren’t required, to try to get to that 4. My ultimate goal is not to have students memorize an algorithm for a month to get a 3 on their test at the end of the unit, my goal is for them to develop foundational skills that they will remember and utilize as they move forward in their careers. I will continue to utilize this method, especially since our iCoach and unbelievably amazing educator, Jenny Lehotsky, came in to my room to collaborate and share ideas of how I can differentiate my math using MAP scores and Khan Academy. I am so thankful for the collaboration and support I have had from Jenny. She is so skilled and has amazing ideas. She also was kind enough to share a blog post on her blog, Teaching and Learning Redefined, about what we’re doing in our math classroom, which you can check out here. Thanks again, Jenny! I’m hopeful that with these tools she’s given me that we will be able to give our students more supplemental activities to build their foundational skills and increase their overall understanding of content.

Understanding Poster

I had the opportunity to observe Annie Forest over at Show Your Thinking this past week. She is an educator of math over at one of the middle schools in our district. I was fortunate enough to observe two of her 6th grade math lessons in which she integrated a warm up where students were able to create a Tweet through Schoology, a math talk, and Class Kick which seems to be a combination between Educreations and goFormative to use for her math lesson. It was great to see students engaged and excited about their learning.

I had so many great take aways from observing Annie, but when I really learned the most was simply listening to her and taking her advice on many different elements of the math classroom. Annie is the one who truly opened my eyes to the quote above. I was complaining that sometimes during a lesson one of my kiddos will ask me the simple question of “why” this is the way we do things, and I have to be honest with them and say that I have to look up “why” we do these things, because all I was ever taught is “because it is”. I DON’T WANT THIS TYPE OF LEARNING FOR MY STUDENTS! Annie told me that it truly is all about the understanding behind why we do things, to give those students foundational skills to build on. She also explained that I should try to anticipate where some of my students may go wrong before a lesson so that I have some answers ready to go for them. She is an incredible educator and I am hopeful that we can get together again soon so that I am able to learn the most I can from this amazing educator.

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Annie’s Math Classroom

I am always looking for opportunities to collaborate, connect and learn from other educators. Twitter is most invaluable and instant PLN you can be a part of. Our district has launched it’s first Twitter Chats using the hashtag #d100chat. We are able to collaborate with teachers in our district every other week to hear about all of the great things we are doing in this unbelievable district. Literally professional development in your pajamas. Leah O’Donnell, astonishing literacy coach and blogger at Responsive Literacy, is our guest moderator and then two teachers in the district will host the chat, providing us with questions. It’s the best. Think about starting one up in your district.

In addition to Twitter Chats with your district, Twitter can connect you with educators you may never even meet. This proved true this week when I gave goFormative a shoutout on Twitter, thanking them for their product. We have started using goFormative for exit slips to continue to make flexible groups. After giving them a shoutout on Twitter their community manager reached out to me to ask if he could share what we’re doing in our classroom on Facebook. He also invited me to collaborate in a Google Hangout, happening tonight, with two other educators and some people from goFormative. I’m so jazzed about this and can’t wait to expand my PLN and learn some great new tools from these other incredible educators. If you’re not on Twitter, or you are on Twitter but aren’t using it, I highly recommend that you jump right in and start becoming integrated into a network that can take your PLN, PD and overall educator experience beyond anything you thought possible. Here’s their post from Facebook that they shared about what’s happening in the Brainstormers classroom.

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In other news, the iSWAT team over at Irving is hustling and bustling to get their first “News from the Nest” (an Irving News Channel) launched before Winter Break, as well as prep for the Hour of Code next week. They are doing great and absolutely LOVED their iSWAT badges. We’ve created some really great stuff using Touchcast. Without saying too much and giving away our first launch, our students are working on self guided, created and directed news production. They have developed the questions, content and ideas. I’m there to facilitate, guide and help if something breaks, which it hasn’t yet. This is exactly as it should be. I love just stepping back and literally watching their energy and enthusiasm radiate through their fingertips. Here’s some cool pictures that we snapped of the kiddos during iSWAT. Thanks to Ramona Towner at Tales of an iCoach and Grace Kowalski for coming in last week to help! We’re so thankful for you.

Hour of Code launches next week and I was lucky enough to come in contact with a female computer scientist who has volunteered to come into the Brainstormers room next week Friday to help us with Hour of Code. Sakina is incredibly knowledgeable about programming and will be talking a little bit about her history and background with coding. I’m so excited for the kiddos to try this and push themselves and just have fun. Each of our kids will get a certificate stating that they completed the Hour of Code as well, giving them more ownership for their work. In the week leading up to Sakina’s arrival, I’ll be showing students some videos from code.org to help them anticipate what they can expect, and why coding and programming is so cool! Also, thank you to Bitsbox for my package, mini books and poster to hang in my room to get my students even more eager to code!

Last but not least, one of the coolest things the Brainstormers did this week was participate in SkypeClassroom’s global Skype-a-thon on Friday, December 4. We traveled approximately 753 miles during a mystery Skype with another 5th grade classroom. The other 5th grade classroom was able to guess our exact location in the world using deductive reasoning, maps and technology resources. It was incredible. We then had a collaborative discussion at the end of the questioning about some of our similarities and differences of our school. The best thing we found out about their school was that they also are the “Eagles” and have PBIS just like we do. We will continue to collaborate with this classroom throughout the year. Next, our students will guess and figure out where they are located. After that, we hope to continue the collaboration through virtual pen pals so share some of the great things we’re doing in our classroom. I can’t wait to watch this grow.




I am so blessed that I get to wake up everyday and spend my hours with the most amazing, students, staff and admin. I couldn’t be more thankful to call D100 and Irving my home. Each week just gets better and better as I learn more from the genius’ I am surrounded by–my colleagues and students.

Reading in the Wild Book Study: Vignette- Creating a Workshop Schedule That Works for You

Welcome to the Reading in the Wild, District 100 Book Study! I am so fortunate to be working alongside such an incredibly talented group of educators and administrators. First I’d like to thank Colleen, my astonishing mentor and all-around amazing blogger, over at Literacy Loving Gals for allowing me to jump on board this very special learning opportunity. Also, thank you to Kristin at Reading and Owl of the Above for hosting the book study and for allowing me to join in with all of you. Simply follow the links above to read about the introduction and Chapter 1 of Donalyn Miller’s book, Reading in the Wild.

In each of the chapters, Donalyn includes a short vignette that seems to focus more on the application of each practice in your classroom and suggestions that you may find helpful as an educator. Today, I’ll be discussing the first vignette, Creating a Workshop Schedule That Works for You, which falls immediately after the first chapter of her book, Wild Readers Dedicate Time to Read.

As a first year teacher, any professional development that I can use to enhance my student’s learning experience as well as my own learning experience is extremely beneficial, and I tend to jump at any opportunity that presents itself. With that being said, I’d like to re-iterate that while yes, I am participating in a book study amongst some of the best educators I have ever come across, I myself am a first year teacher, hoping to become half the educators that they are, one day.

It appears however, whether you’re a first year teacher or moving into retirement, the same dilemma pops up day after day, “there isn’t enough time to teach everything [you] must cover or everything [your] students need to learn.”

At the start of the year, Donalyn proposes 5 essential questions to herself regarding her Reading Workshop schedule that I believe would be helpful to any teacher feeling overwhelmed by the demands of their day. Below, I’ve broken up each question into paragraphs reflecting on both Donalyn’s and my points of view.

Essential Question 1: How much class time do you have to use? 

This question is rather self explanatory, simply asking yourself, how much class time do I have? It’s important to take into account if this class time is uninterrupted class time, or if your workshop is broken up by something like specials or lunch. Although not stated in Donalyn’s book, another important question to ask when thinking about your class time is asking yourself how much time do you have with each individual student. Students who are pulled out of the class for additional support will also need to be factored into your workshop schedule as means of maximizing their time in the classroom.

Essential Question 2: Which instructional components am I required to include? 

This will vary amongst districts, potentially schools, and maybe even classrooms depending on your class load and your students with IEP goals in reading or RTI students. Our district has made every effort to create “wild readers” by providing students and teachers with a two hour “balanced literacy block.” While that may appear like a lot of time, if you are unplanned, unstructured and have not modeled the habits of a “wild reader” those two hours can quickly turn into a free-for-all where students spend their entire time playing Spelling City games or listening to Thank You Mr. Faulker on repeat (not necessarily the worst thing they could be doing, but you see my point).

Our balanced literacy components may likely mirror what other districts mandate. In BSD 100 teachers are to include, Reader’s Workshop, Guided Reading, Independent Reading, Interactive Read Aloud, Reading Conferences, Shared Reading and Word Study in their two hour ELA block. As a first year teacher, incorporating all of these elements into a 2-hour block, with 28 individual students, each with specific goals is quite overwhelming. That’s why flexible scheduling and flexible group instruction is so important.  Donalyn states that “whatever your campus or district has decided is a must-do, you will need to find time for it in your workshop schedule.”

Essential Question 3: Which components would I like to include? 

This question proposes that you consider a “dream list” of what you want done in the classroom. For example, when you’re sitting down at the end of the day reflecting on your workshop, what is it that you “wish you had spent more time on”. For me, it’s the talking about books piece that I think we are missing out on in my classroom. I know how important it is for my students to read something they love to read, and CAN read (emphasis on the can). However, being able to articulate their understanding, their connections and overall uncovering their interpretation and meaning of the text is something that is valuable as well, especially as we move into book clubs.

Creating a “wish list” of things you want to include in your workshop keeps your “core beliefs” in front of you and allows you to say, “if I believe that talking about reading is important, when are they doing it?” Hold yourself accountable and “look for ways to dedicate time in your schedule for them.”

Essential Question 4: What can I change to carve out time for independent reading? 

Donalyn starts this section with something that I believe is incredibly powerful. She says that she “never ever sacrifices independent reading time for the sake of other instructional activities.” For most teachers, this is probably the easiest thing to do away with, but in reality if we are taking away students time to read and lose themselves in the book, we are taking away that foundation for them to build their “wild reading” habits upon. Students should be reading every day, even if it means cutting something else out of the equation. Donalyn suggests that if you have too many items on your schedule to give students independent reading time, you should step back and “critically examine everything on that list…” Compare what is on your list against the value of letting your students read. Is it better? Is it more important? Will it have a more significant impact? More times than not, the answer is no. If you’re finding your answer is “no” as well, it’s time to re-evaluate. It’s common sense to me, Michael Jordan didn’t become an incredible basketball player by listening to ESPN and watching people shoot hoops. He became incredible by running up and down the court for hours a day, practicing over and over again. So why do we not do this for our students? If we want them to become better readers who LOVE to read, we need to have them READING!

Essential Question 5: Remember the rule of thirds. 

Donalyn suggests that you break up your literacy block into thirds. In doing this you’ll be able to plan your time around three specific elements, one-third independent reading, conferring, and small groups; one-third direct instruction and guided practice with your whole class; and one-third independent practice where students spend additional time, you guessed it, reading or writing.

Donalyn structures her units by “alternating mini lessons from a writing focus to a reading focus,” however this may not work for every district. Again, going back to essential question 1, it’s really all about your district, your school, your grade level, and your group of students.

Your finalized schedule should align with the requirements of your district, your dream activities that you may struggle to fit in on a regular basis and most importantly should provide flexibility for you and your students to maximize their reading and learning.

It’s important to remember that everything you do should be student focused and based on what your students need. Small group instruction, strategy groups, guided reading, mini lessons and individual conferring should be focused specifically on individual student need. This is where our attention should be centralized, on the individual. A quote that spoke to me the most was about this thought exactly.

“What matters is that our daily work in the classroom values best practices and doesn’t become bogged down with a lot of must-dos and tired activities that crowd out authentic learning opportunities for our students.”

L. Frank Baum, Virginia Woolf and T.S Elliot certainly did not sit in their classroom focusing on listening to reading, and playing spelling games. These incredible authors, developed their strong literacy skills by reading, writing and discussing, and doing lots of it. By no means am I negating the incredible strides that we have made with technology in this world to enhance our learning capabilities and acquirement of knowledge. After all, I am a technology FREAK! However, it’s important to remember our roots and understand that to have students reading to improve their reading, just makes sense. I strongly agree with Donalyn when she states that often, “we reject what we know is right for what is easier.”

In closing, Donalyn points out how important reflective practices are as a teacher. Not only is it important for ourselves but it is also important for our students so that we can use these tools to “continuously recalibrate our teaching to our core beliefs, determine what is and isn’t working, and focus our teaching so we can continue to offer quality instruction that we can reasonably manage and maintain.”

Being a first year teacher, I feel like I’m reflecting on my practices almost hourly. Starting this blog has been the most crucial and beneficial tool for reflection and improvement of my effectiveness in the classroom. For example, I wrote about how poorly our math workshop is going. I met with some individuals in the district who have been following my blog and provided me with some incredible resources to completely re-vamp my math program. Just one small post has completely restored my confidence, instilled that confidence in my students and created an environment for my students to grow into l who not only understand what they’re doing, but who are able to explain what they are doing and learn from one another. Reflection is a powerful tool.

After reading, Reading in the Wild,  I immediately began reflecting on my own reading workshop and how effective it really is. First, and most importantly that I believe I will try to change in the coming weeks is the duration of time our students are reading. Our lowest readers are reading for the shortest amount of time and instead are partaking in activities that are not going to enhance their love for reading or their overall ability to read. This book has truly opened my eyes about the importance of creating wild readers and giving students the time to lose themselves along the “yellow-brick road” or defeat a “three-headed dog.” Give the time back to your students, create a safe space for falling in love with reading. You will be thankful you did.

If you’d like to continue following along with the BSD 100 book study, check out the amazing, Courtney O’Connor’s blog post on Chapter 2: “Wild Readers Self-Select Reading Material.” She will be a guest blogger on Literacy Loving Gals. Her post goes live on Colleen’s blog, November 18.  I’ve posted the schedule below if you’re interested in following along with our book study.


*Follow the link above to check our Courtney’s post.

Happy Reading!


“We Can’t Become What We Need to Be by Remaining What We Are”

Wow! What an incredible week. We re-vamped our math workshop, I survived my first set of parent teacher conferences and I was invited to meet a Senior Executive of Apple which was such an educational and enlightening experience. It was truly a special week filled with lots of positives, which is certainly something I needed after the previous week.


Chad Reynolds Apple Senior Executive

Most importantly, I’d like to take some time to reflect on our new and improved math workshop. Although it has only been one week, I’ve already began to notice a change in the amount of engagement and understanding from my students.

I’ve began to utilize Blendspace by tes to create “lessons” and “checklists” for my students to use to introduce them to our new lessons. Blendspace is amazing because it allows you flexibility in our instruction and you can easily access a variety of tools, videos, lessons and more all in one space. It also allows for me to easily import documents and files into the Blendspace for my students to download and utilize during our lesson. Since we have such a variety of different learners in our classroom I do have to create two different Blendspace lessons so that I can reach all of the learners in our classroom.

Typically the lesson will begin with a mini lesson, then the students will login to Blendspace, watch a video introducing some of the important elements of the lesson and then turn in an exit slip so that we can see how much they are understanding. They then submit the exit slip into the folder they feel best emulates their understanding. “One” means they completely understand the concepts and don’t need to meet with a teacher, “two” means they have a few questions but can get through some of the content on their own and “three” means they don’t understand at all and need to meet with a teacher immediately. This has proven affective, and allowed for more flexible instruction with our students. I also looked into the Google program “Formative” for our exit slips, but have not had success with logging all of the students into the program. I am hoping to use this in the next few weeks.

After students submit their exit slips and wait for us to work in small groups, they continue to work on their Blendspace material. The next lesson is usually a screen cast, from me, demonstrating how to complete the lesson and re-inforcing things they were introduced to in the video they watched before the exit slip. I’m thinking about sending these videos home so that they can take notes at home, eliminating that time in the classroom.

Then the students are to complete their keynote/smart notebook file with practice problems, demonstrating their understanding of the lesson. Whatever is not completed in class goes home for homework and they are to submit it into Schoology that evening before coming back to school. Again, each of these documents is differentiated for the different types of learners in our class.

For my early finishers, which has been few and far between since we’re just getting started with this new program, students are encouraged to create a screen cast or film themselves explaining their understanding of the problems they are completing. With the push of CCSS, fluency in math is no longer being able to complete a standard algorithm, but instead being able to identify how and why you achieved the answer you did.

The students were able to complete this task on Thursday and the results, engagement and understanding was incredible. Take a look at this sample below from one of my students. This was the first time they were responsible for creating this so please keep that in mind as you watch. There is still TONS of work to do, TONS of editing, changing and learning from our mistakes together. However, it’s incredible watching their learning take place, watching them get excited about their growth in the classroom and seeing them take ownership of their own learning. You’ll also notice in the videos that we’ve began utilizing the “I can statements” that align to the CCSS, so that students are able to understand what it is that they are working on and what the ultimate end goal of the lesson is.
We’ve made it through the halfway point of our lesson and I created a differentiated quick check of the lessons thus far to do a small assessment of where our students understanding currently lies. This will be a good identifier of what points they have missed out on, or not fully grasped, and which parts of the lessons they clearly understand. It’s also helpful for data purposes and to note which students needed teacher assistance and which students were able to achieve successes on their own.

As a final reflection, my FAVORITE part of this new math component, is watching the students, who math comes easy for, helping students who struggle and really walking them through the problems. It makes me feel so great that these kiddos accept one another for who they are and are able to give and accept help in a way that makes everyone feel comfortable and proud of their work.

Hopefully the flow of this lesson makes sense, however it’s definitely easier to understand if you can see it in person. I’ve included some pictures from the day where the students were creating screen casts of their problems. I love these kids and know how much potential they have! With all of these new math components in place to help them succeed, there’s no telling how much they will grow.


I am thankful for the friendship and guidance I have found in so many new teachers both within the building and in the district. It’s so helpful to watch how they construct their lessons and to bounce ideas off of them. I am so grateful that I have the freedom, flexibility and encouragement to try, fail and try again until I find something that is successful for my students. Change is the only thing that’s constant in the world and it’s important as an educator to realize that you need to be constantly changing and growing for the betterment of your students. “We can’t become what we need to be by remaining what we are.”