The Internet and The Teacher: A Conundrum

I am a bit obsessed with Booktube. Booktube, for those of you who have not fallen into the black hole and love reading, is a subcategory of Youtube wherein the primary content of the Youtubers videos is, you guessed it, books.

If you are interested in how videos are made entirely about books, here is an interesting one to get you started. Plus, Ariel is top notch as far as Booktube goes.

As I’ve been watching these videos lately, a few have made me think “hm. Maybe this a thing that I could do.” This is completely ludicrous due to the fact that nothing sounds more painful to me than making a video of myself talking, but that fact aside, my immediate second thought is, “but I’m a teacher.”

Which… sounds ridiculous. I know it sounds ridiculous. But is it really?

We are told from day 1 of entering the teacher education program, and now at least weekly in standard life, that you need to be careful what you put online. Many teacher education programs go so far as to tell you to not have online profiles at all.

You can find a slew of posts about what teachers should or should not do online. Like this one that gives dos and don’ts of social media use for educators, or this one that outlines all of the potential horrors that could befall you.

But nothing is so easy as “don’t have a profile” in the 21st century. Could you take that route? Sure. But the drawbacks of choosing this are too many to name and unrealistic if you want to interact with the modern world.

A Booktuber that I used to watch avidly went through a bit of a debacle last year after her students (she’s a librarian) found her account. Now everything is on private: her Goodreads account, her Youtube Channel, her twitter. Everything. Admittedly, she was living her life realistically on these channels. She used curse words, and talked about books she read that had adult content in them.

I can understand why students stumbling upon this content would be of some concern, but where do we draw the line?

Is our obligation to keep our profiles private? Is it to decide what social media platforms  to make available to students and which are on as heavy of lockdown as the website provides? The somewhat unspoken agreement of the profession is that once you’re a teacher, you’re a teacher 24/7, so does this mean that I should refrain from using curse words in anything I post ever, even on private accounts, in the off chance that a student were to come across it? I don’t know the answer. I don’t know that anyone has an answer that is clearly and definitively The Way To Do Things.

I do not actually want to make a Youtube channel. But what if I did?

So long, 2017!

I would not, on the whole, say that 2017 was a great year for me. I love my job, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know my colleagues better. My family is phenomenal. My friends are the best. But the year was somewhat unremarkable, plagued by a summer full of too much hospital and what we all thought was going to be an end to something remarkable. In the end, it turned out better than I expected. Here are some things I loved about it:

Albums that were released in 2017:

5. Flicker – Niall Horan
4. Beautiful Trauma – Pink
3. Lovely Little Lonely – The Maine
2. Harry Styles
1. Last Young Renegade – All Time Low

Honorable Mentions:
Divide – Ed Sheeran, which I enjoyed but did not adore from top to bottom
From the Outside – Hey Violet
The Search for Everything – John Mayer

Albums not released in 2017 that were still important

5.  Even if It Kills Me – Motion City Soundtrack
4. Glory Days – Little Mix
3. X – Ed Sheeran
2. Sounds Good Feels Good – 5 Seconds of Summer
1. Better Weather – With Confidence

Top 5 Songs Released in 2017

Intentionally not choosing songs from the previously mentioned top albums because those albums were chosen due to how much I listened to THE WHOLE THING.

5. Like Home – Eminem (feat. Alicia Keys)
4. Take What You Want – One OK Rock (feat. 5 Seconds of Summer)
3. Dive – Ed Sheeran
2. Most Girls – Hailee Steinfeld
1. Slow Burn – State Champs

Honorable Mentions:
Let Me Go – Hailee Steinfeld (feat. Florida Georgia Line)
I Miss You – Louis Tomlinson
It Ain’t Me – Selena Gomez
All On Me – Devin Dawson

Top 5 Songs Not Released in 2016

5. ILYSB (Stripped) – LANY
4. Medicine – Havelin
3. She Burns – Foy Vance
2. Automatic – Castro
1. Favorite Liar – The Wrecks

Top Cover Songs of 2017

5. Touch – Ed Sheeran
4. Dancing on My Own – Pentatonix
3. Girl Crush – Harry Styles
2. Green Light – All Time Low
1. Issues – Niall Horan

2016 Concerts

5. John Mayer (with LANY) – Kansas City
4. The Main (with The Mowglis and Beach Weater) – Chicago
3. State Champs (with With Confidence and Don Broco) – Chicago
2. All Time Low (with The Wrecks and two other bands) – Kansas City
1. EdCon 2k17: Ed Sheeran  (with James Blunt) -Kansas City , Des Moines, Omaha, Chicago

Honorable Mention:
Twentyone Pilots (with Jon Bellion) – Omaha

On to non-music things!

Top 7 Books (because it’s 2017?)

7. Scythe – Neal Shusterman
6. We Are Okay – Nina LaCouer
5. Brain on Fire – Susannah Cahalan
4. Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty
3. Turtles All the Way Down – John Green
2. The Underground Girls of Kabul – Jenny Nordberg
1. The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

Top 5 Stand Out Moments

5. Toby being born and managing to be unreasonably cute,  Laeken being adopted and also being unreasonably cute.

4. Adopting Breezie.

3. Turtles All the Way Down Tour, which was full of togetherness and hope for humanity and singing Sweet Caroline without the ba ba bas.

2. Getting to do an argument writing project with students that they were passionate about. Passion really changes everything.

1. Grandma being exited from Hospice, a thing that does not happen, because she’s 92 and she does what she wants.


Group Projects: The Good, the Bad, and the Ineffective

group work
Obtained from Pixabay

I’ve had group projects on my mind a lot lately. Group projects have become the driving force of both of my Master’s program classes, and have been a recent topic of conversation in school’s professional development as we work toward an instructional model that heavily features collaboration.


So what makes Group Projects work? And what makes them fall apart?

Group Projects fall apart when:

1. There isn’t a defined and obvious goal

Group projects cannot be effective if the entire group doesn’t agree with and understand the goal for the project. Simply asking a group of people to work on the same task results in everyone completing work without a sense of purpose. This is also true when the goal provided does not seem to match the task at hand. For example, if the goal is to practice having collaborative discussions but the project is to create a slideshow about an animal, the mismatch of the project and the goal can create a disconnect for the group members.

 2. Everyone thinks they have the best ideas

The give and take of true collaboration is a key component of a successful group project. If every group member comes to the project with the belief that they know best and an unwillingness to listen to others, the project will not be successful.

3. The group members are not invested in the task

Similar to a lack of a goal, if the group members do not all believe in the importance of the task or are not engaged in the task, the project will not be successful because the group members that are not invested will not feel compelled to do their part.

4. The task itself is not clear

If the task itself is not clear, group projects will not be successful. Group members will spend a majority of their time attempting to make sense of the task and what it is that they’re supposed to be doing and whether or not they are meeting the expectations of the teacher instead of focusing their efforts on a cohesive project.


Group Projects are successful when:

1. All group members have a clear role to fulfill

In successful group projects, every group member has a specific role. Whether these roles are self-chosen, or whether they are assigned by the teacher does not matter. Older group members may naturally fall into roles without needing to specifically define them, however, roles give each group member clear tasks and expectations. The roles below are examples of how to divide tasks up for a project to give each group member a specific job to do.

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 2.27.28 PM
Obtained from Teacher’s Notebook

2. There are mini-deadlines in place to keep the project on track

Projects are often packaged in a big-picture, final-product format. However, by creating deadlines along the way groups are much more likely to be successful because the task is broken down into smaller, manageable parts.

3. The project is relevant to all group members

Buy-in from all group member is essential for a successful project. Allowing for some element of choice can make this more likely, as well as clear goals and expectations.

4. There is a purpose for doing the project as a group

It is also essential that a group project clearly necessitates being done as a group. If the project could just as easily or more-easily be done independently, the group project will not reach it’s potential. Group projects are necessary when the project clearly requires varying perspectives, or when the learning is new or difficult and is made more accessible to learners when done with the assistance of other students. If the reason for the work being done in a group format is not clear, members will be resistant to working together.

Group projects have the potential to enhance learning and make the experience better for everyone involved if done with careful attention to detail. As teachers, it is our responsibility to show students the benefits of getting to work with other learners, so it is our responsibility to attend to the details and create a positive experience for them.

“Working with other people just makes you smart, that’s proven.”
– Lin-Manuel Miranda

What is the purpose of Global Collaboration?

Global Collaboration is becoming a bit of a buzz word in Education, or at least in the EdTech corner of the world. As with any buzz word, it runs the risk of becoming a box educators want to check off as something they have done to keep up with the trends. But what does it really mean? What purpose should it serve in our classrooms?

In her video entitled “Global Narratives Part I”, Julie Lindsey, author of The Global Educator, includes this quote from Al Gore: “We are witnessing the birth of the world’s truly global civilization. Rather than being places where students learn about the world, schools are becoming places where students learn with the world.”

This quote stood out to me because of Gore’s notion that students are learning with the world. Although Global Collaboration, as noted in the Global Connection Taxonomy below, can begin with connections inside the classroom, and can reach as a far as a global student to student connection that is managed by the students themselves.

Global Connection Taxonomy
Lindsay, J., Davis, V. (2012). Flattening classrooms, engaging minds:  Move to global collaboration one step at a time. Chicago: Pearson Publishing.

So if the connection itself does not need to be far reaching, the purpose of the project or task itself somehow needs to represent a global connection. Students need to utilize the project in some way to become more aware of the world around them and the experiences, beliefs, thoughts, and lives of people who are different from them. For example, the Global Read Aloud project allows students to discuss a book with people from across the world that are different from them. They are able to see how someone else might read the same book as them and have different thoughts about it based on their life experiences.

Although working with someone in another class, or another state, or another country on a task that requires students to work on a project together may technically be global collaboration, this type of project does not require students to learn about the experiences and lives of those that are different from them. To me, Global Collaboration would be more useful in a project that requires students to answer a question, such as “What is family?” or “What is adversity?” because this project would allow them to learn about the differences between their lives and the lives of the students that they are working with.

Although any type of collaboration is a good experience for students, it seems worth a second consideration when creating a global collaboration project to make sure that students are truly having a global experience that raises their awareness of the world.

Global Collaboration vs. Curriculum

I come to the idea of Global Collaboration with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. It’s something I’ve always been interested in but wasn’t able to wrap my head around completely. As my building begins its journey to become an International Baccalaureate school, a program that emphasizes global learning, it’s been on my radar a bit more lately.

Then, my building’s librarian told us about a new website, PenPalSchool, which allowed kids to participate in a project and interact with students around the world. We chose the “World Exploration” project. The kids were thrilled, I was excited to give them an engaging and purposeful way to work on their writing, and it had easy and obvious connections to other content areas.

I quickly realized that this was not a spur of the moment activity if we truly wanted to make use of it.

Once the project started, my kids were put into a group of about 4 other pen pals. For most of these groups, there was one student from another country. Then, each week they were given a topic to focus on: History, Food, Pop Culture, Art and Literature, and Daily Life. Everything sounded like it was going to be a great experience.

The problems arose when I realized there was no way to do this program justice and create the kind of learning that it was capable of when I only have 60 minute class periods and the topics essentially asked for a research project to be completed each week for it to be beneficial. We also discovered inconsistency in how teachers from other schools were expecting their students to use the website.

It has been a somewhat frustrating experience that did not turn out at all how I wanted it to.

Looking, however, at the RWLD, I noticed several ways that I could use Global Collaboration more effectively in the future. The Global Read Aloud, as well as Classroom Bridges, would allow for Global Collaboration projects that would fit better into the existing curriculum that I am expected to follow.

These projects would allow standards and class content to still be taught within the framework of the project. I could focus on standards on writing, or

I look forward to learning more about Global Collaboration and how to fit it into the classroom.

Is this how you game? : An attempt at Gamifying 6th Grade Language Arts

I am not a Gamer. The whole idea of Gamifying the classroom was incredibly difficult for me to conceptualize how it worked. I understood it in theory, and thought it was a great idea, but could not picture how it would work in reality. I especially found this difficult to apply to a 6th grade Language Arts classroom, which is much more subjective than math or science, in terms of linear order and clear answers.

To be honest, I’m still trying to figure it out all the way, but it’s something I’m excited to  learn more about.

Based on reading and the videos I watched from Michael Matera, I realized that I needed to start small. I wanted to focus on one small piece of my classroom. Maria, my partner, and I, talked about options for what would work and ultimately settled on focusing on vocabulary because the very nature of word study allowed it to be Gamified somewhat naturally.  I have vocabulary set up to operate on a 10 day sequence. Day 1, students are introduced to 10 new words. Day 2, students answer prompts related to the words (what is something that might be submerged?, what is an antonym for obscure?) Days 3-5 students work on a variety of vocabulary assignments that help them get to know the words. These assignments are created by the curriculum my district adopted and I just modify them to meet my needs. Days 6-9, students take a short review quiz each day that asks them to match 5 of the words to definitions, or to fill in a blank in a sentence. Students take one of the words they missed on each of those days and complete something I call “vocabulary images”, which requires them to write their own definition of the word, find an image to represent the word, and explain how the image represents the word. On Friday, students have a vocabulary quiz that I have already been leveling based on Depth of Knowledge, or an attempt at them. Level 1 is matching words to their definitions. Level 2 of the test is writing the definition of words. Level 3 is putting words into blanks in sentences, and Level 4 is writing their own sentences.

Vocabulary is something that has proven to dramatically improve students’ reading comprehension. As a 6th grade team, we have chosen to focus on vocabulary because of how big of a different it makes for students. By gamifying this aspect of my classroom, I am hoping that students will take some ownership of their learning and will encourage others on their teams to do well. Vocabulary is one area that students are often not instrinsically motivated to succeed in – other than wanting to get good grades – so gamifying this process may cause students to take more responsibility for this learning.

Because this process is concrete and more objective than other things in Language Arts classrooms, this seemed like a good place to start, but I had no idea where to take it. Based on few things I read, I started by checking out Class Craft and noticed that it was almost perfect for what I wanted to do. It allows for customization for “behaviors” and “health points” which allowed me to tailor it to match our vocabulary work. I wound up with the following rules for XP points, Health Points, and Sentences – which are consequences if a student loses all of their Health Points.

Because we had just taken a test, it was very easy to give students XP points right away. One of my concerns with this process, especially how I’m approaching it, is because able to use it on a regular basis. Without consistency, students won’t have the same buy-in that they will if it’s present almost daily in the classroom. I have already discovered “The Makus Valley” which is a volume meter, and “Boss Battles” which allow for quick whole-class formative assessments, similar to Kahoot but connected to Class Craft. I also did not originally have the behavior of “complete a vocabulary assignment with 80% accuracy” but added this so that I could more frequently award XP points.

I have only been using Class Craft for two days and can already see that it is engaging to students. Students truly enjoy being able to create a character and are excited by the options they will have as they level up to customize their character. I know that it’s the new, shiny toy, so I know their level of interest may dwindle as the year progresses but I am thrilled by the level of excitement students have already.

Curricular goals: Students will require using  mental processing to be ready for college, workforce training, and life in a technological society, students need the ability to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and report on information and ideas.
Standards addressed:
ISTE Standards: 2b. Students engage in positive, safe, legal, and ethical behavior when using technology, including social interactions online or when using networked devices
Iowa Core Standards: 21.6-8.TL.6 Essential Concept and/or skill: Understand the underlying structure and application of technology systems.
L.6.6 Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.


Could Language Arts be Gamified?

I’ve never really considered the Gamification of my classroom. I believe that gaming in the classroom would create more student buy in and would result in higher student engagement in their learning. However, I struggling to wrap my head around how it would work in a Language Arts classroom. Learning how to identify Least Common Multiples seems much easier to gamify than identifying the theme of a text, at least in an organic way. It would be easy to assign points if students get it “right”, but identifying theme doesn’t have one right answer.

As I started reading about the idea of “flow”, as explained by psychology Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi I was better able to see my classroom reflected in those ideas. Flow is something we’ve all experienced when we’re doing work that is truly meaningful to us and that we are fully engaged in and challenged by – something that is just difficult enough to keep our attention. I can imagine students in this state when they are reading a book that they are truly invested in, when they’re writing something they really want to write, or when they’re working on a project that they care about. It was interesting, then, to see how so many of the characteristics of Flow overlapped with the characteristics of gaming: immediate feedback, short and long term goals, a balance between what is difficult and what is known or already mastered. Although this connection makes sense and seems obvious, it isn’t something I had ever really taken time to consider.

Then, listening to an Edutopia interview with James Paul Gee really made me begin thinking about the fact for this sort of learning to take place in schools, the entire environment and culture of traditional education will need to change. Especially when he talks about how gaming is essentially assessment, that gives constant feedback, as well as allowing you to retry over and over until you are successful. The idea that textbooks/ manuals only make sense to us and area only useful to us once we have a reference and a need to learn information from them. It’s with this thought that I considered my TAG students first. If they were able to pass / achieve something without being directly taught, why should they have to sit through the instruction? Why should they have to read the manual? The process of a gamifying a class, in theory, could allow for much better individualization of instruction while still requiring all students to show mastery.

As I explored more and more topics about gamification of the classroom, ideas began to form. Could students find the theme of a story and submit it for a certain number of points, and if they weren’t quite right, I could return it to them with feedback in real time instead of doing an activity as a class, having them turn it in, and me have to grade 118 papers to give back to them in an amount of time that matters? Would it be possible for them to submit it, and if they weren’t quite getting it, be sent to a video or text that gives them more information? Or could they go in search of their own videos about the topic? I am definitely finding myself rethinking the ability to incorporate gaming in my classroom, although I’m still not quite sure how to manage it. Seth Priebatsch’s Ted Talk about the layer of gaming in real life especially helped with this, as many of the aspects he discussed are already part of the school environment (Appointment Dynamic – showing up to class or school on time; Influence and status – honor roll, reward cards, grades). I think the idea of gaming in the classroom reimagines the teacher as not being the center of instruction and allows students to take a little more ownership and invest themselves more in their learning, which is incredibly important in preparing them for 21st century learning.

In Paul Anderson’s Ted Talk entitled “Classroom Game Design”, he not only explains how he managed to Gamify his classroom, but also the challenges he faced when doing so. One thing that stuck out to me was his mentioning that some students stalled out when given instruction in this format. I think this is an important thing to consider, as there is a reason that an adult with a teaching degree is in the room. Could students, at some point, be required to meet with the teacher before they were allowed to try a level again? Could another level be meeting up with a peer for explanation?

Anderson’s Ted Talk also got me considering how to group students for certain levels for pieces of the activity. I liked the mention of “passion communities” from James Paul Gee, but do think that in some situations, intentional grouping is necessary to support and enhance learning. How can we group students to make the learning most effective? Should the groups stay the same throughout the entire course?

Although I definitely agree with Paul Anderson about trying to completely overhaul a classroom during the school year, I am excited to look more into the Gamification resources and consider how I could Gamify more of the elements of my classroom both in the next couple of weeks and throughout the semester.