Going to a Conference!

Letter G in my #ReflectiveTeacher journey...

Last week, I found this blog post from Imagine Easy Solutions that encouraged educators to blog during their conference sessions...but I forgot about it until now, so I will start tomorrow. I didn't arrive in Austin until almost noon today, and I only attended a couple sessions, so perhaps an end-of-day reflection is OK for today!


  • #TCEA16 will probably trend all week. I was almost overwhelmed yesterday (before I even arrived at the conference) trying to keep up with the flood of ideas, posts, and resources. Following giant conference hashtags is now at the top of my to-do list. I can't believe how much I'm learning through Twitter.
  • TCEA organizers have their conference down to a fine science, and I appreciate all of the time and work it must take to pull off an event of this magnitude! Check-in was a breeze, the conference app is constantly updated, and there are signs, marquees, and volunteers everywhere, so my questions are already answered!
  • Presenters: thank you for providing access to your handouts! If we cannot get into your session, your notes, sites, or presentations are giant birthday gifts, waiting to be unwrapped and explored. (I just need more time to look at the 500+ links!)
  • It is hard to attend a ginormous conference by yourself. This year is so much better, though, because I have made so many connections during my time at my new job, so I keep running into people I know (or who know me!) Whether it's in the hallway or in the fast-moving Twitter stream, it's awesome to be a bit more connected this year. 
  • ...but attending a ginormous conference can also be overwhelming, so quiet time at the end of the day is a must for me!
  • I didn't put in a proposal to present this year, and I kind of miss presenting, but I must admit, it is more relaxing to "just" be a learner and participant.
  • At a technology conference, so many people are glued to their devices, so I always appreciate when the presenter prompts us to "turn to your neighbor and share..." In my opinion, one of the best parts of a conference is making connections, and that's a bit difficult when you're constantly looking at a screen.
  • I am such a math-person (linear, concrete-sequential, etc.) and I have planned PD sessions for many years, so I prefer presentations that are super-organized, purposeful, and thoughtful. Your slides don't have to be designed by a graphic artist, but please follow some kind of outline, provide an essential question, or explain the session goals.
  • I caught a Google Hangout (on Air) reflection session from one of our district partners, and I thought that was an awesome way to end the day! The tech leader had several of his teachers tell one or two of their favorite take-aways from the day, and it looks like he plans to follow this model all week. How awesome is that, to model the tool, get the teachers reflecting, and document their learning!?
In other news, I helped moderate the very first Twitter chat for our service center, so that was an accomplishment for the evening. I worked with a science consultant, and we have the next several months of topics planned. (#R10chat) It was a small group, but we know we had lurkers and a few who were new to Twitter, so to get more people excited about connecting is exciting!

Looking forward to another day at #TCEA16.
Always learning.


Formative Assessment Goodness

Several years ago, I started to up my formative assessment "game," so I wanted to share a few things I learned. I slowed a bit on my alphabet journey for #ReflectiveTeacher, but I'm back on track with formative assessments.

One of the key components of differentiated instruction is continual assessment "that informs teaching and learning," and I have written several posts about DI and assessment. During our DI trainings, one of my favorite analogies about assessment is the medical one:
Summative assessments are like autoposies, and formative assessments are wellness check-ups.
If I start assessing my students' learning on the day of the major test, then I am too late. I need to conduct frequent formative assessments throughout the class/day/unit, and adjust my teaching as a result of these check-ups.

The other big point (that only took a year or so to get) is the last part of the previous sentence: adjust my teaching. Oh yes, I jumped in on the exit ticket bandwagon, but sadly, I didn't always look at the students' responses until days after the assessment. [sad face!] That was too late! I needed to immediately take actions on the students' questions, comments, and (mis)understandings.

I love that technology helps with the efficiency of these quick formative assessments. Whether it's a Google form, a game-based tool (like Kahoot) or a more low-tech tool like Plickers, these resources make it so quick for teachers to get real-time results and feedback on their students' learning. I found this great blog post by @mpilakow, who created a very informative chart to compare several student-response systems.

One of my new favorite tools on the scene is Formative. As a math teacher with a few iPads and smart phones, this tool was an awesome addition to the growing list of student-response systems. I LOVE that students can respond by writing their responses to show all of their work on the screen! I LOVE that I can import an image of a coordinate plane and have students graph their answers on the grid! When I've demonstrated this tool to teachers, they have all oohed and ahhed about its functionality.

Because of the positive responses from so many teachers, I created a short how-to video about using Formative, and it illustrates writing a question and responding. (Their playlist of videos is excellent, by the way!)

My favorite non-tech tool is the good ol' hand gesture fist-to-five strategy. "If you have no idea what I'm talking about, show me a fist. If you could teach this concept to another person, show me a five." I can't remember where I heard the tweak of 5 = teach to another person, but that really helps make the distinction about giving yourself a five.

I could tell this strategy became the norm in our class when students started using phrases such as, "I'm only feeling about a three on this concept, so can I come see you for tutoring in the morning?" During class when I started having "workshops" (small tutoring groups) on a particular concept, I let the students know, "If you feel like you're still a two or three on this objective, I'll be at the table in the back of the room in 10 minutes to answer your questions."

This strategy works with adults too, and I ask the same type of question on a pre-assessment or as an intro to the session. In Google Forms, I can use the linear scale question type, or I revert to the hand gestures, just like with the students.

At the end of class (or a presentation for teachers) I ask students to reflect: "If you felt like you were a fist or one at the beginning of class, did you move to at least a three? If you were a three when we started, are you now a four?"

If you're really into assessments and use Flipboard, I've curated an entire magazine on Assessments, and I share my favorite blog posts, tools, and other resources.

View my Flipboard Magazine.

So now on the more reflective side: I hesitated to write this post (guess that's why there was such a delay) because there are so many great things already written about formative assessments and feedback, whether you want to know the brain research, the strategies that impact learning, or the newest tech tools to help...so what does this post add to the plethora of information already out there?

I know, I know...blogging should be about reflecting, learning, and growing as an educator, and writing this post certainly helped with that idea. Now when I'm training teachers, I will go into a tad more depth about the purpose of the pre-assessment, the first-to-five, and any other assessment we try during the session. Make the strategies more transparent. Good lesson for me.

The other good thought: I work with teachers who have such a wide range of levels of "tech expertise," so these resources for formative assessments are great entry points for teachers who are trying to introduce technology into their classrooms...and used thoughtfully, these tools can impact teaching and leraning. The tools are easy to set-up, they are mostly device agnostic, and they definitely help with the efficiency part of collecting information to inform the teaching decisions.

So OK, the time spent writing this post was worth it. :)
Always learning.


Excited About 2016!

I considered at least 5 different E words for my alphabet #ReflectiveTeacher blogging challenge, but when I read these reflections on one of my favorite math blogs, Algebra's Friend, her quote and a resolution to "Enjoy the Ride" struck me as a great goal for the year...so Beth, thanks for the inspiration!

2015 was a sine wave for me, and it was full of ups and downs. Since starting the new job in July, however, I have been on the "up" side of everything, and I must remember to keep this positivity and gratitude in the forefront of my mind! I am grateful for so many aspects of my new job, so whenever I have a bit of doubt creep into my head, I must remember all of the blessings of my new career. The biggest change for me: I used to be the person who knew all of the answers and who was involved in everything...but now I am the new person who has all of the questions! It didn't take me long to realize that there is so much that I do not know. But that leads me to the great slogan because I love learning (as we all do) so I just need to enjoy the ride.

  • Enjoy learning about new web resources, apps, and other technologies.
  • Enjoy working solely with adult learners.
  • Enjoy understanding the hierarchies of a region of educators, rather than a single district.
  • Enjoy meeting new people, but also enjoy keeping up with old friends.
  • (Continue) to enjoy learning from others.
I'm excited about the new year, new adventures, and a lot of new learning. By the way, I couldn't decide on #oneword for this year, so I have two other mottos to go with "Enjoy the Ride."

First, my dad is a huge fan of the Life is Good t-shirts and company, so I'm borrowing that phrase for one theme of the year. My other idea is a theme song, "A New Day for You," the 1987 Basia version. (Anyone else know that song? I'm definitely showing my age!)

Here's to a very happy 2016!
It's a new day for you, and life is good, so enjoy the ride.
Always learning.

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