Wanted: More Technology

Picture this scene.  The bell has rung.  Students are filing out of the classroom to head to the playground for recess.  One of my students lags behind.  He is one of my reluctant writers.  Before heading out, he utters the words that any teacher would like to hear.  He says, “Mrs. Kozak, I want you to know that I love writing.  I am having fun writing about my animal.”  That comment really warmed my heart.

As a teacher, I try to approach instruction with excitement and enthusiasm.  Some days are better than others, if I must be honest.  For the past few weeks, my students have been working on informative writing.  They have been working on writing animal reports.  I have had to alter my plans a bit since we do not have access to the computer lab this month.   I had plans for students to type their report in the style of a news article with pictures and captions.  However, the computer lab has been closed so that 3rd through 5th grade students can take the Smarter Balance Assessment.  This means my 2nd graders have limited access to technology.  We are unable to do any research, word process, or blog about our learning.  It’s gotten to the point where I have invited my students to bring in their own devices to work around the issue of no computers.  It is frustrating at times, because only a handful of my students have a device to bring in.

Tonight in one of my Twitter chatrooms, we talked about the SAMR model.  It’s a way to integrate digital learning that leads to high levels of student achievement.

SAMR Model

The basic level is substitution.  The highest level is redefinition.  It is difficult to get students to redefinition when you don’t have the technology to do it.

That’s why I value the comments my students make about their learning.  Even with limited technological resources, we are making do.  I wish I had a cart full of iPads or Chromebooks, but I don’t.  Somehow, I have got to give my students a 21st century education, but I am lacking the tools to do so.  I was given one iPad to use with my group of 26 students.  I am still trying to figure out how to utilize it so all my students can get their hands on it.  If anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear it.

My students are so amazing.  There are so many things we could accomplish if only we had the resources.  I am ready to show them how.  All I need are the technology tools.  In the meantime, we will keep plugging along.  I will have to find other ways for my students to show their creativity.  That means that I will also have to get creative!  Am I up for the challenge?  I hope so!



Hard Work Pays Off

Yesterday, my daughter, Malia, performed a solo piece and an ensemble piece during a music festival at the high school.  She had to play her clarinet solo in front of a judge.  The judge listened to her performance, wrote comments, and provided constructive feedback to Malia after her solo.  I am proud to say that Malia’s solo piece, Nocturne from Concerto in G minor, was rated as excellent in intonation, tone, rhythm, technique, and interpretation.  She received a superior in “other factors”, like music selection, stage presence, accompaniment, and proficiency.  After the performance, the judge spoke to her and gave her advice on what to work on.  What I liked is he started out with the positive before the constructive feedback.  What I also noticed is he only gave her 3 things to think about-timing, tone, and making sure her chin was down while she played.  These were all manageable things Malia could work on.

I can only think back to last summer when Malia first started out with the marching band.  In my post, Have No Fear, I wrote about how Malia wanted to quit competitive band and switch to non-competitive.  Since then, she has worked hard to improve.  She even goes to extra tutoring once a week after school.  Malia has put a lot of effort into practicing the clarinet.  I was amazed at how she could play by herself in front of a judge.  I told her I could not have done that when I was her age.

In the end, it wasn’t really about the judge’s score.  It was the sense of accomplishment that Malia felt about doing her best.  The lesson I hope she came away with is that hard work really does pay off.  I keep trying to repeat that to her.  I am trying to help Malia see that it isn’t the letter grade or the test score she gets that is important.  We just want to see her try her best and put effort in the thing she is trying to accomplish.

As I go back to my own classroom on Monday, I am going to make sure I remember Malia’s experience.  It helps to give positive feedback before offering constructive criticism.  I need to remember not to bombard my students with too much criticism and only give them what they can manage.  I want to talk about effort and remind my students that you get what you put into it.  Finally, I want students to remember that feeling of accomplishment when they know they gave it everything they had.  That feeling can carry them through life.

Dealing with Disappointment

Today I experienced a little disappointment.  I spent some time feeling badly for myself.  I remembered reading somewhere that a good thing to do in times like this was to write about the things you are grateful for.  I believe this helps put things in perspective and reminds you that this feeling of disappointment will pass.  So, here are the things in my life that I am grateful for today.

1.  An Awesome KaiaFit Workout-A half an hour of power, and then another half hour of yoga.

2.  Crazy Hat and Crazy Sock Day-Today was a spirit day at the school I work at.  Today we could wear our crazy hats and/or socks.  It was awesome to see the creativity among some of the students.  I wore my black cowboy hat with the “bling” on it.  A parent of a former student actually gave it to me when I told her how much I admired it.

3.  Fun and simple art project-My 2nd graders completed an art project that was fun and simple.  It involved drawing chalk and Kleenex.  My students made beautiful spring flowers to beautify our classroom.

4.  The musical, Merrily We Roll Along-I was able to see a performance of this musical with two of my daughters at the high school.  I really didn’t feel like going to the show tonight.  However, I had promised my oldest daughter, Cassie, that we could go tonight.  My youngest daughter, Allison, wanted to come along.  So, the three of us went out to dinner and watched the show.  I am so happy I shared this time with my daughters.

5.  Rain-When we left the theater, it started to rain.  I love the smell of the rain when it first starts falling.  We need the rain in Southern California.  The earth will be fresh and clean.

6.  The Support of Friends-Man, I have amazing friends.  They are there to support me in good times and in bad.  My friends are ready to pump me up when my ego has taken a beating.  They remind me how much I am appreciated and loved.

7.  My Wonderful Family-My three girls were exceptionally nice to me today.  They gave me all the hugs I needed, sometimes without being asked to.  My husband, Kevin, validated my feelings.  He shared in my disappointment, but he didn’t let me wallow in it.

Reading my list makes me realize I have much to be thankful for.  In the whole grand scheme of things, this disappointment is just a little blip on my radar.  If I wake up feeling badly tomorrow, I am going to try using this technique again.  It really works.  I am feeling a little better already.  🙂

What Do You Do With An Idea?

A few weeks ago, I attended my first EdCamp Ignite.  It was a great experience.  I learned a lot from the teachers who attended.  I am excited to say that there will be another EdCamp Ignite next month.  I already signed up for it.

In any case, while I was there, I met a teacher who shared the book, What Do You Do With An Idea?, by Kobi Yamada.  It is a wonderful picture book about a boy who gets an idea.  He doesn’t know what he should do with it.  He wonders if he should keep it to himself or share it with others.  He is afraid of being laughed at about his idea.


I really enjoyed reading the book because it explains exactly how some people might feel about having a new idea.  Will people like the idea?  Or will they make fun of it?  Is the idea worthwhile?  Or is it a waste of time?  I really connected with the struggles the character goes through.  I love how Kobi Yamada brings it all together on the very last page.

I have plans for this book.  I am going to use it in conjunction with my next Genius Hour.  For next time, instead of focusing on new learning, I want my students to think of ways they could change the world.  This book would tie in perfectly with that concept.  I also found this video by Kid President.

Genius Hour: The Finale

Since my last post which dealt with the death of my friend, LaRie, I have not been in the mood to write about anything.  I just haven’t been able to motivate myself to get back to my blog.  Today is my first attempt to get back into the swing of things.  Life must go on, and I must try to make each day better than the day before.  So, I will begin by writing about my students’ Genius Hour presentations from two weeks ago.

On Friday, April 4th, my students presented their learning from Genius Hour.  Each one of my students selected a topic of interest that they wanted to learn more about.  We had everything from how to make a blueberry pancake to coding.  This was my first attempt at Genius Hour, and I have to admit I was very nervous.  No, make that afraid of what might happen.  I am slowly learning that this is actually a good feeling.  🙂  In any case, my students worked diligently every week doing research.  They blogged about their ideas and commented on other people’s ideas.  Some of them brought their own device every week to help them with their research.  Parents were involved in supporting their child.  Volunteers came to my classroom each week to help us during Genius Hour.  It was amazing.

On the day of the presentations, you could literally feel the energy and excitement as my students walked through the door.  Some came with posters, models, and props.  Others handed me their thumb drives so I could be ready to plug them into the computer when it was their turn to present.  Here are some pictures of the projects.

GH 1
Learning About Lasers

GH 5
Bunny Facts

GH 6
A Lesson in Robotics

GH 8
Acoustic Guitars

During the presentations, I had my students take notes.  After the presentations, they had to reflect on what they learned about.  They also had to write about how they felt after they were done.  Did they feel like geniuses?  Many of my students enjoyed the experience.  Most of them talked about how nervous they were at the beginning.  They realized that presenting in front of the class was not as bad as they thought.  Parents were invited to watch and listen.  After the presentations many of them told me Genius Hour was a wonderful experience for them, too.

I learned that this kind of activity has many benefits.  It was scary for me, but I was so happy at the end.  I realized that learning is messy.  It’s okay if things don’t work out the first time.  I learned that I don’t have all the answers.  Like the students, I relied on research and talking to an expert who would help steer me in the right direction and motivated me to keep moving forward (Thanks Kriscia!).

I am sad Genius Hour is over for now.  But, I am still trying to incorporate that inquiry into other parts of my day.  My students are asking for another Genius Hour.  I am not sure if there is time.  The end of the year is fast approaching.  Before I know it, it will be June!  We shall see what we can do.

Goodbye to a Friend

Friday started out so wonderfully.  I knew it was going to be a great day because I was able to hit all the green lights on the way to work.  Seriously, not one red light.  When I got to work I thought that was pretty amazing!  My students were presenting their Genius Hour projects on Friday, and I was so excited for this.  You could feel the energy in my classroom when the students entered.  It was electric.  Friday was our minimum day which meant I was going to start my spring break at 12:56.  Yes, everything was lining up for a perfect day.  But, it wasn’t to be.

On Friday, I learned that a dear friend was not expected to survive complications from an aneurysm.  I am devastated and shocked.  I wanted to take a moment and share a few things about my friend, LaRie.  I met LaRie over 20 years ago when she transferred to the school I was teaching at.  The school was Pomerado Elementary in Poway.  Through the years at Pomerado, we formed a tight-knit friendship with other teachers at the school.  We lovingly referred to each other as the Pomerado Princesses.  Man, we went through everything together.  LaRie, Laura (another friend), and I were the youngest teachers on staff.  We were single back then.  We experienced the boyfriends and the breakups with boyfriends.  We all got married in the same year within months of one another.  I married Kevin  in February 1995.  LaRie married Tom in May, and Laura married Dean in August of the same year.  The three of us went through pregnancies together.  I was first, Laura followed, and then LaRie had her son, Michael.  Those were fun years.  We were truly a family at Pomerado.

Sadly, our Pomerado family split up.  A few of us moved to a new school, Shoal Creek (where I teach now).  Some of us remained at Pomerado.  LaRie was one who stayed.  We did not let the fact that we were separated stop us from being present in each others’ lives.  We decided to form a book club.  That way we would have to get together at least once a month and keep our family ties strong.  We laughed at the beginning because book club was just another excuse to have a party.  I think that is when LaRie gave our group the name “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Party.”  Yeah, we loved a party.  Sometimes we talked about the book we read, but mostly we talked about our families, and work, and what we were up to.  This was the best part of book club.

This is why it is so hard for me to believe that LaRie will no longer be with us.  Well, I know physically she won’t be with us.  But, her spirit is so strong.  I know she will continue to be present.  There are so many things I will miss about my friend.  She was always so assertive.  She was never afraid to speak her mind even if she knew people did not agree with her.  I always admired her for that and wished I could be more like her.  Family meant everything to her.  She was a loving wife to her husband, Tom.  She was a wonderful mother to her son, Michael.  She was so proud of her family and talked about them often.  LaRie always made you feel welcome.  She was always in for fun.  She had an infectious laugh.  However, the one thing I will miss the most about LaRie is how she always greeted me when I walked in the door.  “Hey Jude!”  This was always followed by a big hug.  Yes, I will miss that happy greeting and that hug the most.

Computer Lab Success!

This post is a continuation of yesterday’s computer lab fiasco.  I have to say that today went much better.  We actually got a lot done.  I found that front loading my students before we actually went into the lab helped.  Today, I shared two new resource tools with my students.  The first was Worldbook online.  This is an online encyclopedia.  My students are doing animal reports, so I showed them how to search for information.  Students were able to print up the information in the lab.  The second tool I shared with my students is how to access the school’s card catalog.  I had my students search for books related to their animal.  They wrote down the title, author, and call number.  I am going to give the information to the librarian, and hopefully, she can pull the books ahead of time for me.  Finally, I asked my students to access the Google Docs folder that I created.  Then, they created a new document.  It was successful.  In fact, at one point in the morning, my friend, Laura, asked if she could borrow a few of my tech experts to go to the computer lab and help her third graders.  This is what it is all about.  Students teaching students.  After school, Laura and I got together to manage her Google Docs files.  We are both truly learning about this application, and we are supporting each other the whole way.  It is a great parallel.  Students helping students, and teachers helping teachers.

The sad part is that after spring break the computer lab will be closed for the rest of the year due to testing.  The 3rd through 5th graders have to take the SBAC.  At the conclusion of this test, we are scheduled to take the MAPS test.  The lab will be reopen in June, the week before school gets out.  Since my school does not have iPad or Chromebook carts, we will not get to continue typing our reports.  I have got to get creative.  I might activate a Bring Your Own Devce (BYOD) policy every day.  I had only been allowing devices on Friday, but that may have to change.  That way, my students can work on their reports in class.

We shall see what happens.  For now, I am pleased with my students’ progress.  I am equally pleased with my progress.  My friend, Kim, commented that it was good for students to see their teachers struggle and to figure things out.  I have to agree.  That is how the learning happens.  Laura and I both said that we will be more prepared next year when we attempt this.  The key is being okay with the chaos in the beginning.  I am learning that after the chaos comes the calm.