When Skills (Not Product) Are the Focus

Eric Curts post that inspired the lesson
I recently introduced an activity in my 2nd-5th grade classrooms that involved making mosaic art via Google Drawings. It was a great activity that I first saw on Eric Curts' blog, Control Alt Achieve. I was excited to be delving into a lesser-used app among my teacher colleagues and was looking forward to seeing some of the creative pieces my students would be producing as a result of this study.

I readied my presentation (complete with some background information about mosaic art, examples, etc.), set the parameters of the assignment (every student in the class would have to pick a picture from a given topic; while the topic had to be the same, they had creative license to pick a picture they wanted to recreate), and then waited for the masterpieces to take form.

It didn't happen during that first lesson.

Now, the students were on task, dedicated to choosing the right image. They were using keyboard shortcuts that we had discussed in previous lessons, manipulating shapes (also discussed in a previous lesson), and using the polyline tool (where was this glorious tool when I was growing up?) in Drawings - something new. They were asking questions, exploring the app, clicking around and finding out what worked...and what didn't. Everything that a teacher of technology hopes students will do during a lesson.

Student samples from Julie Lyle's classroom

But masterpieces take time. I understood that (which is why I had planned on dedicating a few lessons to this endeavor). However, some of my teaching colleagues did not.
They wanted to see the product. Like, RIGHT. NOW. They wondered aloud if it was too hard for their students...too complicated for them. One teacher gave me a look that I couldn't quite identify - something along the lines of confusion and "Good Lord, honey...you're in way over your head." And their doubt took me aback

I think as teachers we sometimes forget how resilient our students are and how capable they can be when given the time to just create and explore - and truly be students and inquirers. (I've been reminded of this quite a few times already this year in my new role.) I often remind myself that - despite what the naysayers say (or not say, through non-verbal cues) - I want to challenge these kids. I want to expose them to things they may not get to see or participate in otherwise. I want them to explore and get excited about the things we do with technology. I want them to learn things that four or five lessons later they remember and say, "Hey, I know a shortcut for that" or "I know how to do it better." I value the skill practice, refinement, and mastery of said skills over any product that might look good for Open House.

And - not one of my students (including those in the special education classrooms I visited) ever said that it was too hard for them. They persisted...and isn't that what we want as encouragers of a growth mindset?

I know some of my colleagues won't understand this approach. They will think that these activities aren't worth much in the long run. But I will know better. I know that my little Michaelangelos are well on their way to creating their own Sistine Chapels...in time, once they refine their technique and learn how to use their paintbrushes.

To Share or Not to Share...or to Sell?

This post was originally published at http://blog.cue.org/to-share-or-not-to-share-or-to-sell/. 
Education Week recently published an article on their website that touched upon some issuesTeachers Pay Teachers sellers had or were experiencing with the selling of their products on the TPT platform. The author also delves into the “ethics of selling vs. sharing” – which reminded me of a blog entry that I had started quite a few months ago and thought I would revisit for this week’s blog post.
I’ve had a few conversations recently with various colleagues about sharing versus not sharing materials and documents that teachers – myself included – have created. What is OK to share? What isn’t? Here are some thoughts to consider…
I’ve been a Teachers Pay Teachers seller since about 2012 – six years! Now, I don’t run a store that’s making me enough money where I can retire from my day job and stay home and focus on my TPT making (although I wish I did!) I don’t even make enough annually to pay for a nice family vacation. I started my TPT store with the intention of putting products up that I made for my own classroom use – products that other teachers might find useful and that might earn me a couple of extra bucks on the side. I did not start my store with the goal of leaving the classroom or making more annually than I do as a teacher (which, some TPT sellers do!) I was simply working my side hustle.
With that being said, I have invested in my TPT store and purchased commercial fonts, clip art, and the licenses that go with those in order to sell products that are pleasing to the eye and that fellow teachers would be proud to use in their classrooms. Fonts, clip art, and commercial licenses are NOT cheap – especially if you don’t sell tons of stuff! But I did it – and continue to do it – because that’s what a responsible seller does.
So when it comes to teachers sharing TPT purchases without purchasing the additional licenses – as a seller myself – it irks me and I try to encourage my colleagues to see why additional licenses are important (and why sellers aren’t just doing it to make an extra buck!) We aren’t trying to swindle you…but we also shoulder costs for our products that may go unnoticed or unknown to buyers.
Now, my take on products I make in the G-Suite is a little different. I tend to want to share what I make with other educators! Things like graphic organizers, newsletters, Docs templates – fairly generic items that any teacher could manipulate and use in his or her classroom. I know that there are teachers out there who do put more effort than I do into my G-Suite creations and subsequently feel the need to sell their products (and I totally get that). But, I tend to be of the “sharing is caring” mentality when it comes to my G-Suite products.
This leads us to the bigger question – when do (or should) we share? And what do we share? With the way we teach constantly changing and the need for lessons to address the 4 C’s of 21st-century learning, teachers should be actively trying to work with and collaborate with other teachers. (That’s kind of the whole point behind the collaborative component of the G-Suite apps – getting “collaborators” to work on documents TOGETHER). I think this also means the sharing of valuable resources that other teachers could use in their own classrooms and inspire their colleagues to use.
I know that lessons can be a beast – and that many educators want to put a price tag on their hard work and upload it to TPT as soon as possible. (Again, I get it…I’ve been there.) But I also think of all the educators who post their hard work to share with others – Eric Curts (Control Alt Achieve), Lisa Highfill and the HyperDoc girls (HyperDocs), and the entire#TeachersGiveTeachers movement – without asking so much as a penny (just a simple “give credit where credit is due”). If educators were more open and willing to share their QUALITYresources and templates, can you only imagine the effect it would have on our students?

Classroom Newsletters Go Digital

I was all about the weekly classroom newsletter as a beginning kindergarten teacher. It had cutesy graphics by DJ Inkers, homework information, tips and tricks for parents, and what I thought was an abundance of resources for my classroom parents. As my workload increased, I found myself slacking on the newsletter front; what had been a weekly resource was turning into a monthly gig.

It wasn't until I went to a session at a local Google Apps for Education (GAFE) Summit that I learned that newsletters didn't have to boring, paper things - they could be digital, they could be engaging, and they could be fun.

The presenter at this particular session introduced the class to Sara Malchow's newsletter - a completely interactive newsletter made through Google Slides. (I also liked Meagan Kelly's newsletter - something she shared with her students and families.) There were hyperlinks! There were animations! It was colorful and pretty - but it was also a source of information! And I knew that I needed to have one for myself.

Sara Malchow's newsletter

That was two years ago.

The time to get that newsletter done never came - until my new job and a new purpose for the newsletter came into perspective. As a Technology TOSA, I have the amazing opportunity of working at four different elementary schools across our district. I go into TK-5th grade classrooms, working with approximately 1,200 students (give or take) and about 53 teachers. And I have teachers who are actually using the technology and want to learn more!

So, taking inspiration from Malchow and so many other educators who have transitioned to digital newsletters, I dove in and created a newsletter of my own. I've started simple but have my staples - my notes to teachers (where I review what I've been working on with students and where we will be going in the next month), no-cost-low-cost professional development opportunities coming up, a "Did you know.." section (where I include information on free resources for teachers), and finally, a chrome extension/add-on or website of the month.

My latest edition for teachers

Short, digestible, and to the point - most of the time. Something that the teachers I work with could read and pull information from - maybe even get inspired by. (My journalistic heart skips a beat every time I see teachers live on the document!)

Do you create digital newsletters for your class? Who do you share them with? Let me know by giving me a shout-out on Twitter @KristinOropeza - I would love to see what you've created!

Get Googley This Winter with Activities from Eric Curts

With many educators looking forward to the upcoming winter break, some of us may need a little help wrangling in our kiddos in the days leading up to their time off. While Teachers Pay Teachers is inundated with holiday activities you can pay for, look no further than Eric Curts (Control Alt Achieve) and his wonderful, FREE holiday resources. His activities get students writing, while also being very tech-friendly and skill-based.
In Curts’ “6 Googley Wintertime Activities for Kids” educators gain access to some valuable winter G-Suite activities including “Build a Snowman with Google Slides,” “Wintertime Magnetic Poetry with Google Drawings,” and “Pixel Art Ornaments with Google Sheets.”
If you’re looking for winter activities that will engage your students while still addressing important technology skills, then Curts’ activities should be on YOUR Christmas wish list.