Welcome to the Digital Learning Lair… A Glimpse into 2014

Sara Harp Minter (@saraharpminter) - Twitter.clipular

Well I have not blogged here since June of 2012. That was the last time I was technically a teacher. Yes I am certified in two states, and yes I am a teacher at heart, but until August of this year, I wasn’t technically a teacher. I consulted for two years, gained such great experience, but really… at the heart of it… I was a lost teacher. Even though I tried to deny it, I missed elementary school. I missed little hugs, crazy shenanigans, and all things elementary. So when Kate Matthews (@gatechteach) pointed me in the direction of a interview for an elementary instructional technology position, it seemed like maybe I would have a chance to get back into that wonderful elementary world once again. After two years of consulting however, I was well aware my vision of technology may not line up with that of school leadership. Luckily I was quite wrong, and at Sara Harp Minter Elementary  (@saraharpminter) I was going to be right at home. Not only was I about to start working in a wonderful school, but that school just happens to be a 5 minute commute… and a wonderful place for my children to go to school as well. To say this was an abundant blessing would be an understatement.

I could go on and on about the great things that happen at our school, but I want our media products to speak for themselves. I see students (all 750 in K-5) once every three weeks. That time is truly a whirlwind. I work hard to hit each of the ISTE standards twice, and infuse as many digital learning opportunities as possible into our short time together. I have opened up BYOT and let students bring a device to my room any time. I have started plans to redesign the learning space, and let kids be a valuable part of that change. I have a fourth grade digileaders team, and they meet with me twice a week during lunch. I hope to instill in them how important digital leadership truly is! Here is a little taste of what we do during those lunch meetings!  https://audioboom.com/boos/2698689-shmes-digileaders-review-the-wobble-stool-by-kore

With this short recap I will say this…  I need to once again use this blog to share the amazing things going on in our school. I need to blog regularly… and now I will! 2015 is the year to get back in the game! For now… enjoy a few media products that showcase the best of this fall at Sara Harp Minter. Follow us on Twitter… and keep an eye on the #shmesdll hashtag too! Great things are happening, and I am thrilled to be one small part of it!



So now that you are caught up… I hope you will stay tuned for 2015 and all that is in store of us!

I call it a BackChannel- May we agree to disagree?

This summer I am officially free! Yep- Not one single required professional development course lined up for me. I should be dancing in the rain.. singing “Schools Out For the Summer” and living it up, right? Well instead, I am sitting in front of my Mac – With a Tweetdeck full of hashtags to educational conferences around the world. Why in the world would I do such a thing? Didn’t I just prove my PD requirements were null and void this summer? Sure… but as a professional, continuous learning is important. I am not content doing things the way I have always done them, and I do want to grow and learn in regards to educational technology, curriculum, instruction, and professional development. Unfortunately I don’t have the opportunities to get to every conference out there… But I have a way to still learn and grow, all thanks to the BackChannel!

When I share the concept of BackChanneling with others, I get one of two responses. Either the educators think that is one neat way to learn, or they look at me with questionable eyes and pose the idea that BackChanneling is disrespectful to the speaker. It sends the message that one is not listening and has better things to do than participate in the lecture.

I tend to always err on the side of hopefulness, in that I hope I can illustrate enough knowledge on a matter to help someone who disagrees with me, see a potentially different view. While I am not always successful, I do attempt to bring about a different view on BackChanneling by sharing this.

1) A speaker who does not want you sharing what they have to say, might not be saying the right things.

2) A speaker can have a limited audience with just the attendees in the room, or could have a global reach with their words via a BackChannel.

3) With busy conferences and multiple speakers, why should I only be able to gain the knowledge of the speakers I go to see? BackChanneling lets me know what is happening in other sessions… which multiplies my learning exponentially.

4) Whether I can attend a conference or not has a lot of variables. Finances, travel, family or work responsibilities all weigh in on what I can and can not attend. Should I not be able to learn alongside my peers because I can’t afford to get to a conference, or I have a prior commitment? The BackChannel makes it possible for me to participate as the conference is taking place, or look back at the information shared at a more convenient time. Isn’t that a valuable learning opportunity for an educator?

So whether you are a proponent of the backchannel, or a skeptic in the wings… I hope  you take part in at least one BackChannel this summer and find that there is something to be said for a profession full of people who believe that sharing and growing together, is far better than competing and outdoing one another with a collection of held back knowledge. So I am proud to be a BackChanneling girl… and if perhaps I did not change your mind,  can we maybe just agree to disagree?

EdCamp or Bust.. Educators on a Mission…

In the early days of “California of Bust”, on the back of wagons heading West, the message was clear: Bigger things awaited them, and they were determined to get there, one way or another. This message seems to me to be the perfect fit for the nature of EdCamps. If you have never been a part of one, you might not fully understand this analogy, so let me explain.

Educators have long since the beginning of time been required to take part in professional development opportunities in order to stay current on educational practices. Most often choices are limited, if at all, and one simply goes through the motions, not intentionally, but by circumstance. How much learning takes place in those inservice opportunities?  What percentage of take away is truly applied in the classroom in the days that follow?  As educators we know that engaging our audience is at the core of growth and learning, and so some pretty smart people in education sat down and redefined what PD should look like… And out of that ….EdCamp was born!

EdCamps are the “unconference” for a a reason… They have no agenda, no planned presenters, no real plan of action. It is simply educators coming together to network, share ,and decide WHAT they want to learn, and WHO in that room can lead the discussion. The agenda for the day is set as attendees come together and find they have something they can share. The best part of it all… EdCamps are planned by people like you and me…. Not districts or educational content developers.

Last spring I myself took on Co- Chairing #PadCampDallas with Venita Jones (@vcjtx). #PadCamp is simply a spin off of the EdCamp philosophy, focused specifically on using tablets and handheld devices in the classroom. I won’t lie, it was a lot of work planning such an event, but at 8 am on Saturday March 24th, I looked around, and found myself surrounded by a group of truly dedicated professionals. These educators gave up their Saturday to learn… willingly… with no PD prodding by their districts or administration. They came because they had a tablet, and they wanted to know the best ways to engage their students with it…  Amazing to say the least.

So where does that leave us in this EdCamp or Bust analogy? Well look around.. there is undoubtedly one happening in a city near you this year. EdCamptAtl is my next stop. On September 8th, I have a feeling I am going to look around Woodward Academy and have that same moment I had back in March. I am going to be proud I am part of a profession that gives their all for the betterment of our students, determined to find the best ways to engage these learners of the 21st century.  Hope to see you there… EdCamp or Bust!

Final Post of the Year- What Did You Learn From Me?

As the year comes to an end, I felt that the best way to conclude my teaching career blog experience would be to let my kids do the blogging. Only they can truly tell you what I was able to teach them this year. Brutal honestly from 3rd graders is the only way to go! So I hand if off to them, to share our memories of learning from JVand3rd 2011-2012

Abi-Mrs.Vandergrift taught me how to prepare myself for 4th and 5th grade.

Alessandra- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us a lot of things about math, like charts and graphs.

Grete Mrs. Vandergrift also taught me that even though there are annoying people, you still have to work with them sometimes.

Lauren- Mrs. Vandergrift taught me how to line symmetry.

Cassidy- Mrs. Vandergrift taught me about angles.

Sebastian- Mrs. Vandergrift taught me area and perimeter.

Kyle- Mrs. Vandergrift taught me how to mutliplication and divison.

George- Mrs. Vandergrift has supported me with learning to do square roots.

Jesse- Mrs. Vandergrift taught me geometry.

Eli- Mrs. Vandergrift helps kids solve their problems.

Leart- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us cursive and decimals, and prepared us for 4th grade.

Kristin- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us to write poetry.

Sydney- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us how to think and work hard.

Brayden- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us how to do Kidblog.

Sawyer- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us how to copy and paste 🙂

Rafay-Mrs. Vandergrift has taught us the life learning skill, that you have learn this stuff now, because you will have to use it in your older life.

Keegan- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us with a lot of technology.

Riley- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us about the Solar System

Sarah- Mrs. Vandergrift taught math in a fun way.

Brooklyn- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us math.

Parmida- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us everything.

Ellie- Mrs. Vandergrift taught us everything we need to know to go to 4th grade even though we make her a little crazy .

Extras from my talkative boys : She taught us how to use technology the right way.

In the past Mrs. Vandergrift has taught us about science in a funny way with Jeff Corwin. 

My girls need to chime in extra too: She has prepared us for our future and the real world.

Needless to say, it has been quite a year. Memories abound, and good stories will always come from our year together. I wish them all the luck in the years to come and hope I instilled in them a love of learning and growing. To the class of 2021- May you always reach for the stars!

The Essential Question: So You Aren’t Going To Teach?

So with only 7 instructional days left in my general education teaching experience here in Texas, I have obviously been quite busy job hunting and looking for the path that I am destined to go down next. I have taught Pre-K, 3rd, and 4th, with ESL and SpEd time in between. That comes to a grand total of 9 years of teaching in the classroom. Where did the time go? Well it went to defining me as an educator. It went to growing and becoming someone with a vision for the future, and a dedication to getting there. It was well spent time indeed. So ultimately every question asked when I say I am moving to Georgia is, “Do you have a teaching job yet?”. Each time, I explain I do not have a position yet, but that I am applying only for non teaching positions in EdTech, VirtualEd, Professional Development, and HigherEd. That leads to puzzled looks, and more questions about WHY I don’t want to teach. I assume most expect me to go into the hard times of education :  Low pay, more expectations, changing standards, but that is certainly not my answer. My answer is simple… It is time to move on and find my next challenge. It would be easy to stay in the classroom in some ways. I certainly know how to teach, and have a decent track record over the years 🙂 It is comfortable…. and we all know comfortable is good! For me, it is about pushing myself into something I haven’t done before. It is about getting experience in education that doesn’t involve going into my cozy classroom each day. I really am excited about being pushed to learn something different.

A fortune cookie I got last week said it all: One learns most by teaching others.  That can be read a million different ways… but for me, it was the message I have been thinking about for a while. When I lead an inservice, small teacher group, or just meet with a teacher on the fly- what I love is showing them something they have never seen before and the ways it can serve them in teaching their students. When they start to use it, and tell you how much they love it… well that makes it that much more rewarding! That is exactly what I want to do. I want to be mentoring students, teachers, admins, districts, and random lovers of learning. That doesn’t have to take place from 7:30-3:30 M-F.

So no, I don’t plan on teaching in the elementary classroom in the fall. I plan on making sure I am contributing to education in the 21st century in some way or another…  While I sadly won’t be at ISTE this year, I will be frequenting EdCampAtl, GaETC, and AuthorSpeak2012. I will be working with other educators in these three venues, and making sure I still am teaching someone along the way. The best part about all of those… Lots of people will be teaching me too!  Hope to see you at at least one of those! 🙂

Envisioning Education With New Eyes

As I sit with only 20 days left of my public education path here in Texas, I find myself examining my ideas about what type of learning meets the needs of today’s learners. In thinking back over my last few years of teaching in the elementary classroom, I see there are three different ideals at play. 20% of the kids in the traditional class can quite easily learn and achieve success in the traditional classroom. They are responsible learners, that work hard and regardless of the delivery method, will still come shining through. 50% percent of the room is going to have some struggles along the way in that traditional setting, but would be able to be much more productive in a Flipped Classroom concept. After doing the math, that still leaves 30% of the classroom that isn’t meeting or exceeding their goals on a daily basis. Why? Shouldn’t every child be successful when we change the direction of instruction to meet their needs? Sadly, no… So many factors go into a child’s learning, that we can’t assume by flipping our lessons, and changing our philosophy, that everything will fall into to place for every single student. For those who have struggled year after year, they have, by the intermediate grades now become very set in that reputation. We have all had students like this. They have never turned in homework, are always late with work, and never volunteer or participate in class. No matter what we we do, there are a couple of kids each year, that simply have something standing in their way of success among the 20 other kids in the class that year. Home life,  learning disabilities, trouble with peers or self confidence, all play a part in the 7 hours we spend with them.  Often we can break through those struggles and make some difference, but will the teacher they get year after year do the same? Is there a option for kids who seemingly could be a public education student, but need some kind of alternate learning opportunities? I have in the last few weeks, decided yes. In looking at how I am going to change the path of my education career, I have looked at several options, including virtual schools. So many virtual schools exist, and many have strong mission statements, and great philosophies that meet the needs of kids just like this. Individualized learning with EdTech as the basis, is working for many children in K-12. As an educator, I am so proud to know, that we are really at a point in which we can meet the needs of any type of learner, with never there being a ball dropped. Education has come such a long way, and today we are more than ever leading the way in revolutionizing learning. (Regardless of what our government seems to think.) So no matter what venue of education you hail from, may we all just be delighted in knowing we make a difference!

If you are wanting to know more about virtual schools or flip class concepts see the links below:







So what if we tried this….

So my life has been quite hectic these last 5 months, with major changes ahead. Having been at my school for 6 years now, I am about to embark upon moving at the end of the year, making me think in great extent about what I want to do in my career. Change in the world of education is inevitable. Anyone with any time in the field knows that in this day and age, change is constant. The key to success, is staying open minded and current in what is trending and educationally relevant for your students. I feel I have done just that, and as a result I am ready to take on whatever lies ahead.

So what does this idea of change have to do with the classroom? Well, for a while now I have sat looking at my room, and feeling like I am looking at a stagnant theory of learning. In all the change that has happened over the decades of education, the seating arrangement has done nothing more that move from rows to groups or pods. We go in each year, and put a name tag on A DESK , and that desk belongs to that student all year. Wherever the desk goes, as does the student. Lately I have wondered why this is still even a relevant practice. Are we not staring into the world of differentiation and the flip class model? How can we possibly make either of those work when we have this stagnant seating arrangement in elementary education?  It has weighed on me now for a while, and I have to say I have big ideas about how I believe this must change!

1) No desks– TABLES (round) seating 6-8 kids

2) No name tags- Numbers or colors if you need to identify the group

3) Supplies attached to each chair in a gallon ziploc secured with zip ties (Idea prompted from a trip to LHS Killough when planning #padcampdallas 🙂

4) Teacher & tech area right in the middle

5) Fluid movement ALL Day Long- based on TRUE differentiation

This five step fix to me seemingly allows kids to move throughout the day based on where they are in the Blooms world of learning. Never are they STUCK anywhere! Kids who are strong in LA but struggle with Math are not stuck in a group that doesn’t meet their educational networking needs in all subjects. They are able to grow and move as they grow and learn!

Wherever I end up in the fall, I only hope I can encourage others to think this way, and see what possibilities lie in taking a different approach to simple classroom ideas. No great change can come, without taking great strides toward better educational opportunities.  So what if we tried this…

Networking 3rdGrade Style

So with what has been a whirlwind of a year in my ever courageous plunge into fully integrating technology in my classroom, I still find myself imdulging an ah ha moment that even surprises me! If you are like me, and use technology in a multitude of ways daily, you certainly know that every day is an adventure. Doing it with 3rd graders is even more so an adventure… From…” I forgot my password.”, to “How do I upload this again?”… there is never a dull moment. My recent ah ha moment came a couple of weeks ago when I introduced my students to Glogster, and had them sign up for a single student account with my teacher code. Now, I typically do a mini lesson prior to the lab on the main features… how-to kind of things, but this time decided against it. I showed them where to go, added the link to edmodo, and told them to have at it.  The assignment- Poster Yourself… Who are you? Upon arriving in the lab, I told them that once they were on, they could spend the first 15 minutes just “playing” with the features. Quickly hands shot up with questions galore, but I told them to explore… see what they could do… 

What happened next was the kicker… While being up and roaming in the lab has traditionally been a  NO NO– I saw kids start to get up, walk over to a friend, who was trying to figure out a certain feature, and show them how it worked. Then, two or three were up… helping, showing, suggesting. Soon they returned to their seat, and resumed working on their own poster. This went on for the remainder of our lab time… and I didn’t say one single word!!! What was happening before my own eyes, was educational networking among 8 year olds!  Thus… my ah ha moment….. (as follows)…

In the last couple of years I have felt this stagnant, unexplainable, nagging itch to change roles in education. I haven’t truly known why… that is until this day in the lab. I realized that I don’t believe in the 22 individual desks scattered in groupings around the room. I do not believe in stacks and stacks of papers, or irrational standardized tests being thrown at young children these days. Where I want to be is in that room with TABLES… round ones… with tech hubs in the center. I want to tell my kids that on this day we will be studying 3D objects… and then I want them to network, brainstorm, and use technology to build a base of understanding about 3D objects. I can facilitate learning, using the information they bring to the lesson, give them a project to work on, and then watch, share, and learn right along with them. Imagine that… Project Based Learning… all the while having some authentic assessment in place. A girl can dream, can’t she?

I realize this is a slow moving train we are on here with educational technology implementation in schools, but I am holding out hope… Hope that someone reads this and has a similar ah ha moment… ( And that someone has lots, and lots of say in American Education:)  In the mean time, I suppose I will keep on trucking and making the most of my 22 individual desks…. ** sigh**

Talking Tablets in the Classroom- iPad Style

Well in case you haven’t heard, I am part of what will hopefully be a successful spring #padcampdallas event. I like many educators see value in using IPads in the classroom, and want very much to be a part of bringing together those who also see the value in this wonderful technology opportunity. This seemingly appears to be the best time to showcase some ways I personally use the iPad in my classroom. 
Let’s start with small group… Whether the students work independently on educational apps to reinforce skills, or in a group with me leading the review via the app, it serves as a most captivating tool for my audience. I have all of my 3rd grade apps categorized and grouped for students to have easy access to what skills I need them to review.
Research… There is never ever a question that goes unanswered… When we want to know something… We google it! (Searchy Pants if they are researching.) 
Video and pictures via Science apps… Things seems to come to life on the iPad. It is a opportunity to show my students neat things without searching the Internet and multiple sites for the material.
Show Me App- There are so many ways to use this in whole or small group, but sometimes the little things like modeling cursive letters in different colors makes a big difference for these kids. 
Multiplication Rap Addictions!!! – we started the multiplication raps last month and they are a hit… I used them at first every day, but as they master their facts, I roll them out still a couple of times a week. They love singing their facts to a fun rap tune!
Skype app… No joke, one morning I Skyped with our science discovery teacher down the hall just so the kids could say good morning, and they would see her in a few minutes! You better believe that was a hit!
Daily 5 Listen to Reading centers…. I have two whole groups full of stories that I have downloaded free thanks to TCEA sharing daily free apps! 
Google Earth…. Oh yeah… So much to do here… It sure does help to provide perspective for 8 and 9 year olds who do not have an strong understanding of our world in terms of where they are in relation to other cities, states, and countries. 
This list could most certainly go on, but it serves as a means by which to show that when you bring the power of iPads to the classroom, the possibilities are unlimited!  So if you have the opportunity to participate in iPad professional development opportunities, jump on them! You won’t be disappointed by any means!

Educational Technology…Not so hard, and so worth the reward…

I know that many educators out there look upon educational technology as just another thing they have to learn and do. It seems like just another one of the many “extras” expected of teachers these days. In leading inservice days and networking with other educators, often I get that message loud and clear. Why would they want just another task to take on, when what they have been doing is working? Well I don’t always have the right words to answer this question with, but this week I decided that the right way to answer was through showing a day in my classroom.  It was a normal day for us in 3rd grade, and looked a little like this..

Morning Start- Kids came in and worked on a Pumpkin Graphing page during morning announcements. Upon finishing I projected the page, got out my SMART Slate and using Aver Media I can write with my smart pens on the page from the back of the room 🙂 Sure does let me walk and teach… observe and assess, all at the same time 🙂

Math- Oh here we go starting Multiplication- So I had a nice free app downloaded on my IPad (Thanks to TCEA) called Multiplication Rap x2 HD– So I attached my ipad to my projector, and we jammed to a x2 rap! It taught skip counting, and in the rap you actually sing along to 2×1 is 2, 2×2 is 4… the kids loved it. (So they suckered me into buying the others 🙂 We did the mini quiz at the end and they were stoked!  I followed up with a practice page on arrays (as we just learned days prior)- so YES I do believe in balance.

Prime Time (Small Group) – Circles and Stars SMART Board lesson – we rotated from there to the computers for FAST Math, and also through a facts practice center with fact tests in clear sleeves- perfect to write on with dry erase markers! ( Again— Balance)

Reading- As we were finishing up our Pumpkin unit and comparing and contrasting skill, I used a You Tube clip of  “Spookley The Square Pumpkin”  which was 4 minutes long. It was a cold rainy day outside, so no recess, and with us showing the movie of Spookley within the hour, it allowed me to wrap up how much more in depth characters and settings would be, as well as how much more we would understand about the conflict of the story in the 45 minute movie compared to the 4 minute short.

Social Studies- BrainPop Jr- Communities– It was  great topic starter for us to start talking about rural, suburban, and urban communities.  We took the online quiz as a class, and brainstormed how we could illustrate each community in our spirals.

Science- Force and Motion using Study Jams by Scholastic. They love this site, and in this case the soccer video helped them when we moved to our push and pull sort that we cut and glued in our science spirals.

Wrapping it up– Once my kids have cleaned and packed up, I let them play Sheppard Software math games on the SMART board until the bell rings… 

So now… what in this day took hard work? Finding the material- YES… but we do that anyway when planning a lesson. Instead of going to get your book to copy pages, look online first. Find sites that work for you and use them…  Try a new site once a grading period and don’t overwhelm yourself, but at least give it a try! I promise that the reward you see will make you want to keep looking for ways to inspire and motivate your students!