Sunday, August 31, 2014

7 Ways to Increase Student Engagement

Who doesn't love infographics?

I'm a VERY visual learner. I'm the person who would rather read the transcript of a video than watch it, and I find myself itching to see the words on the page when someone reads something to me. I love infographics because they organize and highlight important information into bite-sized chunks. I stumbled across the infographic below while on Pinterest, and visited the website where it can be found. The website is, and they have a TON of resources. 

Enjoy and share this infographic, and be sure to check out the website!

7 Ways to Increase Student Engagement

Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

An Introduction to Open-Ended Projects in Physics - Guest post by Sabrina Stanley

Today's guest post is by Hoover High School teacher, Sabrina Stanley. As I was visiting classrooms last week, Sabrina was in the hallway with her students as they were doing motion experiments. We chatted a bit and she told me about one of the first assignments she gave to her physics students this year. I asked her to write a blog post about her experience.

I gave students the prompt to create a 2 minute video on “Motion.”  These were only three parameters: 1) it had to be a video, 2) length of 2 minutes, and 3) subject of motion. 

I expected that an open ended assignment would appeal to teenagers’ creativity and need for individualization.  What I have encountered, in some instances, is discomfort and unease.  Some students are conditioned to operate with a rubric which prescribes exactly what to include and how to format it.  These students are completely out of their comfort zone since their options are limitless; they have not accepted that the decisions they make about their project can earn them full credit. 

When I polled the class their opinions ranged from “Love it!” to “Hate it!”  The ones who do not prefer this assignment platform said they didn’t like it because it was vague, there were too many options, they were lacking ideas, and it didn’t tell them what to do.  One student said, “I like for you to tell me what to do so I can get it done without having to go through the planning process.”  

This reinforces to me that my students need more open-ended prompts such as this to get them engaged in the learning process.  The videos students are submitting range from boring to exciting.  I think the videos reflect the students’ personal levels of creativity as well as engagement; the videos are as diverse as the students.  While this project is appealing to a specific subset of my student population, and I’m glad they have this creative outlet to explore physics, this is only one of many methods I will use to involve my students in learning physics.

Click the link below to see one of my students’ videos:

What do you think about Sabrina's experience? Can you relate?

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Importance of Time - Motivation Monday #34 {August 25, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great one!

My school started back a little over 2 weeks ago. Many of the members of my PLN on Twitter have recently started, and a few will start next week after Labor Day. At this time of the year, we feel the time crunch. While I was looking forward to getting back into a routine, it's taken about 2 weeks for me to figure out how to get done all that I need to get done. 

So in today's post I wanted to share quotes about time, including one of my favorites:

Here's a link to an earlier post I wrote titled, Five Time Management Tips for School Leaders.

Hope you have a spectacular week and year!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

One Mom Apologizes for Turning into One of "Those" Moms

** I have permission from the parent who emailed me to share this on my blog. I promised not to use her name or her son's name. 

Last week, we had to make some changes to our master schedule. Due to an influx of students as well as some schedule changes at the start of the year, our Pre-AP Biology classes were over capacity. The National Science Teachers Association recommends no more than 24 for lab safety and adequate individual workspace, so we try to follow that guideline as much as possible. 

As you can imagine we had unhappy parents and students since schedules had to be changed, and it included lunch periods (our freshmen eat one period earlier than the upperclassmen, and the entire class is divided between 2 lunch waves.) One way we were able to help students deal with the change was by letting students remain in their "old" advisory/lunch class but still keep the new academic classes. 

We had several calls and emails from discouraged parents, including the one below.

The parent emailed our 9th grade counselor, Dr. Grant, on Friday, and our counselor responded and cc'd me along with our administrator in charge of scheduling. The counselor told her that we were sorry we had to make the change, explained the reason, and stated that she hoped that the student would be able to accommodate the change and be successful this year. The parent responded, writing to the counselor: 

"I really do understand where you are coming from but I would like to discuss this further possibly in person. I feel pretty strongly about this.Can I come after school today or first thing Monday morning?"
At the end of the day on Friday, she wrote to me and the other administrator:
 Good afternoon! I would love to talk to you about a schedule change that was made to my child’s schedule yesterday at the end of the day.  Let me be up front enough to say that this was not the end of the world and after having 4 kids go through the high school I have never made a request before. [My son] was changed out of [a teacher's] 4th period class and switched to 5th with [the same teacher] and switched 4th to a pre-AP biology. This 4thperiod class really mattered to him and it was his comfort zone. He was acclimated to his advisory and now apparently that is switched too. Freshman year was rocking ……. I have requested that he be changed back to his original schedule and Dr. Grant said to contact you. In 20 plus years I have never made a request and I do understand that you guys have a tremendous task to balance numbers. Would you please consider this? I will gladly meet face to face to discuss this if need be.
On Saturday morning, I checked my email, and the parent had emailed me again. This time, the subject line read:

get your coffee/caffiene, prop up your feet and read this apology/retraction!!

She had emailed me, the counselor, and the two teachers of 4th and 5th periods. I was curious to read what she was sending now!

Here's what she wrote:
I am 53, I have had 3 children graduate from HHS and work in education. Up to yesterday, I have remained a pretty sane woman. I know how hard it is to balance numbers,and deal with parents and I know what it is like to deal with "those" parents.  
I am sooooo sorry that I turned into one of "those" moms. 
To be honest I'm a little ashamed. [My son] is such an easy kid and he is always that kid who is so flexible and we always put him in the situations where nobody wants to be because honestly, he is always fine! When he came home Thursday night with the schedule change the only thing he said was "I wish we could get it changed back. 4th period was my favorite class ever (including lunch and advisory)."
My response was good (believe it or not).....I said "I can ask but they may not be able to change it back" and his response was "It will be fine. it just stinks!" Think that is why I went to bat because he never asks and just goes with the flow! Had I been smart and sat on this until Monday, it would have resolved itself because he came home yesterday and said the schedule was "ok." 
He said "Guess I am supposed to branch out anyway and meet more kids since I am in Freshman Faces". 
Shame on me over and over. When I read the statement in the email that said that how you fixed it "should reduce some of the stress of the class change" I had to laugh at myself. although [my son] did not like it, he was not at all "stressed".....I was!  I never react and this time I did and got a reminder why I should not fix things but pray about them first and wait instead of having a knee jerk reaction! Wish I could say I was off my meds and that would explain it..... Only I'm not on any meds.... Maybe I should be! 
Life lesson that I keep learning over and over....think before you speak or react! I have not shared all the back and forth with [my son], I have just shared the lesson to think before reacting. I do hate that kids are getting schedule changes a week into school because [my son] did say that the classes he changed into were just as big. That is a lot of kids! 
Now that I have regained my sanity...what have I done to his schedule? I have not even told him about advisory/lunch. I have confused us all so just tell me what it is, I will tell him , we will move on and I will fade back into the woodwork! 
I included the teachers since they were in on the schedule change! Although [one teacher] already knows me, [his other teacher] needed to know she was not dealing with a crazy woman 
I appreciate you all. Have a great weekend.

Of course, I chuckled at reading her email, and I truly appreciated her sending it. As a mom, I can relate to wanting to jump in at the first sign of discomfort from my kids. As an educator, I understand the importance of letting kids experience discomfort. Most schools that I know of are safe places for kids to learn life lessons. Later in life, this student will be faced with disappointment, change, and discomfort. I want him to deal with a little bit of it now while he's surrounded by adults who care about him. 

I've got a feeling that this student is learning a lot of great things from his mom. She's learning from him, too.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Teachers Make a Difference - Motivation Monday #33 {August 18, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great one!

Share this with everyone you know who is a teacher...

Have an inspiring week!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hoover High School Literacy Plan 2014-15

One of our school-wide goals on our school's Continuous Improvement Plan this year is literacy improvement. With the Alabama adopted College and Career readiness Standards in 2010, our Alabama State Courses of Study for history/social studies, science, English, and technical subjects have literacy standards for grades 6-12.  Additionally, Alabama has a strategic plan for education called Plan 2020. In it, it calls for schools to prepare students so that they are successful for college and/or career upon graduation. 

There are two parts to our literacy plan: 1) use data to inform teachers of students' reading performance and drive instruction (we use GlobalScholar assessments) and 2) teachers learn and use effective literacy strategies throughout the school year. In this blog post I hope to share with you how we will teach the staff members effective literacy strategies and monitor the use of the strategies.

***In February, I heard Dick Allington present at the No Child Left Out Conference, and he lit a fire under me for literacy instruction. Here's my first post: We Can Teach All Kids to Read.  

Here's my post about the initial planning stages. 

In May, I asked for volunteers to be a part of the literacy team. We had 20 teachers to volunteer, and the journey began. The volunteers knew that they were committing to the following:

  • Read The Core Six Essential Strategies for Achieving Excellence with the Common Core
  • Learn, use, and share six strategies with the team and the staff at HHS.
  • Attend a half-day planning workshop in the summer of 2014
  • Attend monthly team meetings August 2014 - May 2015

Carrie Busby, another assistant principal, and I are leading this initiative. We met with the team in the library and shared our excitement for having a school-wide literacy goal. We also gave everyone a book which will serve as the framework for our plan. 

Soon after the meeting, I created a planning document (Google Doc) for us to share. Since the book has six strategies, I divided the group into teams of 3, and asked them to choose the strategy of which their group wanted to be the "expert." I was intentional about the make-up of each team, making sure that there were members of different departments on each team. Some teachers had to introduce themselves to each other on that day!

During the summer, we had an incredible half-day workshop in preparation for this school year. 

Here's the agenda we used for the workshop:

12:00 - 12:30   Meet in sub-groups, review important points from book about strategy (record on large post-it notes)

12:30 - 1:00     "Walk-around" Entire group will walk-around and read the information recorded from each group. (5 minutes per poster)

1:00 - 1:30 Debrief from the walk-around. Opportunity for entire group to ask specific questions of each sub-group. Opportunity for sub-groups to highlight their strategies.

1:30 - 1:40 Break

1:40 - 2:30 Discuss plan for implementation with entire staff. Timelines, expectations, etc.

The discussion and collaboration that day was amazing! Teachers shared what they had highlighted and underlined, and I heard, "This is what I do in my class..." a lot! The teachers had all prepared for a deep discussion on their strategies, and it was exciting to see their passion about their topic.

At the end of the day, we talked a lot about what the implementation would look like. We discussed motivation of staff and ease of use of strategies, and we set what we believe to be realistic timelines and expectations for our staff. At the end of the day, I added our notes to the Google Doc and asked everyone to read over the notes, making any corrections or additions as needed. 

Our plan for 2014-15 looks like this:


By August 21, a video “trailer” will be created to share with staff. (Persons responsible: Hannah, Molly, Isabeth)

On Thursday, August 27, three teams will spend a day sharing their strategies with the staff. (Mr. Hulin has approved subs for this.) Teachers will attend the PD session during their PLC period.
August strategies: Vocabulary’s Code, Reading for Meaning, and Compare & Contrast

On Tuesday, September 16, members of the remaining teams will spend a day sharing their strategies with the staff. (Mr. Hulin has approved subs for this.)
September strategies: Inductive Learning, Circle of Knowledge, Write to Learn

In addition to the training days, the following will occur:
  • Each team will create a 1-page summary sheet for their strategy as well as resources for implementing each strategy. These resources will be made available on LiveBinder.
  • Team members will allow instructional videos to be created from their implementation of strategies in their classrooms. These videos will be used as additional resources for the staff.
  • One book per PLC will be purchased to use as a reference.
  • Lesson plan reflections will include reference to Core 6 Strategy implementation.
  • In January, we will have a “check-in” with staff. One person from each group will spend a day moderating a forum where teachers share how they have been using the strategies in their classes. By having the same literacy team members meeting with teachers all day, it allows for cross-sharing of ideas, and it allows for each strategy to be represented.
  • HHS Teachers will implement at least 1 strategy during the first semester and another one during the second semester. One PLC meeting per month will be dedicated for teachers to discuss and learn from each other about the implementation of the strategies in their classrooms. Meeting minutes will be used as documentation (using PLC Reflection Sheets).

**Data from GlobalScholar (Scantron) assessments and ACT scores will be used to monitor the effectiveness of our implementation.

If you have a school-wide literacy plan or any suggestions for us, feel free to leave a comment and share with us. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Don't Forget to Have Fun! - Motivation Monday #32 {August 11, 2014}

Every Monday I post quotes and/or videos to inspire and motivate you through your week. Get ready for a great one!

We all have work to do, but we also need to seize opportunities to do the things that give us joy. I hope we all follow this little girl's lead...

Have an AWESOME, joy-filled week!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

My New Talk Radio - VOXER

So... I had been hearing this talk about the walkie-talkie app called Voxer. I installed it on my phone and I had my husband to install it on his. Didn't seem like a really big deal... we could leave a "voicemail" on each other's phone through the app. We could also type a message or send a picture. Nothing new. I asked myself, Why would I want this app?

Then I saw a tweet by Brad Currie about a #satchat Voxer group. I knew I needed to give it a try to see if it would deepen my understanding of how to use the app.


Once I became part of the group, I had a reason to use Voxer. I understood that I could be a part of a group of Voxer users and share thoughts, ideas, and feedback via the chat group, much like a twitter chat. The FUN part of being in a Voxer group is hearing all of the accents from around the world! Also, there's just something very personal and special about hearing a human voice rather than just reading words on a page. All of the Voxes (voice messages) are "saved" in the chat, and they're "listed" on the screen like a stream of short podcasts.

Now, on the way to school or on the way home, I open the app and it plays the Voxes one after the other. It's my new talk radio!

I really don't have a good grasp on maximizing it's use or navigating the app, but I am LOVING being part of the #satchat group. I'm still trying to find out who's on Voxer, so I researched how to find people:

***One suggestion for new Voxer users, upload a picture in your profile (just like Twitter.) It makes being found by others a lot easier.***

If you're on Voxer, let's connect!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Goals for the 2014-15 School Year

At the beginning of 2014, I shared My Three Words for 2014. These three words, Discipline, Intentional, and Balance have been the driving force behind personal goals that I have set for myself this year. My goals have been ones that were for me personally (trying to run 500 miles in 2014) as well as for me professionally (leading the literacy team at school.) In this blog post, I will be sharing my goals for the new school year. 

Goal: Increase student voice. I love what principal Jason Markey has done at Leyden High School with allowing students to take over their school's twitter account. I want to follow their lead and allow students to take over the school's twitter account during the year. 

Goal: Lead literacy learning. Literacy has always been important to me, but Dick Allington lit a fire under me when I heard his presentation, We Can Teach All Kids to Read, in February of this year. It has led to the creation of a literacy team at Hoover High School. (I will share the team's plans in an upcoming post.)

Goal: Continue to run and walk as part of the #500in2014 challenge and add back in workouts with my battle rope & kettlebells. If I'm not healthy, I can't give my best to others. Just like they tell you on the airplane, put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then you can help others put theirs on.

Goal: Create more family time. This is my oldest daughter's senior year in high school, so my goal is to be intentional about planning family time together. It's easy for all of us to splinter and be distracted by our own interests, but I plan to create some family experiences for us in this last year before she goes off to college. 

Now, if you've read through what I've typed above and if you've been following my blog or me on twitter, you are probably thinking, "Only 2 professional and 2 personal goals?? No way, Jennifer. You've always got something cookin'!"

Which is true! I DO always have something going. Most recently, I formed The Compelled Bloggers Community with Craig Vroom, did a live Google Hangout on Air for #USedchat, and last week I hosted a linky party on my blog

Tomorrow night I'm doing a GHO panel discussion on blogging with Sarah Thomas (@sarahdateechur) and the D.C. Metro Area Google Educators Group. On August 12th, I'm going to be interviewed by Brian Sztabnik for a Talks With Teachers podcast

So, yes, I admit it. I do have a lot going, but it's because I'm a learner. I'm curious and love learning something new. I also love teaching, and part of that for me is modeling and being able to understand the process, which means I have to do it myself in order to teach others. So while I'm doing lots of things, there are goals that I have that I want to reach. And if I'm not careful, the "things" that I'm doing can get in the way of staying on the path to my goals. 

Clear as mud?

Let's do this!

Edited 2022: During the summer of 2021, we said goodbye to the Compelled Bloggers Community, as we all moved into different directions in our personal and professional lives.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Great Educators Provide a Transformational Experience

I'm a huge fan of the show Extreme Weight Loss and Chris and Heidi Powell, the trainers on the show. The show allows us, the viewers, to follow the weight-loss journey that happens over a one-year span of time.  There's a word that Chris always uses when he talks to the clients that he trains: TRANSFORMATION.

I love the show and record each episode on my DVR, and I've been thinking about the parallels that there are between what Chris does and what great educators do. 

I wonder if Chris Powell read Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess! At the beginning of every show, we see Chris surprise his new client in fun and creative ways. He then tells them, "I choose you."

Great teachers do this, too. They find creative and engaging ways to "hook" kids. They make a connection with their students. And everything in their spoken and unspoken language says "I choose you" to each and every student.

The clients that work with Chris are only selected from a group who have asked Chris to take them on as clients. The student is ready and the master appears. Interesting thing happens to some along the way. It gets hard. They want to quit. They have fear. They want to quit. But Chris doesn't quit on them. They have one of the hardest years of their lives ahead of them, and he stays with them. He never gives up. Even when they cheat on their diets, or skip workouts, or don't believe in themselves. 

Great educators know that children are going to make mistakes. They get it when a student mumbles under his breath when he gets in trouble for coming to class late. Great teachers forgive a student when she copies someone else's homework or doesn't do it at all. Great teachers don't give up on students.

When Chris takes his clients through their first workoust, it's what Chris calls the "fight or flight" workout. He does this with all of his clients to see understand their initial limits. It also serves as a foundation of strength for the year. I've never seen a client give up at their first workout!

Great educators get to know their students and build relationships quickly. They find out the strengths of their students and build on them. They push their students, even when the student doesn't know that he or she is capable of more. Great educators believe that all of their students will grow under their care.

Throughout the seasons, I have watched Chris Powell provide some amazing experiences for his clients. They have visited other countries, had their homes remodeled, received personal make-overs, trained with professional and athletes, and the list goes on. Chris doesn't just train them in a gym and teach them nutrition in a vacuum. He also doesn't just tell them that losing weight will be good for them and leave it at that. He finds ways to motivate his clients to WANT TO lose the weight. 

What if educators did all that they could to find ways to motivate students to WANT TO learn the information for their classes?

At the end of each episode, we get to see the results of the year. 

In most every episode, the person who is overweight is dealing with an emotional struggle. An emotional loss, a shameful event, or even grief has caused the visible symptom of obesity. At school, we have students in our classroom who didn't eat dinner the night before, whose parents have lost their job, who struggle with reading, who don't "fit in," or other "emotional baggage" that they bring with them to school. The symptoms may not be obesity, but it may be acting out, talking back, arriving late to class, and more.

Even though we don't always get to see the transformation, great educators know that they make a difference in a child's life. For some children, an educator will be the one who transforms them. An educator may even save a child's life! Even when they don't see a transformation, great educators plant the seeds for future transformations, and have faith that the seeds will one day grow and bloom.



Sunday, August 3, 2014

Motivation Monday #31 - Link Party {August 4, 2014}

Today is the day! 

Back in June, I had the idea to host a Link Party on my blog, and I thought that all of us sharing Motivation Monday posts would be an awesome way to do a round-up of positive and uplifting blog posts. 

Maybe you have questions about a Linky Party...

What is a Linky Party?
A Linky Party is when the author of a blog (the host) invites the blog readers to link up their blog posts on the same topic. This is often done when a blogger posts an idea for a topic like My Best Getting-to-know-you Activities, or How My School Uses Social Media, Classroom Management Tips, or in this case, Motivational Monday!

Why should I join a Linky Party?
As a blogger, when you link up your post to the original you are widening your audience and increasing the chances of your content being read.
As a reader, linky parties are a great way to find additional information on the same topic.

How do I join a Linky Party?
1. Publish your Motivational Monday blog post today. 

2. You must let your readers know that you've joined the Linky Party. 
There are two ways to do that: a) Find the Linky Button for the linky party in the right-hand margin of my blog page. Below the image you will see code in the widget box. Copy the code and insert it (HTML) into your blog post on the topic. The button will let your readers know that you are participating in a linky party and direct them to the other entries. b) If you're not sure how to embed the button, you can note at the beginning or end of your blog post that you are joining the Linky Party and use the address of this specific blog post.
4. At the bottom of this blog post, click on the Linky button (InLinkz).

5. Fill out the required information

6. You must include the direct link to your post, not your general URL. 

       For example:
Wrong because this links to my blog in general.
Right = because this links to a specific blog post. (Click the title of your post, then copy the address in the address bar.)

I don’t have a blog, how do I participate in the Linky Party?
Participants who don’t have blogs are welcome to join in the discussions by leaving comments on the blog posts of the bloggers who are participating.

What if I already had a different post planned for today, but I want to do a motivational post this week. Can I still join?
Absolutely! And please do!

I can't wait to see what you link up!