Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Readability Made Easy

So there we were developing some Cold Read common assessments for our grade levels to use next year. We had gathered some great articles for the unit assessment. We were moving along, wrapping this first assessment up, and someone said it.

"What's the readability of that article?" 

In that moment, you could hear the brakes screeching as we attempted to avoid the disaster of throwing out three really great questions. All we could do was stare at each other for a few moments before one of us pulled the article into Lexile's website.

The answer was not a pretty one. 1090!!!! That's high school level reading! What?

This is fifth grade! This unit is for the beginning of the school year!

We loved the article and complimented the first article beautifully. A few teachers in our group scrambled to look for a more feasible resources, but Beth and I were determined to use THIS article.

"There's got to be something out there that will change the readability level of complex text."

Never to be defeated, she and I  googled "lowering readability levels".  There it was! An answer to our dilemma.

Rewordfiy has an ease to using it. I was impressed with just the little I have explored so far. There is so much more to this website that I can not wait to explore. From handouts for students to developing links to assist in developing a strong vocabulary.

For the purposes of this assessment, we grabbed the text and pulled into the text box. Hit the bright yellow "Rewordify text" button and discovered so much assistance for the task before us.

Rewordify highlights and changes the more complex vocabulary. It also provides information like grade level, a reading level, and the ability to manipulate the text with levels of complexity.

The tool also gives you various ways to look at the text. I have it set for the highlight feature. If I hover the cursor over the highlighted text, a box will pop up to display the original word. I moved around the different levels it see which text was the best to use and settled on a level 3 for the purposes of our job.

As I mentioned, there is so much more to explore on this site. I think it's worth more exploration when we begin to think about complex text and growing the vocabulary of your students. I know I just found a great resource for my students to utilize when encountering those difficult passage.

Take a look at their video and see for yourself.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

In Awe of Learning

I recently had the opportunity to interview with Angela Watson from the Cornerstone For Teachers. She asked a series of very thought provoking questions relating to teachers remaining positive and loving the job they have. It was by far the most intimate exploration of my thoughts. I will not hide that it made me cry once I completed the interview. I realized how amazing it can be to be a teacher and made it love my classroom that much more.

I hope this post helps you find the joy in what you do everyday in your classroom.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

LACUE Conference

After what seems like a period of hibernation, we are back to blogging. Who know that something we love to talk about so much and explore to no end would be so hard to put into words on a regular basis? I know that Rachel and Ashleigh both agree with me when I express the following thought.

We find ourselves so embedded in to creating great technology lessons, writing grants, and helping solve techie issues in our own little building or life that we have found it somewhat challenging to put our thoughts and ideas into words and share within the blogging world.

But I digress...what has been going on in our little techie world?

Our latest adventure is our state's annual technology conference. The three of us look forward to this conference. We just get all giddy waiting for that email asking for help with monitoring the session rooms and get down right thrilled when we get the email to submit a proposal for LACUE. This conference is just right for three techie girls like us. We always walk away from the two day event with a sense of accomplishment. The three hour trip home is filled with constant chatter about what we learned, what we want to try, or what will finally break out of comfort zone and do. Our geek level rising pretty high during the conference and really explodes once we get together. But we couldn't and wouldn't want it any other way. 
Loved hanging out with the vendors showing their greatest tools for a tech savvy classroom. 

Breaking out of our "fruity" comfort zone. 

This year as been extra special for our team. Ashleigh was awarded with multiple awards this year. The first award was given for her students' video entry on bullying. Ashleigh was also awarded LACUE's Elementary Teacher of the Year for our region. And of course we were overjoyed when she was announced as LACUE's Elementary Teacher of the Year for the state. These awards were very well deserved. Ashleigh really works diligently with our parish's tech department and our school. Her expertise truly has no end because she is continually learning . We just couldn't be prouder that is a a third of our team.

Ashleigh and our Chief Technology Officer for our parish, Sheryl Abshire. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Weathering The Storm

Listening to the thunderstorm outside my "office" window while working on my lesson plans for this week. Seems very fitting that we'd have rain to "cleanse" the week away. It's been such an overwhelming and hectic week. I have great students and I love them dearly, even my 3 peas in a pod. It just seems like the workload is drowning us. I feel like just when I get the opportunity to lift my head up, a little more work downpours on me. Funny how rain pours out all over the ground and when the ground can't keep up with absorbing, the water begins to puddle. Sometimes I feel like that's how things are happening around me. Just one big puddle. I'm attempting not to work myself into the ground, but I'm "trying to absorb the water being thrown at me". All kinds of things like SLTs, PGPs, Pre-tests, VAM, Compass, CVR, CCSS, and the list of acronyms goes on and on. 

My biggest stress of the year is the fact that I changed subjects. Now I'm not only planning for a subject I'm not as familiar with, but I'm also planning for twice the amount of time. I spoke with a co-worker today about how long it's taking me to write lesson plans. She assured me that I'm not alone and we are all facing this. She pointed out to me that we are doing 2 weeks worth of lesson plans in one week. When she said that to me the light bulb went off. No wonder it's taking me forever to get the lesson done! 

I find that I'm in unfamiliar territory. I am not as "comfortable" in ELA as I was in math. The main reason I moved from math to ELA was to incorporate my technology more. Well it's tough planning for technology based lessons. It's especially tough when you are learning the content as you go! I feel so unprepared for this challenge. Technology should be my only saving grace. I find that I'm having to make sure to incorporate my ipads on a regular basis. So for this week's lesson, we'll have the ipads in our hands at least 3 times this week. I'd say for our first story that's pretty good. I've managed to create several handouts, powerpoints, rubrics, and activities over the course of this lesson plan. 

 I know there will be dry spells where I can breathe again, so I'm hanging on to the promise of that. I'm trying to be cautious of not working myself to death. Because I don't have a family to come home to, doesn't mean that I have to be married to my job. Who am I kidding? At some point we are all married to our jobs. Being a teacher means learning and growing in the places you feel inadequate. Always trying to stay ahead on technology. I know there will be a time when I can settle down and not spend so much time writing lesson plans. I just have to weather the storm right now while I'm in it. I'm thankful for the ups and downs in life because I know they cause us to grow. As teachers we are always trying to better ourselves professionally as well as personally. I'm sure there will be a great amount of growth that takes place this year. I'll be honest, though, these growing pains sure are tough right now.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Full Steam Ahead... it's a new school year

Here in our little heel of the boot that is known as Southwest Louisiana, preparation for a new school year has begun. There are forms to copy, bulletin boards to update, and new lesson plans to conquer. Let us not forget about technology that we have promised ourselves that we WILL use this year. 

I will definitely be using my Dropbox more this year. I realized this summer that I have WAY too many jump drives. I have one for all my ELA stuff. I have one for my personal things. I have for band booster items. Then I have these few jump drives that 
a little of this or a little of that. So many duplicate files that I have a hard time determine whether I can delete the file because it is on another drive. 

Then there's the issue of dragging my workstation laptop back and forth from school to home. The constant plugging and unplugging from my active board gets tiresome. 

So I am weening myself from the little bag of jump drives and relying on 'the cloud.' I started using my Dropbox more toward the end of last year and began to trust that my files will be on my desktop at school when I arrived the next day. And then the sharing of files with others was the icing on the cake. 

There are many cloud based "holding tanks" out there. Google Docs and Sugar Sync have the same abilities and are equally great. All in all I will be carrying less home night after night and my shoulder thanks me for it. 

THREE iPADS!!!!! Over the course of the last few months, my iPad collection has increased. I only need to get my hands a two or three more and I'll be one happy girl. Three iPads will surely make my plans a little easier. 

There were times when having the one could cause issues, especially in a station. Four kids, one device...someone will be left out. We had to come up with some strict procedures to get equal hands on time for all. But we did it and we appreciated what we did have. 

Besides wrapping my mind around our newly adopted curriculum, one of my biggest goals is to implement a B.Y.O.D. day into my lessons. I'll go back to what I said earlier. My eyes are open to some great things that techie kids can do with a device in their hands. Just about every kid has some type of tablet or iPod. Why not put them to good use. I'm slightly anxious about the logistics of it all. There's storage for the devices when not in use. There's the proper use policies to teach and maintain. Our district is really embracing and aiding the idea with a few of us who are willing to try it out. 

I know I can only do so much and not be overwhelmed. You can only eat that elephant one bite at a time. So I am committed to one day a week for now. And maybe even just one of the four classes as well. It should be interesting, but I am up for the challenge. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Time for Change

I can honestly say that 2013 has been a whirlwind year for me. Things have been changing in my life  I've really become conscience about my health and have worked hard to redefine myself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Personally, I've really had a great year of change! I work out everyday, lost a tremendous amount of weight, made friends, rekindled some old friendships, and found some inner peace.

So where does this leave me professionally? One of my former administrators used to always tell us that if we stayed in the same place for more than five years, we would become stagnant. I do find truth in those words. With all these changes that have taken place in my own personal life, it is now time for me to make some changes in my professional life as well.

When I was a student teacher I remember saying I NEVER wanted to teach at one specific middle school. It's was a middle school that was little rough around the edges. I was very intimidated at the thought of completing my student teaching there. After some unforeseen circumstances, I had to request a transfer to another school. The semester of observations were lost to me and I was stuck walking into a classroom that I've never observed and was still expected to teach kids I didn't know. Sometimes I think God really has a sense of humor because I was granted the transfer request and placed in the one middle school that I NEVER wanted to teach in. At that point in life maybe I should have learned never say never!

Since that time, I've taught in the same school for 8 out of my 9 years of teaching. I've taught all grade levels 6-8 ELA and Math. One year of teaching at my school, I realized  I wanted to be a math teacher. I taught one hour of math that year and fell in LOVE with it. I loved having one answer to the question. As a teacher it was wonderful for me to have one answer. Math was black and white and I embraced it! I decided at that point I NEVER wanted to teach ELA again. I gave away all of my ELA posters and embraced my life as a math teacher. I put the pedal to the metal and had no intentions of turning back.

What's that saying...Tell God your plans and watch Him laugh? YEP... in comes that sense of humor once again.

At the end of April I was discussing my subject and common core with our lead teacher. I knew there was going to be several openings for us at school as we were going to have a year of "big" turnover. In our school people had to die or retire for you to get a job. Sometimes that's still true, but this has been our first "big" turnover since I've been there. Several subjects were opening up as people retired, moved jobs, transferred to other school districts, etc.. While talking about school changes with our lead teacher,  I heard these word come from my very own being: "I think I want to teach ELA next year." My eyes bugged out as I realized the words that escaped my lips. I was a math teacher! I had NO desire to be an ELA teacher. I had no desire to ever do that again. I weighed the pros and cons of it before officially putting in my crazy request. And now I find myself preparing to teach 7th grade ELA for the upcoming school year.

So.... here I am again facing the unknown. I look at this as a challenge like I do when I go to the Crossfit box. We have WODs (workouts of the day) written on the board. We usually enter the box and look at the board sizing up the WOD to see if it's doable. It is ALWAYS hard, but somehow we manage the challenge. We leave the box feeling worn out, stronger, empowered, and feeling like we can take on the world (after we take a shower of course!). And I can say that I have been completely successful since my initial visit to "the box" I'm leaner and stronger than I ever imagined I would be.

So I look at this opportunity to teach 7th grade ELA as a WOD in my career. I've spent most of the summer sizing up the task that lay before me. I've had moments of panic and have spent many phone calls talking to some really close friends. All of these wonderful people have "talked me down" when the panic swelled up in my throat causing me to fear the unknown. I've worked diligently to even change my classroom from monsters to a color theme. I needed a clean break for my students because I'm moving up with them. I'll be teaching some of my former students, but this time it'll be a different subject and a different grade. I've seen many of my former students throughout the summer. They have begged to be in my class next year. Each time I swell with pride. My students may not like the subject I teach, but for some reason they love my class!

So here I am at the end of July. Wrapping up the summer and preparing for the upcoming school year. Actually I've been working on bits and pieces of school all summer. Tomorrow I meet with the rest of the 7th grade ELA teachers as we plan the upcoming nine weeks of school. Our curriculum changed drastically. I often think I picked a great year to embrace the change. I have a peace now about what I'm doing. It'll be one day at a time, one lesson at a time. I've have some really great teachers to work with and I'm looking forward to bringing my technology knowledge to the table. One of the big selling points for change was to the ability to integrate my classroom set of iPads more frequently, if not on a daily basis. I am anxious to encounter the options that will become available for my class. I recently stepped into my new classroom that and it felt like home. I'm really looking forward to the exciting opportunities of growth this year will present.

Change is good...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Tech Camp 2013... WOW

Picture this! Thirty kids in a classroom. Each kid has a iPad Mini in hand and anxiously awaiting what the day will bring!

Our school district provides an annual tech camp each year. With tuition or scholarship, students in our district are given an an iPad Mini, a t shirt, and themed activities to conquer within the week. This year our students also received a purchased copy of iMovie. Rachel and I were privileged to join the amazing tech staff for this year's camp. 
Now, one would ask, what could we possibly do with an iPad Mini besides show the kids apps to use and play. Well, my friend, you would be amazed at the projects these children where able to accomplish on a hand held device. I was truly baffled myself at the brilliant and creative minds within my lab. 

With a Monster U theme, I worked with fourth and fifth graders. Campers were provided with FREE apps to download each day for the projects we planned. In all honesty these projects were NOT easy, but the campers sure made it look like it was simple. 

Each day our campers were required to download, play with, and journal an app of their choice. To journal their app of choice, the kids used two great apps:

Story by Disney 

Although this app is an iPhone app, it works great on iPad as well. Story by Disney is like an interactive picture book which allows you to load pictures and video from your camera roll. It also allows you to add title pages and unfolds as you narrate your way through the created "story". 

Our kiddos used the app to archive their daily app of choice. They were required to add a title page, a couple of screen shots, and a video explaining the app. At the end of the week, each camper had two stories to show their parents. Initially, we thought they would have one story; however, we learned that the app only allows the user to embed to videos. As teachers do, we quickly had to explain to the kiddos that we were making two stories. Of course, they had no problem with the change.  

If you are looking to download the app, remember to look in the iPhone tab. 


In order to video their description of their app of choice, our campers used this easy app. Tellagami allows you to customize your avatar, record your own voice right on your device, and embed it to your blog or web page. 

Our campers loved creating a Gami each day and routinely produce the requirement each day with instruction. 

I use Tellagami as my introduction to my Blackboard page. It's a great app to have in your classroom as another means for students to communicate their information they have learned. 

With Monster U in mind, our campers created sororities, fraternities, and something that we called "sofrenities" because we had a combination of boys and girls in the group. As a project, they were asked to created a "poster of their group. We gave them a website to develop a motto in Latin. We also gave them a website that helped them create a crest. We ensured pictures were taken of each member and a picture of their group was taken. To put it all together, we used an amazing app called Master FX by Dropico.

Master FX

Think Photoshop! This app is amazing! During the week of camp, the app was free. If you want to get your hands on this app, it will cost you $5.99 for the basic package. With Master FX, students can put themselves in a scene or create a setting with text.

Once we gave the instruction, I was blown away by the utter creativity coming out of these little minds. We had one little boy place himself in the desert. To place himself in the desert, he needed a picture. So he walked up to me and ask for me to perform the task. As I prepared to take his picture, he bent down as if he were tired and thirsty. I had to laugh out of sheer enjoyment of his thought process. We had some kiddos swimming in the ocean, flying in the air, hiding in the forest. It was truly a sight to see. We, as teachers, could only look up and smile at each other.

Many thanks to Ozzy for posing for this picture. His the only one in the family willing to pose for me. 

As we finished up the week, we had our little brains using iMovie to create both a trailer and a little movie. And they truly did not disappoint. Their trailer task was based on a game app they love. It required lots of screen shots while they played which is really difficult. Especially with action packed game apps, but they did it. 


iMovie is priced at $4.99. There are NOT many apps I will purchase, but after seeing this app in the hands of the kids and the ease in which they manipulated it, I was sold.

After watching the magic, I came home and created a trailer with the pictures I took during the week. It gives you so much ability to be creative. I can not wait to add this to the line up of  possible tools to use as a means create reading projects.

All in all, I had the best week! With the start of school mere weeks away, I really shifted the gears into teacher mode. I loved watching our little campers show off during parent visitation Friday afternoon. It reminded me that we have to meet our kids at their level. We are teaching Digital Natives. I know I don't want my natives to be restless!

Wanna check out the magic! Visit the Tech Camp web site.