Monday, June 23, 2014

Reflections on the Past School Year

Well that was a whirlwind! What a year! It was a year of many firsts and also another year to refine my craft. I started a new school year in September...teaching in a new district and starting a new all-day gifted program.  I was lucky enough to get hired for this amazing job and to start the MOSAIC program in our school district.  I had 22 highly gifted 4th grade students that stayed in my classroom all day long and their gifted needs were met within the confines of our classroom. I tried many new things and learned just as much as my students did this year!
Here is a list of some of my A-HA moments...

1.  Students need choice! Every time that my students had choice they were far more engaged and willing to give more effort.  Even if I give them choices within what I want them to helps. Maybe I allow them to use a Google Doc to share their work or allow them to use an iPad App to show their all gets to the same thing...showing me what they have learned.  Sometimes they even negotiate their own choice and I'm okay with that as long as it meets their learning goal. 

2.  I need to be flexible with my daily plans! I am a girl who likes to have a plan. I'm not big on deviating from that plan but I have learned that flexibility is the key to success.  My students may take me in a whole different direction than I imagined and that's okay. They get excited about different topics and want to learn more or focus in more on a similar topic and I need to be flexible and provide time for these types of learning experiences.  We read A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park and the students were extremely interested in the process of building a well in Sudan and why the water supply is so different around the world. We looked at online videos, websites, and read other books about water to learn more about building freshwater wells in Sudan. 

3. Jump in and let the students help guide you! This year was a year of firsts and it was the first time that we had iPads in our classroom. Our district went 1-1 this year with iPads at the elementary level and WOW!!!! what an experience! First, I felt so fortunate to have this amazing resource in my classroom and in the hands of my students.  There were so many things that I did not know how to do on the iPads...but sure students did. I would introduce an app and at about 2 minutes into the introduction a student would figure something out that I didn't know, have a helpful hint, or show me how I was doing it all wrong. I let them be the EXPERTS! And they loved that feeling. I had an iMovie expert, a Google Drive expert, an Explain Everything expert, a Notability expert, a website expert, an iPad cart organizer...everyone had their own talent to share.  If someone had a question about building a Google Site...I knew who to send them to. When I learned to let go...we got a lot more accomplished! We even had a class EdCamp that the students LOVED! They loved sharing their knowledge and engagement was through the roof! 

4.  Try Genius Hour! As part of our gifted program, we knew that we wanted to incorporate choice projects and project based learning in our program.  We weren't sure about how EXACTLY this would work but we had some ideas.  I then came across a blog post about Genius Hour and read up on it over Winter Break.  After reading about it, I was hooked! I had to try this! I put some lessons and materials together and mapped out a plan and introduced it in January. The students were instantly hooked! They were engaged at all new levels. They were going home and spending hours working on their Genius Hour projects(even though they didn't have to.) They learned about some amazing topics and explored some really deep questions.  Check out my previous posts on Genius Hour for more information about it. The students thought that it was by far the best part of the year and I was amazed at their projects and knowledge about their topics. Genius Hour also aligns to #1, #2, and #3 above! 

5.  Don't be afraid to try new things! If I had been afraid to try new things...there would have been so many things that wouldn't have happened this year!  Most of the things that I tried...I would do again in a heartbeat.  I tried Genius Hour, Discovery Quests with a technology component, using Notability to keep track of word study words, interactive math notebooks, book chats, book clubs, an after school book club, fully integrated iPad use, air serving presentations, hard core use of Google Drive, and many new collaborative and independent projects. 

6.  Use an online web tool for lesson planning.  I used and loved it! It was only $12 for the year and it was so easy to use. I did not have to lug a lesson plan book back and forth from school to home and it was easy to move things around when my plans changed(flexibility.) 
I now have my plans on my computer and they will be THAT MUCH EASIER to tweak as I make plans for next year. I highly recommend this for busy teachers! 

Overall, it's been an amazing year and I can't wait to see what 2014-2015 has in store for me. Well...maybe I can wait a little bit to see...
It's time to enjoy summer! 

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