Long, Overdue Reflection

The problem with long, overdue reflections are that they are long and overdue.  So much time has passed, so many things have happened, and it is hard to determine what to reflect upon first. The reason I started this blog was to keep up with my technology journey.  I have composed posts, reflections, accomplishments and pitfalls in my head many times a day, but have let the time slip away without documenting any of it.  For those of you that have taught for a while, you can understand that reflection undocumented eventually exists nowhere.  The file drawers in my brain have since been filled up with other tasks, thoughts and ideas that have pushed those reflections into the cobwebs of my brain, forever lost.  This post is an attempt to get back on track with reflecting in a permanent way that allows me to look backward in order to move forward.

Reflection 1: Get outside of your walls!

The biggest ongoing motivator for me has been my participation in #gwinchat, a Twitter chat with educators that began with a group of Gwinnett County educators, but has grown to include a group of teachers in many roles and places.  In some ways, #gwinchat replaced this blog for me.  Every Wednesday, I know there will be a topic and people that will challenge me on my thoughts, beliefs and practices as an educator.  Having an informal PLN that is outside of the walls of my school is key to keeping things fresh.  Don’t get me wrong, I work every day with absolutely amazing educators that teach me new things all the time, but it is different when you get outside of your school walls on your own terms.  The perspectives of coaches, coordinators, administrators, general education teachers, special education teachers, consultants and many more all working with students at different levels of education gives you a real world picture that can’t be replicated in professional development. The ability to explore the topics you care about, and not the topics somebody tells you to care about also adds value beyond compare. One thing is for sure, a platform called Twitter that limits me to such a small amount of characters per tweet, really makes me reflect on my ideas, words, and beliefs in a way that I never could have imagined.

Reflection 2:  Small steps work!

I began this journey using small steps and continue this journey the same way. As I take a moment to think about life since August, I am amazed at where I started and where I am now.  In August, having a personal blog and initiating Genius Hour were my two goals. As the year has progressed, I realize those goals have led to a plethora of new tools that I have tried or better yet have allowed my students to try.  Here are a few:

  • KidBlog classroom blogs
  • Smore presentations
  • Powtoon presentations
  • e-maze presentations
  • rewordify.com to help students read Genius Hour texts
  • Kahoot quizzes
  • Wonderopolis to explore wonders
  • Zaption.com to create “quiz” videos
  • Explain Everything to create video books
  • iMovie to create class and presentation video
  • Class Twitter page (admittedly not being used a lot)

As I look at that list and consider where my journey began, I am in awe of all that we have already done this year. I can only imagine how much more we will learn together as the second half of the year unfolds.

Reflection 3: Reflecting in writing is more powerful than in my head!

This time of year can feel overwhelming in the classroom. There is a lot to do still and the time is growing shorter to accomplish it all. Testing season begins, and we all know what that does to both teacher and student psyche. Also, being a special education teacher means that the full throttle IEP season is in full gear with many deadlines looming. Add in a new initiative to put a minimum of two data points per objective per week for every student in a database that is brand new to you, and you can just about get sent over the edge with all the “non-teaching” tasks that are coming up.

Taking the time to reflect today (which is honestly only happening because I am home with a sick child instead of at work) has made me realize that although there is a long way to go, we have come a long way. I have taken the time to create a few creative lessons that will hopefully engage and connect students, as well as recharge my enthusiasm.

I am grateful to take my small steps with amazing co-teachers and students every day. Some days a teacher just needs to sit still to reflect and remember the journey taken and plan the journey to come.  Perhaps I am home with this sick child because this is just what I needed today, the gift of reflection.





Genius Hour: A Work in Progress

It has been a few busy weeks since I last posted, so there is a TON to reflect upon! Bottom line, I continue to be happy with Genius Hour despite a mammoth learning curve for both students and teachers. I am excited for the culture shift that I hope will come as we all grow to become more independent and self-driven learners and teachers. I also could not imagine navigating these new waters without my co-teaching partner. It is reassuring to look at each other in the middle of our plan and know we need to shift gears, but we are not doing it alone. It makes me more confident to have another professional to plan, reflect, and teach with during this new adventure.

We have identified some things that we want to be sure to remember when this journey begins again next year. Hopefully blogging them will help me to actually recall what I was thinking during this time. As all teachers know, one school year is a blink of an eye and a journey that seems to last an eternity all at the same time. I find that when I cycle back to the beginning of the next year, I often can’t remember any reflections I had, except that I had something that I wanted to do differently for some reason. It is moments like these when a blog, journal or co-teaching partner with a tremendous memory comes in handy.

Introduce The Cycle of a Genius

Question, Research, Thinking, Project-Perhaps complete a brief class cycle with something planned first to let them see how to persevere through the cycle. They need to see how research and thinking goes back and forth before the project begins to take shape.

Searching for Information

We realized how inept the students were at finding information on the internet effectively.  In hindsight, this seems like common sense. Since technology is such a part of the culture at our school, we assumed the kids were more proficient than they actually were when working independently. We realized that all other projects that we do really have the teacher structuring where to go and how to find the information, so the kids really didn’t know how to go about that task on their own. We are fortunate to have a technology coach that will deliver a fabulous lesson to help the students improve this needed area, as well as the teachers!

Be your own Tech Support

Again, since we use technology pervasively in our school, we assumed the kids would be proficient in fixing their own tech problems. We are a BYOD school, so there are sometimes connectivity issues with different devices or there are issues with using different project based applications that they decide to try independently for the first time. We have needed to assure the students that they are capable of “clicking and playing around” with different things and that their device will not blow up.  This is a great way for me to remind them that I also have to take risks and figure things out when using new technology. We are learning to let the kids work through it and figure it out when we are not the experts. Sounds logical, but as the teacher, we are used to being the ones to fix problems. We must remind ourselves that letting go is part of the journey.

Project Evaluations

Finally, we want to the students to be their own quality control. A fellow teacher had a great solution to show different projects that are already done and have the students analyze what is good and what needed work. This would give the students some anchor projects to determine how their own projects are measuring up.  It would also help them evaluate presentation platforms that would be more appropriate for the type of material they are communicating about.

I would welcome any thoughts or ideas that you use to launch your Genius Hour! It takes a lot of geniuses to make Genius Hour great!


Staying Alive

Small steps this week, but steps still. I updated my website to include some interactive math games for my second grade group. They were very excited to learn how the games worked. One of my students talked about playing in her free time at home too! Yay!

Second Grade Math Links

Genius Hour moved forward, and wow did they get deep! My partner and I were concerned about the kids not feeling free to explore, but boy were we wrong! We went through the process that would be Genius Hour, so the kids could begin with the end in mind. Question, Research, Think, Present. We also discussed how the research and think may go back and forth a good few times before a presentation begins to form. We then let them loose to think about their questions. We had students with questions about God, their bodies, how to sing better, Big Foot, and more! No concerns about the kids being curious anymore!

I have loved that this is our first go at Genius Hour because it is a natural way for us to model how we are conducting our own Genius Hour research. The kids think it is cool that we are going through the process while they are. We are candid about how we are researching and thinking and researching again to think again about our question, “How do you have Genius Hour in a fifth grade class?”. The students see us living the mission, and it makes them feel less risk to join in on the adventure.

Once the students had their questions approved, we quickly realized that they were not adept at researching through technology. I guess we know where we will start next week’s Genius Hour adventure. The challenge will be that we are limited on research tools and content due to firewalls. We will see where this next chapter leads us with a lot of researching and thinking as we fumble through our class Genius Hour projects together!

Genius Hour…Finally!

I had that “kid on the night before Christmas that can’t sleep” feeling last night! The moment that had been evolving since ISTE was finally here.  It was Genius Hour Eve, and I was one excited teacher! 

Thanks to some incredible resources that were selflessly shared, I was able to quickly put together a Thinglink with videos that could wow and inspire students to take risks, be passionate, and get creative! As I laid in bed, I had to remind myself that this would be a journey.  It would take time and may not be the great unveil I had been expecting.

Genius Hour Thinglink Videos

Since I promised full disclosure of my technology journey, I will be honest in saying the technology part of my lesson was a disaster! The students were pumped after the build up to learning freedom pep talk that my co-teaching partner and I delivered. They bustled up to get their laptops and logon. They quickly navigated to the classroom teacher’s page and clicked on the thinglink that was ready to inspire…and…ALL THE LINKS WERE BLOCKED! 

I was not going to sweat this.  I had just promised these sweet, teacher pleasing students that it was o.k. to take risks. No worries! I had to model this, so my fearless partner and I swiftly began copying links into safeshare.tv. Furiously posting them on her website for all the students to access.  Now all would be well again, but no!  Still no access!?  

We shifted gears again and had kids buddy up with others that had brought devices from home. (Why were those not blocked from the content when they were on the same network with a student login?) Finally, that melodious sound of multiple videos playing at the same time accompanied by kids OOHing and AAHing in harmony at Cain’s Arcade started to take shape.  The magic had happened even though the technology glitched! 

The students posted responses to videos on a Padlet page.  They began to journal lists of what they love to do, interests that are their own, and potential projects they’d like to create.  My co-teacher and I had opened the lesson by telling them that Genius Hour was our Genius Hour project. We have never done this, but feel passionate about it. We are taking a risk and putting it all out there to problem solve together in this journey.  

The lesson wasn’t technically perfect, but it was the perfect first step. Genius Hour is officially alive, and Thursdays will never be the same. Thanks to my partner for believing in this idea and sharing the classroom with me every day!  Let the passion begin and may creativity be ever in our favor!

Step One-Class Dojo

ISTE seems like it was a million years ago, along with a summer of dreaming that is a distant memory. We have completed a little over a week of school with the kids and a week of preplanning before that. As with most beginnings, a lot of the dreaming melds with a good dose of reality, and a teacher is forced to make some choices. My year has started with an unexpected change in grade level(s) I support as a special education teacher, increased enrollment, and a handful of new students with IEP’s that need to be adopted from out of state already. I find myself at that new beginning I fantasized about this summer with some unexpected twists that were not a part of that fantasy. Do I take the easy, familiar road or do I stick with my mission? Do I make those small steps towards more innovative teaching or use these twists as reasons that it can’t happen right now?

My tiny, first step is official. I used Classdojo today with my second grade math group. The children were beside themselves with excitement when they saw their “monsters” and earned points. This is my first step towards gamification for this math group. There are children that struggle with behavior, children that struggle with math, and children that struggle with both. I am a firm believer in tackling the behavior first, so Classdojo seemed like a no brainer.

I introduced our behavior plan by having the kids walk into a room that was a mess! I acted shocked and surprised about the monster that had come to school today and messed up our room! They were eager to help clean and we read a short book about the monster’s first day of school. The kids loved reading about the monster and were quick to point out that he didn’t know the rules. We used that as a springboard to talk about our listening rules. The students colored in a printable monster and labeled the parts of his body for listening behaviors.

The next day we reviewed our listening rules and added in a video about personal space to help our monster. We role played being out of our space, in somebody else’s space, asking somebody to move out of our space, and apologizing for being in another’s space. These were all things that I had observed being an issue in my little group of friends the first few days we were together.
This all led up to the big reveal of Classdojo. The kids were so excited to see their own personal “monster” that would learn from all of their good choices. The first three behaviors monitored were; good listener, taking turns talking, and stays in space. I showed them how they were all doing all of those things and gave their monster awards. They were in awe! We used the timer to practice for 5 minutes and see if we could earn awards. They all did! We did it again because they begged. They got all their awards again!
I am excited to use Classdojo to communicate with parents, motivate students, and streamline necessary data needed for IEP’s. Small steps lead to the next step. Behavior first, math tool coming up next! I will continue this journey no matter what comes my way. I will not talk about it, I will BE about it! Some days it is hard, but the kids are worth it every day!

One Post Leads to Strong Perspective

Yesterday I officially published my first blog post. I actually wrote the majority of the post on Tuesday, July 1, as soon as I got home from ISTE. I had no idea how nervous I would become to actually put it out there into the universe.

In the days that followed, I found myself going back to my reflection to read it again and again. I read and reread the post, as if I were somebody looking at it for the first time. I wanted my emotions and thoughts of the moment to be conveyed precisely without getting lost in a mess of words. I found myself wondering what others would think of my grammar and sentence structure. I can honestly say for the first time in my adult life, I really worked hard to share a piece of my heart and soul in writing.

One thing that people who know me will say is that I am social! I am an extrovert. I love to talk. I love to share what I am thinking. I love to be honest and upfront. I was completely unprepared for the anxious feelings I had about publishing my first post.

Writing this genuine reflection for my blog made me think of my students. There was a lot of conversation at ISTE about making learning and writing authentic for students. We heard about how social media and blogs provided an audience beyond teachers and parents. I was already interested in dabbling with some blogging in the classroom for the upcoming year. However after I experienced the care and determination I felt as a writer of a blog, I knew this HAD to happen this upcoming year.

I persevered through some snafus with WordPress. I am not intuitive with technology, so it doesn’t take much to confuse me. I walked away. I looked at it again. I figured a few things out on my own. Finally, voila, the first post published last night!

I looked over to my husband and triumphantly stated that I officially had a blog. I felt powerful and successful. I had completed step one of my plan to eventually dominate the technology universe! Not only that, but I had also figured out how to link it to Twitter and shared it out with the rest of my small Twitter universe.

As I sat back to enjoy my small victory over the world of technology, I immediately had people commenting, retweeting, and following me due to my blog post. I was surprised, elated, and touched. As I say this, I feel the need to state that I am NOT interested in becoming a Twitter Rock Star, nor did I write my blog because I needed reassurance about myself. However, I am not going to lie, it felt AWESOME!

I can’t exactly put into words how it made me feel to take that uncomfortable step in my learning AND have others validate what I had said too! I felt like I had just been given a winning lottery ticket.

Here are a few of the comments that sent me to the moon:

Kevin Carroll (PDX) ‏@kckatalyst
@tammyleega you’re gonna get ur “GEEK ON!” this upcoming school year – BRAVA! enjoy your chase…
#connect #inspire #empower those STUDENTS!

Tamara Cox ‏@coxtl
@tammyleega I enjoyed your blog post shared by @craigyen so honest and real

Principal Porter ‏@sharonhporter
https://thenotsotechyteacher.wordpress.com/ | “@tammyleega I♡this! It only takes a try…You are the perfect example! Before long you will be “thetechyteacher”

Cindy Truett ‏@cindytruett
Can I share with the staff? Love your blog!

Hugh McDonald ‏@hughtheteacher
TY for shout out. Small steps make journey much easier to manage. Love #ISTE2014 reflection!

These comments were special to me because they came from people that I admired. They were genuine to me because they came from people who didn’t know me and just stumbled upon my post. They made me feel connected because there were others that felt just like I did and were making the same journey. There were people out there that wanted to encourage my growth as an educator, and they didn’t even know me!

I can only imagine what this would feel like to a student. What is more inspiring than instant feedback from others that you admire? A comment from that author your class is reading on your thoughts about his/her book would send a student to the moon AND back. A positive comment or connection with another student or classroom that is located in a different place would make a student feel validated and confident.

I began my first blog post for me. It was meant to be a way to make myself accountable. In less than 24 hours, I realize that I wrote that blog post for a million other reasons. One small step leads to the next step. Thanks again for beginning this journey with me!

ISTE 2014-The Journey Begins

   My journey to ISTE 2014 began simply enough.  We needed one person from every grade level to attend.  So sometime during what would become the longest school year known in the history of man, this technologically challenged teacher agreed to do what seemed like a completely crazy thing.  I agreed to attend ISTE.

A week before the conference, I really started wondering what I got myself into.  Suggestions were flying everywhere;  make sure you have the ISTE app on your phone; the Voxer app will make it easier for us to stay in touch; Twitter is a necessity if you want to know what is happening and network; Evernote is a great way to keep all your notes organized; make sure you have a QR reader on your phone.  Now for many this would seem like no big deal, but for this Not-So-Techy Teacher it was completely overwhelming!!

     Not to be discouraged, I installed apps, searched for available usernames, and created passwords that fulfilled all the capital, character count, and symbol requirements each app desired.  Whew!  An array of apps galore filled my phone screen and I had 5 whole followers on Twitter!  I was ready to rock the technology universe!
     Day 1 of ISTE, I began packing my backpack of technology superiority.  Since my husband is a technology addict, I have pretty much every gadget known to man at my disposal.  The only problem is I don’t know how to do anything buy type a document, answer an e-mail or put up a Facebook status with them!  I slumped off to my car dreading that I would need to use all this technology without my personal home TST support.  I remained hopefully optimistic that there would be an amazing amount of energy and enthusiasm for the extrovert in me to power through.
     I had been advised that the Ignite sessions were worth going to, so I arrived early and stood in my first infamous ISTE line to get in.  I sat down looking at my laptop and iPhone waiting for me to take notes as I secretly longed for the pen and paper that I had left at home out of embarrassment.  I bit the bullet and opened up Evernote to create the first of what would become many notebooks at the convention.
     During the Ignite sessions, I caught a glimpse of what would become themes of the convention.  It wasn’t exactly full of information, but felt like a call to arms, a revolution of sorts, but not one that I completely understood.  There were quotes that made sense to me.  “Go around brick walls. Get out of your comfort zone. Be where the magic happens.”, encouraged Stacy Hawthorne. There was new terminology that I didn’t understand, Genius Hour, 20% inquiry time, and an endless amount of techy language that went way over my head!  That feeling of complete and utter overwhelm settled back in as I joined the looping Georgia World Congress line for the keynote. The keynote was a heartfelt glimpse into Ashley Judd’s heart and soul. It was raw and genuine, but gave me no further insight  to this ominous ISTE. As my first day at ISTE came to a close, I trekked back to Marta hoping that tomorrow all would become clear for this clearly un-techy teacher.
     Day 2 began with more Ignite sessions, Poster sessions, and an iMovie session that wasn’t what I had thought it would be.  I really began thinking, when is this going to happen?  I was promised a magical experience that would inspire me to WANT to do new and exciting things.  I think I am the only person who is seeing that the emperor is naked around here!  Show me the magic!
      Trudging back late from a long line at lunch, I slunk into one of the backseats of the auditorium as a panel discussed Genius Hour.  My ears started to perk up at what I was hearing.  Some schools have a time when kids choose what they want to learn?! No worries about the AKS or the standardized tests, just encouraging curiosity and creativity?!  What is this mythical teaching practice?  How does it work?  How do I get to do that?  OMG I have found my people!  My new best friends are @donwettington, @kleinerin, @angela.meiers, @hughtheteacher and @smartinez!  People that I may never know, but can learn from thanks to @alicekeeler’s help to figure out this Twitter thing a few days ago!
     With this new energy, I persevered on and saw some slam dunk sessions and some air ball sessions.  The big thing I came to realize was that something had changed about me. I had typed and organized every word I wanted to remember in Evernote.  I was now a part of one of the biggest networks for teachers, Twitter!  Last but not least, I had a new idea that stirred the inner core of my teaching soul which had been feeling lost in a sea of standardized bubbles for way too long!  The magic had happened, but not in a single moment as I had been waiting for.  It happened one small step at a time as I shifted my thoughts, habits, and thinking about technology for myself.  If I could continue to become more comfortable with these tools personally, then imagine what I could do with them in the classroom.
     This shift of mindset at ISTE 2014 has become the catalyst for me to finally embrace working more with technology in the classroom.  I am embarking upon this next school year with the words from Kevin Carrol, the katalyst, as my mantra. “Don’t talk about it, BE about it.  You can’t do anything with a broke want to.  If your dream doesn’t scare you it’s not big enough.”
     This blog is my first step in towards the dream that I CAN become a technology comfortable teacher. It is only a baby step towards a much larger goal that will forever evolve.  It is here to ensure that I am living up to those words.  To make sure that I remain accountable for the uncomfortable steps necessary to encourage creativity in a positive learning environment for EVERY student that I work with, while embracing new technology to make it better.
     My goal is to share the successes AND failures of the new things I attempt. My hope is that it will help encourage others to try new things in the classroom without the fear of failure.  I am not on a mission to become THE Techy Teacher just a teacher that is comfortable using technology.  I want to encourage people who are a bit afraid of this journey, like me, to continue to try new technology and creative approaches to learning a little bit at a time.  Stay tuned to see what this Not-So-Techy Teacher tries out this year! Twitter and blogging today…tomorrow something new.  Small steps, let’s make them together!