Wednesday, March 25, 2015

HSCN: Build it and They Will Come

"I don't remember how to do that kind of math!"

"You do math differently than I do!"

How many times do you hear this in a typical school year? Ten times? Hundreds? Thousands even?

The Initial Interest Survey
Often times, you hear that just as much from the parents as you do from your students! I had this issue many times last year when I was teaching 4th grade math. For example, Lattice box math is generally newer to many parents. They are more comfortable with the traditional algorithm and may not understand how/why we do Lattice box. Additionally, some parents may not have worked with this sort of math in many years (possibly since they were in elementary school!) I struggled with how to best help parents help their child. I sent study guides and modeled examples, but neither seemed to have a large effect. Feeling lost, I turned to my professional learning library to search for answers.

I hit gold! In one of Ron Clark's books, I found the idea of hosting nights where the parents came into the classroom to learn how different math techniques work and how to do them. As any good educator will tell you, we beg, borrow, and steal constantly, so I stole this idea and made it my own.

The first step was to gauge parent interest in this idea. I sent home a survey in early December to see if parents would be interested, what time of day would work best, what subjects needed to be covered, and how frequently they would like to have these nights. I asked for the form to be returned before Christmas break, so I could begin to plan out these nights.

Of 20 respondents, 16 families indicated interest. 15
families wanted help in math, 13 in reading, and 10 in Virginia Studies. Predominantly, the parents said evenings would work best. Figuring these, I decided to host 3 nights a month from 7:00-8:00 pm: 2 Math and 1 Reading. I discussed this with my administration and she was fully supportive. I moved forward in planning.

Results of Interest Survey
I decided to title them Home-School Connection Nights; HSCN for short! I sent home an RSVP form for two nights in January. I said they would be strictly for parents, to optimize our time together. To hype/bribe parents to join me the evening, I offered various "prizes" for their students. These were free things I had gotten from Scholastic through book orders, like bookmarks and key chains. I had 13 parents say they would come to the Reading Night and 14 say they would come to the Math Night.

I decided to base the Reading Night on three comprehension skills my class struggled with: Main Idea, Inferences, and Sequencing (based on the recent Reading benchmark assessment.) I used the Math Nights to review multiplication, long division, and elapsed time. Those skills comprised our second quart of the school year. I created presentations on Google Slides, which I uploaded to my Google Site for parents to revisit later. I collaborated with my close teaching and personal friend to make the presentations as clear as possible.

The first Reading HSCN was upon us! While 13 parents RSVP'ed yes, 10 showed up, which was a
The very first Reading HSCN, with 13 parents.
My principal is in the blue sweater
great turn out! I provided all the parents with paper copies of the presentation for them to follow along on. I had made enough copies in hopes that all parents would come, so I had many extra copies. The next day, I sent these home with the students of parents who did not attend, so they still got the information. As parents entered the room, they signed in on a Google Form, and completed a paper survey. I told them I would be streaming the HSCNs live on YouTube through Google Hangouts on Air. I later was able to tell who streamed it from home, which averages about one parent per session. The views show me that parents go back and watch it later though. I began the stream... and was underway.

Basically the format for the first Reading and Math HSCNs were very similar. I would introduce the
Parents working on practice Lattice Box
skill, show examples of how it would be worded on tests, highlight common mistakes 4th graders make, and provide ways to practice. There was one main difference between the two. On Reading Nights, I provided examples of tests/passages with the percentage breakdown of answers. I tried to explain why students picked different answers. On Math Nights, I had a section where I would actually model and demonstrate the techniques, while the parents joined in practicing. At the end of both nights, I had the parents fill out a feedback form for their thoughts. They were overwhelmingly positive and I decided to continue.

Since the first two nights, I have made two major changes:
  • One common issue on the feedback forms were that the parents couldn't see the presentation on the paper copy. I solved this problem but giving them Chromebooks to view the presentation on while I presented on the SmartBoard. I still provide paper copies for them to take notes on and for the parents who do not come. This had an additional benefit of embedding the pre survey and the feedback form in the presentation so they could do it right on the Chromebook.
  • Taking notes on Reading Comprehension
  • I began offering childcare during these nights in March. The same teacher mentioned above volunteered to watch children while their parents were in my class. I included this information on the March RSVP. This helped some parents come who could not get a sitter for the evening. 
Other than these two changes, I have pretty much kept the format the same. I have offered two Math and one Reading Nights in February and March, and will continue to do so in April. I've posted all the dates on the Classroom Calendar on my Site, and included the topics that will be discussed. In the Math Nights, I preview the information that we will be covering. This helps better prepare the parents to best assist their students. Turn out has been anywhere from four families up to thirteen, but to me, if one parents shows up, it is worth it. I am making a difference in their child's education.

Parents at a Reading HSCN
The final HSCNs will be in May. There will be various exciting changes to the Nights. First, we will have covered the entire math curriculum by then. I will allow the parents to choose whatever topics they want addressed on the first night. Second, I will also be holding a Virginia Studies night in that month. Virginia Studies is one of our standardized tests, so I want to ensure the parents are prepared to help their child. Finally, the last Math Night is going to be Students Vs. Parents. I'll invite both
groups and they will battle each other in all math concepts. The catch is... the parents have to use the students' methods! I am really looking forward to this particular Night.
Yours truly presenting on long division at Math HSCN

I am a very strong advocate for parents taking an ownership role in their child's education. In my graduate degree studies, I have been basing the research portion of my degree on parental involvement and the effects on achievement. Obviously, higher parental involvement equals higher
achievement. This is just one small way I have tried to increase parental support at home. I have 7 hours a day with a student, and they are at home for 17 hours. If school is the only place they are practicing the skills, it is highly unlikely they will be most successful. I urge you to try this in your own classroom and I am more than willing to lend a helping hand! Sound off in the comments below!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Behind the Scenes of a Green Screen!

Recently in class, we completed our Virginia Studies unit on Virginia's role in the Reconstruction era. As part of each unit, I like to give the students a project to complete. Past projects have included map activities, Jeopardy games, dioramas, and student-written skits. Skits have always been a favorite choice. I decided to take it to the next level... by filming them in front of a GREEN SCREEN! This added a whole new layer to their project. Let's walk through the project, shall we?

You can see the timeline up on the SmartBoard
First, the students were randomly assigned into groups. I use a really cool app called "Team Shake" to make their groups. It allows me to create even groups, so not all the high achieving students are in one group, and vice versa. Sometimes I have to "shake" it a few times to iron out the wrinkles (students who don't get along or get along too well!) I sorted them into five groups to correspond with the five topics: Reconstruction Problems, Freedman's Bureau/Sharecropping, Segregation in Schools, Segregation in Voting, and Reconstruction Expansion. I randomly selected what order the groups. We set up a timeline to complete the skit in a reasonable time frame and kept revisiting it during the duration of the project.

Working on Google Drive and Classroom
Next, they were given a graphic organizer to help guide their thinking. They needed to write down the important details about their topic, identify what props they would make, and what they wanted as their background. After getting this information down, they began writing a script together. After the handwritten version was done, they moved onto Google Classroom and Drive to complete their final copy.

On Google Classroom (which we use extensively,) I posted a separate Doc for each group to work on. Using their Chromebooks, the students were all able to "hop on" the Doc at one time and work together. They loved using the chat box feature to communicate and the entire Google Classroom feature. They begged me to allow them to work on it at home, which I happily agreed to!

Impromptu teachable moment on feelings
(but I  forgot to use my manners!)

Working at home did cause a minor problem. Because Google Classroom doesn't allow me to set specific sharing to certain students, each student could see all scripts. One student was out the day I said this, and had gone onto other scripts and edited them. I left her a message on her script, and discussed with her the next day. Hopefully, this issue won't arise again!

Building on props in foreground, behind is finding background

The next step in the skit process was for the students to select their green screen backgrounds. They found images on Google Image Search and pasted them into a shared Doc on Classroom. This allowed me to have all their chosen backgrounds in one place when I was editing later. One student became the "Copy/Paste Master" and continues to do so! They also had to build props for their skit. In the past, they would get super involved into the props without having a script ready. The class agreed the scripts had to be in my hand before they could begin on props. This has worked like a charm.


After all of this, the students began to rehearse. I challenged them to memorize their lines, which I have never done before with any group. They rose to the challenge and did admirably. Each group was given a certain amount of time to practice in front of the green screen. This helped them with positioning themselves and props, because usually they can move around the entire room.

Finally, it was performance day! Ironically, this coincided with St. Patrick's Day. Green clothing on green screen.... not my finest moment in planning! We threw jackets on students who forgot to wear a different color. BOOM! Problem solved. I used a combination of a video camera and an iPad app called "Green Screen by Do Ink" to film. I used the video camera to get the raw footage and the app to gauge how the green screen effect would work. You can use the app for the entire process, but I like to have more control than the app offers.

I edited the videos that night with Movie Studio Platinum, simply eliminating the green screen and putting in the students' backgrounds. I published it on my YouTube channel and shared the link with my Voxer and Twitter PLNs, all families in the classroom, and all staff at my school. The students have received Tweets, Voxes, comments, and emails with great supporting comments. I encourage you to check it out and leave some feedback for them!

Some takeaways from this experience:

  • It was highly motivating. Students actually opted to work through recess most days! Integrating more tech into this (Google Classroom and green screen) helped to heighten the fun.
  • Students need a lot of work and practice on their oral delivery. I plan to do this project for our next unit on civil rights leaders, and will offer mini lessons on public speaking.
  • In my email to staff, I offered to help other teachers with green screen. One teacher has already asked me to help her in her class. I was thrilled to help, because my eventual career goal is to be a technology coach!
  • This entire project took 1 calendar week from assigning groups to performance. They were given about 45 minutes a day, with an option to extend it into recess for an additional 25 minutes. I felt this was a good amount of time: not too long and not too short. 
  • This allowed for a ton of cross curricular domains and skills: history, reading/research, writing, technology skills, collaboration, performance arts, and many others. 
As a closing, here is the final video! Enjoy! See you next time.