Sunday, August 2, 2015

12 Tips for Getting Ready for a New School Year

Each summer as July comes to a close and we head into August, I start getting itchy to get into my classroom and start preparing for the upcoming school year. I have been doing this for 39 summers now, so I think that I have some tips that others can use to get their classroom ready and start the new school year off on the right foot.

1. Start with the arrangement
As I begin prepping my room, I first have to get all of my furniture arranged. As I do this I keep these things in mind:

collaborative seating arrangements                  
large group space
small group area(s)
timeout or individual workspace
classroom library and reading corner
storage of manipulatives
computer stations and cart

Two tools that can help you with arrangement are Class Set-Up Tool from Scholastic and Class Architect.

2. Let Go of Your Teacher’s Desk
What? Are you kidding me? Yes, I am completely serious. I did this a couple of years ago and I am so glad I did. I like to have things in my class that add to my students’ learning and can hopefully be used in multiple ways. My desk just wasn’t meeting those requirements. I now have a kidney-shaped table that I also use for meeting with my small groups. It is also used during meetings with my team.

On top of it I have one small basket (containing office type supplies - paper clips, rubber bands, Post-it notes etc,), a stapler, a tape dispenser, an electric pencil sharpen, a can of pencils, pens, and markers, and a basket for students to turn in paperwork.

Since I couldn’t actually put the teacher’s desk out of my room, it became repurposed as a computer station for my students. Several of them can sit at it at a time and use their netbooks to do group work. The drawers now contain office supplies and writing supplies for my students’
use. I let them organize it. It also is used as a station for art projects.

3. The Tech Stuff
What technology tools will you have access to in your classroom? How many computers will you have? Can you bring in a laptop or iPad cart on occasion? Will your computers need to be hard wired or do you have wireless access? If you wheel in a cart, will there be enough room for the kids to access the contents of the cart in a safe manner? Are all cords and connections out of the walkways? Do you have a charging station available if batteries start dying during use? Can the device still be used while plugged into the charging station? Do you have an interactive whiteboard (IWB)? How will you use your IWB during class - for whole group or small group instruction, or both? What other tech hardware do you have?

Whether you are a one-computer classroom or have a tricked-out tech classroom, you have decisions to make regarding how to arrange your space to allow for the best use of the tech you have available. Be very mindful for where your electrical outlets and Internet cables are located in your room. One year I set up my classroom only to discover that I had to flip everything around because of where the ethernet cord dropped into my room.

4. An Individual Space or Two
Let’s face it, we all want our students engaging in great collaborative projects, but occasionally there is going to be the need for a time out space or an “On My Own” spot. I have two of these in my room. I never refer to them as “time out” spots with my students so these areas don’t get a negative connotation. I have had to quietly ask a student to move to one of these locations during small group work. I have also had students ask me if they can move to one of these spots to work on something quietly by themselves. When planning your room arrangement please make sure to include an On My Own space or two.

5. Bulletin Boards
I can’t tell you the number of hours it used to take me to create beautiful and perfect bulletin boards. I am somewhat OCD, so my lettering had to be exactly straight and items placed on the board had to be just so. Just covering the board with paper and putting up just the right border took forever.

Well, I would rather use my valuable time creating engaging lessons for my students, so  I now do BB differently. I buy black plastic tablecloths from the Dollar Store and cover my BB with them. They are a snap to put up and stay looking nice all year long. Student work that is displayed against the black background really “pop”. And that is all I do.

When the kids enter on Day 1, they will be in charge of creating our classroom BBs. I make one of their first assignments something they have to create to let the rest of us learn about them and of course their creations go up on a BB immediately as completed (put there by the student). We brainstorm a class nickname and theme for the year and the kids decide how to decorate our classroom to convey our theme. They love having that autonomy!

6. Classroom Library and Reading Corner
I believe that every classroom should have a library that the kids use and a reading corner. This can be as elaborate as you would like or just as simple as a small bookcase and a bean bag chair. Check out these boards on Pinterest for some inspiration.

If you have lots of books and have always wanted a great way to catalog them then you will want to head over to Classroom Organizer. I just discovered this site this summer and plan to have some parent volunteers use it to organize all of my books. (You see, I was a reading teacher for over 25 years before I began teaching math and I have thousands of books.)

7. Storage of Manipulatives
No matter what grade level(s) or subject(s) you teach, you have to consider the best way to arrange and store your classroom manipulatives. These items can include such things as base 10 blocks, science equipment, maps and globes, art supplies, learning games, and much more. Where and how will you store them so that they are easy to access and put back? What type of storage devices will you use and how will you label them? Again you can find lots of ideas on Pinterest.

You have to decide what is easiest for you and within your budget. For years I relied on empty copier paper boxes for my storage containers (easy to get and free) and I just labeled them with a Sharpie marker. As the years passed, I started investing in some large plastic storage containers. More recently I have been purchasing clear plastic shoebox containers for many of my smaller manipulatives and supplies, but for years I just used plastic storage bags. Now I’m using our class theme to make labels for the various containers I use.

I have always bought eight containers to put at the collaborative seating groups (I have eight groups of four desks grouped together) in my classroom for easy student access to supplies. Each group captain is responsible to make sure that the container has enough pencils, markers, crayons, glue sticks, etc for the group. If we need a certain supply like dice or index cards for the day’s lesson, I can have each group captain add the item(s) to the containers.

8. Classroom Rules
My school has a set of three rules that are used by all teachers throughout the campus. They are Be Safe, Be Responsible, Be Respectful. They are printed on posters and are displayed in every classroom and in every common area of our school.

If you are responsible for establishing your own classroom rules, again I would involve your students in this process. Have them brainstorm a list, come to consensus on a list that contains three to five rules, and have them create the poster.

9. Classroom Procedures
You need to envision your room full of 20-40 lively and energetic students. Now you need to think of all of the reasons why those students will need to get up and move about your space. What will that look like and how will that sound? It can be chaotic or easy-peasy depending on the class procedures you have in place. Here is a great resource from Scholastic to help you with procedures.

Discuss and model your procedures starting on Day 1. Make it fun by having your students role-play each procedure being done properly and being done incorrectly. Reinforce your procedures with positive comments and maybe even rewards.

10. Extra Special Touches
Do you rely just on the bank of overhead lights in your classroom for lighting?  Have you ever thought about adding some task lighting? Check your school policy first to find out if it is okay for you to add some lamps to your classroom. Do you have curtains on your windows or at least valances? I added short valences to my classroom windows and love the effect they create. Do you keep plants in your classroom? Just be careful to add plants that are not toxic and again be aware of your school or district policy regarding plants.

Adding some alternative seating such as bean bags, large throw pillows, crate seats and exercise balls is something you might want to consider. Remember that soft surfaced items help absorb noise. I have some pillow pads on individual chairs too. Maybe add an area rug or ask for some old carpet samples from a retailer. These are great  to use when gathering on the floor for large group meetings.

11. Be 100% Ready for Day 1
Classroom set up - check. Plans made for first day and first week - check.  All material prepared and gathered - check.

Here is a checklist I have used for quite a few years to help me get ready for that first day of the new school year. I find that the better I am prepared to begin a new year, the better that year seems to go.

12. Clean Your House, Freeze Some Meals, and Organize Your Wardrobe
One of the best tips I ever read (sorry I can’t remember who to credit) was to clean your house thoroughly from top to bottom before school starts. I know, I know. You have hundreds of other things to do to prepare for your school year, when will you possibly fit this in, or why would you even want to. Well, hear me out.

Picture the first week of school. You probably arrive earlier than usual to make sure everything is ready for the day. You also probably stay later to run off papers, work on lesson plans, and get everything squared away in your classroom. When you finally do get home you will be tired and will probably have things to do to prepare for the next day, the next week, the next month. 

Which front door would you rather open? One that leads into a chaotic, unorganized, cluttered space, or one that opens onto a calm and serene setting where things are where they should be and little is needed from you at that particular moment to make it so. I definitely prefer the later. I can spend time on school work without my guilty conscience voice nagging at me about housework chores that need attention.

Spend some of your last few days of summer vacation stocking up your freezer with some meals for you to grab when cooking  dinner just doesn’t fit into your schedule. (I know I don’t cook much during the first couple of weeks of school.) Check out this post to find out how the blogger spent about four hours to prepare 46 meals.

Since I am definitely not a morning person, I always decide what I’m wearing the next day before I go to bed. At the beginning of the school year, I organize my closet so that my outfits are ready to go for the entire first week of school, right down to the accessories. (Tip - put jewelry in a baggie and add it to the hanger.)

Well, there you have it. My 12 tips for getting ready for the school year. I hope something I shared here is useful to you. I wish each and every one of you a terrific 2015-2016 school year. Make it a great year or not, the choice is yours.

How are your preparations coming along? What would you add to the list?

Photo credits - Classroom by Paula L Naugle
                       Bulletin Board by F. Delventhal CC licensed on Flickr
                       Classroom Library by LizMarie_AK CC licensed on Flickr
Exercise Ball in Classroom by Pam Moran (used with permission)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Grammarly Chrome Extension

I have added the Grammerly extension to my Chrome Browser. (*I purposely spelled Grammarly wrong in my opening sentence for demonstration purposes.)

Since I am a terrible speller, I love Grammarly's functionality. When I misspelled Grammarly, it was underlined in red and suggestions were made to correct it. As with most programs that try to detect spelling and grammar mistakes, it is not perfect, but it is the best one for me at this time. 

There are several added features that I love also which are not mentioned in the reviews I read. The first one is Grammarly's ability to suggest synonyms for a word based on the word's meaning. All you have to do is double-click on a word, and a pop-up will appear with the definitions and synonyms. 
This is what appeared when I double-clicked on the word unknown is the sentence above.  
Grammarly can also define words for you as you are reading on the web. This is what happens when you're reading an online article and double-click on a word. 

What surprised me the most about Grammarly was the fact that it sends me a weekly email. Here is a screenshot of part of the email. 

The email also includes a summary of overused words. How cool is that!
There is more in the weekly email summary, but these are the two parts of the summary I find most useful. I also need to mention that the email reminds me that there were advanced errors which would have been corrected if I upgraded to the premium version of Grammarly, but I am perfectly satisfied with the free version at this time. 

To learn more about Grammarly, check out this link

Do you use the Grammarly Chrome extension? Please share your thoughts in the comments. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

What If YouTube is Blocked?

Today I learned how to take a YouTube video, upload it to my Google Drive and then use the embed code to put it on another site. Why would I need to do this? Well, unfortunately YouTube and other video sharing sites are blocked by many schools. This way, no matter where I'm located when trying to show a video, I won't have to worry about it being blocked.

Steps for the WorkAround
1. Locate the video
2. Copy URL for the video
3. Paste URL into KeepVid (save to your desktop) 
4. Open your Google Drive
5. Click on New
6. Select File upload
7. Select the video from your desktop
8. Click on upload
9. After video has uploaded into your Google Drive, open it.
10. Make sure you click on the pop-out arrow along the top right (next to the X) to open all the video in a new window.
11. Click on the More actions along top (three vertical dots)
12. Click on embed item
13. Highlight the HTML code, and copy it
14. Open site where you want to embed the video
15. Paste the embed code there
16. Viola! You now have the video that will play from Google Drive viewer and will not be blocked

Monday, June 1, 2015

2015 #JJAProject Kicks Off

Since today is June 1st, I am beginning the #JJAProject again for the summer. Today I snapped a picture of the first prfessional development book I'll be reading this summer, posted it to Twitter with the hashtag #JJAProect and uploaded it to our Flickr group.

I started the #JJAProject back in 2011 and was urged by Denise Krebs to organize it again this year. Basically it is a group of mostly teachers, who love taking daily photos, but don't want to committ to a #365Project. Read more about how it got started here.

Please feel free to join us.

First #SummerReading PD book. #JJAProject

Sunday, July 6, 2014

#4thChat Moderators Meet F2F at ISTE2014

I can't wait! I can't wait! Those were the words that swirled in my head in the months, weeks, days and hours leading up to heading to Atlanta for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference.

Why was I so excited? After all this would be my eighth ISTE, so I should be an old pro at this. Right? Wrong! Each ISTE I've attended has had its share of thrilling firsts for me. (Read more here and here.)
As ISTE2014 approached my level of excitement built. Let me share with you the four main reasons why this was so.

Going Early to Sightsee and Be with Some Old Friends
I arrived in Atlanta early to spend time with some very good friends and do some sightseeing before ISTE began. I know many who wait until the conference is over to do so, but I know from past experience that once ISTE ends I just want to go home and sleep. The long days and longer nights really wear me out. You can read about my pre-ISTE adventures here.

Presenting a Workshop
Bill Krakower, Jerry Blumengarten, and I presented an hour and a half workshop at ISTE. Our topic was "Connecting Your Students to Collaborate with the World".

We taught our participants how to conduct Mystery Location Calls by dividing them into two groups. Each group represented a class from a state of the group's choosing and through a series of yes/no questions, had to figure out what state the other "class" was located in. Each group used maps to eliminate states, backchanneled in an Edmodo group, and took pictures of the whole thing. The workshop was a great success and we are so glad we had them do a "mock" Mystery Location call. By being assigned the various Mystery Location jobs and stepping through the entire process, we know they are well prepared to do these calls when they return to their classrooms.

Our resources for the workshop can be accessed here.
The Mappers
My co-presenters - Jerry Blumengarten and Bill Krakower
#4thchat Face-To-Face Meeting
I would finally get to meet the gals who co-moderate #4thchat with me every Monday night at 8ET/7CT. I have been doing so with Nancy Carroll since the very beginning of #4thchat back in March of 2011. When previous #4thchat creator and co-moderator Jeanne McQueen (teaches 5th grade now), and previous co-moderator Justin Stortz needed to step away, we added Jennifer Regruth to the team in 2012.

Nancy, Jenn, and I have also been collaborating most Sunday evenings via Google Hangouts with 5 other educators. We chat and plan projects our students can do collaboratively. Our GHO group had submitted a proposal to present at ISTE, but unfortunately it wasn't accepted. I was thrilled when they decided to attend their first ISTE anyway. Seeing their little avatars on Twitter and their smiling faces on my computer screen during the GHOs still didn't prepare me properly for meeting them is person.

The magical moment happended on Friday, June 27. I was eating lunch outside across the street from the convention center with Jan Wells and Kelly Kastner when someone said, "Here come Jenn and Nancy." I remember jumping out of my chair and then feeling like I was trying to run underwater as I hurried to get to them for our first "real" hugs. We laughed, we cried, we hugged a lot. Jenn is much taller than I thought she'd be, and Nancy is much more petite.

Paula, Nancy, and Jenn with Brad Wilson 
Our time together at ISTE wasn't enough. When it was time for them to leave, I couldn't bring myself to tell them goodbye. I was so sad and heartbroken that it had all come and gone so quickly. Luckily, I have memories of our time together that will last a lifetime and sustain me until the next time we meet face-to-face. Now our online exchanges have even stronger ties and bring back the great memories we made while at ISTE.
Part of our GHO gang- Jerry, Jenn, Bill, Nancy, nnd Paula
Nancy and Jenn, I love you both and miss you so much.

Reuniting with PLN Members and Meeting New Ones
Some of you might know, I'm divorced, never had children, and don't have any surviving family members, so my friends, both in real life and online, are my family. My PLN (personal learning network) is near and dear to me.

For quite a few years now, I have paid my own way to ISTE and consider it my summer vacation. After all I'm going to what I consider a family reunion in whatever city ISTE happens to be visiting for the summer.

Those educators who have not experienced the thrill of meeting their online tweeps face-to-face just don't quite get it. Why would a person what to room with someone for a week that s/he has never met? Why would one what to spend lots of money sightseeing and traveling with people s/he barely know? Why would educators spend hours setting up Google documents to organize and arrange their "down time" while attending a huge conference like ISTE? The answer is simple. The people we are connected with online are more than just online aquaintances, they are more like family members. And we are thrilled to see them each summer at ISTE.

I know this to be true because as the last words of the closing ISTE keynote fade away, you can hear the buzz of plans being formulated to see each other at next year's ISTE. It warms my heart to see "newbies" like Jenn and Nancy excited to be a part of it all again next year.

I hope to see you in Philadelphia for #ISTE2015. 

ISTE Unplugged 2014

I always plan to arrive the day before ISTE officially starts so that I can attend ISTE Unplugged. This great unconference is organized by Steve Hargadon, Audrey Watters, and Lucy Gray.
Steve Hargadon

On Friday, June 27, I attended Hack Education (formally EduBloggerCon) with about 300 other educators from 8-4. I was amazed that over half of the people in attendence were doing so for the first time. This event celebrated its 8th birthday this year. There was quite a buzz in the air as people connected or reconnected with members of their online PLN.
Some of the participants gathered for Hack Education 

My Mentor from Classroom 2.0 Live Peggy George

Reconnecting this year with +Anibal Pacheco  Photo Credit - @MyClassFlow

The participants determine how the day will be structured by suggesting a discussion they would like to see facilitated. The sessions are then voted on and the schedule is made. I attended sessions on Leadership in a Digital Age, Digital Citizenship, Building Teacher/Student PLNs Using Social Media, and helped facilitate Twitter Tips for Newbies.
Digital Citizenship Discussion Photo Credit - Kristy Vincent

The conversations are rich and thought-provoking and I always learn new things to take back to my classroom. My Big 3 Takeaways from this year are: 
  1. Digital Citizenship should become just Citizenship (thank you @TanyaAvrith) and needs to be taught daily. 
  2. Get parents more involved in all that I do with my students especially when using social media.
  3. Help my students build their learning networks through global collaborations and projects. 
Here are some more pictures I took during this event. 
Wearing Wanda Terral's Google Glass

Paula Boston and Heather Temske
Nick Provenzano, Scott Floyd, Beth Still, Anibal Pacheco
Richard Byrne and Steve Dembo
Billy Krakower and Susan Bearden

Check out all of the tweets from #HackEd14 in this Storify thanks to Craig Yen. Craig did a fabulous job of curating links for those #notatISTE. 

Did you attend #HackEd2014? What are your Big 3 Takeaways? 

Friday, July 4, 2014

So Glad I Went to #ISTE2014 Early

Last year at ISTE in San Antonio, my dear friend from Hawaii, JoAnn Jacobs, and I made a pact to arrive in Atlanta early so that we could spend some quality time with each other before the craziness that is ISTE begins. And am I glad we did!

JoAnn, and I met up at the airport in Atlanta on the Wednesday before ISTE along with Jan Wells, my buddy from Kansas. (Read about my first F2F meeting with Jan here.)

We shared a shuttle ride to drop off JoAnn off at her hotel, and Jan and I checked into our condo at the Peachtree Towers Condos that we were sharing with Beth Still and Kristina Peters. After getting settled in, we met JoAnn for dinner at Alma Cocina, an upscale Mexican restaurant and enjoyed a relaxing time catching up. After returning to the condo, Kristina graciously helped me update my iPhone so I could download the Voxer app. She set up a Voxer group for Beth, Jan, me, and herself and dubbed us the "Peachtree Peaches". 

On Thursday we had a full day of sightseeing and meeting other friends who also decided to arrive early. JoAnn, Jan, Beth, and I started our day at 9:00 at the Georgia Aquarium. I love our aquarium in New Orleans, but was awed by this one. 

We had tickets for the 11:30 showing of Dolphin Tales and it was fabulous. So glad we booked this show and that Beth talked me into seating in the third row. I was worried about getting wet but that didn't happen. What did happen was we had a terrific view of the show. I LOVE dolphins. 

Next we had a nice lunch at BajaFresh with friends from all over the US. In the picture are Margie Rogers (MO), Jan (KS), Carrie Ross (TX), Kristy Vincent (TX), Beth Still (NE), me (LA), Adam Bellow (NY), JoAnn (HI), and Michelle Baldwin (CO). 

Then we headed to the World of Coca-Cola. Besides tasting different Coke flavors from around the world, we enjoyed the 4D show complete with 3D glasses. It gave us lots of laughs. 

Jerry Blumengarten and Bill Krakower met us right after we finished the Coke tour. I love Jerry's sign. 

Our day ended with a gathering for dinner at Sweet Georgia's Juke Joint. What a great place! We had a table right up front for the jazz band that played that night. The Mar-tans play a mixture of New Orleans funk and R&B, but I like to think they were playing in honor of those of us from the NOLA area. Great times with great friends, great food and music, and even a little moonshine. I even lead a second line around the place when the Mar-tans played Mardi Gras Mambo. 

Susie Toso (@SusieToso),  Jan Wells (@JanWells),  Marcie Hebert (@mrsmhebert), Amanda, Martin (@mandymartin1021),  me,  Jerry Blumengarten (@Cybraryman1),  Bill Krakower (@wkrakower),  JoAnn Jacobs (@JoAnnJacobs68),  and Margie Rogers (@mawrogers). 

We had an awesome day in Atlanta and were definitely ready for some shut-eye. If you are going to attend #ISTE2015 in Philadelphia and plan to do some sightseeing while there, I would strongly suggest going early to do so.  I am always so tired when ISTE ends that all I want to do is go home and sleep for a couple of days. 

JoAnn and I started making plans for next year even before we left Atlanta. So start making your plans and arrive early in Philly. I hope to see you there.