Thursday, August 16, 2018

Classroom Library Digital Check-Out System: An ITRT Recipe

Looking for a paperless classroom library check-out system, without QR/Bar Codes?


Skill Level/Time required:

  • Intermediate 
  • 30-45 minutes


  1. Make a copy of the Google Form Template from the Ingredients (or from here). Make the form as decorative as you'd like.
  2. Add, edit, or remove any questions you would like. Be sure to fill in your class list in student name and edit/add the genres you want. 
  3. Install and open the CheckItOut Add On. Select 'Add/Edit Question Set.'
  4. Select 'Add New' and retitle 'Check in/out set name' as "Book" or something similar. 
  5. Change 'Question type' to 'Text with Listbox.'
  6. Leave the remaining two boxes alone and select 'Add.'
  7. If desired, move 'Author Name' and 'Genre' below the two questions CheckItOut added. 
  8. OPTIONAL - Embed the Google Form into a Google Site. (This optional step will help if you choose to make the 'Reading Log' public later - directions coming soon).
  9. Use a Link Shortener to shorten the Google Form (or Google Site) URL. Alternatively, link to it from your Google Classroom or class website. 

Implementing with your students:

  1. Direct them to the check out form (wherever you placed it in step 9).
  2. All directions are in the Form: 
    • They can select their name and genre from the drop down list. 
    • If they are checking a book out, they will type the full title under 'Check out.' 
    • If they are checking a book back in, select it from the menu under 'Check in.' 
    • They must also type in author name. 

Video directions:

Monday, June 18, 2018

Five Firsts in my Fifth Year

I've never been someone that's had a five-year plan. That just... doesn't give you the chance to be flexible. 
-Eric Bana

It's the first Monday of my summer vacation and I just returned from my first morning run. In a few hours, I'll be seeing my first (of many, thanks to MoviePass) movie of the summer - Incredibles II. Due to my school district moving to a pre-Labor day start for the 2018-2019 school year, this summer is rather short. This year marked my fifth year as a fourth grade teacher. While five years seems like a really long time and doesn't leave much room for "new," I realized that there were five major "firsts" this year. Since I hate blogs that are just personal reflections, I'll also be sharing how these can impact your classroom.

It was my first year in yet another new classroom

First day selfie on top...
Final day on the bottom
For those of you playing the home game, this year marked my third classroom in five years. My first move was due to relocating in Virginia, and this one was so I could be closer to home. I have to say, a ten-minute commute (compared to my previous 45-90 minutes) is a beautiful thing. 

A new classroom means a new set up, different expectations, and more. I can definitely say that this school was the best fit for me. My students and team were great (I'll expand on these both more later) and my administration was incredible.

How this can impact your classroom

Don't be afraid to try for a new position. Whatever your reason, be it closer to home, a desired change in vision, or anything else, this shift could be a wonderful thing for you. That being said, I do not necessarily recommend moving classrooms every year, though lugging around so many boxes is a great workout. 

It was my first year without 1:1 Chromebooks

The only real "downside" to my new classroom was that I was not permitted to use my DonorsChoose class set of Chromebooks, due to district policies. While I totally get the rationale (devices not owned/managed by districts can become a nightmare), it definitely was a big shift in my instructional practice. I had to share a cart of Windows laptops with another teacher. 

However, around the holidays, I realized this ended up being a good thing. It forced me to switch up some lessons, explicitly teach how to effectively collaborate with partners while using devices, and refine my whole group/small group skills.  

How this can impact your classroom

Technology is the tool, not the lone savior. Do not become too reliant on computers, since you never know when they might go away. Focus on the teaching and use technology to augment the lessons, but never make it the only way you instruct.

It was my first year of having nicknames for every student

Nicknames have been a hallmark of my teaching since I began way back in 2013. It's always fun to say, "Youngblood, your reading teacher is here" and watch the shocked look on her face. However, I've never had a year where all my students have had nicknames. In the past, some students just straight up didn't want them, and in some cases, I couldn't find a organic fit. Nothing is worse than forcing a nickname.

This year, all 25 of my students had nicknames, from the reasonable "Tiny" for the smallest student in the room to the ironic "Trouble Family: Trouble, Double Trouble, Triple Trouble, and Quad Trouble" (the four quietest girls in the room) to the completely random "Jim Boy" for a student whose name was not Jim nor even James. This is a small thing, but helped create a sense of community and belonging in the classroom. Even my "Nemesis" loved her nickname and was in tears at the end of the year when it was all over. 

How this can impact your classroom

It doesn't have to be nicknames, but do something that make your students feel special. There are a billion viral videos of personal handshakes for each students, or create something that is you. No matter what - students need to feel welcome and embraced in your classroom. It doesn't have to be a major endeavor, but it has to be noticed by the students. You can't teach someone who doesn't want to learn from you.

It was my first year that I got along personally and professionally with ALL members of my team

Super teachers!
This isn't to say I actively disliked past teams. I still keep in touch with many old colleagues, but this is the first year that I felt like all members of my team let me do things "The Justin Way", without pushing their ideas onto me. (The Justin Way is hard to accurately describe, and I have been trying for three years on this blog to define it, to no avail.) We shared ideas and helped each other grow, but in a way in which everyone's ideas were respected and no one was criticized.

How this can impact your classroom

If you're on a team like this, be grateful. If you're not, see what you can do to change the culture. Team dynamics are hard to balance, but pays off in great dividends when they work. Put the time in to ensure it works and be open with your communication.

It was the first year I felt I had good work/life balance

Teachers suck at work/life balance. Not a controversial take, and I was among them in the beginning of my career. This year, I made a commitment to take care of me more and to enjoy my life outside of work. While teaching is a career that requires it to be a true labor of love, it's also important to realize that it is a job, and you work to live. There's no purpose in working yourself to the grindstone if you have nothing outside of work to look forward to.  

How this can impact your classroom

Find a hobby that has nothing to do with education. For me, it's writing about testicular cancer and men's health, but that's probably not your thing. (Though if it is, hit me up!) It's important to be a person first and a teacher second. After all, you cannot give them your 100% if you're not at your own personal best.

Set limits on yourself. The ones who should be working hardest are the students - not you, furiously lesson planning and grading papers at 1 am. 

A bonus point as I look to my sixth year in education  

It was my last year as a fourth grade teacher

One last selfie in the classroom
It's been a great five years as a fourth grade teacher, and I would say that this year was my best, between the above five points, the end of year academic gains my students made (including the highest pass rate on end-of-year assessments I've ever had), and more that didn't make it in this blog. That being said, this past Friday was my last day in the realm of fourth grade education. 

Starting on August 1, I will be transitioning roles to an Instructional Technology Resource Teacher (also called a tech coach, technology integrator, TOSA, or other titles depending on where you live). While I will still be within my same school district, I will be at a different school, meaning this is the fourth change for me (and fourth workout thanks to carrying around boxes). 

I have wanted to pursue this position for a few years, but kept putting it off. I had opportunities the past two years to make the change, but turned it down on both occasions (apparently you cannot get a mortgage if you don't have a signed work contract - who knew). I almost decided not to apply this year since I was having such a great year, but it felt like a good time to make the switch. I am beyond excited to start this new role, but I will miss working directly with my own class. 

How this can impact your classroom

Like I said in the first point, if there's a change in assignment you've been eyeing up... go for it. There's no time like the present. The great thing about teaching is that there are so many different things you can do and still be within the realm of education. If you want to try something new, give it a whirl and know you can always go back if it's not what you thought. 

And while you're changing roles, purge things that won't be directly related to your new job. Hand it off to colleagues or the teacher taking over your room. 

They (and your back) will thank you. 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

A Review of Illuminate: Technology Enhanced Learning by Bethany Petty

While I may not have been blogging here much this year (seeing as this is only my second post of 2018), I have been reading up a storm. This is part of a commitment to myself to continue using my time to trying define surviving life after cancer. I've set a goal to read 100 books this year, and the majority of them have been thrillers, and only one from January to May was about teaching.

However, I recently received an email from Bethany Petty, who I originally connected with through my former work with Breakout EDU Digital (which gets a shout out in one of the chapters - always cool to see Justin Birckbichler in print, and kudos for spelling is correctly).

She had just published Illuminate: Technology Enhanced Learning through EdTechTeam Press and wanted to share her message with the world. I told her I would be happy to read and review her book, though she may not need it since as of this writing, it is the number one new release in the Amazon store for Science and Technology Teaching Materials! About a week later, it showed up on my doorstep, and approximately 24 hours later, the book moved from my "Currently Reading" shelf to my "Read" shelf on Goodreads.

I highly recommend this book.
Click here to order your own copy.
This is more about the book being so easy to read more so than it being a short book. Bethany writes in a very conversational tone and shares many engaging anecdotes about her personal experiences as a learner, a teacher, a mom, a friend, and a blogger to back up her points.

The book is broken into ten chapters, with each one covering using technology to engage, explore, create, communicate, think critically, assess, reflect, motivate, design lessons, and connect. I learned something new from each chapter and wish I had read this when I didn't have just five days left in school, so I could implement them this year.

I loved that the book was not based entirely on the tech tools, but more on applications of each tool. New ideas that I had never considered before were presented in each chapter. A ton of stickies now adorn my copy with things I'd like to try in my own classroom.

While the focal point of the book is the "why/how" to use different tools, the "what" tool to use is also addressed. I consider myself pretty in the know about educational technology, but there were about six tools I had never heard of or knew what they did. The 35 tools are helpfully categorized in the "Tech Tools Index" at the back of the book, which made it easy to count up how many I need to learn about soon, but even more nuggets of wisdom are sprinkled throughout the book, making the grand total much higher. Luckily, blank notes pages are included at the end of each chapter to keep it all organized.

A common fear about print books about technology is that they will be outdated within a year or two. Bethany has helpfully included QR codes (which she shares a number of educational uses for throughout the book) to blog posts she has written about the subject. In my interactions with Bethany, I know she is on the ball when it comes to educational technology, and these blogs will be updated as current technology is refined and new, better tools are developed. Essentially, you are getting two books for the price of one - the one in your hand and the future iterations of her blog.

Thank you for allowing me the chance to read and review this book, Bethany. I thoroughly enjoyed every page of Illuminate: Technology Enhanced Learning and look forward to seeing your work continue to grow!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Digit Detectives: Student-Created Number Talks

“Since the heart of number talks is classroom conversation, it is appropriate for the teacher to move into the role of the facilitator.”
- Sherry Parrish

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Before reading this piece, I strongly suggest you read my original number talk piece here. After reading it, come back here to read about the next level. 

A critical part of our daily math routine is beginning with a number talk. As a brief recap, they're 10-15 minute experiences where students are presented with a math prompt and have to work out various solutions using only mental math. Most number talks can have more than one answer and follow similar formats. Various norms (such as hand signals) are established to ensure that the experience runs smoothly.

Leading the tape measure Estimation 180
One thing I am very passionate about is giving students ownership and control over their learning.

They already write the weekly newsletter, lead our daily morning meetings, and help develop flipped classroom videos. In reflecting on where I could turn over more control to my students, I realized they could run number talks.

Teacher's assistant (the student who basically acts as a miniature version of me) is a highly coveted classroom job in Room 31, and it felt like a natural place for passing off the task. Once other students saw the teacher's assistant running the show, they begged that person for a chance. I'm always impressed by how gracious the teacher's assistant is in allowing others to have a chance.

The number talks all follow certain patterns and routines, based on the specific type (see the original blog post for an explanation of the types). One type that I didn't explain in the original post was Estimation 180. This is a fantastic website where various pictures are shown and students must make estimations based on other information in the picture or previous days' information. For example, a student recently led a five-day long continuous number talk about tape measures, in which a new, larger tape measure was introduced every day and the students had to estimate the new measures length.

Before and after students lead a number talk, I conference with them about what I'll be looking for while they lead. I want them to reinforce the norms and to push student on their thinking, which often times can be as simple as asking, "Why do you think that?" I encourage them to model it as if I were given the number talk.

A physical plan before
I converted it digitally
Generally speaking, I open up that day's number talk from this Google Slidedeck (feel free to make a copy of it) and turn it over to the student. As I do while I'm leading a number talk, I stay out of it and let them run the show. On occasion, I will put my thumb up (indicating I have an answer I'd like to share). Sometimes I will give a "correct" answer and model my thought process, and other times I will purposely give a wrong answer and see if other students catch it and use the disagreement signal (raising their hand). Spoiler - they usually do and love saying, "I disagree with Mr. B!"

While allowing students to lead number talks are great, they're still basically regurgitating information I'm giving them. I want them to be creators and true leaders of their learning.

I decided to ask the teacher's assistant for the month of January to start developing some of her own number talks, based on the "Mystery Number" and "Balance the Scale" format (again, see the original post for in-depth explanations).

Full disclosure - this girl is literally the shyest girl I have ever had in my entire teaching career. Asking her to lead number talks was one thing, but creating one was a whole new ball game. Nevertheless, she stepped up and developed both in a matter of minutes. Since I store all of my number talks on Google Slides, she wrote it on paper and I quickly converted it to digital.

She absolutely rocked it. I really wish I filmed it, because she did a great job. Her first talk was based on balancing the scale for the value of 12. In addition to her choosing an ideal number (since 12 can be created so many different ways depending on the operations used), I was absolutely floored by the responses of her classmates. We have been working on polygons, and one student said, "hexagon plus hexagon." This opened up further polygon-based discussion, which brought a single tear to my eye.

 Leading his own "Mystery Number."
Immediately, former teacher's assistants asked if they could retroactively make some. Of course, I wasn't going to turn them down! The following day, a student created and led another "Balance the Scale," while another did a "Mystery Number" later in the week.

If you're planning on trying this with your students, I definitely recommend beginning with the two formats I began with (Balance the Scale and Mystery Number), in addition to "Which One Doesn't Belong." These seem to be the three easiest to develop and lead to rich discussion.

In the future, it would also be cool for students to begin developing some talks in the Estimation 180 set up. This would take a bit of prep work ahead of time, as this would require students to take pictures at home and send them to me. Who knows - this may be on the docket for my February teacher's assistant!