Stained Glass and Snowflakes

Stations. The best unkept secret in education.

Snowflakes are hexagonal… perhaps the best kept secret in advertising.

macro photography of snowflake

Photo by Egor Kamelev on Pexels.com

During #DBC50Summer, I followed every author from Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc on Twitter and love being connected to them! One of the funniest authors is easily Denis Sheeran, author of Instant Relevance. His sense of humor pulled me into his book and now I get to enjoy his wit through social media. He created a hashtag to serve as a Public Service Announcement. Snowflakes are hexagons. Really! #Snowflakesarehexagons

The poetry written to the companies along with the photos of his own version of “false advertisement” cracks me up! With those posts, do you know what he did? He made me stop and count the dang sides of every. single. snowflake. in every. single. ad. I see.

Our amazing 8th grade math teachers, Ms. Luce & Mrs. Hawks, and I had already planned to do an extension of a PBL in MinecraftEDU. The students had learned about how linear functions are used to create stained glass windows. They had a guest speaker a few weeks ago who actually showed them how she creates stained glass and students have been creating their own stained glass (by coloring) and figuring out the linear function in slope-intercept form of each line. In MinecraftEDU, students could create a stained glass of their choosing. This could be done by modifying the one they created with linear functions to be “blocky” so it could be built in the game, they could create anything from scratch, or they could look up pixel art and use stained glass blocks or wool to create it.

This gave us two stations in our classes, but we needed a third. I had just discovered that Sprite had six-pointed snowflakes on their product (thanks to Denis’s Twitter PSA) and thought students might have fun discovering which products had “the right snowflakes” on them.

Our third station was a huge hit!

First, students searched for snowflakes in advertising and shared an image they found on a Padlet. Bonus for me: I get to talk about digital citizenship next week and have students determine if this was best practice for using images! (Hint: No, no it was not.)

After finding an image, they read one of the three articles referenced in Denis’s blog post Snowflakes are Hexagons. They were to secretly tell me how many sides every snowflake has and why it has that many sides based on their research.

Upon giving me the correct answer, the students did exactly as Denis suggests in his blog… they created paper snowflakes. There were a lot of octagons, decagons, quadrilaterals, and circles, until finally someone used their resources and googled “How to make a six-sided snowflake.” HA! My principal suggested taking it up a notch further. These paper snowflakes (with the correct number of sides, of course) will be used as decorations for their Winter Dance in December.

Check out a few of their creations that I tweeted out! There are dozens and dozens of hexagonal snowflakes in our media center now!

 

Then, this morning, this kid blew me away!

The MinecraftEDU station turned out pretty fantastic, too! I am currently working to upload the file on my YouTube channel and will embed here when finished, but for now, check out this link to a walkthrough on my Google Drive. (There is no sound.) I was so impressed with what they built in the 25-30 minutes they had available to create. Several came before and after school as well as during their lunch to finish their stained glass pixel art and more have asked to return this week. Students showed one another how to “light up” their windows using glowstone, so when the world turns to night it glows in the most beautiful colors!

I am so proud of the students I serve, and the teachers were blown away by both their stained glass creations and their unique snowflakes. This was one of those times that we got it right. Thank you, Denis for inspiring a way to make learning relevant for our students! This definitely serves as one implementation (I’m sure there will be many more to come) for my #DBC50Summer post on Instant Relevance! I am honored that our 8th grade math teachers trusted me to help create this PBL extension and spur-of-the-moment lesson on snowflakes. I’m looking forward to more lessons like this!

#DBCBookBlogs: Lead with Literacy

Hold on tight – I’m about to get my Usher on. This is my confession…

I became a media coordinator to promote my love of technology, not reading.

There. Don’t throw things at me, though. My blog, my reflections. Just stay with me.

In my district, there is no such thing as an instructional technology facilitator/specialist. In January 2011, I started an online program through East Carolina University (the Pirates… not even kidding) to earn a Master of Arts in Education in Instructional Technology. In early May 2012, I graduated. I flew through that program and loved every minute of it. I was devastated when I spoke with our HR and found out that there was no funding (nor would there be) for these positions. He did let me know that our media coordinators in our district were filling the role of instructional technology facilitators in many cases and that perhaps I should look into that.

So I did. After applying in late May 2012 for the online Master of Library Science program at East Carolina University, I was accepted, and within a matter of days found out I was expecting our youngest daughter. I had to make a decision… was it worth it to me to earn my MLS when I could get paid for having an MAEd in the classroom?

I enrolled in classes reluctantly. The only reason I was pursuing this degree was that it was my only avenue for sharing my passion with other educators. Incorporating technology in seamless and meaningful ways was the goal. I finished the MLS program in May 2014, fulfilling my internship requirements by already being hired as media coordinator in an elementary school media center. I never went into my role in the media center because I wanted to promote a lifelong love of reading.

Don’t get me wrong… I enjoy reading. However, I despise everything about Accelerated Reader, Reading Counts, and other read-then-quiz-to-get-points programs. Those programs were the norm in my district. Also, I despise Battle of the Books. I CAN admit that I always enjoy the book list. But those questions? How much more arbitrary can we get? Unfortunately, this club is the norm in my district as well. (I’ve tried to make the best out of the situation. You can see how I gamified Battle of the Books to try to incorporate my own passions to make it more palatable for me to sponsor in this archived post.) With these two programs that I am adamantly against, I can confidently say that I dreaded my role in the media center with the expectation that I would have to not only support these programs, but encourage participation in them.

I did it for 2 1/2 years. During those 2 1/2 years, I discovered my own love of reading children’s books. My favorite media classes were those in which I read aloud a story. I loved our mobile Book Bus, a school bus that traveled a combination of our bus routes to deliver new books and a snack to students multiple times during the summer months. Our local Rotary Club supported literacy by gifting kindergarten students with a free book four times a year! They would come and buddy-read to the students and personally give the student the book. It was a highlight of my time in elementary school. Dr. Seuss Day made me smile. Our character parades were amazing and a dance party ended the day with lots of “characters” dancing to celebrate reading! I fell in love with literacy when there were no strings attached.

See, I grew up with Accelerated Reader. I remember taking those quizzes as a student. I remember being in Academically Gifted (AG) classes and being required to take a certain number of tests, cheating on the tests because I hated the books we were required to read. It destroyed my love of reading. I’ve watched my own 4th grade daughter lose her love of reading; “Oh, Bailey, you loved the book?! How did you do on the test?” I won’t let that happen on my watch. Not anymore. If there is any silver lining at all to a loss of funding, it’s that the AR program was cut in nearly every school in my district. This has given an opportunity for significant growth, thinking outside the box, getting creative. All schools have been tasked with casting a new vision for promoting literacy in our schools.

After reading Lead with Literacy by Mandy Ellis, I am armed with TONS of new ways of promoting literacy in our school.

This isn’t a program, it’s a culture.

In truth, our district is asking every school to change its culture. That’s not happening over night, but it will happen. And we’ll all be better for it.

LeadLit

I knew from following Mandy on Twitter we were going to see eye-to-eye when I finally got to read her book. Unfortunately, at a #BookSnaps workshop this summer (see Be REAL by Tara Martin post here), someone accidentally took my book (I choose to assume positive intent). Mandy immediately replied asking for my address so she could send me another copy. Not only did she send me a copy, she sent me a signed copy with stickers! She’s got a heart of gold! (Thanks again, Mandy – I cherish my book!)

Mandy’s passion and intentionality in creating a culture of reading is evident both in her twitter feed and on the pages of her book. There are so many ways to embed reading into the culture of the school that can be applied to every level of education! Before reading this book, I didn’t see myself as a literacy leader by any definition. Even though I advocate for choice in reading, I’m still very much seen as the technology person among media folks in my district and in the state. As I read Mandy’s book, I noticed that I do many of the things she does in her school! I was blown away!

According to Mandy, I am certainly a lead reader (#DBC50Summer is clearly evidence A, and my insanely full bookshelf of children’s books in my office would suffice as evidence B). I tweet and blog my book reflections regularly, sharing with faculty and students what I’m reading. I ask what students are reading and dive into conversations with them about their books. I make suggestions to students for books to read next, but do not mandate book selection. I encourage choice in selection of books, and offer a variety of options for our students. I value quality of books over quantity of books, regularly stating that I’d rather have 500 books that I can’t keep on the shelf than to have 5,000 that sit on the shelf unopened.  Mandy’s book is so full of ideas that there are at least 5 or 6 things I’m looking to implement as we move forward with our updated literacy plan. Knowing that culture won’t change overnight, I’m focusing on just a couple things at a time.

Here is a copy of the draft of our new literacy plan. This is a living document and will be changed throughout the year. These plans are only a starting point. My first year at middle school, I only had around 400 circulations in a media center which served approximately 400 students… yes, one book checked out per year per student. Sad.

Last year we increased that number to around 2,700 circulations in a year. A 600% increase, but still nowhere near enough reading happening. I am thrilled to say that we are already at 1,689 circulations and students have only been in school for 6 weeks! We’re moving in the right direction!

The greatest factors to students checking out books, I believe, has been time and independently set reading goals. Students have been given protected class time to check in and out books twice a month. I really appreciate our teachers making this a priority. Students were asked to determine their own reading goal each quarter with no strings attached. There are no rewards, other than the satisfaction of reading amazing books, and no consequences (absolutely no ties to grading, quizzes, point systems, etc). They aren’t “in trouble” for not meeting their goal, and I’m only disappointed if they don’t set a goal. I was honestly worried how this would turn out when I took this risk. I was expecting a ton of students to set their goal at only reading one book, while others focused on quantity versus quality by reading 20 books. (Although I can say from personal experience that this may be a false dichotomy as my goal of reading 50 books this summer was strongly rooted in quantity AND quality… just saying.) Here are their goals for the first quarter.

Aren’t they impressive? I’m excited to see where this takes us! Mandy’s book is one that is available for media coordinators in our district as we partake in a small group book studies this year. I am excited to see what others in my district will implement from this insanely amazing power-packed Lead Like A Pirate guide book!

*Side Note: This is the second of the #LeadLAP guide books! Mandy continues the tradition of excellence that Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf established, and Jay Billy built upon in his guide book Lead with Culture.

More information can be found on Twitter using the hashtag #LeadLIT! There is such greatness waiting for you there, so jump on over if you’ve not already! This book is an incredible addition to any media coordinator, or principal’s professional library. Classroom teachers will also take so much from this book! I’m feeling a bit like Oprah – YOU need this book and YOU need this book and YOU need this book! (Sorry, can’t give them to you like Oprah, but man wouldn’t that be epic?!) Check out the first few chapters here! Once you fall in love with it (because you will), go ahead and order your own copy! Mandy’s website can be found here!

Also, share what you’re reading on the flipgrid created by Andrea Paulakovich (which I get to copilot, thanks Andrea!)

Next book up (because you should always have a book on deck) is Balance Like A Pirate by Jessica Cabeen, Jessica Johnson, and Sarah Johnson.

#DBC50Summer 48/50: Sparks in the Dark

I’ve not finished the book. I had to stop reading. So many ideas were swirling in my head that I couldn’t continue without getting part of these thoughts written down. I promise I’ll finish it. Surely, if you’ve been with me since the beginning of #DBC50Summer, you trust that I will uphold the integrity of #DBC50Summer by reading every word of every book. I will finish book 48. But it won’t be tonight. I can’t.

I have decided that Todd Nesloney is my spirit animal. Seriously – the parallels in our educational walk are insane… right up to where he becomes an administrator. I’m going to let you keep that one for both of us, okay, Todd? In previous blogs, I mentioned my journey in education. I was hired after three interviews with the same administrator (two face-to-face and one over the phone) as a fifth grade math teacher on a three-teacher team. I taught math to three sets of 20-22 fifth grade students. I had one small 20-25 minute block of SSR time (self-selected reading or silent sustained reading – pick an acronym meaning) and rarely conferenced with students. Why? Teaching reading was the job of our ELA teacher. Not. My. Job. (I, too, Todd, was wrong.) I used that time to grade papers, conference about Accelerated Math or Superstars Math, or troubleshoot the problems our Accelerated Reader program was having (ugh). It was the most dreaded part of my day, and I didn’t mind letting students know that I hated it. How arrogant I was! Then I transitioned to become a math and science teacher on two-teacher team. After two years of that, I was self-contained, teaching all subject areas in fifth grade. Only then, did I view myself as a reading teacher. How I wish I could go back and change my mindset then!

When former students hear that I work in a media center, I usually receive one of two reactions. A sideways glance and “oh really?” or a flat out “No WAY! I never imagined you in a library!” That’s how bad my disdain for teaching reading was coming across to students. I realize the impossibility of my next statement, but boy do I wish I had Sparks in the Dark by Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney (coauthor of Kids Deserve It and author of Stories from Webb) when I was in the classroom!

This beautiful book eloquently states all that is right with reading and writing in the classroom! Every classroom, not just ELA, should be reading and writing daily! With intentionality. When I taught math and when I taught math and science, I should have been incorporating reading and writing. In a math methods class in college, I took a course that required writing every step to a problem in a problem set in paragraph form. We were to explain our chosen problem like we were explaining complex math to a kindergarten student. It was our responsibility to read the responses of our teammates, because we then presented their responses to the class. We wrote, read, and talked… in math. Never once did we draw diagrams unless we could specifically describe those diagrams in paragraph form. It was the hardest class I took in my undergrad coursework, but also the most meaningful. (I never used the information while teaching math, but I should have. Looking back, I realize that I did my students a huge disservice.)

I’m only on chapter 8, but I had to stop and share my takeaways thus far.

Takeaway 1: These fellas have passion for reading and writing in the classroom. Travis and Todd share their own failures, not only with us as readers, but with their students through written word. I had never considered writing for my students. I should definitely try that and see what happens! I did share the #DBC50Summer Explained post with them during media as an introduction to goal setting and reading as a choice. After they read the post, I asked them who the author was. Most had no idea. When I pointed out the URL was from aliciaray.com, several requested time to reread the article (or let’s be real, read it for the first time because they were now invested). Several immediately bookmarked my blog which blew my mind that they would be interested in these posts. I even shared that it was all “teacher-y stuff” but they didn’t seem to mind bookmarking anyway. (If any of you are reading this, hi and I love you! Do you have a book near you?)

Takeaway 2: Students deserve and crave choice and voice in their reading and writing. I have had a revelation in the past 5 years in the media center… I despise reading quizzes and book reports. I hate what it does to students’ love of reading. I’ve watched my own child devour a book and after watching her eyes light up as she tells me about it, I ask her if she’s doing to take a test on it the next day. It’s like flipping a switch. The light goes out. She’s no longer excited about the book. When did we get to that point as educators? Can’t they just read to enjoy reading? When did the enjoyment of reading a book become superseded by a need to reward students with arbitrary kids’ meal prizes or reward trips that parents still have to pay for after their child earned it (many times at the last moment due to peer pressure)? Traditional book reports do the same thing. Having authentic conversations about what a child is reading, giving them the opportunity to discuss their books with their peers… that will create a love of reading. Travis and Todd agree!

Takeaway 3: The quotes… oh the quotes from this book. Whether it’s the quotes from the likes of Penny Kittle, T.S. Eliot, John Maxwell, Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou, etc at the beginning of each chapter, or the quotes interspersed within the chapter, this baby is full of amazing quotes! Here are some of my favorites:

  • “My reading scores were improving… [but] none of my students were leaving my classroom with a love of reading and writing. Change was necessary.”
  • “Change isn’t meant to be easy. If it were, everyone would love and seek out change.”
  • “When students see your genuine passion and interest, it will pique theirs.”
  • “Reading is part of a well-rounded life.”
  • “I find it exciting to work with children who claim to hate reading because much of the time the problem is they simply haven’t found a book that grips their heart or reaches their soul.”
  • “Providing time for children to read in every classroom shows the students just how important reading is and that, yes, your math teacher reads, too.”
  • “Our children are seeking to be understood while simultaneously seeking to understand. They have questions about current events and the choices that people make…we need to provide a safe space for them to discuss their fears, their worries, their uncertainties.”
  • “Arm us with books. Because the pen is mightier than the sword.”

See… powerful stuff, right? That’s not even close to all I’ve highlighted and written notes beside! What power reading and writing have for our students, and for us! If I’ve learned nothing else from #DBC50Summer, it is that truth. Reading and writing has proven to be an insanely powerful practice, and one that I will continue to pursue now that I’ve found my voice again. I will move from professional development books to middle school books and some young adult and picture books and continue this practice of reading and blogging. I believe it’s important for me to practice what I preach, so I want my students to be able to reference my publishing the blogs to a public audience as a positive example of digital footprint, citizenship, goal-setting, and writing for a purpose.

I have so many ideas of implementation plans swirling that I cannot possibly pick one right now…. and I’ve not even finished the book yet. I just had to stop and reflect! I can, however, share some of the possibilities with you.

  • Little Free Library – Our carpentry class made these for each elementary school three or four years ago and we supplied the LFL with discard books and Scholastic dollar books. I’d love to lead the initiative to create one for each of our middle and high schools this year.
  • Implementing a time in the media center to reflect on books as they return them. What did they like or not like? Should we keep the book in the media center or not? We are just recreating a reading culture at my school and many of the books (especially fiction) are not checked out very much. I have analyzed our collection over and over again, but this time, I will do it with the most important voices – the students’. They will help me decide which books to discard and which books we need to add to our collection through book suggestions.
  • We are doing a book tasting as part of a much larger Project-Based Learning experience next month. Stay tuned for a blog post with epic pictures and step-by-step directions for implementing at your school if you choose to do so.
  • For the first time ever, our students are given full freedom in book selection in the media center. In the past (in elementary school), every book was leveled and students could only check out books on their level. When students arrived at middle school, I do not level books, but I did require that students choose one fiction and one nonfiction book for a total of two books checked out at a time. I’m releasing control (whew – scary, but it’s the right thing for students, so I’m doing it) and allowing students to check out any three books they’d like. Of course, I’m encouraging them to read a variety of texts and to step out of their comfort zone in genres to try something new, but the ultimate decision is theirs.
  • Students are setting their own reading goals this year. Each quarter they are committing to reading “x” number of books before the end of the quarter. We discussed length of books being a factor, reading speed, genre, etc and that every book counted equally. So whether they read a picture book or Divergent, it counts as one book. Because there is no competition between students, only trying to reach your own goal, students were encouraged to create a realistic goal for themselves and share it with me. They then created a flipgrid video that shared their goal and their plan for reaching the goal using the following sentence frame: My name is __(tell your name)__ and my reading goal is to read ___(tell how many books)___ books by October 31. I will reach my goal by ___(share your plan)___. Finally, we will revisit these goals halfway through the quarter, evaluating our progress and at the end of the quarter will share on flipgrid whether they reached the goal and what their next quarter’s goal will be.

There is no reward for reaching their goal other than the satisfaction of reaching their goal and reading tremendous books. There is no consequence for not reaching their goal; we will just make plans for how to reach the goal next time. Finally, there is no quiz, project, report, etc to prove they have read or not read.

Crazy, right? But we’re trying it. Giving them complete ownership will hopefully create a desire to read like never before. Check back in early November for an update on how it’s going. Students had approximately 6 weeks left in the quarter when they created their goal. I am impressed that only 9% of students committed to only reading one book (zero wasn’t an option – they are expected to read something) in six weeks, while 50% of students created a goal of reading 3-8 books in this same time period. That’s an average of a book per week. If my students reach that goal, I will be super pumped! Reading a book per week is a HUGE upgrade from where we are now!

I’m excited to work alongside my administration and teachers to promote a love of reading, writing, and learning in our school. This book is exactly what we need as we partner with our students to create a literacy plan that empowers students to make their own goals and lead the way with reading and writing. It’s going to be awesome! I look forward to finishing the book tomorrow before starting book 49!

In the meantime, go get a copy of Sparks in the Dark and get inspired to implement great changes in your school in regards to reading and writing with purpose and excitement. Be sure to follow Travis and Todd on Twitter at @teachermantrav and @techninjatodd, respectively. Follow the hashtag #SparksintheDark for awesome conversation and ideas to integrate reading and writing into every content area. Check out Todd’s website here and Travis’s website here for more resources, including blogs! The podcast below from Vicki (@coolcatteacher) Davis is an amazing look into the book and the hearts of these two astounding educators! *I highly recommend 10-Minute Teacher Podcast – always! Great resources, conversation, and doesn’t take up a lot of your time. Win-Win-Win!*

Finally, hop over to the flipgrid and share your own story of a time when you saw sparks in the dark! This may be how you create a lifelong love of reading and writing in your school, classroom, or district. It may be a story about a student who finally “got it” and fell in love with literacy because of “that book”. Share with us! Andrea Paulakovich (creator of this amazing flipgrid space and the idea of global collaboration on all DBC, Inc book on flipgrid) and I would love for you to add your thoughts to the flipgrid!

Speaking of book 49 (which I will begin ONLY after I finish the last few chapters of Sparks in the Dark – remember, we’ve established that trust now, yes?)… Sean – it’s time! It’s FINALLY time! I have the best story about my friend Sean, and how we met and mutually connected to Dave Burgess in 2015! I cannot wait to share that story with you when I finally get to read, connect, reflect, and create an implementation plan for his book that released this summer! I’ve been waiting for this moment all summer, Sean! Book 49 is called The Pepper Effect and is written by my friend (and “neighbor”), Sean Gaillard!