Saturday, June 21, 2014

EdCamp Leon 2014

Last Saturday, I attended my second EdCamp here in Leon county.  I was looking forward to it because last year's event was so amazing.  While I had a good time, I have to admit that my experience this year wasn't as great as last year's.  I've been reflecting this week on what was so different.  Were my expectations too high?  Maybe I was overly excited last year because it was my first EdCamp event.  I don't know...

In this post, I'm going to reflect on both EdCamp experiences and compare/contrast EdCamp 2013 and EdCamp 2014. 

First of all, EdCamp 2014 didn't seem as organized or as promoted as EdCamp 2013.  Last year, EdCamp Leon was promoted heavily on Twitter and there was no confusion about the registration/start time.  When I first found out about this year's event (on a flyer at a workshop), the start time was posted as 10 a.m.  When I registered, the start time on my ticket was 9:30 a.m.  Eventually, I saw on Twitter that the start time was 9 a.m.  I was so confused!  I had invited several people and was unsure what time to tell them.  I stuck to the 9:30 a.m. time but wish I had arrived earlier so that I could have met and networked with other teachers.

This was another difference.  Last year, I arrived at 8 a.m. and sessions began at 10 a.m.  This gave me plenty of time to meet new people and talk about what's working in our classrooms.  I even shared how I used technology in my classroom with a new teacher-friend and got her started on Twitter.  I had so much fun connecting with other teachers and getting to know them before the sessions began.  This year, unfortunately, I arrived only 30 minutes before sessions started.  I felt obligated to sit next to the coworkers I had invited, so I didn't really get to chat with new people. 

If I were in charge of EdCamp, this is what I would do to encourage networking:  I would assign each table a number.  When people arrived and registered, I'd give them a sticker (indicating a number) to wear on their shirt.  I would make sure that those who arrived in a group (or those who are from the same school) would get different numbers.  The people would sit at the table that matched their "assigned" number and get to know the teachers around that table.  Maybe after a certain time period we could switch seats, but I would encourage attendees to get out of their comfort zones and have conversations with new people.  That's what EdCamp is all about--getting to know new people and learning from them.  I didn't feel that that was encouraged as much this year. 

Not only was there not enough time to mingle before our sessions, but we were given a presentation during lunch (via webcast) so very few people were conversing; they were all watching the screen!  I wanted to debrief with my co-workers about the morning sessions they had attended and share ideas, but I couldn't speak across the table because of the loud webcast going on.  To me, the webcast wasn't that helpful, so I began talking to a guy next to me who is starting a school next year.  He shared ideas with me, and our conversation was enjoyable and exciting.  It was great to finally connect with someone.  I felt that this year's EdCamp didn't allow time in our schedule for conversations to flow, connections to build, and sharing to occur among attendees.  I felt stifled this year; last year I felt free.

Another thing I missed from last year was a whole-group segment called "Digital Tool Shout-Out."  During this 15 minute session, teachers had a chance to stand up and share, in 20 seconds or so, their favorite website/app/digital tool that they use in their classroom.  I thought that this was helpful, and it also allowed teachers who didn't feel comfortable enough to lead a session to still share what's working in their classrooms.       

Throughout the day, just like last year, I attended four sessions.  These included:
1.  Web 2.0 Resources
2.  That's What He/She Said (a session about backchannel communications)
3.  Things That Suck
4.  20% Project

The sessions that I went to were great, and I learned something new in each one.  Many of the online resources I learned about would work best in a BYOD environment or 1:1 classroom.  At this time, my school doesn't have this, so the sites/apps suggested were more "cool" than practical for me.

My favorite session was "Things That Suck," which was the most participant-driven one.  I loved it!  The leader of the session began by "drawing" an imaginary line down the middle of the room.  He said he was going to give us a topic and we had to move to either side of the line--one side of the room stood for "I think this topic is great and I agree with it" and the other side stood for "I think this sucks and is bad for education/learning."  Topics included homework, grades, grouping of students, standardized testing, teacher evaluations, and teacher tenure.  The tough thing about this session was that there was no middle ground.  We had to take a stand on each issue and be able to defend our position.  After everyone "voted" we all discussed why we stood where we did.  We had some great conversations!  This session was such a hit--people were still talking when time was up.  One of the EdCamp coordinators had to come in the room and say, "Okay, everyone, we have to wrap this up now because the next session is about to start."  No one was ready to leave!  I think this would be interesting to do at a faculty meeting so we could all learn about each other's teaching philosophies. 

Overall, EdCamp Leon 2014 had some great sessions, and I learned some new things.  The down side was that there was very little time to connect with other teachers, and sharing ideas/learning from others is what I enjoy most.  I would definitely attend another EdCamp.  I've learned that every event is unique and I shouldn't expect the exact same thing each time.   

Friday, May 30, 2014

End of Year Gift 2014

In the last post, I shared how delighted my students were to receive their personalized, framed Word Clouds.  Here's the video of them opening their gifts:

Thursday, May 29, 2014

End of Year/Volunteer Appreciation Gifts

This year, I wanted to do something special for my students' end of the year gift.  I, of course, searched Pinterest for ideas and found inspiration for not only my students' gifts but also my classroom volunteers' gifts.  For my students, I decided to surprise them with an encouraging, personalized word cloud in a frame:
In order to put these together, about a month before school ended, I told the class that we were going to complete an encouragement activity.  I asked them to take out a sheet of paper, write their name at the top, and then number from 1-15 (because I had 15 students).  Each student is assigned a number in my class, so I asked them to mark through their own number in the list.  The children had to pass the papers around the classroom (of course, I did this very orderly), think of a positive characteristic for the person whose name was listed at the top, and then write this encouraging attribute next to their own assigned number.  Since I know all my students' numbers, I could easily tell who had not yet signed someone's paper.  Also, the students were not allowed to repeat words, so occasionally, I'd have to say, for example, "Oh!  Numbers 9 and 14, you both said this person was 'Awesome' so you need to change this.  We can't have repeats."  I encouraged them to stay away from "blah" words like nice, sweet, great, awesome, etc.  The kids took this task very seriously and many of them pulled out a thesaurus!
Once all the papers were completed, I collected them and did NOT let the children see their own papers.  How mean!  I told the class, "Don't worry; I'll let you see them another day."  They continued asking about them each week.  I finally said, "Okay.  You'll see them on the last day of school."  Groan.  They were not impressed, but I knew they would love what I was going to do with these lists! 
I used to create the word clouds.  I printed them out and cut them to fit an 8x10 frame.
On the last day of school, I placed the gift bags on the students' desks, but the children were not allowed to open their bag until everyone arrived.  I chose gift bags of blue and yellow (our school colors), which were reminiscent of the first day of school when I decorated each desk with blue and yellow balloons and a welcome bag:
Last Day of School
First Day of School
I loved hearing the delighted "ooohs" and "aahhs" from the children as they opened their gifts.  They seemed to enjoy reading the positive words their classmates had written about them.  It was a sweet way to end the year.
Oh, yes!  I also added a little something extra to the bags of the students who were stuck on Space Shot with me during our Space Camp Trip:

On another note, let me share my volunteer appreciation gifts with you.  This year, I had three main moms help out in my classroom.  I gave these ladies homemade pomegranate hand scrub...and I may have made a batch for myself too!  I attached a note that said something like, "Thanks for lending a helping hand this year.  Now, please enjoy this homemade pomegranate hand scrub."  I also personalized Thank-You cards for them.  I appreciated their help so much this year!
The hand scrub was super easy to make, with only two ingredients, and it smelled delicious!  I simply combined sugar and Dawn dishwashing liquid (the pink kind with Olay hand renewal) until the consistency was like a scrub.
Voila!  As I said at the beginning of this post, Pinterest was my inspiration.  If you'd like to check out my Gift Ideas board, click HERE.  To see my End of the School Year board, click HERE.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mother's Day 2014

For several years, my students have done the same Mother's Day project--creating a Time magazine, showcasing the "Mother of the Year."  It's a great writing project, but it's a little time-consuming, so I decided to switch things up a bit this year.  I searched Pinterest and came across a grand idea that I tweaked for my students.  I followed the same instructions and used the same printables found HERE, but I downloaded the app "Make it Big" instead because it was free.  My students made picture magnets for their moms, and I think they turned out well.  I made the prints black and white because I liked the "classic" look.
I hope all you moms had a wonderful Mother's Day yesterday! 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Space Camp 2014

Last night, I returned from a 3-day, 2-night field trip to Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  I took 30 fifth grade students and 11 other adults on this annual trip.  I've gone the past six years, but this trip is probably my most memorable.  You'll see why in a bit! 
We left at 6:00 EST on Wednesday morning, drove seven and a half hours, and arrived safely around 12:30 p.m. CST.  There was a last minute change of plans when we registered, and we were placed in the dorms of Habitat 2 instead of Habitat 1 (which we stayed in last year).  You can read about last year's experience HERE.  It turned out to be great!  All the girls stayed in one large dorm room, and all the boys stayed in one large room.  We each had our own bathroom.  Therefore, we didn't have to walk down the hall to go to the restroom, nor did we have to share with another school group!  Yay!  The girls' room was huge (we had 54 bunks)!  For those who are interested, here's what our accommodations were like:
As you can see, it's no 5-star hotel, but that's okay.  This is camp!  We had plenty of hot water, space, and privacy.  It was all good.  For any teachers out there considering a trip to Space Camp, please know that you must bring everything you need--towels, rags, sheets, etc.  I always suggest that my students bring a sleeping bag and pillow--it's much easier to just roll it out on the bunk and not have to worry about sheets. 

Anyway, after we arrived and settled into our Habitat, we had orientation and soon jumped into activities.  Our school participated in the same program as last year, Pathfinder, and we were even split up into three groups with the same names as last year--Armstrong, Aldrin, and Bean.  I was on Team Armstrong again and our camp counselor was named "Karl with a K."  No, we didn't just call him Karl; we had to say, "Karl with a K."  He was awesome!  Before our trip, we prayed specifically for a counselor/crew trainer who was loud, energetic, and enjoyed being with us.  Karl with a K was all that and more!  He taught us a chant that we shouted out randomly at Space Camp.  When he yelled "Armstrong!"  We would yell back, "Stays strong....ALL...DAY...LONG!"

On Day 1, Team Armstrong visited the Rocket Park and learned about early rocket history, trained for our space mission, rode G-Force, visited the Davidson Museum (and learned about the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs), rode the MAT (Multi-Axis Trainer) simulator, and assembled rockets.
Karl with a K, telling a story about Alan Shepard's first flight.

On Day 2, we awoke bright and early at 7 a.m.  Breakfast was around 7:30 a.m.  After breakfast, we launched our rockets.  We made them too well, apparently, because all of them shot so far away--and even landed in trees--that we couldn't retrieve them.  After the rocket launch, we designed a mission patch for our team (see below).  We learned more about the Apollo program in the Davidson Museum, and we were able to ride G-Force (again) and Space Shot.  We completed our mission, but didn't find out until the next day at graduation that Team Armstrong won the Most Successful Mission!!  Yay--that's two years in a row for my team!!  We were able to visit the gift shop, as well as Mrs. Baker's grave.  She was the first monkeynaut to go to space and return successfully, so we placed a banana on her grave.  We learned about the Shuttle Program and saw an IMAX movie on the Hubble space telescope.  After that, things got quite interesting...
My team's mission patch, with the explanation below.

Team Aldrin's mission patch

Team Bean's mission patch
We had the opportunity to ride Space Shot a second time and I jumped on it!  I love that ride!  You are shot 140 feet in the air and experience a moment of free fall.  This ride simulates what a launch is like, as well as a brief period of microgravity.  Here's what the ride is like: 
I love roller coasters and rides like this (that drop you suddenly), and I'm not afraid of heights.  So, I took a new group of kids and we rode a second time.  I sat on the end, like in the video, with a little boy next to me, and a girl on the end.  In all, I had 6 students on the ride, as well as a mom chaperone.  We got buckled in, and with little notice, we shot up!  I knew, after the first drop, that something wasn't right.  The ride didn't feel like it normally does--and I've ridden Space Shot enough times to know what it's like!  Pretty soon, we slowly lifted to the very top of the ride and stopped.  We were suspended 140 feet in the air.  The children started to get a little nervous after a minute or two, and began to question me about why we'd stopped.  I said, "I'm not sure, but look at this wonderful view!  This is a view of Space Camp we don't normally get to see!?!  Check out the hills in the background, and..."  The little girl interrupted me and said, "Mrs. Bowman, I know you're trying to distract us, but IT'S NOT WORKING!"  She went on, "Ugh!  I knew I should have gone to the bathroom instead of getting on this ride!"  We chuckled, but then I started to hear the heartbreaking sounds of my students on the other side of the ride crying and wailing.  I couldn't call out to them, so I yelled to the little girl on the end, "Try to shout to those girls and tell them it's okay!  We are going to get down soon!"  The little girl tried, but the wind was blowing, air was releasing from the valves behind our heads, and it was difficult to communicate over all the noise.  I could clearly hear the hysteria, however, and it was awful.  I immediately started praying out loud.  The longer we were up there, the more nervous the little girl on the end seemed to get.  To be honest, I was getting nervous as well. 
My nervous face!
The little boy next to me said, "Well, I'm not nervous because we've got Mrs. Bowman right here, so we're okay!"  I thought, "Child, if you knew what was going through my brain right now, you wouldn't have as much confidence in me!"  His comment, however, gave me resolve.  I knew I had to act as strong and brave as he thought I was.  It was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do as a teacher. 

After a while, our feet and legs began tingling and growing numb.  We had been up there for a while and we had no idea what was going on.  There was no way for anyone on the ground to give us info or talk to us.  We just had to wait.  My kids and I kept praying and praying out loud.  I said, "Guys, I know we are surprised by this and it's unexpected, but the Lord knew we would be stuck up here in this moment.  This is not a surprise to Him.  There is some reason we are up here.  This may be the opportunity you need for your faith to grow...for you to put your trust in Him...for you to learn dependence on Him...I don't know...but I'm pretty sure we will never be the same!" 

We continued to pray and talk and soon the wind started to blow as hard as ever.  We were so cold and the gusts were rocking our seats.  That was nerve-wracking!  I had my camera with me and was able to record this brief prayer (you can hear how badly the wind was blowing...and, yes, my teeth were chattering):

We had been dangling in the air for around 30 minutes or so.  You can see the time-lapse with these pictures (notice the position of the sun/shadows):
We were thanking God for the awesome view...the fact that we were upright and not in a super uncomfortable position (or stuck upside down!).  We prayed practically the entire time.  We could see "official Space Camp people" gathering down below, so we knew help was on the way.  Eventually, we heard our teammates from the ground yell up to us, "ARMSTRONG!"  To which we cried back, "STAYS STRONG...ALL...DAY...LONG!"  We did the chant a total of three times, and that seemed to calm everyone a little. 
At one point, I looked at the little boy next to me and said, "What do you think your dad is thinking right now?"  He said, "I don't know, but I can tell he's nervous!  See him pacing, with his hands in his pocket?  Yep; he's nervous!"  His dad was one of the chaperones on the ground.  A moment later, I couldn't spot the dad, so I said, "I wonder where your dad went."  The child responded, "He probably went to call my mom, and I'll tell you what...if they don't get me down within 9 hours, I guarantee you, she'll be at the bottom of this Space Shot!"  Haha!  I just died laughing!

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we felt like we were being slowly lowered.  We looked up...and, YES...we were moving!  Hallelujah!  Once we got to the bottom, we prayed again!  I'll tell you, I don't know if I've ever prayed so hard in my life!  We were handed bottles of water and shook hands with several Space Camp officials.  They apologized profusely and let us know that this has never happened before.  One man told us, "In my 25 years here, this has never happened." 

Apparently, the ride operates on an air compression system.  When it launches, it is supposed to reach 26 PSI; instead, for whatever reason (possibly high winds impacted the machine?), it reached 30 PSI and immediately went into maintenance mode.  We couldn't be lowered until the air pressure bled off.  Unfortunately, this took a while.  Thankfully, we were lowered slowly.  I had been wondering how we would drop...

Us at the top (picture taken from a distance)
By the time we got off the ride, I was the only one who hadn't cried.  I felt so bad for my students.  Most of the girls had red faces and puffy eyes.  We all hugged each other once we were safe and sound.  One of the officials came up to me and we spoke for a bit.  He told me he was a part-time pastor who actually had a speaking engagement at a church in Tennessee this Sunday.  He asked if he could tell this story in his sermon.  I said, "Okay.."  I was half-listening, honestly; I was just trying to get feeling back in my legs.  He gave me his card, but it took over an hour before the numbness went away from our fingers, legs, and feet.  Crazy!
So happy to have our feet on the ground!
Another amazing thing happened...Space Camp felt terrible about our ordeal, so to make it up to us, Team Armstrong was immediately escorted to a private room behind the gift shop where every one of us was custom-fitted for flight suits.  Space Camp gave these to us for free (and they are $90.00 each!?).  They also let us order leather badges with our names on them to go on our suits! 
I already have a flight suit, but what was I going to say, "Oh, well, I'd rather have $90 worth of books for my classroom, thank you."  ?!?  It was a HUGE gift to us, and we were all very appreciative!  I reminded my students that we didn't do anything to earn these suits...and that we shouldn't strut around in front of the other students like, "Check out our awesome space suits!"  The kids handled it very well. 

What I love about this experience is that my students saw God.  After we landed safely on the ground, a little girl came up to me and said, "Mrs. Bowman, I've never felt closer to God than right now!"  We talked about the whole situation!  They were able to see God answer prayers, and for some of them, their walk with the Lord will never be the same again.

For me, that experience taught me several things.  I realized that I really like control.  If you know me as a teacher, you know that I expect my classroom to run like a well-oiled machine.  I like structure, order, and for things to be done a certain way.  When I was at the top of Space Shot, I had absolutely no control.  Things were not working out the way I thought they should.  How did I handle that?  How do I normally respond when something unexpected happens?  I handled the situation by turning immediately to prayer.  Honestly, if the children hadn't been there, I would have cried and thrown a fit and been a hysterical mess!  I was reminded by this situation that I'm really not in control of anything.  None of us are.  We are at the mercy and under the authority of a sovereign God.  Another thing that stuck out to me was something I already mentioned--I immediately turned to prayer.  I prayed more passionately and fervently at the top of Space Shot than I have in a while.  But I don't want to do that only when I'm in a bad spot or when something terrible happens!  I want to "pray without ceasing" and talk that passionately with God on a daily basis.  So many people (myself included) get into the habit of crying out to God only when things go wrong.  I want to wake up daily and submit everything to Jesus Christ...turn to Him in every situation, good or bad.  I do try to live my life for Christ every day, but this situation was a great reminder to me of how important it is.               

One last "God-moment"...after one of my many prayers at the top of Space Shot, the little girl on the end turned to me and asked, "Mrs. Bowman, did you feel that?!" 
"What??" I said.
"We just prayed that the wind would stop...and it's stopped!!" she gasped.

Even though this experience wasn't pleasant, I'm thankful for it.  I'm extremely glad that I was on the ride with the kids instead of being on the ground, looking up helplessly.  Granted, I was helpless ON the ride, but it made my students feel better that I was experiencing this with them. 

Side note:  Earlier today, I actually called that part-time pastor/U.S. Space & Rocket Center official who gave me his card, and we had an incredible phone conversation.  We talked for almost half an hour and he shared with me what his sermon was going to be about, among other things.  Explaining our conversation would be another blog post, so all I'll say about it is this--I'm in awe of how God moved on this trip!

Once the excitement was over and our nerves had settled, my group ended Day 2 with dinner, a Museum Scavenger Hunt, and a simulator. 
This child lost his shoe on the simulator, and Karl with a K said, "What's left on the moon stays on the moon!"  Ha!  He got it back after everyone had a turn. 
On Day 3, we woke up super early and loaded our stuff on the bus at 7:00 a.m.  We walked to the Davidson Museum where I led our entire group in a devotion.  Our counselor, Karl with a K, actually kicked off our devotion time with an a cappella version of "Amazing Grace."  That was a first for me!  Karl with a K actually sings opera and has a beautiful, resounding voice.

After our devotion time, we played Space Bowl--and Team Aldrin won! 
Breakfast was next, followed by graduation...
As I said earlier, Team Armstrong won Best Mission; here we are, receiving our special pins:
Before we left, my group enjoyed Space Dots ice cream:
I had several kids come up to me and ask, "Do we have to leave?"  We all loved Space Camp and had a memorable trip!  I'll close with a few more pictures: