Monday, May 5, 2014

Senior Project Day!

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!!!  My students were very excited for "Mexican Independence Day".  I hated to be the one to break it to them they'd have to keep waiting until September.  But we had a such a great day of learning.  They now know that Cinco de Mayo celebrates a victory of a battle at Puebla.  They know that the French returned to conquer Mexico and installed their own Emperor (Maximilian, one my favs), and that, though Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican celebration, it is really only celebrated in Puebla and the United States.  We discussed why this might be so, they had their own fantastic ideas!, and talked about how we can celebrate here in West Texas. Boom.  Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities.  Though we did not use a lot of Spanish today, the kids learned a lot and I am really excited to be a part of that!!

Tonight is also Senior Project Grading day.  At our school, it is a requirement for all senior class members to complete a senior project.  During the first semester, they choose a project and theme, and write a research paper of the topic they got approved.  Second semester the kids pick mentors in the community and create a project which is then judged by a panel of teachers, community members, and professionals.  It really is such a great opportunity for them to complete a major project like this and have a professional portfolio to prove it before they go off into the world!  Today is presentation day.  The kids come in and present their final product, their research, and what they've taken away from this whole thing to a group of teachers and community members. 

Some of the kids have done some REALLY impressive things!  One student learned to rock climb and set routes, one made an anti-bullying website (a good looking one too), we had someone learn falconry, one student composed an original score for a woodwind quintet.  The most impressive one I've gotten to see is a complete redesign of a room in a house.  The student chose interior design for her product and designed/created and entire room.  They did a wood paneled accent wall, reupholstered salvaged chairs, upcycled some things like pallets for furniture, and created something you'd see on HGTV!  I am really impressed at the lengths these kids go to for some of their projects. 

Anyone else have a program like this?  At my high school it was optional for everyone but required for GT.  This is the only school I've heard of that does an whole project as a requirement for all students.  We even have a class for them to take so they have time to work on it and someone to help guide them.  For or against a project like this? 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Day 5

Writing. Is. Hard.  Writing every day is even harder.  It's so easy to get wrapped up in all of the "gotta do's" throughout the day.  Gotta write this email, grade these papers, make these copies, fill out some forms, get ready for the sub, go to practice, read these articles, blogs, books, lessons, gotta cook, gotta clean, gotta go go go!!! All day. Until you gotta go to bed and wake up and repeat.  It has been a challenge to make myself stop.  Breathe.  Sit.  Think.

Apart from the go! go! go! of the daily rush, I have to stop and think about what to write.  What do I have to talk about that's worth saying?  What do I have to add to the world?  What can I share that will make someone else want to write, or just smile?  I have no idea most days.

Today I think I'll talk about the parts of the day I decided to sit. breathe. think.  The most important thing I have had to learn as a first year teacher, is to relax.  Breathe!  It sounds so silly.  It's common sense.  But the hardest lesson that I just can't seem to master is to relax and let go.  So, little by little, I am getting better.  I am remembering to take some moments for myself.  This morning, after I sprinted through the house getting ready because I overslept (again), after driving to school at almost 90 mph so I wasn't late, I just sat.  I sat down, took a breath, and watched the RARE "rain" drip down the window.  It was really more of a light drizzle, but out here in west Texas, we're lucky to get a drop at all.

My next moment of peace, really just a moment to slow down the day, was during an ARD.  I got to sit in with a fantastic student who really works hard and pushes to be better every day. It was nice to sit and listen to their plans for the future and to be able to tell their mom how much I appreciate her kid.  The pride on my student's face at being noticed for their achievements, not faults, was such a refreshing moment.

Much, much later

I did not finish this post, or my challenge, obviously.  But I will get better at this.  As usual, the gotta-dos got me.  The end of the year just keeps getting crazier and fuller.  Again, I am trying my best to cherish my breathing moments.  Today my friend and I both forgot our lunches and were going to hurry over to the bbq place across the street.  As we walk out the door, I am taken aback by the beauty and awesome wonderfulness of the day.  I don't think that's a word, but it was so gorgeous.  Sunny and warm, the grass is green, the birds are out, for the first time in a week it hasn't been brown and windy and dirty.  Just a beautiful, peaceful, gorgeous afternoon walk to the car.... and then rush rush rush to the bbq place, rush back, rush to eat, and off to class again!! The crazy rush makes each little moment that much better though.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Road To Green and the Longest Week Ever

I almost forgot to post this week!  It's going to be hard to get in the habit.  One of my goals for this year is to become a greener teacher.  The biggest chunk materials wasted is paper.  I started by making the notes books to save kids from having to have an entire notebook for my class or scrambling for a scrap piece of paper for an in-class assignment.  It has also helped keep them on top of their note-taking.  I don't know what it is about having those little books, but they are much better at writing all of their notes down in them than when I tell them to take out a piece of paper or get out their spirals. 

Step two in becoming Green was to start making my quizzes online, rather than making 150 copies every other day.  Google Drive and Google Forms seems to be a pretty solid way to make easily accessible multiple choice quizzes. It's a pretty easy way to do short answer, but it can't self-grade if the quiz isn't multiple choice.  I am also learning to use the PRS "clickers" and hope to use those soon.

I fell back on traditional paper and pencil tests for their chapter exam.  Our technology isn't reliable enough to take a full test online yet.  I am still looking for a website that is compatible with the students' phones and tablets that is also mostly cheat-proof.  Has anyone found a trustworthy, easily accessible test makers online? 

For the down side of this week: IT HAS LASTED FOREVER!  I had a week where every day I was wondering if it was Friday yet.  Thursday I almost wore jeans to school because I was so certain it was a Friday. On top of that, the kids have been CRAZY this week.  I don't know what makes students go through these waves of attitudes all at once.  My mom always tells me it's the full moon but I can't even use that as an excuse this week.  One day, they were all little zombies.  They just sat there with glazed over looks and didn't talk... or do anything... at all.  It took a lot of coaxing to get them to just sit up and take notes.  The next day, all of my classes were hyper and out of control.  Kids couldn't stay in their seats, couldn't stop drumming, moving, shouting, bouncing, rocking, throwing things, and GOING GOING GOING!  You might think I teach elementary students by how the day went.  My 14-18 year old students were acting like they were five!  More than one class had to give up playing review games and go back to doing reviews on paper and online alone at their tables.  Yesterday was all attitude. I had students literally throwing things around in their fits of rage.  They would get upset with me for telling them not to talk when I'm talking.  Or when I told them to put their phones away.  What is it that makes them collectively decide to make poor decisions?

I have some really awesome kids.  I have students who go above and beyond what they're asked to do every day they're here.  Today, two boys stayed after class to help rearrange the mobile laptop lab and make sure everything was plugged in and where it belongs. And I work in an awesome school where I don't have to break up fights between every period or struggle all alone through my first year.  I have the best administrators anyone could ever ask for, but man!!! It was a TOUGH week!  Hopefully next week will be smooth sailing.

Friday, January 24, 2014

First Year Firsts


As part of my New Year's Resolutions, I am trying to keep up with a blog, for once.  If not for anyone else's entertainment, keeping track of my own year and progress.  I am a first year Spanish Teacher in Texas.  This year I have all Spanish 2 kiddos, five regular classes and one accelerated.  It has already been a year of MANY challenges.  All of the classes, student teaching, pre-school prep, and planning still did not prepare me for the reality of teaching.

So.  After my first semester of struggles, I changed a lot of how I'm structuring my class.
Goal 1: Do more translation.
Goal 2: Go green!
Goal 3: Teach for retention.

I realize the last one seems like a given, but I thought that's what I had been doing.  When we came back from Christmas break, they were all back at square one.  It was like the whole first semester never happened.  This semester I'm having the students make "chunk books" that I found here.  Instead of staples, I did an easy foldable to keep the books bound.  Day one, the kids wrote down their objectives for the chapter so when they say, "What are we doing?" the answer is right there on page one.  This also lets them know what we will be learning for the chapter when we start, and check back at the end to see if they reached these goals.  They also took some notes for a review of the chapter we did before the break.  End of notes for the day.

Day two we took notes over a small chunk of the vocabulary, went over those, and took some notes over direct object pronouns.  After each set of notes, I try to do a few practice exercises.  The great thing with the Notes Book is they don't have to take out a piece of paper, unprepared students asking for paper from other kids, barely-used paper being left on the tables and the floor and all over the room.  I tell the students to turn to the pages we designated for practice and use those.  No more asking if scrap paper is okay?, Are we turning this in?, Can I write on the back?, Do we keep this?

So far, so good.  Teaching small chunks of different concepts seems to stick much better than the text book's suggestion of teaching all 60 vocab words one day, teaching all of the grammar another day, and doing "drill and kill" worksheets in between.

For quick assessments, I have started making quizzes on Google Drive.  Much less paper, much less running around to make copies and finding a jammed copier, MUCH easier to grade.  Almost all of my kids bring their own device to class each day.  I post a link to the quiz on the overhead or write it on the board, they open the form and take the quick quiz right from their phones. No passing papers out, collecting them, stacking them up on my desk.  After kids take the quiz, Google Drive automatically creates a spread sheet with all of their answers.  You can easily add and edit an array formula and grading formula that will give you the kids' grades instantly!  I can't tell you how easy and wonderful this has been.  The kids really like it too!  They feel like they're being tech savvy and smart using phones to take quizzes.  For instructions on making your own quizzes on your drive, check out this page.

The past two weeks have been successful so far.  The students say the books help a lot.  It really helps them see how much they've learned and how far they've come.  For this first chapter, I am taking the notes for a grade just to give the students a little more incentive to keep up with their books and take good notes.  As of right now, ALL 143 students will be taking home progress reports with an "A" in Spanish.  Hopefully, the good grades will continue.

First blog post on my first blog: Done!  Tune in next week for an update!