Wednesday, January 21, 2015

5 Lessons I Learned This Past Semester

It's been a very interesting year so far. Started a new position,  daughter got married,  and was diagnosed with leukemia. So, now that the second semester is about to start, it's time for some reflection. A few lessons learned since September.

1.  Go to the Doctor.  I've never been a go to the doctor when your sick kind of guy. What do they know. Well, this time they knew a lot. I never expected the diagnosis to be leukemia, but knew something was wrong when I was so tired and short of breath.  We live in an amazing time, and the advances made in medicine are truly remarkable.

2. Nurses Rock. Talk about a job where you truly earn your money. These folks are very dedicated to their craft and it shows every day. Granted, some are better than others, but it's a job I could never do. Between their positive spirit,  caring attitude and the hours they work, please be sure to thank and hug a nurse nexr chance you get.

3. There are a lot of sick people in the world. Whether it was in the transfusion room, waiting room, hospital lobby or the lab, everywhere I went was crowded.  To be honest,  there were times when I felt fortunate to have the diagnosis I had when I saw the misfortune of others and the issues they were dealing with. Truly,  having your health is so important.  Finally, never take for granted the health insurance that we as teachers have as part of our benefits.  Co pays were nothing compared to the cost of my care.

4. Co workers are the best. I have been quite fortunate to have worked with some truly amazing people. Whether its been covering classes, checking in via email,  text or card, or helping to support my wife, their positive thoughts and prayers have really helped in my recovery. Every morning the best librarian in the world beeps 'Good Morning' as she drives by my home. Awesome!

5. Family is the most important.  It sounds a bit cliche,  but its so very true. First, if it weren't for my wife Nicole, I'd probably be dead. Not sure why or how I deserve someone like her, but she's been such a rock through this journey  that I don't know what I would have done without her. When a family member gets sick, it does bring the family together. Giving my daughter away at her wedding on a day that I checked myself out of the hospital,  brought us all together like never before.  I'm not saying go and get sick to bring your family closer, but respect, appreciate,  and love them in good times before bad.

I go back to work in a week. For the first time in I don't know how long, I'm actually a bit afraid.  I always knew what I was doing, always had control of my class, and was prepared for anything.  That's all kind of gone out the window now.  Perhaps the best thing to do is to remember what I've learned this semester and pass it on to my students.

Finally, to my very good friend dealing with some of his own medical issues, I’m quite sure he has learned some of the same lessons along the way.  Here’s to his own lessons learned and a healthy 2015!!





Thursday, January 3, 2013

Creativity in 6th Graders? I'm trying!

The research finally came into my classroom.  Thursday, January 3, 2013 at approximately 12:45 pm.  Not sure how it crept into my room, how long it stayed, but I sure felt it's impact.  Hoping to have it vacate soon, however, not really sure how long it will take.

The research that I reference is the notion that students have no creativity.  Many posts, surveys, and documented essays point to a decline in creativity amongst USA students beginning in 1990.  In July of 2010, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman from Newsweek argued that creativity scores in American children was in 'serious decline'.  Prior to today, I had a small sense that it was true, but was not totally convinced.

Scenario- Using a local Education Foundation grant, I recently purchased three extender kits of littleBits.  Now if you are not familiar with littlebits, imagine electronic legos compete with motors, dimmers, noise makers, light sensors, and more.  After watching a TED Talk on the topic  littlebits TED TALK, and sharing with students, we were all anxiously awaiting their arrival.  Once in the classroom, we spent a few class periods just playing, making noises, figuring out the different parts, etc...I was really excited for the potential that lied within, until the research reared its ugly head!

I met with each small group and shared some info from the littleBits site with regards to plans, ideas, creative thought, etc....  I was quite reluctant to model as I did not want to influence any thought or have students move in one particular direction.  Wow...was the research right.

"Mr. Yetter, we can't think of anything"  "We don't have any supplies"  "Nothing works right"

Thought I was going to be sick.  What went wrong?  What did I do?  How could they not be able to create something with this new and amazing new toy?  Where was the creativity, thought process, FUN??
Oh yeah, it was the research's fault.

Seriously, one of the reasons I went in the direction of the littleBits was to give kids a chance to play.  It fits in perfect with our sixth grade kit on Magnets and Motors.  I wanted to extend, play, have fun, build, CREATE.  Who was I fooling.  The research would have it differently.

So, when kids say they can't think of anything to build, make, create, it's really no ones fault.  They have very few chances, opportunities or maybe even encouragement to do so. 

Well TAKE THAT, research.  Not in my classroom!  Full steam ahead with the littleBits!  We re going to dream, design, and develop some really cool stuff in the next few weeks and teach that research a thing or two!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Student-Led Conferences...Three Simple reasons why!

As conference time begins to approach for many of us, I would hope that you will consider hosting a student-led conference.  After planning, conducting and evaluating the conference with both students and parents, the positives are quite numerous.  Somehow, I've boiled them down to three great reasons, in an attempt to persuade you!

First, accountability.  By participating in a student-led conference, students gain a whole new perspective into their responsibility as a learner.  Through an evaluation process similar to one that we as teachers use to relate performance in class to parents, students share their success and areas for improvement both academically and socially.  Through ownership, students gain a tremendous amount of insight as to who they are as a learner and what role they play in the classroom.

Next, using those areas of success and an awareness of what areas may need some help, students are then able to set specific goals for themselves.  With parents in attendance, the child can discuss those areas that need improvement with specific timelines, methods, and those that can assist with reaching each goal.  By having all parties in attendance, all stakeholders are on the same page.

Finally, attendance.  Over the past 12 years, parent participation by in student-led conferences has to be in the high 80 to low 90%. range.  Many years, I know that our team has achieved 100%!  When a child prepares their script, organizes their portfolio, and practices the conference in class, it must be hard for a parent to say no to their child's request to come to school and be a part of the program.  Granted, previous communication and precedent of expectations in the school climate over the years helps, but the numbers speak volumes as to how effective they can be.

Formats, expectations, scripts, and types of portfolios may vary, but the common message of giving students an opportunity to gain ownership for their learning, and having the chance to demonstrate that ability is a powerful experience that all students should experience.

Please feel free to contact me @coachyetter if you would like to discuss how you can get things started.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Planning my first Flip - PARENTS!

With so much chat coming out of  ISTE this summer about 'Flipped' classrooms, and after reading Mary Beth Hertz's (@mbteach) recent blog about the Pros and Cons of Flipping , I thought I would begin to plan my first Flip - Parents at Back To School Night!

Now if the premise of a 'Flipped' classroom is to get the concept of the lesson in front of students the night before, with follow up and more time for hands on learning, why not plan on engaging parents early in the year with a 'Flipped' video for them to view prior to Back to School Night?  If I can get all of the policies about homework, projects, acceptable use, and some background about myself out early, then I should have more time for parents to engage in some activities at Back to School Night, where time is at a premium.  More on what I plan for the big night later.

Granted, I don't know who my kids are, what access they or their parents may have to the internet, but why not start some serious planning now, so that when September comes, I will be ready!

The objective of the video has several components;
1.  Introduce myself, Education and teaching background, plus a few personal items.
2.  Take a Walk - Literally walk around the classroom with the video camera and show parents where 
     certain items are located, their purpose, and how/when students may participate.  For example, I 
     have a 'Week At A Glance' segment of my board so that students can see where we are headed      
     each week.  Thought it might be a good dinner conversation if a parent would ask, "What things are
     coming up this week?"
3.  Book Display - Share with parents copies of our textbooks and classroom library.
4.  Homework, grading, project, and acceptable use of technology policy.  Both orally and then in written 
5.  Model log in procedures and demonstrate how to navigate both our Moodle and Edmodo sites.

Whew!  Looks like a lot of info to get out in a short 7-10 minute video.  Hope my editing skills have not atrophied!

Now for the Big Night!  I have several activities that I would like to engage parents with during our time together.
1.  Assess each parent on their ability to access both our Moodle and Edmodo sites to assure that they
     know their child's password and login names.  Perhaps a brief scavenger hunt to monitor their ability to
     navigate the sites.
2.  Blog Comments.  With hopefully a few minutes available, I want parents to respond to their child's
     blog via our class site.  Again, monitoring that each parent can access and knows how to
     post a comment on what their child has written.  Maybe the student can describe what they think their
     parents sixth grade year was like, and the parents can reply with the real deal?!
3.  SmartBoard Interaction - I am still amazed at how many parents come into the room and are deftly
     afraid to even touch the thing!
4.  TWITTER!  Discuss and demonstrate how to follow our class on Twitter!

So there's the plan.  Feeling kind of excited about it.  I'm sure that the plan will change in some aspects between now and then, but the thought of getting parents engaged early with the technology we will be using all year has a ton of merit.  Now this may not be the exact definition of a 'Flipped Classroom' according to Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann, but my concept of  a 'Flip Lesson' will be something that I hope to pursue more of this year, as I see need for my students, and what better way for parents to obtain a grasp, then by asking them to participate?

Look forward to your ideas on how to improve my plan!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Twitter Reflections...Six Months In!

Hard to believe that it's been six months that my venture into the 'Twitterverse' took off.  Needless to say it has been one crazy trip.

After I re-entered the classroom following a position as tech coach, my new principal, re-awakened me to the benefits of being involved with Twitter.  Following his discipleship, below are some thoughts and reflections.

Not sure that I can break Twitter into separate categories, (ie - classroom, pln, personal) because it all seems to flow together so easily.  So, pardon the wanderings.

Flat out....Twitter has made me a better teacher.  By following so many talented, enthusiastic, creative educators, I can't help but want to make my classroom, lessons, culture a more student centered place.  For example, after participating in several chats, (#5thchat, #ptchat, #elemchat) I can talk with other educators about what fun and interesting activities they are planning in their classroom.  I learned about Mystery Skype and the various ways to play.  We even finished the year with a Mystery Skype with Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Topic for a future blog)  I see TED Talk updates and share with my students those that are motivating and inspiring.  New web 2.0 tools are reported and evaluated that I can then use with my students. (ZooBurst, Sumdog, etc...)  One of my students was somewhat obsessed with 'Angry Birds' this year, so when I saw a Tweet that discussed a NASA video on 'Angry Birds - Space Edition', you can bet that I showed it to the class.  Was great watching that child beam as his classmates learned more about Angry Birds.  Power of Twitter!  I was also asked to participate in a Edmodo book study this summer via Twitter connections.  By following Twitter I can stay up to date on the latest in tech and other engaging lessons for my classroom.

Speaking of Twitter in the classroom I set up an account for my class.  We tweeted pictures from field trips, activities in class, and other events.  Students would scribe to me what learning took place so that they could share with their parents.

Twitter gives me a voice.  I can express my opinions to anyone that want to listen.  My ideas for the classroom are validated by participating in chats with other like-minded teachers as we discuss a variety of topics each week.  Kind of makes you feel that you are doing the right thing by your kids.  Lord knows you won't get that from the top admins!  Not sure why almost 400 people are following me, but guess I am saying something right.  Granted, that dimly pales in comparison with @cybraryman, but it does make one grateful that someone is listening.  Twitter levels the playing field in that I can express my thoughts to those that are considered national experts, and get timely responses.  Getting a #FF from a nationally recognized educator feels good.  From time to time, I throw out a question asking for help, and get many responses back with sage adv ice.

Finally, the personal side of Twitter, believe it or not, has helped in my classroom as well.  Believe it or not, I am kind of a closet foodie.  After following @mariobatali,  @anthonybourdain, and @thefoodnetwork I can share recipes and ideas with my wife.  Often we plan our cooking extravaganza via Twitter ideas.  Was fun this year to also share those interesting food tweets with one of my students whose father was a chef, and she loved to cook as well.  News updates via CNN, Fox News, and our local paper keep me updated to the latest happenings in the world.

So six months in, I am hooked.  I look forward to what Twitter will bring in the next six months.

Think about it, I am writing this blog about Twitter on a sunny summer day.  It must be doing something right!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Figure It Out For Yourself...Continues

Figure It Out For Yourself!  My classroom motto for the past umpteen years.  This year as I ventured out of the classroom into the short-lived world of Tech coach, I often wondered what would happen to the FIOFY award that our grade level would hand out each year.  Would it continue, would others look for this trait in children, would the motto live on?!

Happy to report that the legend continues.  But, before I get into the who and why, let's chat for a few minutes about the whole concept of Figure It Out For Yourself. 

As a classroom teacher, I am always impressed with those students that seem to have a slight edge over their peers.  Why?  What is that edge?  How did they acquire it?  How can I help those that are not figuring it out start to get that edge?  To me, the student who is able to FIOFY is one who really has just some of the basics down.  They have a pencil, and are not asking for a new one every hour.  They know where their books are.  No need to call Mom or Dad to bring in the proverbial forgotten instrument.  They seem to have figured out how to play the school game and are comfortable with the game and who they are in the world.  So, I felt, and still feel, that not being able to FIOFY is a skill, along with adding appositives to one's writing, that is a responsibility  I have as a classroom teacher. 

Granted, genetics probably are great part of the equation.  Parenting?  Certainly can't dismiss that one.  Intelligence, maybe, but I have seen some students that are identified as gifted that couldn't figure their way out of wet paper bag.  So how do I help?

This fall as I start another year, my students will be inundated with the phrase, concept, and modeling of FIOFY behaviors.  Taking the 30 seconds to sharpen one's pencil prior to class.  Preaching the 'Touch It Once' concept when it comes to being organized with paperwork.  Discussing how to 'Watch the Show' and face forward while others are talking.  Oh they WILL get the FIOFY concept!

So the award continued without me.  This years recipient, from what I hear, was a student whose home life was one for NBC Dateline, but he figured out how to get his work done, how to be prepared for class, and what it means to play the 'School Game'  Word on the street was that when he heard his name called, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

FIOFY.  Not an award or concept that we can measure on a standardized test, but one concept that you can bet this classroom teacher will continue to preach this fall and all year long!

Monday, December 19, 2011

To Blog or not to Blog...Is that the question?

Blogging.  Kind of a hot topic in the world of tech these days.  One that I was not really in tune with until recently.  Bu the question is still on the Blog or not to Blog?  Truthfully, there is only one answer.  Absolutely!

Now we could spend the next few minutes citing research as to the benefits of blogging, where to blog, how to blog, the audience, etc...(and by the way, all good future topics), but the question that teachers need to ask themselves about blogging, is why the heck are they not doing it in their classroom now?

Ask any good teacher about best practices, and inevitably the discussion will include to student self-reflection, connecting to the world and real life experiences, and freedom of expression.  Research needed here?  Blogging incorporates all of these and so much more.

To this Tech coach, trying to get teachers on board with blogging is way more difficult than it needs to be.  If a teacher would like their students to reflect on the aspects of a certain character in a story, or make predictions about what will happen next - have your students blog!  Should the objective be about making a connection to a character as it would apply to their classroom - write a blog!

Not into Language Arts, no worries.  Imagine a science class discussing the scientific method - steps in a process - write a blog.  Form a hypothesis based on data - blog.  Math?  Sure.  Explaining properties and how they work would be an awesome blog.  Wait!  How about a peer read the blog to see if the property is correctly explained - reflected on in another blog!  Really - a blog on a blog?!

One of the best things about teaching social studies was getting kids to somehow begin to form opinions about certain topics, based on some type of fact.  What better place for them to express their opinion than in a blog.  Pick the topics, pick a side, then blog. 

Regardless of the subject, students should be blogging.  Regardless of the age, students should be blogging. (Actually witenessed second graders blogging on last week).  Regardless of the time constraints, students should be blogging.  So why aren't more teachers using this electronic form of journaling?  Might be the boss?

My guess is that teachers are not blogging for one of a few reasons.  First, teachers may feel the need to read and grade all students entries.  Totally not necessary.  Peer editing is a great tool.  Second is equipment.  "It takes too long to log on", "We can never get into the computer lab", "My kids don't know how to type"  Want to guess how a tech coach would repsond to these claims?  Finally, 'We just don't have time"  Really?  Somehow time has to be made.

To Blog or not to Blog...ask the principal.  Seriously, unitl it becomes important from the top, the status quo will remain.  Unitl administrators see the great value in having blogs written by each and every student, it won't gain the weight that it deserves,.  Heck, I even have a gym teacher getting ready to blog with his PE classes!  Why?  Because he sees the worth in having kids take the 5-10 minutes to refelct on why team building is so important.

Stop, take a minute and think as to how you could get your students to blog on a regular basis.  Many websites allow for free blogging and sign up is quick and easy.,, EdModo, Moodle, and even a wiki could be used to blog.  Forget journaling....21st century students BLOG!  Not have enough time, you really don't have time not to get started.

So, to Blog or not to Blog...not even a question.