Ed Tech In the SpEd Classroom

Using Technology to Help Bridge the Learning Gap

Our Gratitude Board!


Ok, so one of the unique things we do at my high school is have what we call a Moral Focus every month.  Each month has a different Moral focus which allows teachers and students to discuss and partake in activities that will help them become better people.  November’s Moral Focus is Gratitude, and I think everyone can always use a little reminder about what they should be grateful for, don’t you?

I started class of by showing my students a video for our Do Now.  Once it was finished, I had them jot down 5 things they were grateful for in their Do Now notebooks.  Once they wrote their 5, they had to select their favorite and write it on the back whiteboard, which was serving as our Gratitude Board.  This way, there was always a reminder as they walked through the door.

After all students from each hour wrote their entries, our Gratitude Board looked great! I plan on allowing them to add as they wish during the month.  Later this month, we will work on writing letters to someone who has made a difference in our lives to show our gratitude.  I look forward to reading them and hearing their stories of when their recipients get them! 🙂

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Welcome to Room 111


Oh, well, he-LLO again! So nice of you to stop by again! Come on over and sit–let’s chat.

Just to fill you in on what we’ve been doing in our high school Resource class, I’d like to squeeze 2 months-worth of activities in one post.  So, just a reminder, I am currently in a 1:1, at-risk high school.  I have 4 different Resource classes this year:  my freshmen class (which is currently PACKED with 13 students!), my originally-intended-for-sophomore Resource, which now has 4 freshmen, my Certificate of Completion class for those students who are significantly below grade level, and my junior/senior Resource class.  Luckily, this year I am co-teaching my freshmen Resource with the other Resource teacher in my building.  This helps tremendously with monitoring students, managing the work load, and classroom management.

Because we are a 1:1, I have the ability to help create lessons that utilize the technology our students have.  My goal has always been creating lessons that are engaging and informative.  Being that we are on a block schedule, it can be challenging to find activities that are engaging enough to have students work for the entire 90 minute period.  This year, to help with this, us special ed teachers decided to use stations.  This will allow students to work on an activity for 15 minutes before moving on to the next.  We find that this minimizes behaviors while keeping students working on skills that we’ve taught them.

One of my favorite tools that I’ve started using more often is PearDeck.  This allows me to share my Google Slide presentation to be displayed on each student’s laptop.  Additionally, PearDeck lets students use the interactive tools to respond to given prompts.  Students can respond with text, draggables, drawing tools, and with multiple choice options.  For example, below students are learning about their IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) and enter information on their own slides, that will transfer over to the teacher.


Students entering their own information to given IEP slide prompts.


Additionally, we use Google Classroom to post Slides that each student can obtain their own copy of and edit as needed.  This has been a huge help in getting activities out to students quickly while being able to check their work just as efficiently.  In one of their station activities below, we had students replace “dead words” (overused words, but more Halloween-themed) with more colorful synonyms.  With the help of a small set of thesauruses that I’ve hoarded over the past few years, students were able to edit their given slides.  Hopefully, this will allow them to know not only that there are so many more words to use than the usual ones, but also where to find them.  And thanks to this Google Classroom feature, I can check their work in real-time.  Super convenient!


Another thing we do from time to time is give video prompts as their bellringers.  At our school, we use Teach Like a Champion strategies and the Do Now strategy is the one that students complete immediately upon class starting.   While we try to incorporate a lot of writing in the Do Nows, we try to look for prompts that will be of interest to our students.  Having short video prompts will pique their interest and give them that little extra push to want to respond.  One example of us using this in our Resource classes was showing them this video and having students respond to it.  They could answer a variety of questions, such as, “What happened next? What lesson can be learned from this?”  I’ve noticed it’s a lot easier to get longer responses with video prompts than it is with written ones.


We also know that sometimes there’s nothing wrong with good ole’ technology-less activities as well.  Getting students up and out of their seats (and just moving) can break the everyday-class-routine monotony.  Here you can see students (it was “Where’s Waldo Day,” fyi. Hence, Waldo) in the halls at different checkpoints.  These checkpoints had math problems student had to solve and had to select the correct answer from the given choices.  This activity in particular reinforced their skills on the distributive property. Once they solved the problem, they were directed to the next clue, which was at another checkpoint in the building.  Although this station activity was meant to be completed individually, several students utilized teamwork to solve the problems.  Some did them in teams of 2 or 3, others completed them solo.  Either way, each student was able to practice their math skills while getting their fidgety-ness out.

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So that’s just a snippet of what we’ve been up to so far this year.  I am excited to share all of the upcoming treats that will take place in my Resource classes this year with you all.  It is still very much a learning process for me, despite this being my 8th year of teaching.  Here’s to a successful, new, and tech-filled school year! Salud!

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Prelude to Chapter 2…


Hello, again, friends.  It’s been a while, hasn’t it? About 3 years, actually.

Don’t hate me.  During that time, I had embarked on a new journey as a teacher at a virtual school.  Meaning, both students and teachers learned/taught virtually (from home).  While it was a new and exciting experience that gave me invaluable knowledge and experiences, I felt I had more to offer students and could do that better in a face-to-face setting.

So, here I am.

I am now a high school special education teacher at a school nearby and I am STOKED to start this new adventure! Nervous, scared, but stoked.  Let me share a few reasons why:

  • It’s a 1:1 school.  In other words, each student is issued a Chromebook.  This was a huge plus for me.  As a teacher who loves to use different techy things with her students, this opens up a lot of possibilities for my teaching and their learning.
  • There are some great values taught/instilled in students from the get-go.  I really liked this.  Where my former school lacked in consequences for students, this totes makes up for it.  Kids need that discipline and it’s refreshing to hear that it’s something in place.
  • Um, hel-LO?? I get to see kids face-to-face! Don’t get me wrong-I ADORED working from home.  There is no editing button to bold, underline, highlight, emphasize that enough.  I am the type of teacher who thrives off independence.  Give me the rules, and leave me to myself to work my magic my own way.  However, the whole reason why I went into teaching was to feel the sense of fulfillment that comes with it.  I wasn’t getting that in a virtual setting.  And that’s purely a personal thing–it worked wonders for other teachers.

I do realize that some issues arise with working in a brick-and-mortar facility.  There are always behavior issues, there is the drive to work, and the inevitable (ugh) getting dressed for work (yoga pants, anyone?).  However, I believe the pros will undoubtedly weight out the cons here.  I look forward to making new friends, establishing some great new professional relationships, and spreading my tech wings once again for the good of student learning.

So sit tight.  We begin round 3 tomorrow.  And I can’t wait.

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Book Trailers Completed! \(0.0)/


Oh, happy day! I totally felt like this on Friday when we presented our book trailers!

It’s been a long journey, through reading our novels, planning our trailers, then creating them on the iPads, but they did it.  I was so proud of them! This was a first-time journey for both them and me, but I think it turned out wonderfully.  Were the trailers perfect? No. But going from no experience on iMovie to creating a trailer using the Project feature on iMovie (not the Trailer option), they were able to do great work.  Some things I learned along the way:

1.  Daily conferencing is crucial! Being a Resource room, we couldn’t work on the trailers for any straight consecutive days because of other work we had, but I had to communicate with them often to make sure they were understanding what to do as well as staying on task.  There were a couple of students who reaaaally waited until the last minute to get their reading done.

2.  Be firm about the order of things being done! I purposefully made searching for images and music towards the end because I knew they’d spend the most time doing that.  I required that a book summary be done after the reading, then the storyboards be completed.  Some students wanted to skip right to finding pictures after their summary, which was a no-go.

3. Having an iMovie tutorial saved my life.  I found a great video on YouTube which did a fantastic job of explaining iMovie on the iPads in a short and sweet video.  I posted this on our class Edmodo site so the students could reference it as often as needed.  Even though I had it there, I still had kids ask me, “Miss! How do make the picture show longer?” My response: “The tutorial explains how to do it–go watch it again.”  And the video tutorial was only a few minutes long, so it wasn’t a big deal to go back and watch it over again.

4. Have deadlines! By having these, students were always aware at what point they should be in their book trailer creation process. Too much lagging (as some of them learned the hard way) really hurt them later as they struggled to get caught up.

5.  Make a big deal about their finished products.  I threw a “book trailer premier” party on Friday, presenting everyone’s trailers to the class.  I brought in popcorn for everyone to munch on while we watched them.  I know for middle schoolers it was probably not that big of a deal to do that (or at least some acted like it), but I wanted them to celebrate the work they put into them.

One thing I did as we watched the trailers was distribute Peer Evaluation sheets to each student.  Everyone got six of them in order to evaluate everyone else’s besides themselves.  They were to point out one good thing, one suggestion, and whether or not they would read the book based on the book trailer.  I did this because I thought each student could get feedback from their peers, which could hold more weight than my own feedback, potentially.  Plus, I wanted students to analyze each other’s work instead of just “watching” them.

Last, I created a Google Form for students to do a self-assessment on this project.  I did this not only for them to think about their own work, but to give me an idea as to what they liked/didn’t like.  From their submissions, all of them said they’d prefer to do a book trailer in the future over a written assignment/report.  I’m very pleased that it was worth it to them.  Hard work really does pay off.  🙂

Photo Apr 23, 9 37 33 AM

Writing a book summary.

Photo Apr 23, 9 37 55 AM

Finishing his reading…


Planning his trailer.

Planning his trailer.

In the early portions of storyboarding. Some tweaks were made along the way.

In the early portions of storyboarding. Some tweaks were made along the way.

Searching for images.

Searching for images.

Recording his narration.

Recording his narration.

Book trailer.

Book trailer.

Showtime. :)

Showtime. 🙂

Saying nice things about their classmate's video (while enjoying some popcorn).  :)

Saying nice things about their classmate’s video (while enjoying some popcorn). 🙂


And although they begged me not to show their trailers, I thought one wouldn’t hurt. 😉



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Innovation Day 2013: Mission Accomplished!


So I’ve had several people ask me how Innovation Day went in my classroom.  To put it simply, it was awesome!

Let me give you a run-down of our agenda for that day.  From talking to the students the day before, they knew they were to come to my room first thing after dropping off their bags and coats in their lockers.  These kids came bombarding into my room as if they had downed a few bottles of Mountain Dew.  They reminded me of my kids on Christmas morning, waiting to open their presents.  They were very excited, to say the least.  As soon as they all arrived, I kept getting asked, “When are we gonna start?” I must’ve told them “after the announcements” about 10 times.  The kids were walking around asking each other what they were going to work on.  Our poor principal.  He never stood the chance of his announcements being heard that day.  At least from my group.

After what seemed like an eternity, the announcements were over and I explained to them how it was going to work.  Students would be able to work on their project until 11:07 (lunch), they would eat lunch in the cafeteria, come back up, and work more until about 2.  At that point, the students would present their work and fill out a Reflection Sheet regarding their Innovation Day projects.  I distributed materials, which consisted of popsicle sticks, glue, Legos, Kinex, iPads, latptops, and action figures.  Some students brought in their own action figures.  Another brought in her personal (and very nice) laptop from home.  They got right to work.

I had to give some assistance to one student as he was trying to navigate Minecraft on the iPads for the first time ever.  Although my own kids at home are obsessed with that game, I don’t know much about playing it myself.  Fortunately, together we were able to figure it out and he was building in a matter of no time.

So as you’re envisioning and taking all this in, I would like to mention a few glitches I hit along the way, before I go back to painting my portrait of middle school bliss.  First was materials.  As I mentioned before, my kids don’t have a lot.  Since a few of them had mentioned using Legos, I had to find enough to endure hours of building for multiple students.  Thanks to the help of a very generous donor (thank you, Heather Gauck!), I was able to get enough.  Yes, I did end up purchasing used Legos online a few days before as well, just to make sure there was enough.  Besides the problem with materials, I had one student who was just so darn indecisive.  Actually, let me re-phrase that.  He didn’t want to take the time to think of a project to work on.  First he had come up with one project.  Then he changed his mind.  Then he told me to pick a project for him.  Then, that morning, he asked if it was ok for him to work on a 3D model of the Eiffel Tower with another student who actually bought it to work on himself.  The other student had agreed to let him work on it with him, although I let my one student know that was irresponsible of him.

Another unfortunate thing was that our principal wasn’t able to stop in and see us work.  I know this wasn’t his fault–that day was a crazy day and he had to handle business with different students and their parents.  I know how much he’d talked about wanting to see them all in action, so I let him know afterwards how it went.

One last problem I ran into was a technology issue (go figure).  I would ominously label this section Me vs. The Help Desk. So let me give you a little background info super quickly.  There have been times in the past when I’ve needed either an update or some software downloaded to my school laptop.  I’ve called the Help Desk and they’ve been able to download it as we spoke over the phone.  Instantaneously.  I’ve never really had to wait for more than a day for a software download.  A week before Innovation Day, I let the Help Desk know that I wanted to download Reflector onto my laptop. I briefly explained what it was and was told they’d get back to me.  A day later, I received a phone call telling me the dongle would cost yada yada dollars.  I told them they were mistaken–there was no hardware needed.  I tried to explain again, all while the lady was writing it down on her end.  Fast forward another day. I was told I had to wait to get the ok from our district tech person.  I followed up with e-mails asking if it would be something they could do by Friday, since I needed it for the students to present their iPad projects.  No answer.  From anybody.  I saw that my e-mails were being read, just not replied to.  I e-mailed the tech lady again and the Help Desk again. No answer.  Finally, Friday came around and I still had no answer.  We ended up putting the iPads on the ELMO and tried to present that way.  It worked alright, but it got blurry when the students were navigating through their projects and the ELMO couldn’t keep up with their motions fast enough.  It wasn’t until the middle of that next week that I got an answer that it couldn’t be done.  I don’t even want to get into how mad I was. Yeah, I kinda figured when you didn’t answer my e-mails for days that it wasn’t going to happen.

Ok, enough.  The good events of that day outweighed the bad by far.  The kids were so excited to work on their projects.  I brought in some snacks, one of my students brought in some snacks, and we played music the whole time.  I actually had two students who asked to stay during lunch, they were that much into their projects.  “You have to eat!” I told them.  “Miss, we got food here.” (pointing to the bags of chips and pop up front).  So I let them stay.  The rest of the kids went to get their lunch and asked to bring them back up to the room to eat and work at the same time.  During passing time, we had several students stop in, ask what we were doing, and then asked if they could stay also.

When lunch was over, I could see a slight shift in their momentum.  It slowed down a bit, but not much.  They had been working several hours already and I was surprised how focused they still were.  However, there was a little more checking out others’ projects and offering help, which I was totally fine with.  They all made it back to their projects eventually and continued until they were finished.

There was one point where one of my students had a catastrophe.  He was working on a stop-motion movie, using Lego figures.  I had installed an app called myCreate, which is specifically for stop-motion movies.  Somehow, my student hit the wrong button and everything erased.  Everything.  He had about 200 screenshots in the making and it was all gone in a second.  Other students tried to help get it back, I tried, but it was gone.  He was heartbroken and wanted to give up.  I told him he still had a few hours and could start another one.  Initially, he was dead-set against it.  All he said was he would never finish on time and that it was no use. I told him he had already created a great movie and knew he could do it again.  I felt sooooo bad for him! He kind of moped around for a while, looking at others working on their projects.  All the while, I would remind him that he was very talented and could start a new one.  Even if he never finished it, he could have something great to show.  Eventually, after about 15 minutes, he started rummaging through Legos again, looking for figurines.  After about 5 minutes, he started getting back into the swing of things.  I offered to save his work several times.  Each time, he declined. He was too busy working. 😉

Before it was time to present, I had them fill out their reflection sheets, which had them think about what they learned during this process.  When it was time to present, each student came to the front, explained what they worked on, and told us what they learned.  Most of the students said their projects were harder to do than they thought.  There was more involved and they had to modify what they did to make it the way they wanted.  My one student who lost all his work said he learned not to push the wrong button. 😉  Although he didn’t want to mention it, he also figured out how to create an “explosion” in his movie by holding up a transparent orange Lego piece up to the camera and take a shot like that.  I never would’ve thought of that.  He did.  He also said that even though you mess up, you can still keep going and make something just as good.  It was definitely a “proud mama” moment for me. You can see his movie here.

Building the Eiffel Tower

Making stop-motion movies!

Minecrafting. 🙂

Creating a slideshow to sing to. 🙂


Getting it juuust right…

Mission accomplished!

Writing their post-project reflections.

Presenting his Minecraft castle.

Entertained by the stop-motion movies.

Watching the awesome movies that were created.


You can watch a short video clip here.

So, what did I learn? I learned that setting aside one day for students to work on something that interests them was totally worth it.  Not only did they get to explore their interests, but we grew more as family.  No one was at odds at anyone else that day.  If anything, there was more collaboration and teamwork than I’d ever seen from any of them.  Yes, I had some trouble along the way, but it was totally outweighed by the good. And yeah, it got noisy at times.  But it was a good kind of noise.  Laughing, complimenting, talking to others and themselves, as they figured out the best way to achieve their goal.  Even the kids who have had the most behavior problems this whole year had a blast.  Better yet, they were the ones making others laugh the most and created some of the best movies.  It was jaw-dropping.  The last part of their reflection sheets asked them this: Do you have any suggestions for this project?  Every single one of them stated pretty much the same thing: I hope we can do this again.  Would I do this again next year?  You can bet on it.









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You win some, you lose some…


Being a Resource teacher (we call the class Extended Core in my building), my job is not only to help my students with their IEP goals and objectives, but to help keep them caught up in their core classes.  Today, we worked on Social Studies review.

Let’s rewind 10 hours, shall we?  The Hubs (who teaches 8th grade Social Studies at my school) can testify that I spent a really long time trying to come up with a fun Social Studies activity.  To me (personally), “fun” and “Social Studies” don’t really go together (no offense, honey).  I eventually decided to forget about the “fun” aspect so much and focus more on having them get the content down.  They are just about to get into the period of Andrew Jackson’s presidency so I figured I’d give my students a sneak preview of the material so they’d have a little advantage going into the chapter.  I didn’t really want to do a vocabulary activity, so instead, I chose the first three parts of the chapter to focus on.  I recorded myself reading each section aloud using Chirbit.  Section 14.1 took me 2 minutes to read, section 14.2 took me 5 minutes to read, and 14.3 took me 2 minutes to read.

Why the heck would I do that? Yes, my students can read.  Can they read well? Not so much.  I wanted them to be able to listen to the recording and follow along in their books at the same time so they could focus on the content rather than the reading process.  After I recorded the readings, I took the link from Chirbit and created a QR code out of each one.  Then I downloaded the code, and copied and pasted it onto a Word document.  After each QR code were 3 questions from each section reading.  I didn’t make them too difficult, but tried to ask questions that would get them thinking about the main idea of each part.

Sample Question


There were three sections total with three sections each, so nine questions total.  It was a little eerie as they did this–the classroom was completely silent.  They all had their headphones plugged in and were listening, reading, and answering questions as they listened.  Overall, however, it was pretty awesome to watch.

Following along in the book as he listens…


Unfortunately, I had to stop them before they were able to finish completely.  Most made it to the third section.  However, I’d been dying to use a new tool in my classroom–PollsEverywhere.  This website allows me to post a question (or several, if I wanted) in the form of an open question or multiple choice.  Students can answer the “poll” by texting in a code with their cell phones or by going to the website and answering it there.

Screenshot of what the students saw.

You can see from the picture that it shows students both options for responding.  You’ll also notice that only 1 person responded.

Yeah…about that…

Sooo, it turns out we ran into a little problem when it came to having those students who were answering the question via iPads or laptops.  My one student that had her cell phone on her was able to text her answer and it showed up immediately.  The other students were led to some sort of error page.  I can’t for the life of me figure out why, either.  I made sure the poll was “active” but it was still being weird.  We did, however, have a crazy network connection today at work, which may or may not have contributed to this fiasco.  It would work and then not work in random spurts today.  Yeah…I’ll just blame it on the network.  Regardless, I like the tool and plan on using it, but will test drive it a few more times before using it again in class.  We ended up just verbally going over *what would’ve been* the poll questions.

Tomorrow I plan on giving them more time to finish their questions, we’ll go over them as a class, review some Algebra for Math class, and call it a good day.  I’m also getting in touch with all my students regarding their Innovation Day 2013 projects to see if they’ve made their decisions yet about what they want to create.  I’m excited to hear more of their ideas.  Still trying to figure out some last minute things, but I’ll make it work. Keep your fingers crossed! 🙂

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Back to Reality…


Tell me this wasn’t all of you guys the first morning back to school after Spring Break.  Uh huh….thought so.

While I was not the most excited to get up and tackle the school day today, I was excited about being able to introduce Innovation Day 2013 to my students.  I was given the ok to bring my principal to bring them up during lunch, so I did in order to get them all in one spot and explain everything.  At first, students didn’t really understand what was going on. They heard “you won’t go to any of your classes that day” and “you’ll work on a project that interests you,” but, somehow, couldn’t put both of them together to make sense.  I had to explain it a few times until they finally got it.

Next, I gave them some handouts, explaining what it was so they would be able to show their parents and talk to them about what was happening.  On the back of one, I listed some ideas of what kinds of projects they could choose to work on.  I figured they would have trouble coming up with some ideas.  By the time lunch was over, some students had already picked out their project.  Others started talking about different ideas they had.

I do have one concern regarding the project.  Supplies.  The students are to bring in their own and the school would provide the rest, such as laptops to work on, chart paper, markers, etc.  However, one of my students asked me, “Miss, what if we don’t have any supplies? I don’t have anything.”  My heart dropped.  I knew this was going to come up with some of my students.  If I had the money, I would by all the supplies myself.  God knows I’ve spent my own money tons of times before.  But times are tough.  I have four children to feed and my district hasn’t given me the raise they promised me in years.  At this point, I will keep encouraging them to think about what project they’d like to do.  Then I can better gauge what items I’ll need.  I may have to ask for help in the form of donations eventually.  Regardless, I want to make it an amazing day for them.

Keep your fingers crossed, friends.



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“Oh, hey there, stranger…”


…is what you’re probably saying to me right now.  Sooooo yeahhhh, see, what had happened was…. Ok, enough beating around the bush.  I’m a bad blogger.  Bad, bad blogger.  I know what you’re thinking:  “Where’ve you been, Miss Rivas? What happened to you?”

Life happened, folks.  Life.

Just a quick little view into the mayhem I call my life: My house sprung a leak and ruined my family room, I found out my homeowner’s didn’t cover the damage, I had to cancel my planned wedding, ended up getting married by the courts instead, was taking 2 grad classes as well as a 12 week class through my school district, all while trying to work as a full-time teacher and raise 4 children.

My apologies, friend.

So, as Nacho Libre would say, “Let’s get down to the neety-greety.”

What have we been doing up in Room 204-A lately?  My biggest thing has been introducing our next big project: book trailers.  No, you’re not experiencing deja vu, we’re doing book trailers.  Again.  The first time we did these, it was a hot mess.  I tried using the school laptops for this.  I thought it would be easier using Windows Movie Maker.  This was the biggest waste of time ever.  First of all, the laptops at our school suck, to put it lightly.  Software needed upgrading (0nly able to be done by our oxymoronic “Help Desk”), keys were missing, along with lagging of our network.  Rather than burying the evidence, I decided to go for a round 2.  This time:  iMovie on the iPads.

I should’ve done this from jump, but I was hesitant about the students’ abilities to use the app.  This time, I would present the project to them once again, only with (hopefully) more seamless results.  The first thing I did was create a video to intro the project. (Side note:  I attended the 2013 MACUL conference in Detroit a few weeks ago.  While my roomies were out networking after the conference, I was holed up in my hotel room working on this video.  It took me FOREVER to get it done just right! [Read: to my standards.])  Surprisingly, the students didn’t smother me with the excuses and teeth-sucking that I expected.  They accepted it.  One student even said, “Miss, I wanted to learn how to use this anyways, so I can make my own videos.” EXCELLENT.  All hope is not lost.

Letting the video sink in…

I proceeded to lead my little minions angels down to the library and choose the novel they’d be reporting on.  Basically, it’ll look like this:

  • Students read self-chosen novels
  • Students give a basic written summary of their novel, using the 5Ws as a guide
  • Students plan their narrative, using their storyboard template
  • Narratives are recorded and imported into iMovie
  • Video is captured, using digital cameras
  • Video is imported into iMovie
  • Images are imported
  • Music is imported
  • Video is finalized
  • All videos are presented to class as a whole. Popcorn is provided.
This is a general outline of how they’ll complete their projects.  There is more detail here and there, but you get the gist.  As I mentioned in my earlier post, I chose to do it this way because first of all, book reports are boring.  They just are.  This is the use of technology. Apps. Creativity. The students have full control of what images, video, and “soundtrack” their video will have, giving their trailers a motivational advantage over  a written book report.  Additionally, um, hello00?  What age are we living in? Whether you like it or not, folks, times they are a changin’.  Everything’s morphing to fit into this digital world we live in now.  The students will read their novel (which is at their reading level and will help them get the reading practice they desperately need) and learn some video creating/editing techniques.  There is only good that can come out of this.  I briefly went over the rubric in my video, but will go over it more in depth when we come back from Spring Break.

Book Trailer Rubric

So that’s where we are now.  The kids will have a while to get this done.  I am flexible with time (I’m a teacher–I have to be, don’t I?)  I plan on doing a LOT of conferencing with them during this process and will give them tentative deadlines to go by so they don’t get too behind.  Hopefully the video tutorials provided to them will help them in the process.  I’m determined to make this work, darn it!

 Chapter 2:  Innovation Day, 2013

So, as I stated earlier, I was very fortunate to have had the chance to go to the MACUL conference in Detroit a few weeks ago.  Among the plethora of information/ideas that was thrown at me was one that I found particularly interesting.  I’d never heard of an Innovation Day before (also known as FedEx Days), but was drawn to the whole concept.  In a nutshell, it’s an entire day dedicated to students creating a project of whatever interests them.  It could be building a 3D model of something, painting a picture, composing an original song, whatever.  The only requirements are that they have to produce something to present (whether it’s a slideshow, the art itself, a speech, etc.) and they have to mention what they learned from the whole process.  Upon doing some more research on this, and with the help of the information I got at MACUL, I found this website from Stump the Teacher  that explained it more in depth and this video from RSA, which also does an excellent job explaining, courtesy of the speech Dan Pink gave.

After e-mailing my principal with my proposal, I was surprised to get an e-mail back very quickly, telling me he was in full support of this.  Now my goal is to compile a list of possible projects, since I know the first words out of their mouths will be, “What can we do?” And “anything you want” is too broad for them.  They just need a gentle nudge.  As of now, I’m planning on doing this later this month with all my students with IEPs.  We will spend the entire day in my classroom, working on projects.  I. Can. Not. WAIT.  I’m getting antsy just thinking about it.  More to come.

So, that’s what’s going on.  I will attempt to keep you posted more regularly.  Time management is not my forte.

I’d like to think of it as a work in progress.  🙂


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Classroom Updates


No, I promise I haven’t broken up with you. I just finished the two Master’s classes I’ve been taking, with the last major assignments due this past week. Priorities, man. Priorities.

So, Miss Rivas, what has the wonderful world of Extended Core been up to lately? Let’s start with our class blog, Operation X.

The students are progressing nicely. The first few entries were a little shaky, but that was expected. I was trying to teach the concepts of using a blog, how to edit their blog entries, and how to add more “meat” to them as well. After reviewing previous entries as a class, I think the students have a better idea of what I’m looking for in their blog entries. I have been trying to keep the topics interesting in order to motivate them to write. Their topic for this week’s entry is about their New Year’s resolutions. I’m still struggling a little with those students who aren’t giving me much to work with. For example, one of the questions they have to answer for their blog entry this week is: “What do you think are some good things about starting a new year?” Right away, I had one student answer out loud after I read this to the class, “There’s nothing really good about it, Miss. It’s just like a regular day for me.” This, of course, made me rephrase the question and urge him to think deeper in to it. Besides, “idk” is not an acceptable answer to this. I’d like them to focus on actually checking their spelling with the spell check (versus just checking the box on their blog checklist) and adding more to their peer comments. Most comments are very short. I’d like them to expand on their replies.

Next, our E-Pal project, which we do every other week. We’ve hit a few bumps along the road with this. As I’ve stated before, this is my first year doing E-Pals with my students as well as our partner school in New Jersey. Since we’ve started, I’ve had two students exit my Extended Core class, leaving two students on the other end with no E-Pal. Two of my X-Core students volunteered to take on two E-Pals, which was very thoughtful of them to do. Also, between my class and the other class, there are some e-mail addresses that got screwed up along the way. This prompted a mini lesson on saving contacts to e-mail. While most students have yet to get a response, the ones that did were excited to read their e-mails. Today I had one of my students check his mail and see that his E-Pal wrote back to him. Coming from the same student who griped about this ongoing assignment earlier in the year, he was very excited today as he read his letter aloud to the class. After he read it, the discussion went sort of like this:

Student: “Miss, can I write him back?”

Me: “Yes, we will be writing them back next week. This week we’re doing blog entries, remember?”

Student: “I want to write him back, though.”

Me: “That’s good, and you will. You’re supposed to be working on your blog right now.”

Student: “He’s gonna think I’m being rude if I don’t…”

Me: “I promise he won’t think you’re being rude. Now get to work.”

I have to admit, however, I was excited that he was excited about his E-Pal. His view on this assignment has done a 180. I think once we get over these little obstacles, they will enjoy E-Paling more.

Last update is on the flipped classroom components I’m doing in my room. So far, the students have all been working on the same unit, all at their own pace. The majority of students are testing out and passing, and for those that don’t, they’re going back and re-learning it until they’ve mastered it. We’ve been taking baby steps with this and I’m comfortable with that. I’m teaching a new process and content at the same time, for the first time ever. I’m pleased with the progress they’re making. The Parts of Speech unit was given to them not only because they all desperately need it (especially with some major essays coming up in English class), but because it was a good way to intro the flipped classroom. Since my last post, I’ve gone from posting individual videos on Edmodo to creating tutorials on Sophia.org. What I love about Sophia.org is that I can create a group of activities for students to do pertaining to the lesson they’re learning. For example, with their adverbs lesson, I uploaded an intro video of an adverbs song being sung by a band. After that, their next step was to view the actual screencast done by myself, explaining what “how” adverbs were and how to identify them. Students are stilling filling out their SSS Packets as they watch the videos. Next, I posted a “how” adverb quiz via Google Forms for them to fill out. Last, I posted a link to another website which allows them to practice adverbs in a game format.

A student listens to a tutorial on Sophia.org

Another student fills out his SSS Packet while watching my tutorial.

The videos I’m making are slowly morphing into a better product. When I made my first video (*cringe*), I carefully scripted it out, timed the presentation just so, and recorded it very seriously (an adverb!). Since then, I’ve let that go. The script idea went to the wayside. I felt a lot more comfortable just presenting it on the spot. I’m able to let my personality come through more doing it this way, which the students have noticed (either that, or their giggles that escape while they’re watching mean that they’re laughing AT me. I choose to stay in denial). The one major discouraging part about doing this is, again, the technology we have in the class. The laptops are in bad shape, are slower than molasses, and are in dire need of updates. I’ve contacted our “Help Desk” several times, only to get chewed out and asked why I’m not taking better care of them. Whatever. That’s another entire blog post in itself. I would’ve liked to have the kids create a Wordle on the “how” adverbs they’ve learned so far, but unfortunatley, some laptops don’t have Java/Flash updates, so there went that idea. What sucks is that I demonstrated on my teacher laptop how to do it and they were actually looking forward to doing this activity.


So anyhoo, that’s the latest and greatest on the Adventures of Extended Core. Tomorrow the students should be finishing up the “when” adverbs tutorial and solidifying what they’ve learned by playing some adverbs games in class. Hopefully, I’ll remember to post how I’ve been incorporating flipped videos with student IEPs. This is, after all, the focus for this year.

Wish me luck. *heavy sigh*


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Me+Creating Videos on Camtasia= O_o


Wow.  I seriously underestimated the video-making process for my flipped classroom library.

I know I’m a newbie at the video recording anyway, but I am still trying to figure out how Camtasia works.  I did a PowerPoint on adjectives, then used the Camtasia to narrate through it.  That alone was an eye-opener for me.  I can’t tell you how many “takes” I did because my script was off from the PowerPoint at the time.  When it was finally finished, I went back to edit it.  There were a lot of long pauses that were unnecessary and I wanted to clip those out.  Ha.

It didn’t go down as smoothly as I’d hoped.  Regardless, I published what I had and had my students watch it and complete their SSS packets simultaneously.  I’m still trying to figure out how to save the videos to the flash drives.  I’ll have to tinker with that tonight.

A student filling out his Adjectives SSS packet while listening to my video. 🙂

One thing I was successfully able to do, however, was update our class Leaderboard.  If you’ve followed my earlier posts, you’ll know that I’m trying to gamify my classroom.  The students start at zero points and earn their way to the top level (or, an A in the gradebook).  The kids made up their own player name and earn privileges for leveling up.  Today, one of my students earned some free time on the laptop.  Now that the students are seeing this in action with the leaderboard and badges, I’m hoping it’ll light a fire under them to keep working.

Our leaderboard. 🙂


Last thing I wanted to bring up was our quiz review last Friday.  The kids were going to be quizzed on Math vocabulary.  I had created a Quizlet to help them study and posted it on my student Facebook study group page.  The morning of, I decided to post a question on the ELMO and gave my students the possible word choices.  They all wrote down their answers on their whiteboards and when I counted to three, they all raised their whiteboards.  I tried to study with them as much as I could before the quiz, offering little mnemonic devices to help them remember.  As I stated before, sometimes, just using the stuff in my room works just as well as the technology.  🙂

“One, two, three…show me the money!” 🙂

P.S.-All but one student aced their vocab quiz.  🙂

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