Mrs. Daubert ELA

Instructional Media Weblog

Month: July 2018

It’s Okay; Just Take a Deep Breath and Calm the Flip Down.

“Mrs. Daubert, did Daniel Keyes write anything besides Flowers for Algernon?” a student asks me one day while we’re working in a small group.

“I dunno,” I shrug, “Get out your internet machine and check.”

The kids roll their eyes and chuckle–they’ve stopped indignantly telling me, “IT’S AN IPAD, MRS. DAUBERT!” long ago–and the student who initially asked the question quietly takes out his iPad while I keep working with the group. A minute or two later the student politely breaks in, “Yeah, he did! Here’s some of his other stuff…” The group nods and makes a comment or two about how interesting that is and we continue on with the task at hand.

This is something that happens in my room at least once a day. Every time it does, I’m reminded how my role in my classroom has changed. The kids don’t need me to be an information delivery system anymore–if they ever did at all. They carry one of those with them at all times.  My role in their education has become far more personal.

Well, Mrs. Daubert, that’s very nice for you–you’re so comfortable with all of this crazy modern learning stuff, but I just can’t do it…

Before you travel too far down that line, let me tell you about the teacher I was just three short years ago. I had ten years of experience under my belt and I was burnt out. Year ten was filled to the brim with challenging students–I had an entire class that year so rowdy there were days they were unteachable. None of my old standards that had seemed to work passably well were working anymore. I still had great relationships and rapport with the kids–that’s been my strong suit from year one–and sometimes that was the only thing that kept a class from imploding and being sucked into a black hole on any given day. I was ready to quit. I didn’t have a private sector job lined up, but I sure thought I wanted one.

Then they dropped The Big Bomb on us: all of 8th grade would be going 1:1 with iPads and following a blended learning model the next school year. AND the entire 8th grade staff would be required to attend SIX DAYS worth of crash course blended learning professional development starting immediately after the last day of school, while the rest of the staff would only need to attend the usual two days of PD.

I’ve always thought that sounded like a disease, PD.

“Hey Becky, a bunch of us are going out after work. Wanna come?”

“Ugh, I can’t. I have PD.”

“Aw man, that sucks. Feel better!”

Sounds gross, doesn’t it? Anyway, I put on my big girl pants and muscled through those six days. I would love to tell you that by the end of the sixth day I was completely sold on blended learning and well on my way to becoming the energetic, effervescent educator you know and love today. The hard truth? I ugly cried in the car on my way home every day.

So I took a few steps back. Carved out a few weeks over the summer to pretend I was just another worker bee with a whole lot of vacation days to burn. In late July, I reluctantly dragged myself back into school. I knew this thing I had to do was going to require major changes in the way my classroom was set up. I had my doubts; I thought I had tried every possible set up–groups, rows, pairs, a horseshoe, a circle–and nothing had ever quite worked the way I wanted it to. I got my room into something that resembled one of the configurations they showed us in those grueling six days and that’s when it finally happened. I could see it. I could see the way things were going to work. I could see where the independent work would happen, where student groups would collaborate, and where I would lead small groups. I was ready to at least give it a try.

Still I hung on to some of the things that made me feel comfortable–giving notes and mini lectures to small groups in the direct station, worksheets and book work for the other two stations. I was barely putting a toe on the “S” rung of the SAMR. But something had started to happen naturally before I was fully aware of it. By total default and happenstance, the students and I had been thrown into this thing. It was a completely new way of doing things for all of us and we were learning it together. I loved learning along with the kids, investigating, and figuring things out. I let go of always having to have the answer and instead of losing my expert status in the eyes of my class, I was shocked to find that it increased. The kids still needed me but in a different way–a deeper and more challenging way.  My classroom management locked into place in a way it never had before.  I rarely, if ever, had behavior problems in class (and that is still the case three years later). That’s when I knew I was ready to try flipping some of my content.

Just an itty bitty flip

Here is a version of the first lesson I ever flipped. In its original incarnation the kids had a guided reading sheet and an audio recording of my voice. For you, dear readers, I got all fancy, mashed it together in iMovie, processed it, and posted it for your viewing enjoyment on The YouTube:

As you can see, it’s a straight up flip. No frills. Just my voice, a video, and some simple instructions. It’s something I would have done with the entire class before I started blended learning. Now? The kids could do it without me. I had it assigned as group work in the collaborative station so that the kids would receive the content before coming up to work with me in the direct station. And now that I didn’t have to deliver content in the direct station, I was free to have an actual discussion about the meat of the literature. We could sit in our small group and really dive in deep to talk about the writing and make connections. I had never been able to teach on that level before.

If you are completely new to the idea of flipped learning, here is a great video to give you the quick and dirty run-down:

Why I don’t totally flip out

I use flipped lessons when I think they really work and add value for my students, but I never have and don’t think I ever will completely flip my class in the classic sense of the concept. I found two poignant articles that express my concerns with a pure flip–and by that I mean, students consume the content via video/media outside of class and do “homework” during class time. In his post “The Dangers of Letting Kids ‘Go at Their Own Pace,'” Paul Emerich expresses his concern regarding bright students working too quickly–while a fifth grader might be able to click the right buttons to seemingly have mastered an eighth grade concept, he or she doesn’t yet have the maturity to understand its nuances and complexities.

Jerry Brodkey expresses his concern at the other end of the spectrum in his post, “A Math Teacher and Dad Comments on Kahn Academy.”

He explains his daughter’s struggle with flipped content because the material was over her head and she wasn’t getting enough face to face instructor support. I see both authors’ points and while I recognize the value in flipped content, I won’t make it my exclusive mode of instruction.

So does that make me a flip flopper?

No. Since its earliest inception, flipping has taken on a far broader definition than the “purist” flipping 101. In my own context, I find that flipped learning is really about not simply the ability to access learning outside the brick and mortar, but more about the drive and desire to do so. The feature of blended and flipped learning that appeals most to me is that my students and I can still connect and learn even when we’re not together. In 2016, I attended my first ever PETE & C conference. I was so excited about what I was learning that I started using course updates on Schoology (my school’s LMS of choice) like a social media feed so that students could share the experience with me:

This prompted something I hadn’t expected–the kids began bombarding me on Schoology messenger excited to hear what I was bringing back to them. I remember sitting at lunch with two colleagues during the conference. I scrolled through my Schoology messages and smiled.

“What’s so funny?” one of them asked.

“Oh, it’s just the kids. They’re asking what I did in the last session.”

“What?” the other said in disbelief, “My students are glad that I’m gone for the day. How did you get yours to care like that?”

Clearly blended learning works in my classroom–even if I’m not flipping every lesson. Learning, collaborating, and chatting even when we’re not face to face is just a normal part of what we do.

But Mrs. Daubert, I’m worried about losing my personal touch in my classroom if I go too high tech

I’ve found that the more I dive into blended learning and flipped content, the more powerful and personal my voice becomes. I’m about to finish up here with a horrifically embarrassing story about myself. In school year ’16-’17, I suffered a very serious concussion. How did I sustain this injury? Well, you see, I have a thin tack strip above my blackboard at the front of my room. I was brainstorming with a class one crisp fall day and had tacked up several large pieces of chart paper so that we could map out our ideas. I’m not a tall woman by any stretch of the imagination and in order to reach the paper, I was standing on a chair. The kids were cranking out some fabulous ideas and I was very excited–I was turning and writing and turning and talking and gesturing with large sweeping arm motions. Yeah, I lost my balance. Crashed to the floor in epic proportions. Whacked the back of my head on a table on the way down. Swept a massive stack of paper off my desk with one of my legs. Somehow ended laying face up, staring at the florescents with one foot in the recycling bin. I am absolutely not joking when I say that at the hospital, I forgot how to spell my own name. I missed a week and a half of school and was on half days for another week and a half after that. This meant that my last class of the day didn’t see me for THREE WEEKS. And it’s not like they had a long term sub either–this was a day to day thing, so they had a different teacher every day. I peeked at my grade book during the very limited tech time I was permitted as I recovered and saw how badly all their grades had plummeted. They were my tough class that year–the class in which, inevitably, the scheduling gods in their mightiness decided to place all of the behavior issues EVER. But I could work with them. I actually loved them–they had so much personality! And they loved me. I knew their grades were suffering because they missed me (and boy did I miss them too). One day I used my flipping skills to make them a little gift which I posted to their Schoology landing page:

When I checked the grade book again the next day, I saw nearly all of them had turned in their missing work. If that doesn’t speak volumes to how powerful we are in our classrooms, I don’t know what does!

What are your experiences with flipping? Is anyone out there totally flipping out? Or did you get to the end of this post and feel like flipping me off?


Mrs. Daubert

Musings on Classroom Configuration on the Hottest Day of the Week in My Third Floor Classroom Where Maintenance has Turned off the Air Conditioning for the Summer

Alternate Title: Dear Dean Shareski, You’re LUCKY I want an A

Disclaimer: Dean Shareski did NOT require me or any other member of EDIM516 to physically suffer for the sake of this blog post. He did, in fact, advise us against it–I’m just allergic to listening.

It happens every summer; the custodial crew has such a big job to do all over my district. They deserve major props for all the hard work they do in buildings and grounds to get every inch of the district ready for the new school year. However, my first visit to my classroom after The Cleaning is always a bit of a shock. This morning was no different. I approached my doorway and was greeted with familiarity:

These are my #shelfies–pictures of me posing with all the books I read from spring until the last day of school.

Opening the door and stepping inside was quite another story:

Combine this with the fact that the air conditioning was off for the summer? Welcome to the 7th layer of Dante’s Inferno, Ladies and Gentlemen.  I took some time to at least put the furniture back to what I consider home base. I’ve mentioned before, my school follows a blended learning model. I teach five, one-hour long classes each day during which the kids simultaneously cycle through three stations. A station for independent work:

A station for collaborative work:

And a station where small groups receive direct instruction from me:

Notice how I’ve ingeniously kept my 5 and 7 year old busy while I move furniture by dumping out a bucket of pennies and asking them to search for any “special” ones!

Here’s what my classroom looks like during the year when it’s populated:

My classroom also has a very large free reading center in what would have appeared as a large blank space in my initial pictures.

People have said I’m nuts for this, but I usually have my phone out at the direct station where I use it as a timer or if we need a small secondary device for some reason. Inevitably, the students sneak my phone and snap selfies. I don’t particularly encourage them to do it, but I don’t stop them either. And by the end of the day, my camera roll is filled with something to give me a good laugh. As you can see, I actually keep a lot of the pictures. My building principal once said, “Kid pictures are completely different from grown-up pictures.”

The pictures you just saw are my “home base” set up. It’s how my school year always starts and it’s also my default mode for when we’re not doing anything super crazy.

Oh, but, sometimes, darn if I don’t go crazy!

I’m no stranger to flexibility in my set-up. There are times when I play it pretty fast and loose. In my last post, I mentioned my love of Genius Hour and other PBL endeavors. As much as I love my configuration for blended learning, it doesn’t work for some of my more intense creative projects. We move the room around to suit our needs:

For one Genius Hour this year, we turned the front of my classroom into a makeshift kitchen. The kids put together a class cookbook of their families’ favorite recipes, filmed cooking tutorials, and we had a class potluck to close the project.

In another Genius Hour, one of my classes created an Anne Frank themed escape room. For that, we had a few days during which the room needed to be our prop workshop.

The classroom configuration insanity doesn’t stop there. I have several videos posted to my Twitter of other snapshots of my crazy, beautiful, messy, Genius Hour life. In this Tweet, my students are hard at work on their breakout jobs for a larger project. In this Tweet, we are connecting via Skype with a sister class in the Dominican Republic–we’re all up front using the Smart Board as a video screen.

I’ve even dabbled in student-created spaces.

Near the end of the school year, my building got a VERY LARGE book donation from a local charity. The idea was to send the kids home for the summer with some reading material. I knew about all of this, so one day when my principal saw me in the mail room from her desk in her office a good 30 feet away, jumped out of her chair, and darted faster than I’ve EVER seen her move in my general direction, I froze, held my breath and waited.

“We’ve got to get these books out to the kids and FAST. Can you come up with something?” She asked.

“Give me 10 minutes and a quiet place to sit and think. I’ll come up with something,” I answered. I’m probably the reason she has to dye her hair BUT she knows that even if my ideas and projects sound completely insane, not only are they going to work, but the results are typically nothing short of amazing.

“All right. Let me know what you need and when. It’ yours.”

True to my word, ten minutes later, I asked for a vacant conference room and permission to pick a team of ten students. After getting her official administrative blessing, I set to assembling my team. What I’m about to say may seem radical, but trust me, it is the absolute truth. When I need a group of kids to come up with an innovative idea quickly, I don’t look to the straight A kiddos–the well-mannered cherubs who have become experts in the “game of school” (don’t mistake, I love these children, just like I love all the others!). When I need an amazing idea that sparks and pops? I raid the in-school suspension room. (Cue gasps from anyone who fears the unknown.)

Good, God, woman, WHY? Simple. These kids are the disrupters, the authority questioners, the can’t sit stillers, the your-rows-and-your-full-class-lectures-don’t-work-for-me-ers. These are the kids who think differently from everyone else. They are also typically the kids with whom I have the best relationships. Crazy loves crazy. We manage to find each other every year whether I actually teach them in class or not. Here are the specs on the team I assembled for this task: all were in ISS at least once this year, over half were OSS at least once, one was up for expulsion, one was a rowdier member of our self-contained emotional support class, and several failed a grade at some point in their school career.

They all very willingly assembled with me in the empty conference room and listened to the  situation: we had HUNDREDS of books we needed to disseminate to the student body for the summer in such a way that said books would be loved and voluntarily kept and READ–without ending up in the gutter of the very busy street out front at our landlocked, urban school. Then I stepped aside and allowed them to puzzle it out. I answered questions when they had them and occasionally consulted, but the kids did all the problem solving on their own. The result? A student run free book room set up book fair style where classes or individual students could sign up for time slots to come peruse the selection and take as many free books as they wanted home for the summer. The student team would be there to help their peers select books and generally provide some good old fashioned customer service.

The set up was far better than anything I would’ve come up with on my own:

It was a resounding smash hit for the entire school. If I hadn’t been able to relinquish control and allow the students to do what they wanted with the space, it never would have been the incredible success it turned out to be. We had students taking home grocery bags and boxes full of books. Once school was out on the last day, there was a young lady pounding on the front door in tears, begging to be let back in because she wanted to grab just a few more books.

So, what’s your point, Mrs. Daubert? You’re already clearly doing some great things with flexible configurations…

This is where we all have to be careful as educators–when we think we’re good at something. It would be easy for me to say, I’m doing great; I can just stop here. But that would be a true detriment to myself and my students. There are ALWAYS things we can do to grow, learn, improve, and make things better. In these situations, it’s best to look for other experts. I’m the ONLY teacher in my building trying anything like this. Where do you get ideas when you’re an island? Well, thank God for them internets! I faithfully follow A.J. Juliani and in his fantastic blog post, Genius of Making: 5 Ways to Mash-Up Genius Hour and Your Makerspace, he talks about some practical ways to be flexible with your classroom set up. He mentioned something that  rang really true  for me, “We often have these grandiose ideas of makerspaces and fab labs in our mind. Forget that. Start a makerspace in your classroom so your students can use it whenever they want.” I don’t have a makerspace in my classroom all the time. Sure, I’ll completely overhaul the room for the sake of Genius Hour, but I don’t have a permanent spot for kids to freely create when it’s not a “special” time for creating.

I want that. I can do that. Juliani talks a lot in his post about how many kids never get a chance to play around, tinker, and create. I didn’t when I was a kid. I was a straight A honors path kid. I spent all my time sitting in rows, being lectured at, taking copious notes, and getting ready for what everyone told me college would be like. At home? I was constantly making and creating–burning myself with hot glue, getting covered in paint, hounding my dad until he agreed to show me how take appliances apart and fix things. It didn’t occur to me until a few years ago that any of that could or SHOULD have been part of what I did at school. I certainly have the room to create a permanent makerspace in my classroom, so that is definitely an addition to my configuration for this coming school year.

Still hungry for more fresh ideas, I hopped on to Discovery Education to see what I could see and was immediately struck by Kathy Schrock’s post, “Creative classroom configurations.” I mean, seriously? The exact thing I was looking for right there under featured posts?! It doesn’t get much more serendipitous than that! She is so thorough on the science of classroom design which gave me lots to ponder, but the thing I appreciated most was the concept she brings up right from the start: primary teachers are GREAT at designing flexible learning spaces for their students; middle and high school teachers tend not to embrace this. Perhaps they feel students at this level are too mature or that all of this is somehow “kid stuff.” I used to think that too. But I got over it. Middle and high school kids learn better in flexible, multipurpose spaces too!

Schrock got me thinking about a large area of unused space in my room. As you saw in my pictures, I have a totally baller free book space on one of my counters. This is awesome. Know what I don’t have? An equally baller space for kids to sit and read. I need that. And again, I’m fortunate enough to have the space for it, so that’s another addition to room 307 for the upcoming school year.

What might I do if I had $1000 to invest in my set up?

Honestly? Probably not much. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m equal parts pirate and hacker. Sure, I’d probably replace my collaborative desk groups with tables and chairs, invest in some arm chairs and comfy things for a reading area, and some cool things to punch up a makerspace. But generally, I’m really happy with the mix and match vibe my classroom has. It looks like me and more importantly, each year it looks a little bit more like the kids.

“Revolution Means Turning the Wheel” – Igor Stravinsky

How about you? What are you changing in your room for the upcoming year? What’s staying the same? How do we get other educators thinking about this too?


Mrs. Daubert


Following the White Rabbit Down the Pinterest-hole

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“What do you MEAN you aren’t on Pinterest?”

It’s a question I hear constantly and incredulously from teacher friends and co-workers. No, I’m really not. And before you label me Queen Velma of Old Fart Island, let me assure you, I’ve got a good reason.

Would you believe I’ve been trying to write this post since early Monday morning? I had NINE browser tabs open while I was chatting on Facebook Messenger to two or three different people, messing around with Flipgrid, checking emails, answering inquiries from my postings on Letgo on my phone, staring longingly at my copy of George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords (I’m one chapter away from The Red Wedding!!!), contemplating cup of coffee number three, and SQUIRREL.

Every other day this week was much the same, though the distractions changed from time to time. The only way I was able to actually buckle down and finish writing was to close all of my browser tabs, log out of all my email accounts, put my phone on airplane mode, and lock myself in the home office (sorry kids, you’re on your own for breakfast this morning–Mommy’s GOT to get this done).

Author’s Edit: By the time I had finished posting, my sons had made themselves each cups of hot chocolate as big their faces and buttered toast that they proceeded to meticulously cover with Teddy Grahams and Trix. I wonder if my mom wants them today…

Putting myself on Pinterest would be downright reckless. Oh, I’d start off with the best of intentions–perhaps I’d like to pin some ideas for first month of school bulletin boards–but before I knew it, I’d be so far into Pinterest-land that I’d be planning a killer birthday party for the kid two blocks down the street and terribly late for a very important date.

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Come on, Mrs. Daubert, curation tools are extremely valuable for educators.

Yes, I know. I don’t have anything against them; in fact, I WANT to use them. I just need to find one that works for me and given my easily distracted brain, I know Pinterest is not my thing. So I decided to try a few others.

I started with Symbaloo. I’d had an inservice on it about two years ago and vaguely remembered thinking it was neat, so that seemed like a good place to begin. After about five attempts, I remembered my old username and password and I was IN.

Even with the meager content I had curated who-knows-how-long ago, this was just too busy for my brain to handle. Like Pinterest, it was too pretty, too exciting. I wanted to click, click, click, add, add, add, and share, share, share–but not any of the things I was SUPPOSED to click, add, and share.

My mind works an awful lot like the 8th graders I teach. Sometimes, that seriously hinders my productivity.

Exhibit A:

A few years ago two boys were standing in my doorway before the start of the school day. One starts running in circles around the other.

“Look, Mrs. Daubert,” one of them proclaims, “We’re the moon orbiting the Earth!”

And without even stopping to think, I immediately respond, “Could’ve fooled me–I thought you were a gaseous cloud orbiting Uranus.”

This stops them in their tracks. They look at each other. They look at me. Then an expression comes over both of them like I’ve just handed them liquid gold and they run to another room to show off their “new” joke. Way to go Mrs. Daubert. Way. To. Go.

Exhibit B:

Fast forward to this school year. It is a dress down day and I’m wearing my Run DMC t-shirt.

“Ew,” a student says, “Run DMC is old and corny!”

“Oh yeah?” I retort, “Well, without Run DMC, Drake would have to find something ELSE to be terrible at.”

The class erupts in a chorus of OOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHs. Yep, I made my own class spontaneously combust.

These isolated incidents aside, being able to think like an 8th grader has its advantages. As the kids would say, I’m a BEAST at planning lessons that maximize productivity and minimize distractions. It’s all because I do one simple thing: let the hyperactive 8th grader part of my brain run wild while I’m planning. If I can’t focus on the activity, they won’t be able to either.

If I am looking at curation tools not only as a means for me to collect and store ideas, but also for student use in my classroom? Pinterest and Symbaloo aren’t going to make the grade.

On to the next one!

I tried Flipboard next. Seemed like a logical choice. I’d seen it recommended on several “hotlists” and I already used the app on my phone.

Disappointment again. Just like Symbaloo and Pinterest, Flipboard had the potential to become very busy, very quickly. On top of that? Oh, the pre-curated articles about politics! I follow politics the way some people follow their local home team. I have favorite anchors, pundits, and commentators. I yell at the TV when I watch cable news. Flipboard encouraged me to waste time on pet interests even more than the others! For heaven’s sake, even the productivity tab was encouraging me NOT to be productive:

Finally, there it was–standing right in front of me all along like true love in a Rom Com

Feedly! At the suggestion of a professor from one of my summer grad school courses, I’ve been using Feedly to curate my classmates’ blogs and get notified when someone updates a post. I dove in a little deeper to see what else I could do with the tool.

Here is an awesome quickstart tutorial for anyone who wants to try it:

This tutorial helped me to understand what else I could do beyond the simplicity of following a feed of my classmates. It focuses on the iPad app, but the concepts are easily applicable to the web version as well:

The verdict from my busy, busy brain? Feedly is much cleaner looking than the other curation tools I tried. My mind found the linear layout soothing rather than overstimulating. In short, Feedly allowed me to do what I wanted–find, click, add, link, compile, organize, and share without encouraging my poor brain to chase white rabbits. It even has features that allow me to eliminate or hide content I find distracting.

And if I can focus while using Feedly, that means my students will be able to as well. Ultimately, this is what I want. Three years ago, my school adopted a blended learning model and the more I learned professionally, the more I knew I wanted Genius Hour to be part of what I do in my classroom. I’ve done Genius Hour projects every year since. Some incredible projects have come to fruition during this time, but as anyone who has ever done Genius Hour or any other large PBL undertaking knows, keeping everyone organized and on track can pose a challenge.

I believe Feedly has the power to help me with that. To that end, I’ve begun the process of putting together a board that will help me get ready for next school year’s Genius Hour. Here is what I’ve got so far (the biggest drawback of the free version of Feedly is that I can only share boards and lists via email, not with the internet in its eternal vastness):

Now that we’ve found love, what are we going to do with it?

This is where you come in, dear readers! What should I add to my Genius Hour board? What do any of YOU do with Feedly? Have I made a grievous error in my denouncement of the other curation tools I tried? Have I missed or overlooked something that prevented me from being able to calm my dumpster fire of a brain? Or has it all really just been a futile exercise in…

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Mrs. Daubert

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