Thursday, November 2, 2017

Presenting at CVCUE Fall 2017

I am so excited to present at Central Valley Computer Using Educators Fall Conference. The CVCUE conference provides with some of the best technology integration tips for teachers, administrators, and anyone else working in the field of education or interested in applied technology. Educators from different content areas share their expertise about technology integration, issues regarding educational policy, and tools and tips to make technology use an enjoyable experience. As an avid technology integrator in a language class, I know that there is never enough I can learn about tools and ways to make my teaching experience more rewarding. From the novice teacher to the super techy educator, there is always something exciting to learn at CVCUE. Come and join us in Visalia this Saturday November 4th. I will be presenting a project based learning experience my language classes engaged in while researching a Spanish speaking city. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Technology in the Midst of Tragedy: Thumbs Up to WhatsApp Messenger

I became familiar with WhatsApp messenger several years ago on a trip to visit my family in Mexico City. I noticed that my relatives insisted on communicating through this app which sparked my curiosity. People explained to me that WhatsApp messenger was a way they could use instant messaging without the cost of expensive cellular plans and SMS services.

My family convinced me that this tool would allow for us to communicate internationally without expensive charges. Through this app we were able to have small groups of connected people. WhatsApp soon became one of my favorite apps. I started using the app when it was free but continued to pay for it when it became a paid app for only 99 cents a year because I saw good value in it. Through this app I have been able to chat with several family members at once while receiving pictures, videos, and audio. The latest version also allows for video calls when people use high end phones. 

In the past two weeks, WhatsApp became the tool of choice for people affected by tragedy. On Tuesday September 19th, several regions of Central Mexico were struck by a strong earthquake. Even before I was able to sit down down at home to watch the news or listen to the radio, WhatsApp allowed me to be informed about the severity of this crisis. Message, video, and audio conveyed the story of pain, suffering, anguish, and relief by connecting families little by little. Land lines were down, electricity and water gone. Despite the chaos, families affected by this tragedy were able to track their loved ones to make sure people were safe. WhatsApp is also being used to host important community services platforms such as a neighborhood watch.

The way social media and other connecting apps are being used in the midst of tragedies reminded me of the great uses of these tools available for free or for a small cost. People's lives have been spared by the ability to communicate with the entire world. Aide has been deployed where it is most needed and families can have peace of mind connecting with loved ones online. 


Sunday, September 3, 2017

A New School Year Begins: A Kagan Approach to Classroom Management

It has been some time since I sit down to write a post. Once I finish a school year I need to take a break to rest, reevaluate priorities, spend some time with my family exploring places, and taking time to remind myself who I am, what I want in life, and what is my plan to make my teaching experience better for the next school year.

Summer is gone... Image result for free clip art good bye summer

We are almost a whole month into the new school year and I am excited about my Spanish 2 classes. My district invested in professional development this summer and offered some training in the Kagan model for cooperative learning. I have found this model to be very easy to implement in the classroom. I have had group settings for the past 3 years in my classroom but the way Kagan structures work in getting everyone in a group involved has been a great addition to my classroom management skills. Some of the most useful structures that I have found from the Kagan method which I am currently using in the classroom are:

Management Mats 
When a group of students are seating together, there needs to be a way to assign tasks and responsibilities within that group. I used to ask volunteers to help pass and gather materials. I used to rely on students who liked getting out of their seats. Sometimes it was frustrating to not have any volunteers and have non enthusiastic students do the work. It was time consuming. With my management mats, I just call a number and the student knows they have a task to complete. No questions asked and they do it more willingly.

Positive Team Work & Class Management 
As simple as it sounds, creating a positive classroom environment has to be intentional, planned, and implemented accordingly. Kagan materials do an excellent job in providing activities for students to get to know each other and feel they are part of something bigger and better. I love the non academic for fun concept of short activities that students engage in to feel welcome in the classroom. It makes them feel that the are valued in the classroom and that their learning is important to others.

Pair Share 
As a language teacher, my students need to spend a lot of time practicing the language and interacting with others in non-threatening and comfortable ways. Kagan training reminded me that learning happens when students are the ones doing the work, not me being the one that takes the stage and magically transfers knowledge to students by just talking.

Even though I have been a teacher for over 20 years, I realize how easy it is to take teaching for granted and feeling that my experience is good enough to do my best in the classroom. Nope, not true.... a fallacy. Complacency in the classroom starts with me. When I stop challenging myself and continue to do things the same way over and over and pretend that time in the classroom equals best practices, I deprive my self and my students from engaging and rewarding learning experiences.

If you have not had a chance to explore the Kagan compilation of best practices and cooperative learning suggestions, I highly recommend that you take a look at it and see if this is something you can use in the classroom.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Using Class Dojo in High School Settings

I was very excited to receive this cute Classdojo mentor badge in my e-mail. I have been using this website platform in my high school classes for over 3 or 4 years now and I am proudly considered a Classdojo mentor. Classdojo is mostly used in elementary settings as a behavior and participation tool that allows the teacher to reward students for positive behaviors and discourage behaviors that interfere with the learning process.

Many teachers consider ClassDojo to be a tool that better suits the needs of elementary students due to the cute monster characters and stories. Nevertheless, I decided to integrate it in the classroom due to its great tracking functionality. Students have actually welcomed this tool in the classroom because Classdojo gives them immediate feedback about some areas of their social and academic performance in class.

The positive behaviors encouraged in my classroom include participation, teamwork, speaking in the target language (using Spanish as much as possible), helping others, being prepared with classroom materials, and demonstrating digital citizenship. Some of the behaviors that need to be discouraged in the classroom focus on talking out of turn, using electronic devices for non educational reasons, unwelcome and unnecessary disruptions, and disrespect. As controversial as it might sound, the points that students accumulate every 6 weeks become part of their overall grade. Academics and citizenship are an integral part of the educational process as we aim to prepare students to not only meet academic expectations but social norms and conventions.

I encourage other teachers to take a look at Classdojo or other tool to incorporate an element of character education in the learning process. Some times I bring small treats to class and actually give students a choice to get a treat or Dojo points when we play educational games. Needless to say, many times class ends with lots of treats at the table and several Classdojo points on the screen!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Modeling Good Behaviors in the Classroom

Recently I came across this image on my Linkedin feed. I liked the content in the image so I gave it a thumbs up and reposted it without thinking twice. It looked good and the message kind of resonated with my personal experience of being a High School teacher. Often I find myself reflecting on my role in the classroom and I realize that I do a lot of parenting along with teaching. Students come with multiple home experiences and teachers often become role moles during the time they spend with students. This made me rethink the concept that even though teachers will never replace good parenting, our role in the classroom allows us to model behaviors that may have a lasting impact in the life of students.

How do I think I have modeled good behaviors in students?

1) Using kind words. Even in the midst of the most challenging situations, I always try to treat students by using respectful words such as Sr., Mss. sweetie, honey, or other ways that tell my students I respect them and I expect respect in return. Not only do I respect my students but I care about their future as responsible citizens of society.

2) Setting boundaries and clear expectations for behavior or academic work. Many of our families are led by a single parent, a foster parent, or another family member. Discipline and expectations for behavior may be unstable or unclear to our students. Children need stability and consistency in their lives; it makes for safe places. Despite the conflict that high expectations for behavior and academics may create in my classroom, students know that there is consistency.

3) Allowing opportunities for non-academic interactions. Just as students need clear expectations for behavior and academics, they need to know that someone cares about them. Getting to know the students, asking questions and opening classroom spaces during no instruction times allows students to feel welcome. It makes me so happy when my classroom door is open and I get students from other years come to say hi and share their new endeavors or accomplishments in life.

Often I find myself eating breakfast during instructional hours. I allow students to eat in the classroom as long as they clean up after themselves. It makes all of us feel more relaxed. One of my favorite breakfast items is a greek protein yogurt with added cereal or a peanut butter sandwich with almond milk. It is amazing to see some of my students replacing the morning chips and unhealthy food items with yogurt, cereal, and peanut butter sandwiches! I know students are watching and it makes me feel good to model good behaviors.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

My Student Journey Comes to and End

I am only one week away from finishing my learning theory class in the master's for technology program. I know that many students feel a sense of relief and joy when a class is about to come to an end. This is my case to a certain extent as I know that hopefully some peace will come to my life as my days will not be as hectic. Being a high school teacher, a mom, a wife, and a student has proven to be a challenge. One of my colleagues that wrote a letter of recommendation to join the master's program was concerned about the workload coming my way balancing these many hats for two years.

It has been two years already... On December 16th 2016, my journey through the Master's Program comes to an end. I am graduating in a week and this completes a 17 year old dream in the making. When I decided to get married and move to California (I am a Mexico City Native) in January 1999, I was unable to complete my thesis project to graduate with a master's degree in Latin American studies at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). I never finished my thesis project therefore I never got a Master's degree. Seventeen years later, this dream comes to a completion. I am supposed to write my last reflection about learning theorist Paulo Freire and his pedagogy of education. Paulo Freire reminds me of that journey I started in college as a sociologist of education. Back then, I studied several of his concepts for popular culture, theology of liberation movement, and breaking the culture of silence. I was a dreamer with strong opinions and a desire to use education to change the world. Seventeen years later, my dreams have not changed, they have only become clearer. As Paulo Freire states, education is a vehicle to transforming the world. I would add that education transform us (Piaget), impacts our environment (Dewey), and gives us a sense of identity through the communities that we get to interact with (Wenger).

After two years involved with great people and great educational endeavors, I feel empowered to become a servant leader. I am not sure where the next journey starts and ends, I only know that just as when any other cycle in our lives closes, there is learning and sadness, joy and fear, expectations and disappointments. I will have to find a passion in education to continue moving this blog along. I will try to continue setting high standards and expectations for my own critical thinking and professional development to hopefully continue making an impact in the real and the virtual world of education.

A forever thanks to all my professors and colleagues at Fresno Pacific University. I will be looking forward to our paths crossing again.... may God bless!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

John Dewey & Paulo Freire: A Common Core Standards Approach

When the Common Core Standards were introduced in the educational field, there was an immediate reaction to new ways of teaching and learning as many teachers were not familiar with a model of inquiry, relevant learning, and student centered instruction. For more seasoned teachers, the integration of Common Core Standards were kind of a return to a teaching approach where creativity and student thought were seriously taken into account during curriculum planning.

As I continue to engage in reading the work of educational philosophers who have impacted teaching approaches in the Century 21st classroom, John Dewey and Paulo Freire offer similar perspectives that I believe influence Common Core Practices. Both of these philosophers believe in a student centered approach with freedom of action and thought. They are critical of students being "repositories" of information and advocate for an active, relevant, and authentic approach to learning where students are engaged in designing educational experiences. Dewey and Freire advocate for knowledge to be the key component to a transformative power that comes from every learner and the way they impact their world through critical attitudes and dispositions. This is certainly true for the 21st Century classroom where technology serves as a vehicle to expand, refute, recreate, and promote new ways of thinking. I have created a simple comparison chart of the main ideas between educational philosophers and thinkers John Dewey and Paulo Freire.

© Chart created by Adriana Castillo November 2016