Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Guantlet has been Thrown...

Thanks Steve Wick (@rechargeedu) for sharing this

I had the opportunity to visit the architectural firm PBK last year with Klein ISD's new Transform Academy. We watched -very intently- how a high-functioning team operates; and it was truly a mind-blowing experience. 

I realized how we are -as educators- grossly underestimating the skills our students will need to be competitive in their futures. They require Avengers©-like collaborative skills, problem solving ninja skills, and (among many others) be creative innovators. I hear so often how teachers (in 1:1 environments across Texas) use their tech as glorified worksheets or for warm-ups and are very unwilling to change the way they have done things..."because they have 'worked' for so long". At the risk of ruffling feathers, I ask this question: How can we get our students to the "PBK mindset" of innovation and asking questions, this "edutopia", if you will; if so many educators still focus on the answers, rather than the questions?

We must equip them with tools and skills to nurture their inner creators. Thank goodness we have so many amazing resources literally, at our fingertips! We use Google apps in our class to create, collaborate, and innovate. I tossed out the projector and brought in interactive panels and an HD TV. My students collaborate in a variety of ways and have become skilled at working with others, as it is done holistically -every day- in my class. They create with Google Drawings, evaluate and give feedback using Google Slides, experience and experiment with Google Cardboard, Google Earth, and Google Maps, and they will begin communicating with others, globally, using Google Hangouts.

I want to equip these students with the knowledge and skills that will transform their lives, not just their learning. Won't you join me, and help our students be creative independent thinkers that work well with others that possess a global mindset? The gauntlet has been it's time for us all- teachers, principals, directors, superintendents, parents- to step up, grab that gauntlet, and leave those worksheets behind.

Have You Moved Over the Google Side? Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I introduced several uses of Google Drawings for a collaborative experience. In this post, I will focus on a few ways you can use Google Slides along with Google Drawings to encourage students to create, share, and provide feedback.

After teaching them little tips and tricks with Google Drawings, I had them share their creations in Google Slides. I created a shared Slides presentation and had each team share their Google Drawings. They were to leave a comment on several of the slides (this is a great way to teach them verbiage for constructive criticism). I heard many of them ask a student, "How did you do that?" or "Wow! I wish I had thought of that!" It is so rewarding to hear them discuss their work in a collaborative setting.

After a training I did in Klein ISD in 2015, I had the participants give feedback at the end of the session. I wanted them to see they could use this to have students reflect on activities, lessons, experiences, etc.

I came across several ways to use Google Slides in the classroom and my favorite has to be the beginning of the year activity by Alice Keeler ! It is brilliant! Especially, for those of us who struggle with learning our students' names!

I would like to take this one a little further and make it also and end of the year activity (since I teach 8th graders, and they are about to start high school). This is a fun activity that will allow them to see their growth through the year if you add reflective questions.

Google tools are so much more than some people have experience with...especially Google Drawings and Google Slides. Most people think of Google Slides as simply a presentation software; but it is so much more. I hope you share this tool with your students and allow them the opportunity to experience Google in all the creative ways they should be used!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Have You Moved Over to the Google Side? Part 1

I am a geek and love Star Wars. 

I also love Google tools, so I decided to use the theme, "Are You Ready to Slide Over to the Google Side?" for my tech session on Google Slides. 

It was fun and best of all, I had teachers using the collaborative features and they LOVED them! Most had never used Google tools for collaboration. These tools are fantastic for all classrooms but I am finding so many incredible things that benefit our Foreign Language students! I will be sharing these in a series of posts since they will be filled with tons of engaging activities!

The first tool I want to talk about is Google Drawings. This is not just a "Paint" for Google. There is so much more to this program than meets the eye! The best part of Google Drawings is the ability to have more than one person work in the drawing at the same time. There are some fantastic ideas out there on the internet using Google Drawings, but these are some of my favorites:
Creating a Timeline:
When creating a timeline, your students must know the information as they must research whatever it is they are going to place on the timeline. If you have them in teams of 4-6, they can be responsible for certain events/periods. For example: A Walk Through History Timeline
You can assign students different Eras that you want them to cover and they are responsible for those sections of the Timeline. You can do one in Foreign Languages for Wars in Spain, or A timeline over Pablo Picasso's paintings/styles, etc. I did this one for a training session on Google Drawings in my district:

Another clever use of Google Drawings is to create your own graphic organizers in teams. You can actually "see" the thinking process as they can comment in the drawings and help one another. One graphic organizer we did in class was discuss a character from a Movie Talk we did (this example is done in English for the sake of all language teachers):

Sylvia Duckworth does a wonderful job with her SketchNotes. I encourage my students to draw the definitions of words as this helps them remember the words much better. You can check her SketchNotes here.

The kids really enjoy working with each other using these tools. I hope you will allow your students the opportunity to collaborate and create!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Are You a "Failsure"? or a "Failearner"?

"Failsure"? I know, I know it's not a real word and neither is "failearner"; but they could be. Let's begin by defining these words. 

Failsure- noun (feyl-shur) 
1. an individual who does not to take risks in the classroom so as not to fail.
2. a person that does not adopt new and innovative strategies easily to ensure his/her students are all learning at their levels. 

Failearner- noun (fey-lur-ner) 
1. someone who learns from failures.
2. an individual unafraid of failing to be innovative so students can benefit from their experiences in the classroom.  

So, are you a failsure or a failearner? Educators are notorious for desiring control (at all times) in the classroom. I get it; however, it is essential that we put those fears to rest and take risks; Isn't this what we ask of our students? We expect them to be innovators; to be creative; to be original. How are they going to reach their full potential if we don't model what we expect from them? Just as we must model how to use digital tools for education, or to be respectful individuals; we must model how to learn from our failures. 

In Transform Academy this year in Klein, I learned the importance of failing and how to take these failures, reflect, and try again. I saw incredible growth from my students by modeling how to handle failures and make the necessary changes. We had many new experiences this year that really pushed our boundaries; and reflected on everything we did. This fostered a growth mindset in my class.

Prior to the new activity, project, procedure, etc., I let them know we were trying something different and we would reflect on our experience in hopes of improving whatever it was we were doing. This gave them the mindset that that these trials were works in progress (as are we) with the opportunity for improvement.

Teaching our students the importance of reflecting and learning from our failures is one step in fostering a failearner attitude. Dr. Shelly Zavala takes the opportunity to reflect by asking herself: "What is this inviting me to learn?" Have the kids journal their experience and how they feel they can improve on it. Take the time to help them shape their learning.

Attitude is an important aspect of learning from failing or being a failearner. Thomas Alva Edison had the perfect mindset when he said:


Don't be a failsure. It might be safe, but are you helping all your students grow to their full potential? Be a failearner and help your students be reflective, growth mindset individuals by learning from their failures. Provide them an environment to take chances, to reflect, and to grow. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

10 Cool Tools to Transform Student Learning

We know that engagement is the key to student learning; why is it then that so many teachers, especially foreign language teachers, still use very little-if any- tech in their classrooms?
Here are a few tools that will drive student learning through the roof!

1. Kahoot! My students can't wait to Kahoot! They love to create their nicknames and compete against one another. In addition, they practice concepts, vocabulary, and culture at the same time. There is now a ghost feature that allows your students to compete against themselves. You can also collect data to see which students are grasping concepts and those who still need support.
2. Tagxedo is a tool you and your students can use to create word clouds in customized shapes.

3. Yakit (or blabberize for android) is a fun way to have characters or photos speak, You could have them use target vocabulary or summarize a novel, or discuss a famous person.
4. QR codes: what a fun way to have kids explore text, vocabulary, and so much more! My kiddos did a project for our class novel, La Vampirata and they could not use PowerPoint or Word. They WOWed me!!! Some created websites on Weebly and created their QR codes. They posted the QR codes throughout the class and had teams go from one to another to "frontload" information prior to playing "Jeopardy". They were incredible!
5 is a great resource for students to create their own websites. This is a fantastic opportunity for us to teach them digital responsibility. They need to learn how to site sources and how their words can be seen throughout the world. It is important for our students to realize how our words can impact others.
6.   Having students publish their work online is an opportunity for students to be reflective people. You can create a class blog where they take turns reporting what was done in the class for the day. This can be a fantastic resource for students who are absent that day.
7. Connected Mind is a mind-mapping tool that allows you to insert links, videos, photos and much more! Real-time collaboration is not yet available but they are working on it!

8. BigHugeLabs has many resources for students and teachers...and it's free! Students can create movie posters for books read or create a motivational poster that describes their outlook on life, topics, etc. 
9. Aurasma is amazing! Students can investigate historical figures and create auras that explain that person's life, facts, etc. This is an extraordinary way to assess your students' learning.
10. Picmonkey is an online photo editing tool that enables your students to create unusual products but much more user friendly than Photoshop. Students can create projects, comics, books, etc. The possibilities are endless!

My students have astounded me with their creations! There's no question as to their mastery of the concepts through the use of these tools. Keep working on transforming your students' learning!

Agents of Change

Transform Academy is a new program created in Klein ISD that has enabled teachers invited, to "transform" teaching practices. This program has created quite a buzz in the district. I had the opportunity to participate in this elite group and I have to say it was such an encouraging experience! For years I have been making a push for a change in our attitudes towards learner-centered education which includes environment, teaching practices, and blended learning.
So often, educators tend to teach students in the manner they were taught. This might have been fine long ago, but today we have students that are innovators, problem-solvers, and unbelievably creative. We need to provide a learning platform that enables our students to create their own learning experiences. Most districts are reluctant to this philosophy due to accountability. I get it, but if our kids are retaining and truly learning rather than regurgitating, we have no worries when it comes to accountability so long as we are still providing our students with the standards.
Transform Academy also provided us with monies to transform our classroom environments. WOW! What an experience! We were able to try-out the furniture and speak with manufacturers to discuss any concerns we might have. My plans are to create a "language lab" format in my class since I tend to do stations, it is very conducive to collaboration.
I am looking into many options for technology as well. I love Steelecase's MediaScape is a product I would love to have in my classroom but it is just too expensive for a small-scale venture. I have looked into many products that might mimic these features and have come close, but I am not quite there yet.
Many educators choose to look away and continue doing what they have done since the beginning of their career. Teaching is ever-changing; therefore, doesn't make sense that our teaching practices must also change to meet the needs of our learners?

Transform Academy looked at the "whole student" approach. We focused on considering what exactly our students need to learn at their maximum level. Shouldn't this be what every educator does in his/her classroom (regardless of subject)? We explored new technology and approaches at how to best use these in classroom environments. There were educators from elementary, intermediate, and high school present. There was dialog as to what works at the varying levels and what does not.
I love the fact that these 31 educators had an experience of a lifetime to provide their students experiences that will enable them to learn to their full capacity.
Krimmel's theme for the Transform Academy presentation was "Agents of Change". We have seen how this experience has positively affected not only our students, but the excitement of teaching in the school. We really are Agents of Change and are thrilled at all the possibilities!

Sunday, April 26, 2015


Change. For some, this is word is a nasty four-letter-word. I can understand complete as humans are creatures of habit. Is change necessary? You bet! Change is inevitable and we know it is coming. So what can we do to help our students meet those changes head-on? ¡Es obvio! We need to change our mindsets and how we teach our kiddos.

One thing to ponder: Are you teaching your students to learn? I know this sounds silly, but really, are you teaching your students to empower their learning or are you just teaching the subject? We must help our students learn how to learn.

I decided to throw out many of my "normal" routines and change everything. It was quite daunting...but so rewarding! Being part of Klein ISD's new program, Transform Academy, I had the opportunity to reflect on what I was doing and decide where I wanted my students to be based on the incredible experiences in Transform Academy.

I changed my furniture (due to generous funding by Klein ISD). Here are a few photos of my class. I am sure it will evolve many times over until we find what truly works. The desks are Ethos chairs from Haskell Furniture. I love these and saw the Steelcase version at TCEA a couple of years ago, but I love the fact that these chairs have desks that will pivot for a right-handed person or for a left-handed student. The Zynergy chairs are great for students who have trouble sitting still. I found the table at a ReStore location and finished it with a dry-erase finish. I have chairs on casters that telescope up and down and swivel around, so they have multiple uses.