Thursday, April 2, 2015

What Year 5 Looks Like

Teachers like to state how many years they have been teaching. There aren't promotions in the teacher world like the business world, so keeping track of our years is one of the few badges of honor we get. And there is something satisfying about knowing you've been in this field for a long time, defying the rumors of "teacher burnout" and returning to the classroom September after September with a fresh tally mark on the resumé.

This is my year five.

The beauty of teaching is being able to start fresh every year, holding on to the lessons, activities, and moments that worked in the classroom, and tossing out all the rest as if they never happened. Those three months of summer can heal a lot of battle wounds suffered over the school year and wash away the bitter aftertaste of a bad teaching moment. September is the fresh sheet to a mattress that seems to get more and more comfortable every year.

Recently, I've realized that I look at my job and the role of being an educator differently every year. I will admit that in my first year as a middle school teacher, I was consumed with being liked by my students. I knew the pitfalls of this and would never have admitted it to myself at the time, but looking back now I am not ashamed to say it. When a person, especially a fresh-out-of-college 22 year old, is placed in front 30 wide-eyed little twelve year olds, it is impossible not to want their adoration and affection. 

Later, as a 23 year old high school teacher, I often had moments where I felt like I was in high school again, completely engulfed in the highs and lows that go hand-in-hand with teenagehood. Being only 5 years older than some of my students, in many ways we were of the same generation. We shared some of the same interests, hobbies, entertainment tastes, and this often made it hard to draw the line between teacher and peer. 

Now, in my fifth year I no longer feel that subconscious desire to prove my worth to my students, and for better or worse, we are no longer a part of the "same generation." Instead, I am beginning to see my students from a more maternal perspective. I once feared students' parents. I felt like they were always scrutinizing me and were waiting for an opportunity to pounce and send an angry e-mail. 

Then I started thinking about the situation from the parents' perspective. I imagined how they must feel having this strange, awkward, hormone-filled mini-adult in their house who never told them anything about school. I imagined their struggling child telling them, "Yeah, the teacher hates me" as an explanation for a low grade, and them feeling protective, and maybe even defensive of their child, when e-mailing his teacher. So I started becoming proactive, and reaching out to my parents before situations got messy, or confused, or lost-in-teenage-translation. It takes only minutes from my day, and it saves the potential stress that could have caused a handful of sleepless nights.   

That's just one example of my growth. As each year of teaching has rolled on, I have begun to see my decisions from a much more objective standpoint. In my first years I would have ignored an eye-rolling, sassy teenage girl, but let her bad attitude grate on me for the rest of the school year. Now, I don't let a single eyeroll go unnoticed. 

Even yesterday I kept a student after class because she didn't look me in the eye when I was talking to her (this was coupled with a lot of sassy, under-her-breath comments).  My exact words were, "If this attitude keeps up, it's going to be a long trimester for both of us. And I don't want that. And you don't want that."

I would have never done this in my first four years of teaching for fear of not being liked. But you know what? Today she came to class, was completely focused, got her work done, and did so with a decently pleasant, unnoticeable, attitude. 

There is something to be said for the cool-relatable-down-to-earth-teacher. I liked being that teacher. It made me feel good. 

But there is a whole lot more to be said about the teacher that does more than just relates to her students. The teacher that doesn't accept lazy work. The teacher that calls a kid out for being completely inappropriate. The teacher that listens to her students, but responds as a role model, not a friend. The teacher that doesn't allow swearing in the classroom. The teacher that rejects an assignment without complete sentences...

But more importantly, the teacher who cares a lot more about who her students turn out to be in the future, than how her students view her right now.

Being that teacher makes me feel a whole lot better.

So today I am admitting that my first four years, while may have still been "successful", were not my golden years of teaching. Even in year five, I know I am not even close to having perfected this career. But, as Hemingway quoted about writing,"We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master." And I certainly hope to be a lifelong apprentice. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Beating the January Blues

I think it is safe to say that every teacher hates the month of January.


1. It's cold. Very cold.
2. You leave the house in the dark and arrive in the dark. Unless your classroom has a window (thankfully mine does) you are literally in darkness 24 hours a day, 5 days a week.
3. You are used to your students and they are used to you. This can be good and bad...but ultimately it just means that the luster of a new school year has not only worn off, it's become very dull.
4. It's easy to get in to a rut with your teaching materials.
5. Spring Break seems like it's light years away.
6. The word "testing" seems to linger like a subtle whisper around every corner. "Testing's coming up..." "Are the kids prepared for the test?" "We need to raise test scores this year..."

Yuck. January.

This is also the time of year that people in general are a little crabby (probably the lack of Vitamin D) so teachers are getting ornery. Last week in a meeting, a teacher was boastfully talking about how she was going to quit and start a coffee shop, her lifelong dream. The rest of us chimed in on how we would help her get started. Our meeting was diverted for at least 10 minutes as we all relished in the thought of taking coffee orders and smelling like espresso.

Rather than float away on caffeine dreams, I decided to consciously try a few things to keep my January from feeling like a wasted-crabby-blur-of-a-month and to make sure I'm staying excited about my curriculum and keeping my students on their toes. Here are a few...

1. I'm forcing myself to learn a new app once a week. There are plenty of resources out there and my school has a ton of awesome references for great apps (our tech department has a Pinterest board of tech ideas, my personal favorite). The apps I've embraced are free and easy to use. Last week I played around with Doceri and this week I am looking at ClassroomDojo (though that's a bit less fitting for high school students).

2. I'm "thinking Spring." And by that I mean I'm looking ahead...way ahead...and making important planning decisions for the Spring right now. In about 3 weeks I will be starting Romeo & Juliet, my absolutely favorite unit to teach. I'm pumped that because my school is on a Trimester schedule, I'll be teaching it this tri and again at the end of the school year. As it's my 5th go-around in teaching this unit, I'm trying to add a few more activities and supplements to what I've done in the past just to keep myself excited about this unit. I also took elements from my old unit, mixed with some of my new ideas and began to "pretty them up" a bit so I can hopefully sell it on my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Here's a preview below. It's a li'l nonfiction (but very biased) news article to please the Common Core. This is free at my TPT store now, with a set of close reading questions and a teacher key.

3. On that same note, I created a new and improved 2015 Teaching Planner for my TPT site. It's so pretty it's tempting to have this one printed out as well. But I'll hold back until next school year.

4. I'm trying to embrace vocab units in my lessons. Ugh, I hate vocab just as much as any high school student. To me, "vocab" in English class is synonymous with "boring worksheet where I'll memorize the words and never actually learn them." Up until this trimester, that's exactly what it was in my class. I'd hand out the lesson on Monday, never mention it again the entire week, then un-enthusiastically roll through the answers on Friday. Well, I took some time out of my prep to make some Vocab activities that actually relate to the novels we are reading in class (To Kill a Mockingbird in one, Lord of the Flies in the other). These actually use the words in context of the book and inspire a bit of competition...which every high school teacher knows is the key to a teenager's heart. I still don't feel 100% awesome about vocabulary, but I'm getting there.

5. I ordered new books for my classroom library on Amazon! I am especially excited about this because I rarely have cash that I feel justified in spending on classroom library books. Lately a lot of my students have been perusing my classroom library. Possibly because the shelf is so darn cute. It's a 1950's greeting card rack from an old drug store, discovered at a Minneapolis thrift store this summer, and turned in to this gem...

Anywho, so with a Christmas Amazon Gift Card, I ordered 6 new books that should be here by February (ugh, I can't wait!!) I'm so excited to read these and do some book talks with my students. Several of my students have been stopping in my classroom between classes to talk about great YA books with me and I love making that connection.

So those are just a few of my "conscious" decisions to help beat the January blues and keep me feeling good about my job. Another "conscious" decision I would like to make is taking a trip to Hawaii to escape these negative temps but that's just not in the cards for me. *Sigh*

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Top 10 Teaching Tools of 2014

These tools are a mix of my old trusty favorites and some new discoveries that I have been meaning to blog about for a few weeks now. They are ranked in no particular order; they all serve a wide variety of functions, and some are free and some not. But all of them are incredibly handy, user friendly, and are tools I use in my classroom on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

Student's phones become their buzzers. So easy and fun!

I am listing Kahoot! first because if you don't get through the rest of this list, this is the most important  fun tool to add to your classroom.

Gone are the days of boring test review sheets or out of control jeopardy games that always seem to end up in mass chaos in your classroom. We've all been plan a cute, fun jeopardy game to review for an upcoming test and the next thing you know, students are screaming at each other and making death threats over "who buzzed in first" or whether or not the daily double had a hard enough question. Inevitably, half the class is angry and the other half has found a way to zone out and not participate for the last 45 minutes.

Aha! Kahoot solves that problem. Here's how easy it is: Step 1, create a review quiz through Customize for your own material or find one of the thousands of pre-made review games that have been made by other teachers. Add images or video clips if you want, or keep it simple and straight to the point. Step 2, tell students to pull out their SmartPhones, log on to, type in the game password and a username and bam, the game begins.

Each student's SmartPhone, computer, or tablet becomes their buzzer (see the image above). There's no more "boys against girls" teams or teams that are unequally balanced by "the smart kids." It's every kid for themselves. Better yet, after each question, students can see where they are ranked. As a teacher, I love seeing the quiet, too-shy-to-participate kids be ranked in the top 5 for everyone to see.

My students go nuts when it's a Kahoot day, and I don't end up frustrated or feeling like my classroom got out of control. It's a win-win.

This is not me or my classroom...but, oh, I wish it was.

If your school is looking at adding 1:1 technology, beg them for Chromebooks. Yes, iPads look cooler and are made by the almighty Apple, but Chromebooks are better for your classroom in pretty much every way. I know this because I have had the rare opportunity to teach 1:1 with both Chromebooks and iPads. Chromebooks win, hands down.

Reason #1: They are more cost-effective. Retail Chromebooks can go for as low as $199 compared to an iPad for $399 (and that's on the cheap end).

Reason #2: They include keyboards. Surprisingly, students hate typing on touchscreens. Well, don't you? Sure, they are pro texters, but keep in mind that the average teenager's texts consist of "k" and "idk, u?" When it comes to prolonged typing, they want the trusty keyboard just like adults. If you want the 1:1 experience to actually be functional in a classroom, you are probably going to want them to type, and they will go crazy trying to type on their iPads. Just trust me on this one.

Reason #3: They work seamlessly with GoogleDrive.Yeah, that's a no-brainer. Google Drive is an absolute MUST for high school classrooms. It's listed here on my top 10 tools, so I won't get in to it now. But Google Drive on the iPad doesn't work so swiftly sucks.

There are other reasons like they hold longer charge, don't offer as many ridiculous time-wasting games, are light and easy to operate and so many more. But I digress. Chromebooks are where it's at. Sigh, I miss mine.

This is a sample from my own Schoology 9th grade course page. 

There are a lot of classroom networking sites out there, and I'm not going to pretend to know anything about them...because I don't. BUT I do know about Schoology, and compared to not having a school networking site and using a mish-mash of Twitter, classroom Facebook pages and the clunky school website, Schoology is a godsend.

All my students are automatically enrolled in to my (and every other teacher's) Schoology course page. The main page is similar to a Facebook newsfeed, where students can see instant updates about my class. I might send something like "Hey everyone, here's that link to EasyBib I was talking about in class" and the students will be notified of the update right away.

I mostly use the site as an extra communication tool to students about upcoming due dates and test dates, as well as place for them to access all the materials in class. Surprisingly, the students do use it just the way you would want them too. One student lost her 15 page vocab packet and without even asking if she could get an extra copy from me (which I did have) she printed one out on her own at home. Hello! Responsibility meets internet accessibility. I shouldn't brag about a student doing a simple task like this, but you guys know that teenagers are not the most resourceful.

Anyway, it's pretty much the best organization and communication tool your classroom can use. I haven't taken a sick day yet, but I've been told that students have even messaged teachers questions about the sub plans through it. I know many teachers wouldn't be cool with that, but I can't think of a better way to make sure learning is accessible for students.

It's so easy even these adorable little kids can do it.

Reflector App is a tool that does exactly what it sounds like, reflects. It takes anything from your iPad or iPhone and reflects it on to your SmartBoard screen (via your computer). All you do is turn on your mirroring capabilities on your phone and voila, there it is.

Why is this cool? It makes you mobile. I've turned my reflector app on with a presentation from my iPad, then walked around the room while lecturing. Every teacher knows standing in the front of the classroom, in the same spot, is the easiest way to bore your students or to invoke classroom management issues.

Oh wait, it gets better. I've also had my students reflect their own phones/iPads to the board. Oh, Tommy just found a cool picture of a scuppernong (See chapter 9 of To Kill a Mockingbird) and wants to show the class? Reflect it on the board! I also had a student video an assignment on her phone, and rather than mess with trying to e-mail it to me, which often doesn't work because the file is too big, she simply reflected it to the board. So simple!

Photo editing made simple.

I use PicMonkey so often in life it has just naturally made its way to my classroom.

PicMonkey is free, but I opt for the $3.99 monthly version for a few more features. It edits, designs, and collages your photos. Although I know how to use Photoshop and often do so, I find I turn to PicMonkey for quick, simple projects. Students can use it to add captions to photos or collage multiple photos for presentations. But, to be honest, I use it more often to spruce up my curriculum or for my own presentations. Or for, perhaps, designing all my banners on my blog...

Who wouldn't want to see their name on a jungle leaf?

If you are still using the old school popsicles in a tin can method of randomly selecting students in class, STOP. Download the free Random Name Selector app, type in your student's names, and throw out all your popsicles. I most frequently use mine for choosing speech order, so no students can claim it's unfair. But of course, they have to watch the app do its magic. That's half the fun.

I'm not going to explain this any further, because it's just that simple. But I will say, that even my high school seniors get excited when I pull out the Random Name Selector and reflect it on the SmartBoard for all to see. They especially love the jungle theme (A bird squawks every time a new name is selected).

My students type all their papers and create all their presentations in Google Drive for the main reason that it automatically saves and stores what they create. Word constantly seems to crash, or students forget to save, and all that they've worked on for the past hour goes out the window.

Luckily for me, all my students have been set up to have a Google account, so accessing their Google Drive is simple. As long as they have internet connection at home, they can work on whatever they began in class.

I also love Google Presentations because multiple students can work on their group presentation at the same time. I  have students immediately "share" their work with me, even before they have gotten anything done, so I can check in on them while they are working. Students can automatically see when I am looking at their presentation or document. Sometimes, if it's clear none of the group members are working, I'll type little messages directly on to their presentations like, "Are you working?" and soon after I see them scrambling to erase my message and begin typing.

Google Forms are also great for gathering and organizing information quickly and easily. It's all great and it should all be a part of your weekly teaching regimen.

I discovered TPT last year but really began using it this year, after designing my teacher planner. I have found a plethora of helpful, up-to-date lesson plans that usually align to the common core. A lesson is typically under $2, and you can often score entire unit plans for $5 or less. I pick and choose what I like from the packs, but I'm very rarely disappointed with what I buy.

I also began selling my own lesson plans and unit plans. I'm not going to say that I'm raking in the dough, but to date I've sold 17 planners at $5. It took me a day to design the planner, and now all I do is sit back and get paid. It all rolls right in to my PayPal account. I often use my profits to purchase new curriculum. Right now I'm working on a Romeo and Juliet unit plan to start selling. Stay tuned!

I'm going to admit, I don't use planbook myself mostly because I took so much time designing and printing out my own physical lesson planbook. But, I know several teachers who do utilize and love it.

I've played around with it and I can completely see why. It is versatile and functional, and allows you to completely plan out every day of your week, down to the minute (which I usually scribble on post it notes randomly around my desk). What's even better is that it allows you to choose the specific standards you are addressing in your lesson that align with the Common Core. You can slap a screenshot or a link to your planbook on your personal teaching website for students, parents and substitutes to see. It's also a surefire way to win the heart of your administration by being able to show how your teaching is Common Core aligned. A little brown nosing never hurt, right?

No, I did not run out of Apps to add to this list. Quite the contrary, I have several more I would love to share. Instead, I'm choosing books as my final teaching tool of 2014 as a reminder that, in spite of all the incredible technology we have at our finger tips today, books are still one of the greatest assets to be used in the classroom.

I'm saying this because, as an English teacher, I still believe that words are the most powerful tool you can give a student. When you place a book in a student's hand, it has the capability of opening their eyes and expanding their minds. Nothing is more powerful.

While I love the way my students squeal with delight when they see we are playing Kahoot that day in class, I love more when I watch a student's eyes light up when speaking about her favorite book. I love when my entire class can argue about the motivations of a character. I love when a reluctant reader proudly admits he actually enjoyed the book I put in his hands. Books are the reason I got in to teaching, and I want to remember their power and importance every single day.

So there you have it, my top 10 teaching tools of 2014...which will undoubtedly be carried over to 2015, but I hope to add more to my list. If you have any teaching tools you love, feel free to share them! I'm all about learning more, and am hoping my world is expanded even more when I begin my master's program in March!

Honorable Mention goes out to: Remind101, TurnItIn.Com, Pixabay, Notability and YouTube, more great tools I use in my classroom, but just couldn't fit in to one post!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Farewell '14

Recently, on the radio on my long contemplative commute to work, I heard someone say...

 "Everyone always says that everything happens for a reason. But that's not true. Everything just happens. And we assign a reason to it."

This idea hit me hard, and it made me stop and think, not just consume mindlessly like the rest of the adorably inspirational photos I've pinned to my "Remember This" board.

Because it's true. We tell ourselves that there is a plan, an intricate path that's been shoveled out for us by some higher power, because it helps us sort, organize, and categorize our life. People naturally desire order. I often hear or see quoted on social media: "God only gives us what we can handle." It's the belief that all of these events that transpire in our lives are carefully chosen, hand-picked for us for some reason that is beyond our knowledge at the time.

But that's just not true. The world is a messy, ugly, chaotic place. There is no orderly map somewhere out there with 6 billion highways all leading to personal enlightenment. Things happen based on human impulse. Things happen based on action. Things happen based on reactions to those actions.

Things just happen.

I'm not saying we shouldn't look for optimism and hope in the recklessness of our lives. I'm saying that we should approach it differently. Instead of telling ourselves "everything happens for a reason," we have tell ourselves, "Well, that just happened, and here's what I learned and here's how I grew..."

We need to take more ownership of the outcome of these "things that happened." Give ourselves the power and the credit for deciding how we want to continue our lives as a result of the crappy things that can happen to us.

Have faith in the higher power, but first and foremost, reflect, digest, and assign your own outcome.

I have found a lot of gratifying outcomes from the events that transpired in my life in 2014, mainly, my new job and the time it has given me to invest in my future (grad school), my family, my boyfriend, and myself.

So this post is meant not only to preach my personal philosophies, but to say farewell, albeit a bit early, to the year of 2014. I've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. And I'm glad that the latter are all in past tense now.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cold Case Files: Caesar Edition

Remember my post all about how much I love Shakespeare? Yeah...well, I wouldn't say that I love Julius Caesar.

While at first I was excited to teach this play to my sophomores, last weekend when I finally finished reading it, I realized how boring it is...and confusing. I struggled to keep Flavius, Murellus, Decius, and Lepidus and [insert another weird Roman name here] all straight; how was I going to expect my sophomores to? More importantly, how was I going to get them interested in Shakespeare and avoid hearing the unanimous classroom "groan" at the mere mention of his name?

I turned to the powers of Google and, voila, I found this blog that had everything I needed: 

I think it may have been originally made as a history lesson, but with my English spin on it, this "Cold Case Files: Caesar Edition" was the perfect introduction to the Shakespeare play (and conveniently timed around Halloween!) The blog has all the exhibits, a sound clip and a video clip, as well as the "Agent Report" evidence gathering worksheet and official "Indictment Sheet." Here's how it worked for me...

First, I got permission from my principal to do this activity since it is highlighting murder and it did involve a (fake) dagger. My school is based in a more conservative community so I didn't want to just assume it was all good. He thought the idea sounded great and told me to go right ahead!

Then I got ready. I visited the nearby Halloween Express store as well as the Halloween section at Target for some extra bloody adornments. I spent my prep outlining the body of a teacher who volunteered to play dead for me, and setting up the 8 exhibits with the pieces of evidence, including my iPad with exhibit H, the historian's input video. Then I excitedly awaited my students!

I stood outside my closed classroom door and handed my students their "mission" as they walked in. It included the cold case background info and some vocabulary words that would be necessary for understanding the activity (tyrant, indictment, republic, dictator). The door was closed, and a bloody handprint was left on the window:

They opened the door to find a dark classroom, with police tape masking off a gruesome crime scene:

The outline of poor Caesar's dead body lay on the ground. (I got the whole "Police Kit" for $10...and the dagger was apparently damaged so I got that for $3... $13 is a pretty good investment since I will definitely be doing this again!)

One of the bloody daggers from the murderers was left behind, as well as a bloody handprint and blood spatter (Gel window decals from Target).

When the bell rang, I explained to them their mission as Crime Scene Investigators: to discover the motivation behind Caesar's death. Were the senators jealous and cruel? Or were they merely protecting Rome from potential tyranny? Or did Caesar purposely allow himself to be murdered, as a sort of suicide-by-cop situation?

We went through a brief PowerPoint with background information, then they watched this exciting intro clip (also found on the aforementioned website):

Then the kids assembled in to small investigative teams and rotated throughout the exhibits to gather enough evidence to make their decision:

One exhibit had them listening to a speech from Cassius, another had them watching a 2 minute video from a historian on the iPad:

After they rotated through the 8 stations, I had them examine their evidence. Then, they got in to groups based on what they believed was the true reason for Caesar's murder and wrote their indictments. As this blogger who used this lesson with her middle schoolers wrote, "It's a Common Core activity in disguise." She was so right! They are finding evidence from text in order to support a claim! That's what I've been trying to get them to do in their writing all year! Brilliant.

My addition to the lesson plan (because my class periods are 70 minutes) was having the kids debate each other afterward. They chose persuasive representatives to argue their findings and present the evidence. As with all lessons, this was awesome in one of my sections and fell flat in the other. My second section is a bit more competitive and has a few more confident/dramatic students, so having them argue against one another was a lot of fun to watch.

So here's the deal, at one point in the lesson I looked around and it appeared to me that all 29 of my 10th graders were completely engaged. No phones out. No iPads. No side conversations. That, in itself, however fleeting the moment may have been, was reward enough! And something tells me they are going to remember this lesson.

Now to find a way to do this with Romeo and Juliet for my freshmen! My mind is reeling already!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Personal Learning Target: I can be organized!

Yep, I've got a "Learning Target" for myself. It's all about getting organized...with my teaching and with my life.

I am not, by any means, a spokesperson for organization. You can ask my (insanely) organized friend Kim. When she first met me in 2011, my organization in my classroom was a tragic mess. It would not have been uncommon for me to be seen desperately searching for a lost assignment or panicking at the copy machine two minutes before class started.

But those days are over! With my new school and more time on hands has come the ability to start fresh, and be the teacher I have always wanted to be. So here's a little peek at my classroom...

My lovely bulletin boards...

My labeled drawers of everything you could possibly need... Copied from Pinterest, of course. The plastic box of drawers was found in the sewing section of Joann (It was a little pricey, so use the Joann coupon App if you want to buy one). I made the labels using PicMonkey and scrapbook paper and just taped them on the sides of the drawers.
Oh, and you can see my binders for the classes I'm teaching. I have always attempted to make binders with hand-outs, but this year I have gotten in the habit of three hole punching a copy of every single assignment and putting it in the binder. A simple way to make my life easier in the future.

 My sub folder was my big project last night. I'm happy with the results. I included a picture of one of the templates I made too.

Weekly agenda on the back whiteboard for the students. The days of the week and subjects are laminated with magnets so I can move them around when I get new classes next trimester.

 Learning targets on the front whiteboard for the kids to see daily.

The next picture really has nothing to do with organization... I was just really excited to get to use my sister's new Silhouette printer/cutter (I'm obsessed). Also, who says high school teachers can't use corny puns too?

Oh and this summer I made this binder for organizing my finances. I'd show you a pic of the template I made for budgeting out my monthly bills and expenses but that's getting a little too personal.

 So that's it! A tour of my classroom and a peek at my life. So far, I'm on track with my Learning Target. Hopefully in a few weeks I'll still feel this organized!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Technology is Both Awesome and Awful

I grew up in a technology infused family. It began first with Nintendo...the original Nintendo.

My parents would stay up late playing Nintendo and must have passed the gene on to my brother Andy, who began “gaming” at a young age and designing websites way back when Bush was still calling it “The Internets.” By the late 90s, all 5 of my family members had our own computers...and Andy was probably building an extra one too. Again, this was back when only about 36% of US families even had one computer, let alone five (I actually looked that up here:

I’m not trying to brag, merely trying to illustrate how large of a role technology has played in my life. I was a Digital Native before the label Digital Native was even conceived.

Which of course means it has spilled over to my profession.

The phrase “technology integration” is a major buzzword in the teacher world. It’s right up there with words like: diversification, response to intervention, adaptive learning, etc. More often it is referred to as “digital literacy” or “1:1.”

My new school is 1:1 iPads in grades 10 and 11. That means every teacher has an iPad and yes, every student in grades 10 and 11 has an iPad that they are responsible for bringing to class, fully charged of course, every day. Naturally, I was thrilled when I learned about this. Though iPads weren’t in my background, I took as many iPad-in-the-classroom workshops this summer as I could sign up for so that when the first day of school came around, I was ready to be a totally-teched-out-teacher. (Okay, that was corny.)

Maybe I dove in a little too quickly.

By week one I was having my students read all their assignments on their iPad. I stopped handing out paper copies on day 2 of school. I had them taking notes using Notability (a great app, btw) on .pdf assignments I pushed out to them using our Schoology course page. I had them uploading completed assignments using Dropbox. I used the mirror to reflect my iPad on the SmartBoard and then used my Random Name Generator app to call on students (the Jungle Theme is their favorite). I graded their writing on TurnItIn then had them analyze the rubric in class on their iPads. I had them create flash cards using StudyBlue and share them out with each other to study their vocab. I felt like a freaking technology rock star.

Then I hit some roadblocks.

This is where I can hear my college professor, Dr. Ruth Wood, saying “If you are going to use technology, always, always have a back up plan for when it fails.”

Because here’s the deal with technology: it fails. (Sometimes.)

The Google Doc Fiasco

My first roadblock was with Google Docs. I love Google. I really do. I mean, who doesn’t? I’m typing this blog in GoogleDocs as we speak. But here’s the deal, Google doesn’t make Google Docs or Google Drive easy to use on an iPad. And why should they? They’re in direct competition with them, i.e. ChromeBooks.

So when I attempted to have an interactive group discussion using a Google Doc and my SmartBoard, a few things went wrong. The first was not Google’s fault, it was that my kids thought I couldn’t trace who was typing what so they wrote things like “Heyyyyyyyyyy” and “Zach is a pirate” (yeah, I don’t know, 10th graders are weird). It took a good 10 minutes to redirect the class after they finished inserting random Emojis in to the Doc, then reveling at them as they appeared on the screen for all to see.

Once they got that out of their system, the next issue popped up. For some reason GoogleDocs has to be constantly refreshed on iPads, so what should have been a cool alternative to the poster-style “silent discussion” turned in to a lot of kids confused and whining that they couldn’t see what everyone else was typing. Then, while I was rushing about the classroom to each raised impatient hand, the program started crashing left and right. Just disappearing on their screens.

Needless to say, the discussion about whether Tim O’Brien was courageous or cowardly in “On the Rainy River” was a complete fail. I attempted to make do with what few legible words had been typed on to the document, then abandoned the activity altogether.

The Yellow Submarine Surprise

The second roadblock I hit was a fault of my own. I failed to put a password on my screen mirroring program. This meant that any student logged on to the school network could, at any time, tap in to my screen and mirror their own iPad on to the screen. I discovered this while showing a PowerPoint on MLA citations and suddenly, out of nowhere: “WE ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE...YELLOW SUBMARINE...YELLOW SUBMARINE” blasted at full volume from my speakers.

The kids were startled. I was perplexed. It wasn’t until later in the class period that a student informed me about how the “mirroring” aspect could be tapped in to. He was kind enough to let me know that I could password protect it. I thanked him, then silently thanked God that the mystery student who had mirrored their iPad hadn’t blasted something far more Rated-R than “Yellow Submarine.”

The Wrongful Confiscation

My final technology experience story came about this past week. Obviously, if you give a 15 year old an iPad, their first priority is to download as many ridiculous, pointless, time-wasting games on to it as possible. As I attempted to infuse the iPads in to my classroom constantly, it became more and more easy for kids to look like they were participating in class, when they were actually playing a game.

On this particular day, while I led a discussion on The Catcher in the Rye, I decided to pull out my best teacher tools and peruse the aisles up and down as I taught, to ensure I could see any “illegal” iPad activity. Since at the time, I was leading a class discussion about Holden Caulfield’s fascination with where the ducks go in Central Park and what do you think that says about Holden? the only item the students should have had out was their copy of The Catcher in the Rye.

Then I saw an iPhone slide in to the pages of a student’s book. The old phone behind the book trick, I thought. I casually strolled to the culprit’s desk, held out my hand, and waited as she turned the phone over to me so I could place it on my desk. Finally, I thought, a chance for me to send a message to the entire class that I would not be played a fool!

Only a few minutes later, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a student tapping at the screen of his iPad. We were still in deep discussion, there was no reason for an iPad to be out, and the student had already been busted by me several times playing games in the past. I repeated my casual stroll while still analyzing Holden’s character, and took the iPad from the off-task student’s hands to retire it to the make-shift technology device prison that was now forming on my desk.

As the kids would say: I felt like a boss. I even made a cocky comment out loud to the class as I walked the iPad to my desk, “Wow, you guys, I’m on a roll today,” I said.

But as I flipped the iPad over, suddenly I realized that there was not a game on the screen at all. Rather, there was an electronic copy of The Catcher in the Rye, turned to the correct page, with yellow highlighter that the student had been using to follow along.

I was embarrassed, and I had just punished a student who was being resourceful.

Realizing my mistake, I later apologized to the student. To my surprise, he actually wasn’t upset, defensive or accusatory. He just took his iPad back and hurried along to his next class.

But after that and the other two incidences above, it made me realize that there is a whole lot about using technology in the classroom that I still don’t know. It’s changing so quickly that I’m sure I will be constantly having to keep up. Even being a Digital Native in my own regards, my students are savvy in ways that I can’t possibly know.

Overall, here are my words of wisdom when using technology in the classroom:
  • Learn from my, and other teacher’s mistakes (see stories above!)
  • Try everything. Don’t resist because it’s scary and unknown and might not work. Students are pretty accustomed to teachers just figuring things out. Surprisingly, they’re totally capable of going with the flow if it means they get to try something outside of the box during class.
  • Balance technology and traditional teaching. The point is not to flood your classroom with super-sweet technology tricks (like I tried to), it’s to use technology as a tool to aid in teaching. Also, the students of today are going to occupy a world with varying levels on technology availability. They have to be just as savvy at normal student-to-teacher interaction and lectures as they do with the digital side.
  • Follow the words of my wise professor Dr. Wood: Always have a back up plan.

P.S. I’m excited to announce that in Spring 2015 I’ll be taking my love for technology and teaching to a whole new level. I’m heading off to grad school to get my masters in Educational Leadership in Technology. Woohoo! Can’t wait!