Tuesday, December 31, 2013

There's An App for That? Apps and Extensions for Students and Teachers With Chromebooks

Chromebooks are not without their limitations.  They lack Java and all student work must be saved in the cloud.  To overcome the technical obstacles that have arisen throughout this semester, there are apps and extensions that I have used with students to save documents and pictures, provide feedback, organize links, and create content.  While there are thousands of apps and extensions available and I have only began to scratch the surface, here are a few of the tools that have made working on a Chromebooks more efficient and effective within my own classroom.

Apps that Students and I have used this semester:

1. Explain and Send Screenshots:

This extension is extremely helpful when trying to capture a screenshot or a partial screenshot online.  This app is user-friendly and allows students to save pictures into Google Drive.  In addition to being able to take a screenshot, this extension allows users to annotate and edit pictures.  These pictures can then be shared to social media platforms or downloaded for other purposes.  At the beginning of my the year, I taught students to use this app when they were creating video slide shows of pop culture experiences that shaped/influenced their lives.  Again, students found this extension easy to use and found it helpful for several projects throughout the semester.  

Creating shorter URLs makes typing a website into an internet browser faster.  This extension not only shortens URLs, but it also makes QR codes as well.  I have used this to create QR images for class activities and for sharing URLs in videos and on physical handouts.  While I have not had students use this tool, I have found it handy for creating lessons and activities. 

3. EasyBib:

During major research units and even when working on smaller class activities, teaching students to use the EasyBib extension has made creating Works Cited pages much more accurate.  Having the extension located in the upper right hand corner of their Google Chrome browser is a helpful reminder to students that they need to cite their work, no matter how large or small the task is.  It also makes citing much more accurate and user-friendly.  There are so many different websites that inform students how to cite their work, but directing students to one source ensures that Works Cited pages will be much more accurate and consistent across the board.

4. Video Download Helper:

When trying to download videos to be used/edited for class projects, this extension allows users to download videos from YouTube and other websites.  There are many ways to download from YouTube, but I like this extension because it involves one click.  Also, this extension allows users to download from many websites, not just YouTube.  This is another helpful tool when students are creating multimedia projects and is also helpful for teachers when they want to save videos for future use.

5. Print Friendly and PDF:

Print Friendly is a great app that allows individuals to save websites as PDFs.  Before saving the website, Print Friendly provides users with the option of deleting pictures and even sections of text to shrink the document.  I use this often when saving news articles and other short texts for students to read.  After saving a news article as a PDF, the PDF can be pushed out to students to be read and annotated in hard copy or digital formats.

6. Kaizena (Voice Comments):

This semester, I have been fortunate to play around with several ways of providing feedback to students.  My department chair has encouraged us to use Turnitin.com, which I really enjoy for formal/long writing assignments.  I have also used Voice Comments to provide fast feedback on shorter writing assignments.  Voice Comments is a Google App that allows me to provide oral feedback to students.  Students do enjoy hearing my voice and feel that I provide even more detail than typing.  Providing feedback in this manner is fast and efficient.  When trying to give informal or short feedback, I have really enjoyed this app. This app has changed over the course of the last semester and continues to improve.

7. WeVideo:

This app allows individuals to create videos, much like Microsoft MovieMaker or iMovie.  It is a free app with some limitations, but it operates in the cloud and syncs with Google Drive.  Some changes have occurred to the free version of this app, which has made working with it more challenging, but students still find it easy to work with.  WeVideo allows individuals to share/post their videos on social media platforms. Students are able to manipulate their videos on this app with ease and have created some awesome projects with it.

8. Quizlet:

Reviewing for quizzes and test is made easy with Quizlet.  Quizlet allows teachers and students to create vocabulary cards, puzzles, and review games that can help reinforce important words or concepts within a classroom.  I have created review games for students, and they have responded positively.  Note cards created on this app can be shared via social media, email, and even pushed out to whole classes.  In addition to using cards created by a teacher, students can browse Quizlet by subject and access cards made by others.  Using Quizlet can make studying more fun and can help reinforce strong study skills.

9. Diigo:

Diigo is a bookmarking app that allows users to organize and save websites.  In addition, users can annotate websites and save those annotations.  Unlike annotating a paper copy of a text, annotating via Diigo can also include tags that can be saved and used to draw attention to specific subjects.  Diigo libraries can also be shared to other users, which could be helpful when students are writing a research paper or completing a project. There are many uses for this tool, and both teachers and students can use this tool for a variety of purposes.

Next semester, there are several tools that I hope to explore further.  Here are just a few:

1.Sound Cloud to create podcasts and audio reflections.
2-3. MindMeister and Cacoo to use for brainstorming activities and mind maps.
4. Online Video Converter to convert videos into mp3s.
5. PiktoChart to create infographics and other visuals for projects.
6. Report Comment Bank to help when providing feedback on Google Docs and other projects.
7. Read and Write to help struggling readers and ESL students with completing assignments and readings.

Experimenting on the Chromebooks is important.  Playing with new apps and extensions can broaden a teacher's or a student's toolbox.  Testing these tools is a valuable part of learning what works and what doesn't on this device.  Determining what an app or extension does, how effective it is, and how it can be used is an important part of teaching in a one-to-one classroom.  I am excited to see what new apps and extensions I can find in the new year!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Using Social Media in the Classroom: Like, OMG - Social Media Can Be Educational?

Each year, students seem to become more invested in social media platforms.  With smart phones and unlimited access to the Internet, they are sharing, posting, favoriting, and retweeting in record numbers.  While students have a great knowledge of how to maneuver through these platforms for social purposes, they often do not realize the implications of their digital footprints or that these platforms can be used for professional purposes.  Teaching them to be positive digital citizens needs to be part of the curriculum, and with Chromebooks in hand every day, I have found many teachable moments to reinforce these ideas with them.  For example, showing students how to access the revision history on a Google Doc and how each person's name is attached to his or her contribution can be an eye-opening experience for a sophomore in high school.  Encouraging them to Google their names at random too can create interesting conversations and generate funny pictures that will hopefully make them smarter and savvier posters in the future.

During my first semester with Chromebooks, I have wanted to create experiences that mimic how students share and post on social media, and I wanted to teach them that these social media platforms can be used for academic purposes.  Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and other platforms can lead to job opportunities in the future.  When the high school students of today enter the workforce, they will be expected to be savvy consumers and more importantly, creators of content.  Their digital presences will be taken into account, and it will be a critical tool in evaluating whether or not they are hired by prospective companies.

Here are a few websites and activities that I have tried to utilize to start these important conversations about being critical creators of content online.  There are so many more activities that I hope to tap into next semester, but this was a start!


TodaysMeet is a real-time backchannel that mimics a Twitter feed.  Without having to create an account, students access the backchannel created by the teacher to converse in a variety of ways.  The creator of the backchannel can control how long it is available (for as little as one hour or as long as one year).  Then the URL is posted, students create usernames for the session, and they begin sharing.  URLs and outside content can be posted into the chat, which can be downloaded and saved as a PDF for assessment or reference purposes. This resource is very user-friendly, and kids enjoy it.

I have used TodaysMeet while watching documentaries in class.  This way, students can concentrate on the video and share their thoughts while watching.  I would pose a question to students, and they would type.  I find this type of activity to be more beneficial than a fill-in-the black worksheet that students may fill out during a class video.  While I enjoy doing this activity, it did take some coaching.  Initially kids wanted to post silly comments, but I make kids use their full names and give them participation credit which curbs their desire to fill the feed with goofiness.  Also, giving them a minute or two while setting up the video can allow them to get their goofy comments out.  Like with any online activity, the novelty wears off, and they learn to get down to business with familiarity.


While I have not used Blogger as much as I would like, I have completed a few activities with it.  Students do enjoy posting online and sharing their thoughts.  Writing for real-world audiences is an important part of the new Common Core State Standards and is a motivating factor for improving and increasing the level at which students write. With an emphasis on technology, these standards require that students "use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products" with the hope that they will receive continuous feedback and gain new understanding of information (CCSS).

I have used Blogger as an online discussion board for both my sophomores and seniors.  When I post questions online, students can post responses and then comment on other people's responses.  I can also post YouTube videos or articles online that students can then read and comment upon.  Also, I have used it as a place for students to post their own daily work.  When completing these activities students are actively engaged, providing their own thoughts, and reading the thoughts of others.  As the semester went on, I found the results and quality of writing improved.  Again, this does take coaching.  Sometimes when students write online, they write quickly and forget to think about conventional grammar rules.  Talking about the fact that their posts are essential permanent does cause students to pause before hitting post.



Now that students have access to  YouTube accounts through their school email, I have encouraged them to create more videos to pair with presentations.  When video creation is as easy as taking out one's smart phone, filming for a few minutes, and editing in the cloud using WeVideo or other platforms on a device (such as iMovie), then they should be encouraged to utilize these technologies.  Students are highly motivated when it comes to making videos; they find it fun.  When given assignments to make them, not only are they utilizing technology, but they are also demonstrating their knowledge in a creative and collaborative way.

Recently, I just finished the Divergent unit with my sophomores.  During the summative portion of the unit, students took an objective test, completed a written assessment, and created multimedia presentations that persuaded individuals to join specific factions.  The Faction Propaganda Project asked students to determine why people should join the factions they chose at the beginning of the novel, write a newspaper article, create a digital poster, and produce a short video.  Students were also encouraged to share their work via social media, thus creating incentive to make stronger presentations and excitement around a class project.   Students enjoyed this project and with only a short amount of time to work on this, they results were solid.  This project not only encouraged them to make connections to the book; it also encouraged them to collaborate, create, and share their work with the world online and through an engaging and interactive class presentation.

Classroom Hashtags

In addition to specific online platforms, I have also tried to model positive and professional digital interactions through my own use of Twitter.  I have two accounts (one personal and one that I use directly with students). In my senior classes, I use specific hashtags to share out content, send reminders, and make real-world connections with students.  With the #CGSpeech and #CGMedia, I have directly tweeted a few students, post information about class, and try to demonstrate how to use Twitter to research during the gender unit of each of these courses.  I also co-use the #CGSpeech with the Speech Team. While students don't often use the hashtag themselves, they do check it. When I specifically tell them that I'll be tweeting articles that would be beneficially for a research paper or project, they will access those resources.  Yes, social media can be used for educational purposes.  The more we model that to students, the more likely they are to use that for these purposes.

Other resources that mimic social media experiences:

Going Viral: Teaching Students to Share and Communicate Online

With Chromebooks and smart phones available to every student in the class, this semester I've made a concerted effort to teach students to share their work safe and professional manners. The act of sharing work with the world not only encourages students to more carefully craft their works and polish their presentations, but it also is a skill that they will need as professionals in their adult lives. In my Media class specifically, we had many conversations about what future careers will look like and what skills they will need to hone as adults in a high-tech world.

During the Internet Unit in my senior-level Media class, students study a variety of social networking and video platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Vine, YouTube as well as the impact of the Internet as a whole.  After watching the TED Talks How YouTube is Driving Innovation and Why Videos Go Viral, I wanted students to have the real-world experience of trying to spread an original idea to a large audience.

To guide our learning, I posed these essential questions to my students: What power do social networking platforms have on our lives? How do viral videos influence our society and become cultural moments?

First students watched several viral videos and discussed why these videos captivated so much of our society's attention.  Then students were given the assignment and were asked to create a short video in small groups, share their videos via social media platforms to friends and tastemakers (ie: Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen, Jimmy Fallon, and other media moguls), and then reflect on the process.  Here are a few student examples:

Students were very excited about sharing their projects and even helped promote each other's videos.  While no one went viral, they did learn a great deal about how to share a message with the "real-world".  Their reflections and presentations regarding this experience facilitated a great conversation about how our society interacts, what types of information captivates our attention, and how social media drives the world in which we live.  With instant information available all the time at the press of a button and with 100 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, students need to understand how to access information and how to creatively express themselves in order to make themselves stand out in a very crowded cyberspace.

During this project, students had to think creatively, create a multimedia presentation, and use social media platforms to essential market and promote themselves.  Students had to collaborate with a small group of people and coordinate their efforts to spread their digital stories.   They certainly utilized technology and were asked to metacognitively reflect upon what they accomplished and learned from the experience.   Having completed this assignment, I am glad that students had this opportunity to reflect.

To help make them more successful next year, I will encourage them to take more time with spreading their message and to reach out to more Internet platforms.  Next year, perhaps I'll encourage students to post their projects to BuzzFeed's open posting forum and other websites like it.  With more blogs and Internet sites gaining traction, maybe next year (or the year after that), one of my students projects really will go viral.


Monday, December 23, 2013

You want me to do what in 45 minutes? (Reading Activities)

I have often been told by observers that I get "a lot accomplished" in a 45-minute class period.  I move quickly, but I tend to establish routines to save time.  Maintaining a fast-paced learning environment keeps students on task, engaged, and makes learning seem a little more fun when they are not watching the clock for the bell.  Within a 1:1 learning environment, keeping a brisk learning pace is even easier.

I organize my learning activities and targets on a daily agenda that is labeled by class day, date, and unit.  Students have access to all agendas from the semester through the current week of class.  Each day when they walk into class and log into Chrome, they can access each agenda (just an example) and begin to prepare for class. Establishing clear routines for logging in saves time.  Students are able to preview learning activities and outcomes, and they are always aware of where we are in the learning process of each unit in our class.  Sometimes, students even log into the agendas before class and come in with the knowledge of what we will be doing that day because they have access to it.  That's always an awesome feeling.

With clear routines, students can accomplish a great deal.  While I do change activities frequently and apply them for a variety of purposes, I have found a few reading strategies with the use of Google Docs can produce great outcomes in a single, 45-minute period.  With clear objectives and familiar practices, students can accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time.

1. Variation on Reading Strategies Handouts:

When asking students to apply reading strategies to a short story, nonfiction article, or part of a larger text, I have traditionally given students a handout to work on independently before we talk about the text.  With Google Drive, that handout (Here's a basic example. So much can be added/changed as needed!) becomes a living document that can be edited by many people.  Now students can authentically work together to share information about a text.  In addition, this information can easily be collected by me via Google Form or directly sharing it with me.  I can enter their documents while they are working and can even project it on the big screen for the class to see.  Students can have chats within the document or they can sit with groups and have conversations while they type together.

Here are a few recommendations to make it easier:

  • Have each collaborator write in a different color. This makes it easy to identify who has contributed what. 
  • Collect via Google Forms.  This is an organized way to keep all of the same pieces of work in one location.  I like to think of a Google Form like a digital stack of papers.  Make sure that students change their share settings so that ANYONE WITH THE LINK CAN EDIT. 
  • Make sure students know the purpose of the activity.  A Google Doc is not a worksheet; it is a "living" document that can be changed, altered, and share with anyone.  
  • Find ways for students to bring in outside resources like news articles or YouTube clips to help make real-world connections.  This will encourage students to research, talk about what makes a reliable source, read more, and even reflect outside of class.
  • Experiment and play with this type of activity.  Find what works best for the nature of the reading, the class, and the teacher.   Google Docs can provide so many new learning experiences that traditional paper could not.  It is important to capitalize on those opportunities!

2. Reading Jigsaw/Graded Discussion:

When reading about a nonfiction topic, such as a female gender issues in my Senior-Level Media class, a digital jigsaw can challenge students to analyze a current, nonfiction reading while being exposed to several other articles related to a central article.

First students are assigned to small groups.  Then, they are given a hard copy or a digital copy of a short article.  I personally prefer to hand students hard copies of the individual article that they are assigned so that they can annotate it thoroughly, but they can also annotate the article online.  Diigo is a great app that students can use to annotate articles online.  Students can also annotate PDFs in Google Drawing, too, but Diigo is easier.  After completing individual readings of articles, students fill out a shared document that will save important information about other articles.  Individual readings will take about 20-25 minutes, leaving about 15 minutes to have a meaningful (graded or not) discussion about the topic at hand.  This exposes students to several articles, which they will have access to in the future, that can be used for research assignments or as references in the future.

During this particular lesson, I also had students complete a survey using Google Forms to preview their feelings about female stereotypes related to the articles that they read, provided time to complete the readings individually and write responses, and saved time for class discussion.  At the end of the period, students even had time to evaluate whether or not they accomplished the daily learning targets and provide feedback for the lesson.  Again, this is a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time, but it is possible when teaching students routines and using Google Apps purposefully.

Variations on this lesson are also very effective.  What I have used it for is to provide students with several gender issues for a major research paper.  This way, they are exposed to credible sources, have read and talked about several articles, and have these resources saved in their group's jigsaw document (that they also shared with me).

3. Reading Strategy Presentations:

This semester, I have played a lot with reading strategies activities especially during the fiction novel unit with my sophomores.  This year I taught Divergent, and the teaching experience was amazing.  Most students read this novel in three days, and many went on to read the second and third book finishing before the unit (which was 3.5 weeks) was completed.  In order to challenge them, I wanted them to apply reading strategies and then be accountable for their work, which would be shared in front of the whole class before the end of the period.

For this lesson, I chose small groups and assigned a short section of the night's reading.  Then I pushed out a Reading Strategies Presentation Template.  They had approximately 27 minutes to complete the document.  After looking at the agenda for this lesson, students went to file, made a copy of the presentation, and renamed it accordingly.  They then changed the share settings to ANYONE WITH THE LINK CAN EDIT.

Note: I almost always have them use this share setting.  This way it is easy for me to collect the link and make comments on their document as needed.  I can also go into revision history and see who contributed what. The routine of file, make a copy, and share with the group is one that I did coach them through a lot in the first few weeks of class, but now they do not even need to think about it.  They are expert collaborators!  A side note for teachers new to Google Drive - having students share their documents with the teacher is always important.  Even though I might not look at a small activity, having the ability to open up their doc on my computer while their working keeps them accountable, on-task, and gives me the option to assess students informally or formally as needed.

Even before they were done, I went around to each group and made sure they shared their presentations with me.  Using Google Form, I collected their group information, who covered what part of the reading, and was able to sort that information in a spreadsheet that I used later in the period.  Throughout the period, I circulated, helping students to coordinate and divide tasks as well as talk about the novel.  After the work time period was up, students went back to their seats and came up group by group to present their work.  Presentations were brief, with only 15 minutes to get through each group, but students had the experience of demonstrating their own knowledge of the text, applying reading strategies, collaborating with a group, and even presenting their material to the class.  Yes, it was a whirlwind of 45 minutes, and it really would have been nicer to have another five minutes to present, but the learning targets were met.  Students were active, engaged, and were using technology purposefully to accomplish the objective.

Student Examples:

Reflections on My First Semester in a 1:1 Classroom

Blogging during speech season while taking grad classes seems to be a near impossible task.  Needless to say, it has been a while since I've posted anything.  The speech season begins the first week of August and runs through February.  Coaching is one of the most rewarding aspects of my life, and while it leaves me tired all the time, the relationships built with my speech team kiddos and the amount of personal and performance growth that I see in them each year is certainly worth the lack of sleep.

Now with a bit of a break from school and from speech (sans the practice we're having later this afternoon... and Friday), I want to spend this time reflecting on my first semester in a 1:1 Chromebook classroom.  Integrating technology into a classroom setting is certainly a mind shift that requires a great deal of thought as to how lessons are constructed, what learning outcomes can be accomplished, and what role the students will now take in their own learning.

This semester I have found myself retooling and reevaluating what I ask students to do and why.  Considering the purpose has not only been an important reflective exercise for me, but it has also encouraged me to have meaningful conversations with students about why we are learning what we are and how the activities that we do in class will help them to develop and refine essential reading, writing, and communication skills that they will need not only in school, but they will also need these skills in their professional lives.  From what I've learned in the past six years as an educator and communicator, teaching or public speaking is not about the educator or presenter; it is about how the students or receivers are experiencing the message. In a 1:1 setting, I often start my classes with a short lecture or presentation of what we will be learning and doing, and the rest of the time is for them to process, reflect, and accomplish the desired learning outcomes.  The focus is on the student, and now more than ever, students are in charge of their own learning.

One of the biggest concerns that teachers often seem to have is how this will impact their classroom.  Classroom management changes.  Many conversations I've had with colleagues often seem to stem back to the idea that students will be more inclined to become off-task.  Yes, students will inevitably want to play music on YouTube, find themselves playing games, or may simply surf the web.  The novelty wear off... quickly.  Through conversations with students, they learn very quickly that how they choose to spend their time in class directly impacts what they need to accomplish outside of class.  In addition, when the internet is running slow, they've come to realize that if people in class are off-task online, they're essentially stealing bandwidth from their friends.  As such, they end up policing themselves and encouraging those with whom they should be collaborating on a given assignment, to make meaningful contributions.  While there certainly appear to be differences in classroom management, my style of running my classroom really hasn't changed too drastically.  Positivity, patience, and proactive conversations about how/why we are learning what we are goes a long way, especially with high school students.

This break, I hope to truly examine the best lessons I've experienced with students this semester and to write more about those. My teaching life has changed so much, and I truly believe that the 1:1 setting empowers students and provides them with even more authentic experiences to grow their literacy skills.

What I've learned from this experience:
  1. There are infinite opportunity to collaborate between students, the teacher, and the outside world.
  2. Students will write more.  Typing is faster than handwriting, and when students know that others are reading what they are writing, they feel a great sense of accountability for what they produce. 
  3. Students will read more.  They will have access to online resources and databases.  They do need to be taught to discern between inaccurate and credible sources, and that type of coaching will take time.  When students can decipher what makes a reliable website, the end results are worth the time spent. 
  4. Differentiated instruction is easier to coordinate and provide to students through digital means. 
  5. Students seem excited to share when they make real-world connections.  I cannot even count how many YouTube videos I have been emailed this semester by students who are making connections between conversations in class and what they are viewing on their own time. These emails make my day every time! 
  6. Documents cannot be lost (as long as the internet connection is working).
  7. Students are generally excited about learning and demonstrating what they know.  After the first few weeks of class, they walk in, ready to learn and excited to participate. 
  8. Even if students get off-task, they are easily redirected.
  9. Having access to all documents online from the course is incredibly helpful for students, parents, and the teacher alike. 
  10. Google Forms is awesome. I am currently trying to learn how to make rubrics in Google Forms from a good friend/colleague.  She is a rock star.  Follow her on Twitter, if you don't already.  I  have learned so much from, @irishteach.
  11. There are days when the infrastructure is down, a website changes, or the school filters block something unexpected.  Keeping an open mind, having a Plan B and a Plan C, and learning to laugh make these problems seem minuscule.  There are just as many days when a traditional paper lesson doesn't work as anticipated, too.  
  12. Closing the Chromebook is important, too.  Some learning activities are just as effective or even more effective when the devices are down.  Graded discussions are rich ways to reflect and analyze important course content.  Detoxing from the Chromebooks often makes students appreciate the learning opportunities they have while using them as well.  

English Teacher Speech Education Blog High School Communication Illinois Public Education Writer Forensics Literacy Reading Writing Speaking Speech/Communication Grammar Technology Chromebooks Google GAFE #engsschat #engchat #sschat narrative reflections passion grit productivity creativity middle school speak well-spoken energetic creative mother daughters communicate read literature stephanie sukow steph mrs. "teacher blog" "english" "high school" "blogger" "reading" "literacy" "speech" "stephanie sukow"

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Putting Passion into Teaching (And Life)

I'm tired... a good percentage of the time.  My tiredness, however, is something I embrace as it is a reminder of a day/week/month well spent, a time lived to its capacity.  Like many educators, I have found myself filling the summer months maximizing time with family and friends and continuously working on school related projects.  This summer has been a busy one, as they inevitable are, between assistant teaching at an EdTech Conference, teaching summer school, and taking three grad classes.  As summer comes to a close, I've started to reflect on what I've learned this summer, my goals for the school year, and how I plan on approaching changes made to curriculum and technology that are being implemented within my district.  I'm rejuvenated, excited, and eager to see where this year leads.

The "back-to-school" buzz is in the air, and I've been spending time this week catching up with a few graduates before they leave for college.  They're excited and ready to venture off to their various destinations.  When asking them about their life, the biggest question they are grappling with is what to do (professionally) with their lives.  That answer often leads to where they will live and what opportunities will ensue as a result.  It such a broad yet important question, and when they ask for my advice, the best words of wisdom I can share is find your passion.

Passion is what keeps us moving when we're exhausted, it is what shines through when teaching a lesson that may not capture everyone's attention in the room, and it is what makes life worth living.  As I interact with students (both former and present), I am reminded that I have the best job in the world; I get to guide kids to their passions.  In order to do that, I have model what it means to live passionately.

One of my favorite education-related books, Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students by Erik Palmer, talks about speaking with passion.  No matter what the subject matter may be, we all have the power to embed emotions into what we say through inflections or "the life we put into our voices".  Our words are powerful, but how we use and speak them can be even more impactful.  When I want to convince students that writing a research paper is fun (or at least a meaningful experience) or that reading a certain book can inspire great thoughts, I have to speak with enthusiasm; I have to approach each lesson and learning activity with fervor.  If I want students to complete something, then it must be purposefully constructed and must truly be worthwhile to do.

Time is a precious commodity, whether it is classroom time or our lives.  Encouraging students to pursue what they are passionate about allows them to find meaning and value in what they the doing.   As Mitch Albom states in his book Tuesdays with Morrie, "The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning."  I have found my purpose in helping kids find their passions, and if that means I experience a significant lack of sleep, I'm okay with that.

English Teacher Speech Education Blog High School Communication Illinois Public Education Writer Forensics Literacy Reading Writing Speaking Speech/Communication Grammar Technology Chromebooks Google GAFE #engsschat #engchat #sschat narrative reflections passion grit productivity creativity middle school speak well-spoken energetic creative mother daughters communicate read literature stephanie sukow steph mrs. "teacher blog" "english" "high school" "blogger" "reading" "literacy" "speech" "stephanie sukow"

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Genius Hour

Speech Camp this year became a week of cultivating leadership and communication skills, instead of explaining the 14 individual events in which students will actually compete during the school year.   I'd say "oops" but I could not be happier with how the week turned out.  This past week, we built transferable skills that will lend themselves nicely to the regular season and fostered relationships with students that will help us find material/scripts that reflects their passions, interests, and skills.  So we did not spend a lot of time "doing" Speech Team, but we were successful in developing their ability to use words and critically think in a 21st century world.

The theme of camp revolved around the power of words and the ability we all have to creatively and accurately express ourselves to those we encounter.  On Wednesday, I had students complete their first-ever Genius Hour, asking them only to show how they change the world they live in each day.  As a precursor to this activity, I gave them ten seconds to draw a picture, using a sheet of paper that had only a circle printed on it.  Then, they had one minute to finish/enhance their drawing.  What was most impressive was that some students started to fold the paper, write words, and even tore the paper to create something original that reflected their personalities.  They thought outside of the box quite literally.

After processing this experience and considering how we choose to express ourselves every day, students spent two minutes thinking about how they impact the world. Watching them fervently scribble their ideas, create lists, and yes, even draw to express themselves, students shared their creations with small groups of five to six people. Then, they had two minutes to decide how to combine their ideas and plan how to utilize the hour.

Once time was called, students grabbed flip cameras and ran out of the Media Center doors. One group remained in the Media Center and created a maze that students went through to emphasize the idea that "the journey is the real reward", but the rest decided to create videos. As the hour dwindled and students began to frantically sign onto computers to edit their work, the results began to take form. When given an open-ended challenge to create change, these students' originality shined through. Not only did the Genius Hour allow students express themselves, but it also taught them that they can problem-solve, create, and demonstrate high levels of knowledge in a short amount of time. They can collaborate, utilize technology, and use their voices to influence the world in which they live. While the hour expired quickly, what they did accomplish was amazing and inspiring, even though technology and time created obstacles. Their final projects were touching, funny, and reflected their personalities.

I was impressed by the quality of work that they created, but more importantly, I was touched by their comments during our reflection time. Because they had a short time to accomplish the task, they learned that they needed to be flexible, utilize listening skills, solve problems quickly, and be willing to work together. They also bonded with their teammates, collaborated, and had a positive time doing it. They had fun and shared their messages with their peers (and the world in which they live). The final projects were beautiful, but it was the process that taught them these lessons. As the students enthusiastically crawled through the maze in the Media Center, earning rug-burn like badges of honor as a team, they demonstrated that the journey really is the reward.

Resources for the Genius Hour:

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Speech Camp 2.0: The Power of Social Media

This week, I'm in full fledged speech team mode, running around a high school with a team that has grown so much since I started five years ago.  At the start of every August for the past five years, I have had the joy of hosting Speech Camp - a week long camp with the goal of setting the tone for a very long, yet rewarding Speech Team season. With a crew of incredible individuals, I've worked with 20-ish to now 45 kids, taught them about speech team events, developed team/leadership skills, and challenged them to find their voices through a variety of highly interactive activities.  Every year I seek ways to take the camp to the next level, challenge students further, and facilitate experiences that will remain lasting memories in the minds of the kids I encounter.  This year, my goals have remained the same, yet my inspiration to captivate 21st century students ignited ideas that have taken this camp even further than the cinder-block walls of the high school.

What I am coming to understand about technology is really the capabilities it has to connect us all.  Students love their smart phones, and they love being able to "share" their experiences.  So far, this week students have encountered many team building activities and challenges, focused their attention on listening and improvisation, and today they will encounter their first Genius Hour.  The question I've been asking myself through all this is: how do we keep the conversation and momentum going throughout the week in fun, yet meaningful ways? How do we create excitement to learn?

The natural platform to allow students to extend and "share" their experiences is Social Media.  They're already using it to share and interact, but if they are prompted and given a purpose to use it, Social Media can become more than just an outlet for "Truth Is" posts and "selfies".

On Monday, during my welcome to Speech Camp pep talk, we talked about making "good choices", digital citizenship, and the permanence of the internet. We talked about the fact that I had all intentions of sharing what they posted on the back-channel with their parents and with other teachers.  They have shared goals, wrote six-word memoirs, cheered on their teams, added pictures, and posted about the fun they were having via the #CGSpeech.  The conversation has been active on the Facebook, Twitter, and Today's Meet channels.  They're getting involved and making it count.

Unprompted, students have even used their Google Drives to craft their scripts for their student-written performance scenes and they've used the CG Speech Facebook to post reminders to use their Google Accounts to collaborate even further.  They are seeing the advantages of web tools/social media and the interconnected lives they are leading, and they are using its power for good!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Inspire a Love of Learning - Preserving Student Work Through Portfolios

In the past few months, my father has found several essays and note cards from speeches he wrote in college.  It seems every time I go to my parents' home, he has a new piece of work that he cannot wait to show and GIVE me to share with his future grandchildren (Thanks, Stephen.).  Reading his work has shed some insight into my father at that age.  Yellowing paper and poor handwriting aside, perusing his work has reminded me that an 18-year-old then and an 18-year-old now are not that much different.  Aside from their digital presence and the technological distractions that exist now, they still have hopes and dreams and are aspiring to be something great.  Working with high school seniors, I have found several similarities between my father's ideas of the world and theirs (aside from the impact social media has had on them).  They both worry about the future, genuinely want to achieve, and have unique passionate that make them individuals.

While he was not an Education major, I have loved the opportunity to read writings from a younger version of my father.  The excitement he gets when he shares these documents with me and the fun I have as I jokingly critiquing his work, are great moments for us and have provided fodder for great conversations about my current teaching experiences and practices.

When we educate students, we need to inspire a love of learning.  There are certain documents that I urge my students to keep.  In Creative Writing, their memoirs are obvious ones.  In Media, their Media Diet papers and videos they create are also artifacts that they love to share/post on social media.  Creating digital portfolios is something that I started doing last year and plan on pursuing in all of my classes this coming school year.  In my drama class this past semester, my students collaborated with a class in Michigan.  They created websites, wrote monologues and performed them.  Their work was documented every step of the way, they received feedback from people outside of class, and we had many great conversations on what all this means for 21st century learning and living.  While the lack of technology daily made it a little challenging, students were so excited.  When they received a message from their Michigan friends, they could not wait to read it to the class and share.  They could not wait to watch their videos and talk about the messages we were exchanged.  The classroom was abuzz with excitement from learning that was both expressive and yet, mindful of digital-citizenship.

What I am most excited about for a 1:1 classroom is the ability to preserve and celebrate student work.  When students know they are publishing their work, they take greater care in crafting it, and they are more invested in it.  Their work does not just become something that Mrs. Sukow will grade, and then it will inevitably end up in the recycling bin on the way out the door.  No, it will become a living document, a way to communicate with the "world", and something they can "take with" them.

I want my students to look back on their work in the way my father does.  I want them to be proud of their academic successes and remember who they were/what they created at 18 fondly.  Sharing our educational pursuits can allow us to all reflect, grow, and gain knowledge.  Using technology to ignite a new fire in students and allow them to witness their growth happening live is a powerful development.  Our goal is to inspire a love of learning in our students, and creating a dialogue that leaves the classroom walls is an incredible way to do it!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

One-to-One: A Reflection and Preparation

How to Prepare for a One-to-One Classroom

Next year, I will be teaching in a one-to-one learning environment with Google Chromebooks.  I could not be more excited to begin this process and am looking forward to the challenges that I will inevitably encounter.  Most of all, I am excited to empower students to take hold of their own learning.  Technology is only a tool, but it is a natural motivator, a creation tool, and a way to bring students to the content both in the classroom and beyond.  

1. Revisit the learning objectives of the class:

This week I spent a great deal of time reflecting on my lesson plans from last year.  I keep a very detailed log, color coded by type of activity, that contains the daily learning targets (objectives).  At the end of each day, I also try to write note if something went particularly well or flopped for the follow year. Yes, it's can be a bit tedious, but it helps immensely when re-planning or redesigning a course.   Understanding the ebb and flow of the course, the intended learning outcomes, the activities that helped students to master the content, and the timing are all key factors when engaged in instructional design, regardless of the format of the class.  

2. Consider successful learning activities and think about how to expand upon them:

During my lesson plan reflection, I focused on the most meaningful activities and some of the favorites that students seem to learn a lot from.  In my Media class, I have several graded discussion throughout the semester and have students watch several documentaries about various media subjects (My favorites is Miss Representation or anything Frontline and media related).  In the past they've filled out worksheets to gather important data or reflection questions, which they complete because they have to do so, not because they've discovered new knowledge.  So my question is, how can I spark conversation and retention of important concepts from these documentaries using technology as a tool?  Holding online discussions with tools like Today's Meet while the video is occurring and requiring follow up for homework is one way to keep the conversation going.  Many of the documentaries we watch in this class also have great websites with resources, Twitter feeds, and what better way to get students engaged in conversation than allowing them access to these tools?  While one might argue that students may get off task or not watch the video - if we challenge them to participate and get active, I believe high school students will get active.  They want to discover and learn; they just have to have the right tools to motivate them. 

I have also been rethinking annotating and article reading.  I am excited to explore Subtext, online highlighting tools provided by Diigo, and other sites with students.  Just because I prefer reading a hard copy and taking on the colored pens does not mean that they do!  Providing students with opportunities to dialogue with a text in various formats is an exciting experiment that I will be exploring with them.  I think acknowledging the "with" is key.  

3. Research

There are so many web tools available.  Google Apps for Education are usually my go-to tools as my district is officially a GAFE school.  Also, using Chromebooks and GAFE making collaborating seamless.  I think the most important point to remember is that one can become lost in the tools.  Providing positive learning experiences for students is not about the tools, it's about providing quality INFORMATION and TASKS that can be accomplished in a number of ways (with and without a computer).  Finding the few tools that allow easy curation, collaboration, and creation is what is most important and may take time!  That is okay! Using resources such as blogs, Twitter, friends, and STUDENTS can help in this process tremendously.  

4. Be prepared to be flexible:

I know that mistakes are going to happen.  The internet will inevitably go down, or worse, it will run so slow students will reach a point of frustration.  I know that some students may get off task, and I know that some apps will change or not work in ways that I would like.  Yes, I may even look foolish from time to time.  I may need to smile, dance, or rap to distract them from the chaos that may ensue as a result of introducing new technology, but first of all, these disasters will not be as catastrophic as I've just described.  Secondly, mistakes happen in any format of teaching.  Going with the flow, creating teachable moments, and always having a Plan B (and I like a good Plan C, too), are all ways to counter these challenges.  Flexibility is a character trait that is essential for a teacher.  Introducing new technology into the classroom should not mean removing this "F" word from my vocabulary. 

5. Play - foster a love of learning:

Above all else, my job as an educator is to create life-long readers, writers, speakers, and thinkers.  This can only be accomplished by sharing my passion, providing meaningful learning opportunities, and empowering them to accomplish tasks.  Students need to see the connection between content in their lives to find value in it.  Technology is a great tool that is a natural motivator to them and opens a door to countless resources and opportunities to relate content to what they are most passionate about.  Overall, I'm excited that this new tool that I will be implementing in my classroom will break down walls.  Learning will not stop at the door of my classroom; learning will continue, and it will be a reciprocal process.  Students will learn from each other, they will learn from me, and I cannot wait to learn from them! 

I am happy to be sitting in my classroom that I share with a roommate/teacher friend that I love and am enjoying the paint will just added to the walls at the beginning of the summer.  I am enjoying the relatively bare walls that will soon  be filled with student-work, inspirational posters, and books still remain in boxes that typically line shelves along several sides of the room.  It is peaceful in here, smells like fresh wax, and for once, is not filled with dust and grime that students track in from outdoor gym class. Granted, fresh wax is  not exactly an appealing smell, but it is an inspirational one.  The smell reminds me that every year is filled with new possibilities, new opportunities to reach students, and new personal growth that will inevitably ensue.  The summer is half over, but I'm excited, I'm a little rested, and ready for a new year!  Even though most everything is still packed away, I love that my favorite phrase is still lining the walls... I believe in the power of words.  I cannot wait to instill the value of words in my students this coming year through face-to-face interaction, writing, speeches, reading, and collaborating online!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

New Year's Resolution: Putting a Positive Spin on 2013

The first half of this school year has been noticeably busier than years prior.  New policies, philosophical changes, and plenty of pressure from various media outlets have consumed the minds and conversations of nearly all the teachers I know.  Teaching for five years, I feel as though there have been a few more challenges and changes that have captivated my time.  Change is difficult for most people, professionally and personally, and I am not exempt from this.  This calendar year, I hope to continue to embrace the dread "c" word spend each day of this year CELEBRATING the positives of my vocational choice.

I became a teacher because I love working with students, am passionate about my content area, and believe that young people need to learn to communicate with others to be successful in any career path they choose in the future. These are the thoughts that I need to focus my attention on, each and everyday.

Here's just a few reflections on what I am grateful for in 2013:
  • I am grateful for the students I coach.  Speech team is a 200 day a year (academic) sport.  While I know the kids are not running miles or learning offensive plays, we do practice two to three hours a day five days a week and compete for at least 12 hours every Saturday.  In totally, I spend about 30 hours a week just on speech (on top of about 60+ hours a week teaching, prepping, and grading).  With only 50+ days left in the season, today I am grateful for the opportunity to work with kids who truly love being a part of this team.  High school is a time for kids to find out who they are, where their skills lie, and what they are passionate about.  Today, we had an all-day practice with the regional team.    These new few weeks will be fairly intense practice schedule and competition, I am glad that Speech Team has become the outlet that allows these students to find their voice.

  •  I am grateful for the ability to be flexible. Another day of coaching today has reminded me that teaching and working with students requires me to adaptable and open to change in a moments notice.  Everyday, something unexpected happens.  A student may walk into class in need of advice, technology my not work, timing may be off, or any number of unforeseen events may arise. While this may be stressful at times, its also exciting.  Teaching is a dynamic career, and year to year my responsibilities/courses/content will never be the same. Sitting in my classroom on a Friday afternoon working with my Performance in the Round students makes me realize that I have a job that embraces creativity; I have a job that will always require me to stretch myself as personally and professionally. Flexibility is synonyms with adaptability. This is a characteristic that I am happy to embrace.

  • I am grateful for the opportunities that technology provides.  While technology is not perfect and does certain has negatives, I believe that the  changes in technology that are occurring right now have and will continue to provide amazing educational opportunities for our students.  Introducing Google Apps for Education into the school district I teach in has already increased the amount of contact I have with students outside of the classroom, challenged students to produce better/more creative/original presentation and writing projects, and has encouraged me to provide more PBL experiences and real world application assignments to my students.  Technology also allows me to network on Twitter, interact with other passionate and creative teachers, and keeps me up-to-date with current articles, practices, and fresh ideas.  Web 2.0 Tools, smart phones, Chrome books, social media, and more... technology is bringing positive changes and challenges to me this year.  I am excited to see what opportunities arise as a result  for my students and for me! 
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