The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Posts tagged “Technology

Workshop Presentations – Part II

[NOTE: This is the second of two blog posts about workshop presentations I recently gave.]

Ever since I started working at Wiley Elementary School and participated in the New Teacher Mentoring and Induction program, I have received regular email updates from the Illinois New Teacher Collaborative. I attended the annual conference my first year at Wiley, then I attended a Beginning Teacher Conference the summer after that year. The following summer I attended the Beginning Teacher Conference again. I have found these conferences to be incredibly useful and believe I am a better teacher for having participated in them.


Earlier this year, I received an email seeking requests for workshop proposals for the the 11th Annual Induction and Mentoring Conference to be held in Champaign. One of the event organisers happens to also be one of the organisers for EdCamp CU, the “unconference” that I have helped organise for the past year. She asked me if I would be willing to put in a proposal for the conference based on two of the critical areas they were going to focus on: Teachers as Learners and Teachers as Influencers. I wrote a proposal for each and submitted them.

To my surprise, both proposals were accepted, and so it was that today I spent the day at the iHotel and Conference Center in Champaign, networking with teachers, administrators, and professional development coordinators. In addition to presenting two workshops, I got to attend the EdChats (mini general session presentations), and got to help two early career teachers from a nearby district make plans for how they can create an induction and mentoring program in their schools.

The first session I presented was on the cross-grade collaboration process I have done with Miss C for the past six years. It started as Reading Buddies but has morphed into Learning Buddies. I only had four participants, but they seemed excited about the ways that could increase collaboration in their schools and find teachers to partner with to create vertical learning opportunities for their students.

The second session I gave also only had four participants. This one was on using social media to influence the school environment for good. I shared my belief that it is more important for teachers to have a positive social media presence than to have no presence at all. (Many teachers, especially early career teachers, are told to hide their identities online and avoid any networking with students, parents, or colleagues. I take a different approach, although, in general, I avoid adding parents to my personal Facebook network until after their students have left my classroom for good.) I showed how I use Twitter to connect with educators and researchers and how I use hashtags to track important topics. The teachers present shared how they use social media and gave others resources for how to get started.

The INTC Conference was a long, busy day, but it was so worth it! I was able to connect with great teachers, share ways that my school district has helped me become a teacher leader, and even got to connect with a friend from the Cebrin Goodman Teen Institute who is now a teacher in the nearby district mentioned above.

Tomorrow I return to the classroom after a long absence. I hope I will be able to use what I learned on Friday and today to make a difference in my students’ lives.

Workshop Presentations – Part I

[NOTE: This is the first of two blog posts about workshop presentations that I recently gave.]

Last Friday I had the opportunity to present a workshop to two groups of teachers during my district’s Winter Institute. My workshop focused on Hapara Dashboard, the web-based software that we use to monitor students on their Chromebooks. (Oddly enough, I have apparently never written about this software, despite the fact that it has been in use in my building for over a year. Oops.)

Hapara Dashboard allows me to see what students are doing on their Chromebooks in real time by showing me what tabs they have open at any given time. I can also view and save screenshots of their active screens. Through Highlights, I can send links to every device in my classroom and I can limit students’ browsing to specific sites. I can view their Google Drive folders and can create documents that are sent to each individual student and automatically populated in a folder that I have specified. I can send students messages to remind them of tasks or call them to my back table without saying anything. Through Workspace, I can create assignments with stated goals, resources, evidence, and rubrics. I can grade assignments and return them for further editing or return them with a final grade, making it so students cannot alter them further.

My presentation was to showcase all of these features and ask teachers if they would be interested in using this software if it was made available. Every single teacher who came to my sessions told me that they were definitely interested and wanted to know why we didn’t already have this software in place. (Short answer: it is expensive.) Still, the response was overwhelmingly positive and many teachers felt that using Hapara Dashboard would greatly increase productivity in the classroom and make the devices more effective.

I am hopeful that this will be something that will happen soon!

A Brief Explanation

It has been over a month since I posted something on my classroom blog. It isn’t because I haven’t had anything to blog about (because I have). And it isn’t because I haven’t wanted to (because I definitely have). It is simply because, for reasons I’ve been unable to ascertain, I can’t access WordPress when I am at work and by the time I get home, I have other matters to attend to, such as caring for my pets, spending time with my wife, eating, decompressing, and sleeping.

So my apologies to those who may actually read my blog. (Yes, it is a recurring theme of mine that I have no idea who actually reads this, if anyone actually does, or why they do.)

I know I can’t give justice to everything we have done over the past month, but I will try to get a few posts written and scheduled to go up over the next few days that will cover some of the highlights. I am going to get drafts written while I am at work over the next few days, then I will post them when I get home until I can figure out why my district’s internet filter is blocking my blog.

In the meantime, here’s a quote about education that is completely, totally, one hundred percent unrelated to the rest of this post, but is a quote I recently came across and has now been added to my personal collection of favourite quotes:

Return of the Chromebooks

It has been a long three weeks or so without Chromebooks in our classroom. There was an issue with the district’s cache servers shortly after school started that resulted in all devices having to be shut off and put away until they could resolve the issue. Today was the first day we were able to access the devices and wow, what a difference it made!

When I first got my cart of Chromebooks, I signed an agreement that I would infuse technology into my classroom practices and instruction. I spent the past two years or so researching websites and online learning tools, trying them out with my students, studying best practices of technology integration, and generally designing my classroom around the use of Chromebooks throughout the day.

Some people have expressed shock that my students access their devices first thing in the morning and keep them out until the end of the day. They are not on them all day, of course, but they are nearby and used much more than they are not.

During our mathing workshop, students use their Chromebooks to access sites such as Zearn, Front Row, Prodigy, and XtraMath to support and supplement their learning and help them improve on skills. The devices are accessed for fluency practice and for independent work while I am with small groups.

During our inquiry workshop, the Chromebooks become the principle tool for researching a variety of topics, keeping notes, and demonstrating learning through multimedia presentations. The students also use their devices to communicate with one another using shared documents in Google Drive.

During our writing workshop, students take their early drafts and type them into Google Docs, then use the available tools to edit, revise, and format as they prepare for publication. They also use the Chromebooks to research ideas and find better ways to express ideas.

During our reading workshop, the Chromebooks are used as students access eBooks through Storia, read articles on Wonderopolis and Newsela, continue writing that they started during writing workshop, and engage in creative writing through Storybird. They also record reading through sites like Whooo’s Reading.

On top of all that, we use our devices for online quizzes through Google Forms, Google Classroom, and Kahoot! Students take brain and body breaks with sites like GoNoodle and find ways to focus with music accessed through Google Play. (We have access to the full suite of Google Apps for Education.) They review and discuss digital citizenship through the Common Sense Media Digital Passport and share projects with one another, with students in other classes, and with their families.

Like I said, I have a technology-infused classroom. So we were all very excited when we were given the green light to start using our devices again! I can hardly wait to see what my students do with their devices tomorrow!

Clever Solutions

I try to give my students a lot of freedom and choice in my classroom. I am not a Montesorrian, and I certainly have restrictions on what they can and cannot do, but, even with that in mind, I let them make a lot of decisions for themselves. This goes from selecting partners and small groups to picking books to read independently to deciding what to do for homework each evening.

I also allow my students to find the best place to work in our small classroom. Some choose to stay at desks, others prefer the carpet, yet others like to lean against the wall or the heating units. When working, several students have found that noise-cancelling headphones really help them focus. (I used to have a full classroom set of 30 that I picked up for a very low price at Harbor Freight a few years ago, but now I am down to about 15 or 20.)

The other day I was finishing up in my classroom after students had left and I noticed something:


At first I felt a moment of frustration because it appeared that several students had failed to take care of their own materials (one of our classroom expectations), but then I realised that I was completely wrong; in fact, the students had come up with an ingenious solution to a complex problem: the box of headphones is kept at the back of the room, but they didn’t want to keep getting them every day. At the same time, their desks are crowded with books and papers as it is, so they wouldn’t fit inside. Finally, desks are supposed to be cleared off at the end of each day (this happens with varying degrees of success), so they couldn’t just leave them on top. So what did the students do? They simply hung them from the support bar under the desks.

It made me wonder what other clever solutions my students come up with that I don’t immediately notice. How many solutions to a problem do they devise that I see as incorrect because it doesn’t look or sound the way I expect? How often do I mistake clever ideas for being off-task, distracted, or disrespectful?

I hope that I don’t.

But I get a feeling that I probably do.

So the next time I see something that seems off, I will ask a student first: can you tell me why you are doing this?

I’m pretty certain I’ll be just as surprised as I was when I find half a dozen or so headphones dangling underneath my desks.

Learning with Zearn

I spent several weeks over the summer learning all about Eureka Math and preparing myself as much as possible to implement it in my classroom this year. My goal was to hit the ground running and take my students with me on the wild ride of learning math in a way that is not only aligned to our standards and our curriculum but is also more rigourous and focused that what students have seen before.

One of the supplemental resources I learned about was a free website (as an instructional technology specialist, two of my favourite words!) called Zearn. I played around with Zearn a bit over the summer and set up a student account for myself to see what it would look like. I was excited to be able to partner my students with this, especially since this site was designed to mirror what students are working on in Eureka Math. (I will not be dropping any of my other online learning sites, though; I love being able to give my students wide access to multiple ways to engage with and think about math!)


We did a test drive of Zearn as a class today. We had to use the computer lab due to our student network still being down (something our tech team has been working on for over a week now), but this did not seem to be a hindrance. The students were able to easily access their accounts and quickly figured out how to navigate the site. The best part was that the work they were doing online really supported exactly what we have been doing in class for the past several weeks!

One of the features I was most impressed by was the “Math Chat.” This features a video recording of a teacher explaining the concepts. Students then work through problems and, depending on how they do, are directly to subsequent videos that help further explain concepts. I firmly support the idea that students learn best from hearing similar messages from different voices.

I am really excited about this new resource and hope that students and families will add it to their math learning toolkits. Zearn will be a great way to supplement what I am teaching and giving students an opportunity to learn at their own rate while I am working with small groups.

[NOTE: The creators of Zearn were not contacted previous to the writing of this post, nor was I asked by them to write it. The content of this post is entirely of my own opinion and should not be considered to represent the official views or positions of my building or school district.]

A New Year & A New Plan

Hello, friends, family, colleagues, parents, administrators, and random people of the Internet! It has been a while! School has now been in session for three days and my ambitious goal to start blogging each day has clearly already hit a roadblock. I have opened up WordPress each day and I have meant to write, but then one issue or another came up and before I knew it, I had to run off to get home in order to make it to one engagement or another.

Ah, the life of a teacher.

As it is, it is now after 6 pm on a Monday, I am still at school, but I am determined to start this week off right! We’ve had an exciting three days of establishing classroom expectations, getting used to routines, and jumping into some new curricular materials. (If you haven’t heard of Eureka Math yet, go check it out–it is going to be the main tool we use when teaching math now.)

So, it is a new year. What else is new? I only have 21 students (so far) which is definitely the smallest class I have had since I started working here at Wiley. I just acquired a bunch of new tabletop style games for my classroom (more on this at a later date) thanks to generous donors on DonorsChoose. And I have changed the format of my classroom to focus on a workshop model throughout the day. Instead of “social studies” or “science” I now have a daily “Inquiry Workshop.” Instead of “math” it is “Mathing Workshop” (because math is a verb; it is something we do.) I still have a Writing Workshop but literacy, which I used to call my “Daily CAFE” is now going to be a “Reading Workshop.” I am super excited to see how using the workshop model throughout the day will increase student engagement and ownership!

Oh, and, of course, we now have elementary physical education teachers in Urbana! I was a part of the exploratory committee that recommended adding them and was so thrilled when the Board of Education approved hiring PE teachers at all of our elementary schools! Not only will our students get better PE instruction from specialists in the area, but the classroom teachers will have time to meet together and collaborate throughout the week! Huzzah!

It is going to be a great year! And now that I am done with graduate school (yes, I am now Mr. Valencic, Master of Education), I should have more time to blog, to read, and to play tabletop games. (Have I mentioned that I am an avid tabletop gamer and I plan on integrating this passion into my classroom?) But don’t worry, techy friends; I am also passionate about educational technology and that will also be a key component of my classroom instruction. Remember, I am a geek of all things!

What are you most excited about for this school year?