Monday, September 9, 2013

Best Pencil Sharpener EVER!! (A product review) and a little about my new pencil program!

Last year I got so frustrated that my students broke every pencil sharpener I bought for my classroom. In fact they broke 5 including the one I borrowed from my principal (oops!).  I tried everything to keep those sharpeners working while still making sure my students took the responsibility of having pencils and being prepared for the day. I was just about to give up and let my students use those annoying (not to mention, messy) hand held sharpeners this year.

Then I saw a posting on one of the blogs I read about this beauty.....
A fellow blogger posted that Classroom Friendly Supplies was giving away these sharpeners to teacher bloggers who were willing to try them out in their classroom and do a review on their blog. Well, I could not sign up fast enough and almost immediately I was contacted by a rep who asked me what color I wanted. I picked green because, well green is my favorite color.  Less than a week later, it arrived at my school just in time for me to start my new pencil program in my classroom (see below). I can be a little mechanically challenged so it took me a few minutes to figure out how to put it together and attach it to my table in the classroom. Then I grabbed a fresh pack of No. 2 pencils and I found Nirvana!!  

This sharpener sharpens pencils perfect every time. The cup that holds the shavings is big enough to hold the shavings of at least a dozen pencils before needing to be emptied. And the best part is the little gripper thingy (I am sure there is an official name for it) just push the two levers together and pull out the mechanism (doesn't that sound move official) that holds the pencil, then crank the handle and start sharpening.  The entire sharpener can be mounted to a table or counter in your classroom with a vise like-grip that can be inserted into the bottom of the sharpener. It makes sharpening pencils a DREAM!! I really don't know how I have survived this long without this sharpener. Thanks Classroom Friendly Supplies....I love my sharpener and I know this one will survive my students this year!!!

And as I mentioned, it will really help out with all the pencils I have to sharpen each week now as part of my new pencil program. If you are like me, the last thing you want to endure while teaching is one of your little friend's hands shooting up and announcing that they need to use the pencil sharpener. If you let said friend get up to sharpen his/her pencil then we know that this invites every other student in the class to then want to sharpen their pencil. And this leads to mass chaos, and anarchy!!  Not to mention the number of times that students come to class WITHOUT a PENCIL! Who does that???

So the one time I was on Pinterest (okay, that is a lie, I am on there every week...okay...every day....hour) I saw a pin for a perfect solution to my pencil problem. "Winning the Pencil War" is what it was called and it is free HERE on TeacherPayTeachers. Here are the basics--you give each students eight pencils at the start of every week. I bought plastic pencil boxes at Walmart for 50 cents each and placed 8 sharpened pencils and a pink bar eraser in each one, then put the students name on it. They use them all week and turn the boxes into me on Friday. I check them and if they have all 8 pencils, I leave them a small prize --a sticker, a novelty eraser, etc.  We can't give out candy but are a PBIS school and use a paper money system called SOARbucks (we are the Eagles)  at our school in conjunction with our school store and I gave them a SOAR buck the first week. I then sharpen the pencils that need sharpening and return the boxes to them Monday morning. If they are missing one or more pencils, or if their bar eraser is not in there, they do not get the prize Next month, once we have been practicing this for several  weeks, I will begin keeping track of who has all their  pencils each week for the month and give those students a larger prize and perhaps do a drawing for something bigger. So far so good. The first week I had 6 of my 17 who were missing pencils and last week only 3. The overarching benefit is that students know it is their responsibility to keep up with their pencils and not break them (I suspect some of my little friends were intentionally breaking a pencils lead so they could get up and sharpen their pencil because it meant a) they could escape my lesson for a few minutes b) could get out of their seat and c) they could pass by their friend's desk for a little connection. This program stops those three from happening as frequently, as they are not allowed to use my sharpener. I plan to have a student become my Pencil Helper later in the year also, as I will eventually grow tired of doing all that sharpening!!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Reflections from EdCampSC......

About a year or so ago I started hearing all this buzz about EdCamp. I saw postings on Twitter, read a few posts on blogs and even saw it mentioned on Facebook.  I have to admit, I was intrigued even more once I read up on the format.

For those of you who have not heard, EdCamp is a "un-conference" being organized around the country by educators like us. It is a one day event and I have to say is the best PD I have ever been to. Here is the premise...educators gather together for a day of sharing....only it is much more than that.  At the start of the day, usually over coffee, doughnuts, etc. a brainstorming session is held The attendees write ideas for possible sessions down on butcher paper. Those in attendance who are willing to facilitate a session, sign up to do so next to the session they want to facilitate. Yep there are no canned presentations, no sales pitches, etc. Then attendees vote for the sessions they would like to attend. They are given 3 stickers and they place them next to their top three. Then the group moves into a opening session, usually with a keynote speaker in the field of education, etc. While the keynote is happening, the organizers set the schedule based on the sessions that received the most votes.  Once the sessions are set, the attendees decide which sessions they want to attend. The person facilitating is not a presenter they just get the conversation rolling. The best thing is that these sessions subscribe to the "law of two feet" meaning if you go into a session and it is not meeting your needs/expectations, you get up and go to another hard feelings. There have been EdCamps all over the country including the very first one held in Philadelphia in 2010.  There is even one scheduled for the Netherlands next month. The event is entirely free to attendees thanks to sponsors who provide the facility, meals/snacks/drinks, door prizes, etc.

Yesterday, I attended EdCampSC, the first EdCamp to be held in South Carolina. It was held at Sullivan Middle School (kudos to them and to Rock Hill Schools for hosting this event) in  Rock Hill, SC just outside of Charlotte. It was a 2 hour drive for me, which meant I had to get up around 5am on my day off to get there in time for the 8:30am start. Bleary-eyed with my travel mug of coffee I set out for Rock Hill. Once i got close to my destination, I began to see signs and volunteers directing traffic into the school. More volunteers greeted me, and pointed the way to the registration table where I was greeted warmly, given a schedule sheet with last minute notes and a name tag and sent off to the cafeteria for coffee and doughnuts.  I immediately saw a few familiar faces from the Upstate Technology Conference I presented/volunteered at in Greenville in July including Chris Craft (@crafty184) whom I heard speak at UTC.  I grabbed a fresh cup of coffee and made my way to a table of educators and introduced myself. I found out they were new to EdCamp as well so we all felt a little more comfortable and chatted about what we were excited about for the day.  Soon an announcement was made about the huge sheets of paper around the room. It was time to start brainstorming session ideas. As I walked from table to table I not only realized there were going to be some amazing sessions, but I also saw a lot of common themes---technology, student engagement, Common Core, BYOD and many more. I did not feel ready to facilitate a session (although looking back, I totally should have....but there is always next year), so I just looked at the ideas for the sessions and started to decide which ones I was definitely voting for . I knew it was going to be hard to pick just 3.

Soon we were headed into the auditorium for the keynote.  Eric Sheninger, the principal at New Milford HS and NASSP National Digital Principal Award recipient in 2012 delivered  his keynote via Skype. How cool was that. He had lots of encouraging words for us as educators and encouraged us to use social media to make our voices heard and to share ideas with one another. Once the keynote was over, the schedule was announced and we headed to our sessions. I chose "Twitter in the Classroom" as my first session, facilitated by @NFLafve.  What a great session to kick off with. The participants ranged from a Kindergarten teacher to a University Professor. I was amazed as I listened to these educators share how Twitters was allowing them to get their students engaged, including kids as young as 5. Other issues that cropped up in our discussions were Twitter and other platforms being blocked in our district, using apps such as and addressing BYOD and parents security fears/issues. It was a great discussion and I came away with a lot of new knowledge on Twitter as well as a renewed determination to make it work in my classroom. For the second session I chose "Google Hangouts" and while I did glean some new info from this session, " but after discovering the limitations of Google Hangouts on my iPad, I  failed to use the law of "Two Feet" to find another session, and chose instead to sit and GChat with a fellow blogger/friend  who could not attend the conference, and also tweeted until the session ended.  Before the final session, we were fed a yummy lunch sponsored by Houghton Mifflin Harcout and I did some more networking.  My last session was very animated and was on a topic that I could relate to "What to Do when Students have No Tech at Home."  It was facilitated by @derekmcquiston a teacher and instructional technology specialist for Rock Hill SD. He was funny and energetic and quite animated and kept the conversation rolling. The group discussed the ideas for getting devices in the hands of students at home through community initiatives with ISPs like Comcast and Time Warner (note to self, talk to folks about getting Charter to replicate some of the programs these other ISPs in othere cities have done,  for our Free/Reduced lunch students here in Greenville.) We also shared ideas for alternate assignments, finding open computer time before, during and after school for these students and using apps that can be accessed on a smartphone (we surmised that more and more parents had them). So it was about getting students access not just devices. I had to admit, I was a little envious (okay A LOT) hearing these teachers from Rock Hill talk about their 1:1 classrooms (RHSD has gone completely 1:1 for grades 4-8) but those teachers also faced issues with students not being able to take the devices home due to parents not attending mandatory meetings or buying the required insurance.  I was also encouraged to hear all the talk about teaching students to be good digital citizens.  The day ended with a closing session where were were told that the official conference hashtag #edcampsc was trending on Twitter! What a great note to end on...but yet, there was more! Door prizes (of which I dd not win) and also a call to spread the word to colleagues that EdCampSC would return again next year, and also that volunteers were needed.  It was a great day and a HUGE shout out to the main organizers/co-founders of EdCampSC,  LaToya Dixon (@latoyadixon5) and Mike Waiksnis (@mwaiksnis) two principals in Rock Hill SD. History was made in Rock Hill yesterday and it would not have been made without them and their planning team! 
Whew! That was long...but I wanted you to get a feel for what the EdCamp movement is all about.  I will leave you with a tweet from Chris Byerle one of the many SC educators in attendance yesterday...says it all.
In fact, one of the highs of my day was meeting so many people in Education in the Carolinas that I follow on Twitter as well as picking up quite a few new followers myself.

Whew- that was long, but I wanted to Skype his