Creating Google Presentations with Elementary Students

Today, I want to talk about one of the most powerful and versatile technologies to use with students: Google presentations. For anyone who just groaned and thought, “That’s all? Google’s version of PowerPoint?” don’t count me out yet! It’s true, Google presentations are a lot like PowerPoint or Keynote presentations.  Except, they allow for seamless collaboration and sharing between students, teachers, parents, and the rest of the world.

That power turns a simple technology — a digital slideshow — into a way for students to teach an engaged, authentic audience as they synthesize ideas, pursue independent studies, compare conclusions from experiments, jigsaw small group learning, and even publish e-books. Continue reading

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Homework That Changes Lives

love homework.  But I didn’t always.  I used to hate homework.  I hated it as a student, and I hated it as a teacher.  I hated it for all the reasons it is now questioned by education researchers.  Homework at the elementary level is usually:

  • Busywork (for teachers and students)
  • If un-differentiated: too easy for some students, too hard for others
  • If differentiated: unbearably complicated and time-consuming for teachers
  • Stressful for families
  • Graded too slowly or infrequently to give students valuable feedback
  • A poor form of assessment
  • Something we (and I mean all of us: teachers and students and families) do only because we have to, or because we think we should, or because other people think we should.

I am also really skeptical of the idea that homework at the elementary level teaches study skills in and of itself.  Now, if you put into place a real system for programmatically teaching children to study at home and at school and use homework strategically to reinforce that system, well, ok then.  But usually, people expect that just by giving kids homework, they will learn study skills.  Instead, I think kids learn how to procrastinate, how to put up a good fight with their parents, and how to put as little effort into their work as possible in order to get it done quickly.

I tried all kinds of traditional homework systems: weekly packets, daily assignments, even differentiated homework that involved making different packets for several different groups of students (which, by the way, is insane).  And then I went to the Skillful Teacher, learned about effective effort, and decided there had to be a better way.

I asked myself, what if homework was really valuable?  Better yet, what if homework was life-changing?  What if it could teach students — prove to students — that with effective effort and time, they could achieve anything? Continue reading

The Power of Professional Learning Communities

I think there’s a 99% chance that I’m the only one who wants to read this post. And if that’s true, I’m cool with it. I’ve been at a really exciting conference for two days, and I need to sort out everything I’ve learned.

On the other hand, I think there’s at least a 1% chance that you might want to read this post. Perhaps you went to the conference and want to reflect together. Or, maybe you’ll find what’s here interesting enough that you want to learn more. If either is true, please leave a comment! I’d be happy to hear from you.

PLC CoverSo, this week, I attended the Professional Learning Communities at Work Institute.

I did this because my district just hired me as one of the two Elementary Instructional Leaders for third grade.

Once upon a time, professional development in our district was organized top-down, and teachers in different elementary schools often did very different kinds of learning. Continue reading

Empowered, Independent, Impressive

The beautiful thing about empowering kids to choose their homework is that they can do exactly the right work to help them achieve their goals.

For a student struggling with subtraction, that might mean practicing subtraction facts, playing mental math games, or doing subtraction story problems every night. After a few weeks (or maybe months), this approach can help students to close the achievement gap and take real pride in their success.

Future posts will describe the different homework options in my plan, but for this post, I want to talk about independent studies. They are the perfect choice for high fliers who really don’t need to practice subtraction facts or words they already know how to spell. Continue reading