Sunday, February 21, 2016


Our school's focus is on "feedback".

This is now a dreaded word in my school.  Even the AP is tired of meetings around this topic.  It doesn't even apply to the EOG in my state, it only applies to writing.

We have the students complete the "writing task" (no longer a prompt, essay, or paper), and are supposed to grade it using the state rubric and give feedback in the final product.  

Here's the problem: I don't think that the final product is the only time you should give feedback.  Feedback is a process, not a destination or merely part of the outcome.  So, when the district admin ask for our quarterly writing folders, we (all social studies, science, math, and language arts teachers) supply high, medium, and low examples of student writing (three of each, btw).

Then, we get the lecture that our feedback is not good enough, even though we have all spent time responding to the student writing samples, making corrections, assessing, and giving feedback according to the rubric and task.  

If admin wants to see quality feedback, they need to observe the process of the writing task.  I love using Google Docs with students because I can comment on anything at any time, students can make corrections as they go (not wait until the end), AND anyone with access to the Doc can "see revision history" to see how the student has edited and revised due to the feedback of peers and teachers.

As you can see, Students have gone through an entire thought process before they turn in their final product.  Feedback has to be integrated into the process, and as my colleague said during our last PLC, "We don't need to be comparing apples and oranges (narratives to argumentative pieces to research pieces to expository pieces).  We need to compare apples to apples: compare the student's journey from year to year as they write narratives.  How does their writing evolve over time?  That's where they need the feedback!  You made the same mistakes last year and the year before.  This is what you need to focus on."  Amen, sister, Amen.

Feedback: a process, NOT a final destination.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Gaffclass' Recommended Apps & Extensions

I'm not getting paid for any of these recommendations (I wish they would!), but these are the best tools I use with and without students in my classroom.

Symbaloo--My Symbaloo says a lot about the websites I use, and it's updated constantly.  Of course, these are web-based, but some also come as apps in the iTunes, Google Play, and Chrome Web store. I use all of these with my students.

Chromebook apps in addition to the ones listed above:
Google Keep (available in iTunes & Android stores)

Student Assignments/Teaching:
Google Classroom
The QR Code Generator
Pear Deck

Video Projects:
TechSmith Snagit
Voice Recorder
Pixton for Google Chromebooks


YouTube Capture App
Prezi (available on web)
Thinglink (available in iTunes & Android stores & web)
Book Creator
GradeCam (available in iTunes & Android stores & web)<--ASSESSMENT HEAVEN!!
iPromptPro--a teleprompter for speeches
Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Google Earth
Kindle (available in iTunes & Android stores & web)
Booksource Classroom--my entire classroom library is digital & sends reminders when books are due!
Google Translate

Gaffclass' MUST HAVE Chrome Extensions: (I use them daily!)
Awesome Screenshot
TechSmith Snagit
Google Translate
Google Calendar
Send to Google Classroom
Save to Google Drive
The QR Code Extension URL Shortener

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Google Docs--Offline

This is the most common problem at my school:  "I can't do anything because it keeps saying 'waiting to connect!'  Can I get another computer?"

Unfortunately, getting another computer won't help.  We use Samsung Chromebooks in 7th grade.  Chromebooks act 95%+ in the "cloud".  The reason we can't connect is because our server can't support the amount of devices we have connecting to it.

Our awesome tech crew is working diligently to improve our accessibility in each school in our district, thanks in part to our former superintendent, who placed a priority on improving technology during his tenure.  HOWEVER, we need to be prepared.

How to get OFFLINE in Google Docs (Slides, Sheets, Drawings, too!)

If that's not enough, I created a video for my students to follow to earn their Chromebook Licenses.  View it here:
NO MORE EXCUSES!  Get working:)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Tools I'm committed to using this year

I go to tech workshops often. #hpselead

For daily/weekly in class activities:
GAFE, including Google Classroom
Gradecam & Socrative

For professional branding & classroom branding:


Monday, July 27, 2015

Interactive Notebooks in ELA when a teacher goes techy

I know what you're thinking.  "Not another interactive notebook post!"  Trust me, I know.  I've been using "interactive" student notebooks (ISN) for years, every year something different.  I have a pinterest board with 212 pins, JUST about interactive notebooks!  Maybe the world is ready to get rid of them by now and ride the digital wave.  Then again, maybe not.

I'm a techy teacher (#hpselead), but I also know the value of holding paper in my hand or jotting notes down in my own squirrely cursive and doodles.  So, yet again, this year my "interactive" student notebooks will be changing.

<Tech>First, I have begged my principal to let me go to online writing portfolios.  I hate all that filing of chicken-scratch, stapled-5-times, paperclips-falling-out, no-real-scope-&-sequence--YUCK!  It takes additional time to file and RE-file (4 times per year) those manila folders in the workroom.  Why can't I just send you a link and you can look at any sample you want at your convenience?  NO MORE pre-writing, drafting, editing, final drafting, peer editing, really-this-is-the-final-copy in my ISN's.  I can app-smash all that together online anyway. (that's a whole other post.). 

<Low-tech>Secondly, my students have struggled (for years) to keep up with the table of contents in their notebooks. Some students do it, but most do not.  Some skip pages when explicitly told not to.  I have even tried to start at the front AND back at the same time with different categories--oy vey!  This year, I came across a pin that recommended doing UNIT tables of contents--eureka!  We can stay together on the same page, no matter what class, and label as we go!  I have fallen in love with creating my own tabs with my Cricut Expression, but I'm just going to use the copier this year.  (I did purchase some bright colored paper, though!) The tabs I created for this year's notebook go across the top of the first RIGHT page of a new unit. The first LEFT page will be for Activating Prior Knowledge (APK) of the subject. Notice there are two different sizes--regular spiral and composition notebooks.

<Low-tech meets Tech>Here is where it gets a bit sticky.  I'm going to try to #flip my vocabulary lessons this year.  I'll send them a link to a video or slideshow (yay for tech!), and when students come into class, they will have to complete an activity in their ISN (yay for differentiated low-tech!).  For those who don't have access to the viewing at home, they can catch up quickly in class and then complete the activity. I'll have "high flyer" work for students who complete the activity quickly, of course.  I'll also have all resources, cut-outs, and activities posted to our Google Classroom site.  If any student is absent, they can see what they missed, and go over it as many times as they need to.

Last, but not least, is how I'm going old-school ISN.  I have never done the "Right-side=teacher input, Left side=student output".  We've taken the notes and made each page our own.  This year, I AM going old school.  Yes, we will have sides.  Yes, students will be "graded" on their OUTPUT, not my input.  I am wary of the typical middle schooler reactions, "But I can't draw!" "I'm not an artist!" "Do I have to?"  Yes, you have to, and all you have to do is TRY to put it into a format YOU understand.

I will be happy to find an ISN middle-ground between "I'm all tech" and "Students need something in their hands".  I hope this year is it!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Rumerations after 10 years in middle school...

"What makes a better teacher?" 

The real question is "What makes a teacher better?"  I think those are two different questions.

Test scores?
Open mindedness?
Willingness to put yourself out there to others in all your (not so) glory?
Keeping your head down and eyes on the job?
Relationships-with parents, students, colleagues?
High expectations?
The good teacher?  The best teacher?  The fun teacher?

Finding a balance between work life and personal life.
Doing what you love because you love it, not because you have to <love> it.
Taking the students as they are right now, and guiding them toward their future selves.
Fail Faster, Fail Forward, Fail, Fail, Fail, because you keep trying.  Think Moonshot.
Give more feedback than grades.
Self-reflection. Another piece of mommy wisdom I am trying to impart on my 3 year old when she gets distracted while walking and almost runs into someone/something: "Remember where you've been; always watch where you're going."
Grow your personal learning network (PLN) because it's fun meeting other nerds like you!
Two heads are always better than one--name one successful person who has done it all on his/her own.
Accept the consequences of your actions, or inactions.
Be kind.  Always be kind.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Chromebook & BYOD License

Most of my PLN comes from Pinterest or Twitter these days.  I see amazing things happening in classrooms all around the world, and I think, "How can I do that in @Gaffclassroom?!"  Well, this is one of those brilliant ideas; I can't believe I didn't think of it first; Now tech is going to be so much easier to implement; Whew!

The inspiration for adding an additional week of tech integration to my already full 180+ days is SimplySuzy. She teaches fourth grade and starts the year by requiring students to earn iPad licenses, so I've had to take the idea of earning a "license" to use iPads and tweek it for middle schoolers who use Chromebooks, as well as BYOD.

Get the License and pre-reqs check off sheet here.  Please MAKE A COPY before editing anything in this folder.  I created the actual license in Microsoft Publisher with a gift certificate template, but had to upload it as a PDF.  I'm sure there's a way to create it in Google Drawing, but I'm not that familar with Drawing yet.

Each year, we've been lucky enough to improve our technology.  Now we share a set of 32 web-based Samsung Chromebooks amongst 7 teachers (really just 4).  It's better than constantly-outdated, slowing-down, heavy-as-all-get-out, 2013-era mini-laptops everyone else requests.  7th grade teachers like to keep on the forefront of technology:)  I digress.  Last year was our first year implementing these chromebooks as a grade-level, and I'd say we did a pretty good job, because we had no idea what we were doing.  However, by March, we were getting fed up with students not knowing how to do simple things, like titling a document, going offline (when our infrastructure can't keep up with all the devices we have using it), and most of all, PUTTING THEM AWAY NEATLY and CORRECTLY!  Oh, how many times my colleagues and I cursed those "irresponsible students" for leaving the cart a mess after class!  Well, okay, <hangs head in shame> it was partly our fault.  It's not that we didn't teach them, we just weren't all consistent across classes to enforce the expectations.

This year, as the resident eLeader on the hallway, I will be in charge of a series of specific requirements students must complete in order to earn their Chromebook License.  I will use a spreadsheet to check off each step and when the student is through, he or she will earn the coveted Chromebook License!  Since I am experimenting with the #flipclass and #blendedlearning environments, I've made screencasts of some of the requirements and posted them to YouTube.  If you can use them in your class, feel free!  Find them on my Channel here.

In order to bring in their own device, they will have an optional "BYOD Endorsement" list of items to get checked off.  Students can earn the BYOD Endorsement at any time during the year (maybe they get a new device for Christmas), but still have to complete the required steps.

At any time, the license and/or endorsements can be taken away, or "suspended" for a specific amount of time, a required re-licensure, or maybe even never-to-be-returned.  I think I'm going to design a "jail" for the licenses similar to this: 
I've been given the advice to "punish the behavior, not the technology."  So, I'm hoping that by instituting this licensure system, the students can be held accountable and not get careless with the devices, Chromebook or BYOD throughout the ENTIRE year.