Monday, October 23, 2017

Organize Parent Conference Notes With Google Forms

Have you ever had that moment, days or even weeks after a parent conference, when you remember that someone asked you about something specific, but you can't remember which parent it was. You go searching through all your student files, digging for the one paper that has the note you know you wrote? I’ve been there a time or two for sure. In my 9 years of classroom teaching, I tried every way I could think of to take and organize parent conference notes, and trust me, some of them were a little on the crazy side. I was determined to find a way to keep all my notes about each child in a central document, but still maintain the privacy needed so parents couldn’t see what I'd written about other students while I was typing. None of them worked well - until I discovered Google Forms. Google Forms allows me to make parent conference notes that end up in a sortable and searchable Google Sheet. I can look things up by date, by student, or search for a keyword (because I know someone asked about tutoring, but I can't remember who). My notes are never left lying around for someone to catch a glimpse. Google Forms makes things so quick, easy, and clean - I can't believe I didn't think of it sooner.

If you are new to Google Forms, you might want to check out my Google Forms 101 post, which gives you all you need to know to create and handle a Google Form. (*Note - Google has recently added a few more options which are not covered in my 101 post - yet.)

My form is very simple. I ask for student name, meeting date, and who was there - these are all required questions. I then have optional questions for behavior notes, academic notes, additional comments, and necessary follow-up. I love the follow-up box, because then I never forget to do something I told a parent I would do.

Here is an example of what my Parent Conference Notes form looks like:
Google Form to write down parent conference notes
Parent Conference Notes

I just bookmark this form on my iPad, Chromebook, or laptop, and make sure I select the option to "Show link to submit another response" in the settings. I fill out the form while we are talking, finish it up once the family leaves, and then hit submit. I can click the link to submit another response and I am ready for the next parent who walks in the door. Once conferences are done, I have a Google Sheet with all my data that I can sort to my heart’s content. I can hit control-F (Command-F on Mac) to open up a search window and seek out those keywords to help me find the note I’m searching for. It’s a beautiful thing!

If you'd like to make a Parent Conference Notes form of your own, you can click here to make a copy of my form and tweak it for your own needs.

Happy conferencing!



Cynthia Nixon


Cynthia was an elementary school teacher for 9 years, teaching both 5th and 3rd grades. She worked her way through college as a computer technician and brought her love of technology into the classroom. She is now serving her school as an Ed Tech Coach and enjoys empowering other teachers to integrate technology. She is a Level 2 Google Certified Educator, a Google for Education Certified Trainer, and two time CUE Rock Star Faculty. You can find her on the TeachingTechNix blog or on Twitter - @TeachingTechNix.

Friday, September 29, 2017

A Mindful Look at Classroom Management

As a new-ish teacher in the early fall of last year, I experienced a moment (well actually, more like an entire day) of helplessness. I fretted that my students weren’t learning to read quickly enough. More alarming, the presence of kindness in our bungalow (AKA my super duper fancy double-wide portable) had deteriorated significantly. If one of my adorable students poked, prodded or aimed another verbal insult at another student again (did I mention I teach Kindergarten?), that was going to be the end of my tenure as the CEO of my classroom! I was going to hand over my classroom keys and go right back to waiting on tables!

You know what I did instead? I complained, I mean I consulted, with my amazing team of coworkers and then I burned rubber to a yoga class. I promise, while tempting, I did not leave tire tracks in the school parking lot and I strictly abided by the 25 mile an hour school zone traffic rule.

While I tried to get my just-returned-from-summer-break and actually-had-time-to-go-to-yoga mind to focus, I couldn’t stop thinking that most of my at-risk students were not meeting the current trimester reading goal. And, man, did I have a few really mean kids this year! Some children were coming to school with negative energy that they just did not seem to know how to expel. I saw some students as restless and challenged to stay focused, mindful, and in the moment. And, then my mind stopped. Just like that, close to an hour had passed. Aha!

Cue fancy, overpriced University teacher credential program lesson number one: Reflect, reflect reflect.

I had wasted nearly an entire day being negative. As I became mindful I was able to reflect on my best teaching practices and my intentions (or desired outcomes). I was reminded of the mantra; find remedy, not fault. I had shifted my mindset. I had to find an alternative way to guide my students. I wanted them to discover healthy alternatives to training their tiny bodies and active minds to engage joyfully and successfully in the learning process. I wanted to become better at showing them how be kind. Children were not meant to sit still, conform, or naturally collaborate all of the time. I had to find a way to guide them into doing these things. The answer was focus.
I am going to get all researchy for a moment.

The United States Education Department recently allocated nearly $3 million to study mindfulness in 30 high-poverty Chicago schools (Deruy, 2016).

“Compassionate institutions are needed at every level so we can buffer, rather than cement, children's toxic stress.” (Erikson, 2016). And, boy are a lot of our children under unimaginable stress!
You see, this research and our government's willingness to make a financial investment into the idea of mindfulness reinforces the aha moment that I had as I reflected on my yoga mat that day. I began implementing the practice of mindfulness into my pedagogy each day following that epiphany.
Pump the breaks! What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness in the classroom is taking the time to create a sense of calm, community, and validation that teachers are allowing time for the curriculum of me despite what is happening in the students’ lives (Deruy, 2016). Mindfulness is simply taking a few minutes to be still and in the moment; a few moments to reflect and be grateful.

I noticed that as my students increased their skillset in the practice of mindfulness that they began to create their own set of expectations for classroom behavior. Using mantras, students began to remind unfocused to students to, “focus” and to use the, “focus muscle.” Children who were experiencing stress would sit cross-legged, close their eyes and re-focus themselves. The children seemed to like a few minutes each day that focused on their happiness, joy, and health. 

After implementing the mindfulness strategy for several weeks, I had noticed a marked increase in kindness. Daily student reading groups allowed me to analyze whether or not my students could read more fluently from the guided reading books following the use of the mindfulness strategy. Not only did their fluency increase, but their overall reading scores climbed! Those at-risk students I fretted about were reading at the benchmark! Some students increased their reading proficiency by two levels and a few by three levels! The practice of mindfulness in my classroom increased social emotional awareness and academic success. 
 
How did I find time to squeeze yet another strategy into our jam-packed world of common core curriculum?

All I did was show my entire class a mindfulness video each day and model, model, model (fancy college lesson two). I pointed out that the video was designed to help them be calm, focused, and happy. They were receptive immediately. In fact, the buy in was profound.

Who LOVES GoNoodle, raise your cyber hand?! GoNoodle is an online, interactive video tool that is FREE! They have three channels focused on mindfulness called Focus, Flow, and Think About It. They are appropriate for all ages. This is the platform that I used to deliver quick lessons in mindfulness. After a while, we did not require the videos as a guide. 

Many of my kiddos were having major behavioral issues that were distracting and hard to regulate. The practice of mindfulness increased their success and helped my tiny teachers to find calm and to focus and to give and receive positive affirmations. Mindfulness in the classroom improved self-regulation and confidence in all of my students. I encourage other teachers to strive to meet the academic and social emotional needs of their students by giving mindfulness a try! Your focus muscle will thank you for it.

ReferencesDeruy, E. (2016). Does Mindfulness Actually Work in Schools? Scholars want to know whether the practice helps young kids of color succeed academically. The Atlantic. Retrieved from www.theatlantic.com

Erikson. (2016). Amanda Moreno, Ph. D joins filmmaker James Redford to discuss toxic stress, learning. Erikson Institute. Retrieved from www.erikson.edu

Robin Dawson

Robin Dawson is a kindergarten teacher in the Santee School District. Robin is focused on fostering a love of learning through the building of relationships and by creating high interest learning activities that incorporate technology, accountability, kindness, and an emphasis on social emotional awareness and learning while striving to be tech-forward. You can reach Robin on Twitter @kindercollab or via email at robinleo@sandiego.edu.

Monday, September 11, 2017

How Much Can One eBook Project Accomplish?

eBook cover page
The Story of Ishanga
Innovative teachers are always on the lookout for a great new idea, or a better way to do something we’ve always done. It can be easy to get excited about every new thing that comes our way. Before we know it, our students have long, unmanageable lists of usernames and passwords for a myriad of tools and sites. An alternative that allows us to innovate and simplify at the same time, is to dive deeply into something many of our districts already have--our Google Drives. Google Slides has powerful capabilities that many of us haven’t explored in depth. There are endless possibilities beyond the same old title, image, and bullet points that exhaust teachers and students alike.

I had the pleasure of working with Jamie Lora, a fifth grade teacher at Carrillo Elementary in the San Marcos Unified School District, to help her class create beautiful eBooks using Google Slides. Students had read about an elephant in Africa who was rescued after her mother was killed by poachers. The class then took on the task of writing narratives telling the story from the perspective of the baby elephant, named Ishanga by her rescuers. So far, this activity resembled what goes on in classrooms everywhere. Jamie Lora, however, is dedicated to innovation, and she asked me to come introduce her students to eBooks with Google Slides. By the end of the afternoon, classroom magic had occurred.  The students threw themselves into creating beautiful eBooks with incredible attention to detail. Even better, the volume of their writing increased by two and three-fold. Rather than just copying the narrative they had written into the eBook format, they added more rich content and beautiful images (which they properly searched and cited). Click here to scroll through a sample of one student’s work.  

I spent nearly three hours in her classroom, and many students were still planning to continue working on their eBooks from home, as they needed more time.  Even when the eBooks were complete, the students’ increased interest level in the topic persisted. They did more research on the plight of elephants and poaching, and they eventually launched a classroom service project to do what they could as a class to help save the lives of endangered elephants. Through their research and coin drive, Jamie’s class made contact with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and adopted their own baby elephant, Luggard. Storyworks, where Ishanga’s story was published, has even contacted Jamie to interview her class!

So. . . what can one eBook project accomplish? Big things! These fifth grade students created beautiful narratives from the perspective of Ishanga the baby elephant, produced fantastic eBooks with attention to style and detail, practiced searching for and using appropriate images and citing their sources, persisted and persisted and persisted, and grew to care about a cause. The technology was infused, not an add-on but an integral part of the process.  Finally, it doesn’t hurt that Jamie gets to read a class set of interesting and well-crafted narratives instead of a bunch of bullet points. eBooks can be used across the curriculum and in any grade level, and Google Slides is a free and available platform.




Laura Sugano

Laura Sugano is an Ed Tech TOSA (Teacher on Special Assignment) in the San Marcos Unified School District. Prior to becoming a resident of TOSAtown, Laura taught in 3rd and 5th grades. She is passionate about student use of technology, and committed to integrating technology into the ways we teach and learn. You can reach Laura on Twitter @LauraSugano or via email at Lsugano@gmail.com.