hr of code

Anybody can learn to code is the mantra of Code.org and it became ours on the morning of December 9, 2013. From 9:00AM-10:00AM teachers throughout the school led students through a variety of tutorials and activities that connected their specific course content to coding. Simultaneously, teachers throughout the United States and beyond worked in a similar fashion to highlight not only the significance of coding in today’s world but the practicality (and necessity) of it.

 

While December 9 represented a synchronized effort to coordinate the entire school’s coding experience, it was not the first time Beaver students and teachers implemented code into their classes. Visual Art teacher, David Ingenthron, worked with students in the first term of school on developing their student portfolios. When one student asked if he could incorporate designs he composed using Pencilcode.net, David not only said of course but asked the student to demonstrate his work to the class and help facilitate a lesson that inspired his peers to code and design alongside him. The final products were quite surprising. Here is one example Swirly Thing. Similarly, in Joe Christy’s math class students not only engaged in coding from a math perspective but also coded data that was not exclusive to a “calculus specific” course (i.e. Wiretapping). By allowing coding to live outside of its stereotypical comfort zones of math and science, students at Beaver are able to not only learn the mechanics of a coding language but create and imagine new possibilities for coding.

 

So what did teachers do on December 9 exactly? Many members of the faculty started at the very beginning for their students with questions such as: What is coding? What are some coding languages? Where do we see coding today? Why do people code? Why does Beaver code? These conversations set a context for the hour of code, generated ideas, and provided insights for the teacher on how exactly to implement and differentiate the coding activities that were about to follow. A number of teachers used the tutorials provided by the Khan Academy for the day of coding, including tutorial I and tutorial II for some members of the English Department. Josh Rilla, in the English Department, “Experimented with Codetry.” In Visual Arts, teachers used pencilcode to design line drawings and challenged the students to reflect on incorporating coding into their creative process. In performing arts, teachers used both activities from Khan Academy and Code.org. In the Middle School, Yolanda Wilcox-Gonzalez, Michelle Wildes, and Lindsay Rich turned the hour of code into a day of coding for their combined 8th grade classes.

 

They started the day with introducing the kids to what coding was and had them use the tutorials provided by Khan Academy to begin.  During the next two classes, they provided two challenges, one that was History-English related, and the other related to science. For History/English, students had to code a program that allowed them to create an infographic showing statistical data of the migration of Puerto Ricans and Polish people to the United States from 1879 until 1970.  Students are currently reading West Side Story in English class and they thought giving students an idea about the migration of these two groups into the United States would provide some background knowledge of the experience for each group while also exposing them to practical and authentic coding. For Science, Michelle taught students about ocean organisms and students created codes for programs in which they drew and animated one of the ocean organisms they studied (fish, turtle, whale, shark, sea star, jelly, lobster).  Here are a few examples of student work: Ben – Fish, Ryan – Sea Urchin, Kalala – Immigration.

 

It was clear after my own hour of code that once the students overcame their initial hesitancy around “doing it right” and just dove in, they were willing to play with coding, make mistakes, and rework their understanding, initial goals, and outcomes. The students that started at the very beginning with a simple drawing of a square were proud of their accomplishments and eager to push further into coding and brainstormed excitedly about how they could use coding again. It was an excited morning as students from 6th through 12th grade grappled with coding, created something new, and challenged themselves and their teachers to think critically on how to make coding an authentic and consistent part of everyday.

school days.

Whoa! It has been almost two months since school started.  Perhaps my silence is a testament to the whirlwind that the start of the academic year presents. From back to school meetings, to setting up the physical space, to welcoming students back, each and every day was full, full, FULL. Of course, this is the good kind of busy.  Ironing out the kinks of classroom presentation, connecting with students, and plowing through lesson plans and grading make the start of the school year a sprint.  Each day while I leave exhausted, I also leave satisfied knowing that I am tapping into the part of myself that is excited to learn again among my students and tapping into the creative power of my students. As I sit with a stack of papers next to my desk, I am mindful that while this is the hard part of being a teacher, one by one it will all get done.  As a fifth year teacher, I am amazed by how much is still new and by the subtle ways in which I am more prepared than ever for the daily classroom occurrences.  It has been a busy start to the year, but it has been a good start.  I am looking forward to seeing where my classes go this year as they continue to build their community, challenge the course materials, and create their own content.

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 9.39.08 AMJust a little photo of when my student walked in and we realized we were wearing the same outfit!  It was hilarious to connect over fashion in such a literal way.

apple picking in new england

Saturday afternoon I went apple picking with my advisory. These nine students are pretty awesome. Funny, smart, and kind, I am incredibly lucky to work with this group of students and to watch them grow up during their high school years. We headed out to Belkind Family Farm in Natick for some bonding and to continue to build our friendships. It was fun watching them be goofy with one another but more importantly inclusive of one another. I am hoping that this “advisory bonding” can continue to occur this school year. As juniors, they are so close to their final year of high school and it is just amazing how fast time is going!

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Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 1.52.51 PMScreen Shot 2013-10-08 at 1.53.07 PMThat’s right, we got to ride a camel!

first day & partner

Today was my first day back in the classroom with students. It always feels good to start using my teacher muscles again. At 7:15AM I felt nervous about my first class. It was as though I had forgotten how to walk and talk at the same time. Feeling stiff and out of place, I began to think about what it must be like to be a new freshman. At least I had some experience at this school and knew familiar faces. Quickly I sought to snap out of myself and begin doing what I love: engaging students, getting to know them, and getting them started on their work. As soon as they were in their seats the “teacher dust” brushed off and I could feel my old self again and it felt great. Watching them collaborate – even briefly – on the first task was invigorating.

Despite the energy of the day, I left school feeling wiped out. Where had all of my stored up energy from the summer gone?  Upon reflection, this wave of fatigue was most likely caused by dehydration. Somehow I had gone the whole day without drinking water!  Crazy how once you are in the zone something as simple as drinking water is forgotten. When I picked up David at the T, I was so thankful that he took over the wheel and immediately turned on his “partner role.” I was completely swept up in his love and care. We arrived home and I settled on the couch equipped with a giant ice water and David cooked up a storm. He prepped and cooked us Thai noodles, which are my favorite! I ate a giant bowl in my pjs. Afterwards, he cleaned up. It was perfect. David could read me when he first got in the car and knew exactly how to take care of me after my first day. Finally after being rehydrated and fed, I was able to share stories from the first day of my fifth year of teaching. While I am still tired (I expect to get a good night of sleep) I look forward so much to tomorrow!

back to school

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It has started. The back to school commercials are in full force. Delighted parents run up and down the aisles of Target filling their carts with folders, pencils, clothes, and backpacks. Happy music plays in the background while their frowning children walk listlessly behind them. Of course, August is still the summer, but with the arrival of August comes the arrival of back to school anxiety dreams for me. These commercials don’t help either.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I am so lucky not only to have the summers off to pursue my other interests, spend time with friends and family, and travel, but when I head back into the school year it is to a truly amazing school filled with superb co-workers and dynamic students.  But, even though I do actually work in Edutopia, I still get those pesky anxiety dreams. They are always the same. Imagine:

I arrive back to school to only find out that the schedule I have been following all day is wrong and I am missing all of my classes. Or, I arrive to class only to realize that I have not planned a single lesson and am frozen in front of the students and, of course, I am wearing my yoga pants too!  Or, and this is my favorite kind of anxiety dream, I walk into my class totally unprepared.  I stare blankly at the students who begin to roll their eyes at me and suggest my teaching ignorance, only to fall flat on my face and break a tooth and I am in my yoga pants! AH!  Waking up in a cold sweat, I remind myself that (a) I am such a type A personality that I could never not be prepared for a class and to just relax and (b) I am still 3 weeks away from the start of school and as with every year once I am back it is like riding a bicycle and the teaching muscles will remember what to do and the kids will inspire me and the summer haze will fade into a crisp Fall. And being at school will be the exact place where I am suppose to be.

Dear Summer,

Please go a little bit slower.

Sincerely,

An Anxious Teacher

“Dear Summer,

Please go faster.

Sincerely,

A Crazed Parent” @NikkiMoff

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professional development session 1

My school has been a fountain of professional development opportunities. Each year, I have been lucky to have the opportunity to attend one (but most often more than one conference). This summer, I will be attending three. My first session started this morning and it has been interesting. I signed up to learn more about the Flipped Classroom. I have played with this concept in my class and have found that it is a helpful tool for teachers though it is not a “silver bullet” in how every class should be run. It does add meaningful individualized learning opportunities when done well. Yet, when done poorly, it can come across as passive video watching. I like the idea of the flipped classroom because it creates an interesting way to break up the typical homework of reading in a history classroom and create an environment in which there can be more interaction and intention when student head home.

This session has been interesting although not groundbreaking. This was definitely an introduction level program and while it cemented my understanding of what the concept of a Flipped Classroom is, it did not share too many fresh insights, examples, or technologies. Nonetheless, I am pretty excited with a few new classroom technologies that I hope to play around with over the summer including: videonot.es, hapyak, and padlet.

The really great part of PD though is being able to be a student again.  I forget sometimes what it is like to be a student.  How long have I been sitting here?  When is the next break?  How could I spice this up? Oh man, do I sound like that too? These are all just a few of the questions flooding in and out as I participate in this session. I learn so much as a student about the content that is being shared in the course but, more importantly, from how the instructor instructs and how the learning is learned. Observation is key in these moments and I am soaking up an array of divergent and interesting ideas to sharpen my own classroom skills and whether that is with the Flipped Classroom model or not is still under construction.

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the goodbye blues….

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At exactly 12:00PM today, summer vacation begins. In September, this day seemed to be years away. In between there would be quizzes, tests, and papers to grade. There would be students to get to know, knowledge to share, and challenges to overcome. Yet today after a full year of school saying goodbye for the summer is bittersweet. The teens are exuberant.  They bounce from friend to friend giving hugs and smiles as they sit for their last all school meeting and make plans for tomorrow. I sometimes wish someone would hold a finish line in the parking lot for all of them and us to run through and celebrate another year’s conclusion. Some students will receive awards for their tremendous work this year and we will all be so proud of their commitment to excellence. And yet, while in the throes of celebrating this momentous end, I am also sad to watch it. Never again will this particular group of students, with this particular energy, and connection meet as a collective in the way we have met everyday since September. Of course, they will come to say hi but this collective class (my class) will disperse and become members of other classes. By September, they will be taller and older (and hopefully wiser). Don’t get me wrong, I very much look forward to my summer vacation too, but saying goodbye to my students is so hard. I truly enjoy each and every one of them, even the ones that can be a little challenging from time to time are so important to me. As i wrap up my fourth year of teaching, I have learned so much from my students and my colleagues.  I am proud of how much I have grown this year as an educator and excited to set new goals for next year. Today, I will say goodbye to these students, to this year, and to this place…..until September.

weeknight baking

I don’t’ have to go to “work” tomorrow. My sub plans are submitted and I am handing over my students for the day.  It is never something I enjoy.  I much rather prefer being in the classroom with my students, but tomorrow is our History Department retreat. Twice a year, the department gathers together in someone from the department’s home for a long day of brainstorming.  Last retreat we focused on implementing design thinking into our curriculum. This time, the focus is on designing one term elective courses for all four grade levels. This is quite the endeavor. Instead of full year courses catering to each grade level, we are throwing this traditional model aside and trying to create something more reminiscent of college course selections. The classes will not be grade specific and will use a thematic approach to Global History. Wish us luck!!  Any suggestions for course themes or structure?

To nourish our minds and stem the tide of hunger that will inevitably come crashing down on us during such a retreat, I made my semi-homemade berry tart to bring in the morning.

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elective final project

I have never done this before. Typically, final projects in my History class require extensive writing. For example, my freshman write a textbook at the end of their course. This time though, I wanted to try something different. These seniors had selected to take my elective on Genocide and War Crimes. As you can imagine this is a “heavy” course. Examining mass murder and violence is a complex and challenging program of study. All term the students read extensively, wrote prolifically, and questioned the events earnestly.  Now I wanted them to have to demonstrate their understanding through a project that required them to have a vision and a purpose.  Could they make a high degree of connection between project guidelines and their knowledge and perception of genocide in which they illustrate their craftsmanship and originality?  I took my previous projects on design thinking as inspiration as I sat and crafted the prompt (below): design thinking I & design thinking II.

The prompt:

Create: Please create a work of visual art (conceptual art?) that communicates your ideas about what you have learned about Genocide & War Crimes and how this knowledge can benefit the world.

Your visual art must meet these requirements:

  • There must be at least 3-5 teachings in your visual art.

  • No symbols

  • No words

  • No cliches

    • no peace, love,  dripping blood, etc

    • no sad kids, or famous images of perpetrators, or famous images of violence

Requirements for presentation:

  • 5-7 minutes

  • Your process:

    • Why did you choose to portray Genocide in this manner?

    • How does this piece of visual art teach others about Genocide?

    • Needless to say, each teaching must reflect sophistication and deep intellectual thought.

A few of the products I received:

Project 1: Photography by EW. Depiction of the Armenia genocide using a pomegranate (fruit of Armenia)

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Project 2:  Cambodian Genocide by NHS.

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Project 3: Darkness Descending by AF.

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 8.05.13 PMProject 4: Wood Sculpture by LL. Distressed wood forced and hammered into place.

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These projects and the presentation of their teachings on genocide really impressed me. If you are interested in the teachings that accompany each of the projects, please don’t hesitate to ask!

goodbye senior class

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It was the last day of classes for the seniors. The halls pulsated with the intense emotions of saying goodbye (and for some saying good riddance). In many ways, it was a completely ordinary day. Classes started at 8AM and ended at 3:25PM. Lessons were taught and questions were asked. Homework was collected and projects were presented. Yet, this was a “special day” to be a senior. Those presented projects were final exams, it was the last lunch in the cafeteria, and the last time they would walk through the halls as the collective class of 2013. The Juniors excitedly assumed their position as the next oldest class in the building, each walking more confidently as they took the reins of the school from the seniors and flooded into the “cool place to hang out,” the school’s foyer. Many shed tears, hugs, handshakes, and other mischievous glances. The big fish in the little pond were ready to splash out of this neighborhood and be transferred into their new habitat.  The funny thing about fish though is that moving into a new home is a shock for any creature and particularly stressful for fish. I hope they all settle well into their new college environments in the Fall.

One of the school’s traditions on this momentous last day is “Senior Send Off.” The  entire upper school gathers, and the seniors take the stage to share where they are heading off to college next year and their favorite memory from their time here at our little private school. Dressed in their college swag, they approach the microphone individually and in pairs. Proud to be donning their new colors, they share inside jokes, shout-outs to teachers, gush about boyfriends/girlfriends, laugh about silly (and sometime sightly hazardous occurrences), and share other razbliuto with the school. During this assembly, I am teary-eyed. These students were freshmen when I was a freshmen teacher. Totally feeling out of place, unprepared, and distressed my first year of teaching, this little class taught me how to be a teacher. There is nothing you can google on how to do this job right. I was lucky when I was hired to this position with no experience and nothing but bright eyes and a promised strong work ethic to support my candidacy.

I remember that first day, what I wore, how my hands shook with nerves, and that I probably came across as mean, or at least as cold, since I didn’t want to give off the impression that I was clueless. These students taught me how to answer questions, plan activities, adjust to different learning styles, write tests, grade papers, but most importantly about how to build real and authentic relationships (friendships even) with my students. I laughed the hardest with them and probably cried the most as I figured out this emotionally demanding career. In some ways, their graduation day is my graduation day.  Some of these students I even taught for all four of their years of high school. I guess the best part of being a teacher is that everyday is different, yet comfortingly the same, every student is different, yet needs similar stuff like support, patience, guidance, and push to do the  heavy lifting with their brain muscles. I still have so much to learn and I hope that I will be saying this when I retire too.  But, even so, this class in particular will always hold a special place for me.  When I got a few shout-outs yesterday, my first in my four years of teaching, I was so proud.  Not because I wanted to toot my own horn but because it helped cement in me that this is the right place, this is the right profession, and that even when it is hard those moments of appreciation are soul warming.

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