Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Teachers Don't Have All The Answers

Author’s Note: This post is cross-posted on Justin Birckbichler’s and Mari Venturino’s blogs.

The mantra of Breakout EDU is “It’s time for something different.” Breakout EDU is an immersive game-based platform that adapts the escape room concepts of problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration into an educational format. Players have to solve riddles to unlock a locked box. As we have shared in this post from Ditch That Textbook blog, we are thrilled to have the chance to live this motto as the Breakout EDU Digital team (in which we adapt the mechanics of Breakout EDU into a digital format). As we have evolved, iterated, and learned from that initial article, two situations have been brought to our attention time and time again. In this post and a follow up, we will examine these points and provide our response to them.

image source
With a Breakout EDU game using the box, setup instructions are provided. It gives the lock combinations, printable materials, and the paths the students follow to solve the riddles. You need these in order to facilitate the game. With the Breakout EDU Digital games, none of this is provided - everything is ready to go as soon as you enter the game.

Multiple times a week, we receive emails, tweets, Facebook messages, and other assorted communication from teachers asking for an answer key to the Digital games. When we receive these messages, we provide additional prompts and hints, but refuse to provide answer keys.

Why do we do this? Is it because we are evil and want you to suffer? Absolutely not - this is our contribution to the Breakout EDU mantra. For the bulk of the history of education, teachers have been viewed as the keepers of knowledge or the sage on the stage. In our opinion, this has gone on far too long. With the advent of the digital age, students have access to limitless amounts of information. Our roles as teachers need to change.

The “hidden curriculum” of soft skills is just as critical as the content we are mandated to teach. Words like rigor, growth mindset, resilience, and productive struggle thrown around as skills that students need to be successful in life, yet how often do we model this for our students? By not having access to an answer key, you are provided with a perfect opportunity to experience what a student feels when they first encounter a tough trigonometry problem. You're faced with a choice - put in effort to stretch your abilities to their fullest extent and grow your brain or email us for an answer (which is akin to flipping to the back of the textbook for the key.) Which would you prefer your students to do? Why do we not hold ourselves to that same standard?

You don't have to struggle alone - share your plight with your students. Challenge them to help you complete the puzzles. Students see things differently than adults; something that has stumped us for hours takes a matter of seconds for them. Imagine their moment of glorious success. They solved something their teacher couldn't.

But it's deeper than that. You were vulnerable with them. You shared your struggle. You modeled resiliency and a refuse to give up. You showed them that it's ok to ask for help; that it's ok to admit you don't always have all the answers. This is a bond that can't be forged by playing a video about famous figure who overcame adversity to reach success. They'll be more likely to let down their guard and ask you for help - and you'll understand their feelings even better.

By now you're thinking that this is easy for us to say - we have all the answers to the games. However, we've played other's games and been through this productive struggle.

And it's not just us who feel this way. For every few requests for answers, there’s one praising this dedication to doing something differently. We'll close with our favorite, which comes from Dr. Donovan DeBoer, superintendent of Parker School District in South Dakota:

One of my “mantras” has always been:  “The one that does the doing, does the learning.”  So when I was ever so close to our first teacher in-service days, and [Breakout EDU Digital] was one of the items I wanted to show my staff, I was very torn when I sent that dreaded, “I need help email.”  However, in true educator fashion, [Justin and Mari] did not oblige my begging of “cheats” to complete the task.  Instead, I was sent a very subtle hint and encouragement to complete the task.  

It was a great lesson for me as a leader of young people, and adults. It helped solidify my belief that if you want to learn, you have to do. 
Dr. DeBoer's faculty and students

It also proved to me how important collaboration is for our students.  I needed help, I didn’t necessarily want the answers, but I needed another brain (or 32). As I introduced the activity to my staff, I was short one lock code.  In the essence of time, we worked in groups on the digital breakout “Stranded on the Island.”  As time passed I witnessed adults, veteran teachers, cheer with excitement when they found a new clue, or figured out a code, and hide their answers to allow for others to feel the same thing when they found things on their own.   

Few more hours went by, in-service over, but I was still plugging away. I had to complete this thing.  That’s when the magic happened - one of my football coaches sent me a text. He had solicited a friend from hours away, that started working on it as well, and we finally cracked the mystery lock.   

The power of collaboration is real.  Shared suffering in the task, and then the jubilation we share in the accomplishment.  Two heads are better than one, and three better than two. Students need that time together, to share, to bounce ideas off one another, to enjoy the struggle together.   

More importantly, we have to have the patience to let learners learn.  They need to make mistakes, they need to learn from them, they need to talk it out with other people to learn the other side of communication not talked about “listening” to one another.  Then the “magic,” can happen.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Going Fourth Into a New Adventure

"Knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty."
-Jacob Bronowski

Just as I like to close each year with a reflection, I like to begin each year with goal setting. These posts are more for me to get my goals out on paper and to hold me accountable to a larger audience. So, if you’re reading this, check in with me on Twitter or email and ask me how I’m doing.

In addition to starting my fourth new school year, I am also starting at a new school in a new district (still in fourth grade!) Over the summer, I left my old district for a variety of reasons and joined my new one. After two weeks of teacher days, I am even more confident that I made the right choice. Stafford County Public Schools embraces the 4C skills (while also adding Citizenship and Wellness for a C5W framework,) promotes innovation, and supports a holistic and realistic view of teaching beyond testing. I got a chance to meet my new class during Open House this past week and I’m thrilled to spend the next year prepping my Agents of SHIELD for their future.

Without further ado, here are my goals for 2016-17:

  1. Student-led learning - Last year, my primary goal was to develop a student-led classroom, based on Learn Like a PIRATE by Paul Solarz. On the whole, it was a success, but I might have started too strong too fast. It did force the students to step up and take ownership of their learning at an accelerated rate, but more scaffolding may have been necessary. At the end of the year, I worked more purposely with groups and students worked independently with each other. I want to refine this so we hit the group running and keep up with it. I have a very different population of students this year and I already know they will do a fantastic job with it.
  2. 20Time - As I shared in a prior post, I have been constantly tweaking and adjusting Genius Hour in my classroom. This year, I want to do a major pivot. I want to have the students focus on one problem and develop a solution. I have completed reading The 20Time Project by Kevin Brookhouser and want to scale his ideas to elementary. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure exactly what this will look like. My schedule has larger chunks of time in it that will allow for uninterrupted time, but I do not know when it will be. Will it be a set day or will it be fluid? I want to start with the Bad Idea Factory and then move into brainstorming from there. I want to empower my students to be change agents from an early age.
  3. Instruction/Assessment Practices - I want to explore more purposeful usage of flipped classroom. Last year, I flipped my classroom for math and saw dramatic gains in students’ academic growth. (Side note - I really need to write a reflection post on my flipped classroom experiences.) I want to continue this, but it may look different. Some students may do the in class flip depending on their access and home, but I want to use the information I gather from observing flipping in a more intentional way. In general, I want to use small groups in both reading and math more purposefully. After three years of doing small group, I am finally coming to terms that I don’t need to meet with every differentiated group the same amount of time. I can meet with some groups more than others; as long as I am meeting each student’s individual needs. To further this, I want to refine my assessment practices. I am currently reading The Truth About Testing by James Popham and it has an interesting idea on pre/post testing. I am still trying to wrap my head around it, but I think it will allow me to be more purposeful in my instruction and quantifying growth.
  4. Growth Mindset - Although this has a tendency to be a buzzword when not used correctly, I am still including it as a goal. Our staff read Mindset by Carol Dweck this summer. My principal says that “it’s not a theme; it’s a practice.” I dabbled into growth mindset last year after taking an online course through Stanford and witnessed incredible things from my students. That was only for half the year and I was amazed. This year, I am starting with growth mindset on Day 1 and will continue all year. We’ll make an anchor chart and reinforce it, but I know it will make a difference.
  5. Vlogging - This goal is more for me than within the classroom walls. I did some vlogging during my Google Innovator experience and enjoyed it. This year, I want to vlog weekly as a powerful reflection tool. I’m not entirely sure what it will look like, but my general idea is a one video per week. This would include video snippets from the day, daily reflections, and other thoughts. These would all be strung together and posted on YouTube. I started a site ( to post all of these, but as I said, I’m not sure what it’ll look like or anything else. It’ll be brand new and I am looking forward to it.

As you may have noticed, I am not looking to redefine or implement a lot of new things this year. I think you can be good at many things or great at a few things. If I had to choose one word to define this next year, it would be REFINE. I want to refine my teaching and provide the best for my students. As the year goes on, I’m sure I’ll discover new ideas and I’ll add those in, but these five goals will be my guiding light for the year. I’m looking forward to a brand new fresh start and cannot wait to see what my students achieve this year.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Get Ready for Year Two of #FlyHighFri

Author's Note: This #FlyHighFri blog post is cross-posted on Justin Birckbichler’s and Mari Venturino’s blogs.

Welcome to #FlyHighFri, year 2. In July 2015, we began FlyHighFri as a way to emphasize the positives in our schools and classrooms in an effort to combat negatives we were observing. Read more about our initial set-up on Justin’s blog and Mari’s blog.

We have crafted a mission statement to guide our journey with FlyHighFri:

FlyHighFri is a place for educators to gather to share their successes and positive moments from the week with a supportive community.

It is our hope that this community grows organically together, and spreads throughout schools, both through social media and with face-to-face meetings.

In order to continue the positive momentum with FlyHighFri, we have established some community guidelines:

1. Positivity Rules
Celebrate the great things going on in our classrooms, schools, and districts.
First and foremost, FlyHighFri is about being intentionally positive. Building the habit of finding the positives within your day and week helps all of us persevere through the tough days. We want to celebrate all the wonderful things going on in schools across the world!

2. Share Real Successes
Share great stories from this week, big or small, that made a positive impact.
We make a sincere effort to read the the tweets each week. We love seeing the actual stories from the classrooms and schools. Have a student meet a goal? Great! Share it out. Staff member go above and beyond? Recognize them and share why they are important. Took a risk and it paid off? Tell us about it. Be intentional and specific about your tweets - there is a time and place for encouraging phrases but let's make this community about sharing successes and positive moments.

3. Keep it School-Centered
Focus on students and teachers, and let them be the stars.
No matter your role in education, the learners always come first. There are other avenues on social media to promote products, books, blogs, and the like. Our goal is for FlyHighFri to specifically be about great things happening in our classrooms and schools, not about self-promotion or promotion of a product. Of course, if you’ve written a post or a certain app or product has directly made a positive impact in your school during your week, we want you to share that!

Going Forward

We have high hopes for our FlyHighFri community for the 2016-2017 school year. We’d love to see the positivity message spread throughout schools and districts, but we also don’t want it to be forced. Be the invitation to your colleagues to share their positive moments. Mari often finds her principal at some point on Fridays and asks him, “What’s your FlyHighFri from this week?” It’s an easy 30 second conversation, that often turns into a longer discussion. We both also hold weekly get togethers for our teachers to join and share.

This year, we'll be managing FlyHighFri through the official Twitter page. We'll be quoting tweets that really stand out to us and want to highlight. We're not concerned about it trending on Twitter. If it does, great. If not, that's great, too. We value the individual contributions of each person, and prefer quality over quantity. Share successes with each other and use their ideas in your own schools. Challenge each other to continue growing as educators and positive people.

How can I spread #FlyHighFri?

- Connect with others in the FlyHighFri social media community using #FlyHighFri.
- Create an on-campus teacher group. Buy or make coffee to share with teachers and invite them to join you before school. Meet together for lunch. Consider extending this to your classroom or with parents and families!
- Go asynchronous to share online with a group of teachers through an online tool such as TodaysMeet or Google Hangouts Chat.

We look forward to a school year filled with positivity!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

How May We #GAFEhelp You?

How May We GAFEhelp You?

Do you use Google Apps for Education (GAFE)? Are you a connected educator on Twitter? Have you ever had a question about GAFE and so you Tweet it out only for it to get lost in the abyss of Twitter and never get a response? Or if you do get a response, it is completely random and really doesn’t help?
Well, we hope this will be a solution to that dilemma. We would like to introduce to you a new Twitter account, @GAFEhelp.
Eight GAFE using educators connected on Twitter and have teamed up to manage this new handle. Our goal is to be a resource to other GAFE using teachers and help provide a quick answer to any type of GAFE related question you may need help with.
In addition to this new Twitter account, we will be using the hashtag #GAFEhelp to also facilitate communication of any questions that may be out there.
We don’t see ourselves as experts, but just a group knowledgeable teachers wanting to help provide answers to your questions. If we don’t know an answer, we will try to help you research a solution and provide resources to help you get going in the right direction.
So if you need help with Google Apps, just tweet us @GAFEhelp and/or use the hashtag #GAFEhelp. So, How may we GAFEhelp you?
Meet the GAFEhelp Team:
Justin Birckbichler (@Mr_B_Teacher) - 4th grade teacher in Virginia. Teaches with 1:1 Chromebooks. Google for Education Certified Innovator and Trainer.
Ben Cogswell (@cogswell_ben) - TK-6th Educational Technology TOSA in Salinas, CA. Google Educator Level 1 and 2. 1:1 iPads & Dell Venues implementing GAFE in 12 schools with 380+ teachers.
Sean Fahey (@SEANJFAHEY) - 4th grade teacher in Indiana at a Google Apps for Education School. Teaches with 1:1 ChromeBooks.
Ari Flewelling (@EdTechAri) - Staff Development Specialist (Technology Integration and 1:1 Support), Google Certified Trainer & Innovator, CUE Affiliate President
Kelly Martin (@kmartintahoe) - K-8 Educational Technology and Curriculum Coordinator in South Lake Tahoe, California. Google Educator Level 1 and 2. Supports 60+ teachers in a 1:1 chromebook environment in grades 3-12.
Karly Moura (@KarlyMoura) - Instructional Coach & Educational Technology Support Teacher in California. Supports educators in a Google Apps for Education school teaching with chromebooks and ipads.

Mari Venturino (@MsVenturino) - Middle school science and AVID teacher in California. Teaches with 1:1 iPads. Google for Education Certified Trainer & Innovator.

Joe Young (@jyoung1219) - Math & STEAM Instructional Coach in Palo Alto, California. Taught 1st, 2nd, and 5th grades in a GAFE district, 1:1 iPads, 1:1 Chromebooks, and served as a tech lead teacher.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Genius Hour: An Update

"We've managed to screw up the world, but the minds that will fix this are sitting in our classrooms"
- James Sanders

This past year was my second year exploring genius hour. Because I was able to start it from the beginning of the year, I was able to fit two rounds of genius hour into our year. The first round ran much like the set up from year one; students independently researched something they were passionate about and presented their projects to the class.

Mark French visiting and learning about their problems
I learned something new from each of their presentations and began getting ready to implement another round of the same thing. I then had a thought - why do more of the same? Genius hour is about helping students grow into passionate and voracious learners and I wanted to try something different. 

The students were paired up and presented with a challenge: investigate a problem in the world and develop a solution. I asked them to think big - I didn't want problems like "they don't serve ice cream in the cafeteria" or "I don't have a PS4." The rose to the occasion, choosing topics including bullying, littering, world hunger, homelessness, truancy, endangered species, epidemic diseases, and smoking. Not a short order to research and solve, especially for fourth graders. 

To be honest, I was a little apprehensive. Some of these topics could become very controversial, but there wasn't a single time this became an issue. The students honed in on their chosen problems and I saw many shocked faces when they learned something new. To help them provide some structure, I suggested a basic framework: research facts about the problem to consolidate into an easily understood summary, propose a meaningful solution, and provide a step-by-step framework to implement this solution.

Many of them found a number of good and interesting facts, and some found some conflicting facts. Occasionally, we found it was a simple mistake on the students' parts (typing billion instead of million,) but sometimes different websites gave different information. We would discuss how to choose the best information, including providing a range of data.

A presentation on endangered species
One thing I noticed was that their slide design skills sometimes need work. Some students were spot on: good amount of slides, limited words, compelling pictures (some students found the magic of gifs,) and even some text animation. Other presentations were too long or overcrowded with text. This is a skill that adults struggle with (myself included,) but it's such a valuable skill for life. In the future, we'll take more time to discuss what makes good slide design and develop general guidelines to follow, in addition to continued work on public speaking and presenting.

Many of their solutions revolved around raising awareness or money for their problems. The littering group wanted to put up more signs and recycling bins, the smoking group wanted to teach others how to stand up against smoking, the disease groups suggested more research and funding for vaccines, and many groups wanted to raise money to donate to help endangered species, the homeless, or other groups. While none of these ideas could be designated as moonshot solutions, they were mostly realistic and could be brought to fruition by the students (with help from adults.) You can check out their projects in these videos: Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.

Brookhouser sharing about problem solving
Going forward, I want to build upon this idea. I do not want to begin with a round of studying something they are passionate about; I want to jump right into problem solving. After getting a second chance to learn from one of my Google Certified Innovator coaches Kevin Brookhouser at the North Carolina GAFE Summit, I want to shift genius hour into 20time. As he describes it, his students investigate a "wicked problem" for an entire year to understand and overcome it. I want my students' 20time projects to last an entire year (rather than a few weeks) and to solve their "wicked problems." I love the idea of a bad idea factory, which sometimes good ideas can stem from. I also want a concrete item or event to come out of this project, rather than just ideas for change. I want students to feel empowered and to be change agents, even in fourth grade. Kevin's got a great book called The 20Time Project, which I am extremely excited to dive into, and you can check it out here.

Is this too much to expect from fourth graders? Some may say so, but I don't agree. I believe if students are held to high standards, they will rise to meet them. They will obviously need support from parents and me, but I know they can do it. You can expect updates on this project throughout the year and I am extremely excited for what the students create to solve their "wicked problems!"

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Digging A Hole, Building The Bridge, and Making Changes

“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.” 
- Erin Morgenstern

Classroom discussions at morning meeting
Storytelling shapes my teaching. I teach metric conversions through telling a story about my cousin Meg (plot twist - her name isn't even Meg) calling my great grandmother, Millie ("Meg, Call Millie"), explain the purpose of an anemometer by regaling my class with my mom's reaction to my various speeding tickets commendations for excellence in high speed driving and, and countless other tales. But each of these are more or less a one-off story. It teaches the concept, we refer to it to help establish retention, and then we move on.

However, there are three parables I constantly refer to, especially during morning meeting, in one on one conversations, or in small group work. They shape the dynamic of the classroom and help bolster the students with senses of support, independence, and resiliency. 

"How Are You Going to Get Yourself Out of the Hole?"

photo credit
This story involves a lot of body movement in it. I pantomime digging a hole. "If you dig down to your ankles, you can easily step out. If you get to your waist, it's a little harder, but it's still doable. You get to your shoulders, well... you'll be climbing. If you get in over your head, hopefully someone is there to help."

The students enjoy seeing me act all of this out. Then I reveal - "Think about this in terms of school. If you choose not to work on something in class, you may need to finish it at home. If you don't do it then, you may have to try to do it during class. It can build up." The metaphor soon turns real. I ask them to apply it to how concepts over time will only get worse if they don't work to become better. Being up to your waist at the end of fourth grade can quickly become over your head at the beginning of fifth if the hole isn't filled in over the summer.

In education nowadays, we have a tendency to not let students fail or experience struggle. Jess Lahey wrote an excellent book about this called The Gift of Failure, which I reviewed in a post last year. We need to let the students struggle and see that things can build up. Give them a shovel and ownership of their hole. They will figure it out.

But make sure they know you will always be there at the top of the hole, reaching down to help them. Kids are not perfect (nor are adults) and they need modeling and guidance. I am always very open and honest with my students when I have dug myself into a hole and how I am working to get out of it. Students will still need to work to get to reach your hand from the side of the hole and to fill in their hole, but they need to know their support system is there to help.

"You Can Only Build a Bridge Halfway"

photo credit
To begin this, I asked the students to think of our classroom as a series of islands. 

Me: "How do you get from one island from another?" 
Class: "You can swim or sail a boat!" 
Me: "True, but you're ruining my metaphor here. You can also build a bridge."

I then go on to say that to build a bridge, each side much build half and meet in the middle or else it will collapse. (To be completely transparent here, I started this story without really knowing if it's true. After a little research, I found out that the arch of the Sydney Harbor Bridge was built from both sides. It may be done for the reason I said, but I'm not an engineer!) 

The moral here is that education needs to be a two way street (or bridge.) Many teachers do a fantastic job of teaching students in an engaging, interactive, and differentiated way, but the students need to have the same level of effort in their desire to learn and work ethic. We need to be equal partners in education or it will all fall apart. Students need to be taught what this means to have strong work ethic and building a bridge. Mini lessons on character and resiliency are a must and we need to be models for this with our students, colleagues, and parents. Furthermore, students should build bridges with each other, whether it be in academics or social skills. It needs to be an equal partnership. What would a classroom community of interconnected islands look like for you?

"We Don't Make Excuses, We Make Changes"

My keynote - note the title
The final story is perhaps the most important one to me. Not only is this our classroom motto, this is my mantra for life. (Even to the extent that I titled my keynote based on this phrase.) After my second year of teaching, I was full of excuses and complaints. I was highly negative and blamed others. I realized this was a waste of time. What could I change to make it better?

This is a message that I feel my students (and many adults) can benefit from. What changes can you make to improve a situation? In the classroom, I constantly challenged my students with this. Rather than saying what another student had done, what could they have done differently?

Role playing, modeling, and concrete examples in read alouds help to reinforce this concept. I often share examples from my own life, especially the time I put off getting my car inspected because "I didn't have time" but then had to get it out of impound for more time and money. Obviously, some situations and circumstances didn't fit this mantra perfectly, but often times I could help the students take ownership of their life and learning by reminding them of our class motto.

All of the stories figured largely into my classroom. Not a single day went by where we didn't mention digging a hole, building a bridge, or making changes. We ended our morning meeting every day by repeating our class motto (video below). Students are our partners in education and need to be held accountable. They are literally our future and need to learn how to be a good person, in addition to all the academic content we're mandated to teach. We need to support them in this character building process, and by living these virtues and mantras, my students became capable, dynamic, and independent young citizens.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Year 3 In Review

"Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action." 
-Peter Drucker

I have been out of school for about two weeks now, and have been dragging my feet on writing this post. I have been reflecting on what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it, and how to best format my thoughts. I decided to structure it similarly to my end of 2015 blog post - sharing successes, challenges, updating on my resolutions, and sharing new goals for next year.

1. What went well?

First and foremost, my students greatly surpassed my academic expectations for them. Each student showed at least a years worth of growth in reading, and much more in math. I am not one to harp on data, but in comparing their end of year tests in third grade versus fourth grade, I saw drastic improvement in nearly all students.

Reciprocal teaching in math
Furthermore, my students showed a greater maturity and developed strong growth mindsets. While growth mindset seems to be one of the latest education buzzwords, I saw my students achieve and excel while demonstrating growth mindset principles. One of my students struggled severely in math in the beginning of the year. He couldn't seem to grasp the concept of regrouping/borrowing/exchanging/whatever the correct term is in subtraction. I worked with him with physical manipulatives, with numbers, computer programs, peer tutoring, and everything else imaginable, but what made the difference was him. He recognized a weakness, wanted to get better, worked at it, and ended up teaching other students how to do it. Another time, my students were working on a Breakout EDU box and one kid stopped the whole class to remind everyone to use their growth mindsets and not give up. I had it on Periscope, but Katch decided to shut down so I can't link the video here. 

We spent a lot of time in class developing the soft skills and other skills needed for life. We had three parables I constantly came back to: "Making Changes, Building a Bridge, and Digging a Hole." I'll explore these parables more in my next post, but they had a definitive impact on my students.

Controlled chaos on a STEAM challenge
I tried a whole lot of new things in class, including student led learning, flipped classroom, Breakout EDU, coding, higher integration of STEAM/Makerspaces, HyperDocs (introduced to me by the wonderful Karly Moura,) and 1:1 Chromebooks. All of these were successful (to varying degrees) and I will use elements of each in my next school year.

2. What challenges did I face?

While student led learning was my main goal for the year, I think I went at it too hard too fast. Hindsight being 20:20, I should have scaffolded it more. I added more scaffolding around the midpoint of the school year, and next year I need to start with more scaffolding and then pull back. I do not think my students suffered from this though. It forced them to learn new skills (that they need) at a rapid pace. Sometimes, you've got to run before you can walk.

A reluctant reader reads Kid President at Morning Meeting
My timing/pacing was off this year. We started earlier than ever before, and our semester break was before Christmas and our end of year tests were in early May, as compared to last year when the semester ended in January and our end of year tests were in early June. It was definitely a transition, and I will need to be cognizant of that in the future. I was still able to teach all of the material, but I felt rushed at times and did not get much time at the end of the school year to do some of the activities that I've done in the past (like Reader's Cafe.)

All in all, the year was different and challenging at times, but I feel it was extremely successful. 

3. Updates on resolutions

I had developed four resolutions for 2016 and this section will serve to update progress on them. 

The proposal
  • I will continue to hold my students to high expectations: I would say this has been achieved and will continue to be a focal point of my teaching. Students need to know they are going to be held to high standards and they will meet them.
  • I will develop better systems for testing/grading and time management: I developed better systems for testing and grading. When a student finished their test, they brought it up to be and I graded on the spot. I gave them a second chance or gave some brief remediation. This system seemed to work better for the students and for me. It also allowed me to follow up with more focused remediation later. My time management has gotten better, but I still need to work to carve out chunks of time to work and time to relax. 
  • I will continue to develop professionally and look for new opportunities: I have left my position in Warren County and will be starting as a fourth grade teacher in Stafford County for the next year. I am extremely excited for this new opportunity and can't wait to see what it brings. Additionally, I co-created Breakout EDU Digital with Mari Venturino in March and that has been a wonderful opportunity. Attending the Google for Education Innovator Academy in late February left me with many takeaways (check them out here and here.)
  • I will take more time for my personal life: I realized this was the biggest goal I needed to work on. In February, I proposed to my girlfriend, and now she is my fiance. We are buying a house closer to my new school this summer and I have enjoyed taking more time to spend with her and create more memories. When Mark French came to visit me in March, he shared that sometimes you've got to unplug and make a commitment to spend time. With this, I learned how to say no to other things and have had to cut things out of my "online life" to make room for enjoying what is real.
4. So what's next?

While I will miss my old fourth grade team, other colleagues, and seeing my old students, I am extremely excited for my new career adventure. I have met with my new team and they seem incredibly supportive and easy going (plus, there is another guy on the team!) This new school should be a great fit for me.

I want to get into standards-based grading (which my new team does a version of) and a more integrated/cross curricular teaching method. I think this is the best way to truly assess the students' understanding and maximize instructional time. I want to still continue doing elements of the above things from the successes paragraph, with more scaffolding in student led and revamping some elements of flipped classroom. 

Room 22 Family 2015-2016
Above all things, I want to refocus. Over the past year since I joined Twitter, I have been dabbling into many things and doing a good job with them. I don't want to do a good job of many things, I want to do a great job of a few things. I will be focusing on teaching, my personal life, EduRoadTrip, Breakout EDU Digital, and #FlyHighFri. (After some thoughts, I have lessened my involvement with various Twitter chats and completely dropped #Teach20s.) Sharing these responsibilities with the awesome team of Mari and Greg Bagby will also help in the time commitments. I would also like to continue to carve out time for reading (both personal and professional) and writing. 

Last year, I closed this blog entry with a snippet from a student's end-of-year survey, and I feel this is a good way to end it again:

"It was the best year of my life. I made new friends and I had some drama. Mr.B is the best teacher ever and I learned a lot from him. Also if you focus you have know Idea what you can do. When you make class fun, students learn more and are much more happy to go to school."