Sunday, February 21, 2016

Professional Development By Choice: Why I Attend PD on a Saturday

Organizer Shauna Hawes with Todd Nesloney in the background
Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Mount Diablo Unified School District STEM and EdTech Symposium at Valley View Middle School here in Pleasant Hill. While its location here in my own town was a definite convenience, it was not a deciding factor on whether or not I would attend. Not even close. I went for one simple reason: I love learning! And events like this help me satiate my love of learning.

Of course, that's not the only reason I love attending conferences. Recently, I was questioned as to why I would be willing to give up any or all of my weekend to attend professional development on my own time. To be honest, I'm not sure why all teachers aren't conference junkies like me. Where else can we fuel our passion for teaching and learning?!

Teaching is the hardest job I have ever had. And this time of year it can be incredibly tough to remember why you love teaching. Spring is approaching, the days are getting longer, the sun is out a little more, and the kids are getting crazier and crazier. 

And crazier.

Going to a conference where you're surrounded by 300 other teachers feeling that same strain is reaffirming. But it is also inspiring. Did you see that number? Allow me to repeat it: Three Hundred Teachers! On a Saturday. And not one of them was there because they had to be. We were all there because we wanted to be there. We were ready to learn, to talk to other teachers, and to be inspired. How can you not be inspired by that many teachers excited to learn.

Oh, and to win supercool prizes. Right, Jen?

But I digress.

Allow me to share with you some of the reasons why I attend professional development events on my own time. Hopefully, this may inspire you or someone you know to sign up for an upcoming conference:
  • I am a lifelong learner. I love learning! My grandfather used to say that if you want to stay young, you should learn something new every day. I usually learn enough at one conference to cover me for several weeks. Thanks, gramps!
  • Networking. Meeting and talking to like-minded educators fuels my passion. And I love to share what I'm doing with students. It can be very reaffirming to have someone you admire say, "What a great idea!" But what I really love is when someone says, "What a great idea...have you considered doing it this way...or using this tool?" Conferences allow me to improve as an educator. 
  • Conversations. I love the conversations I wind up having with so many different people, many of whom are members of my PLN. The passion that is expressed in those conversations is undeniable and uncontainable. If more teachers experienced that kind of passion, we would revolutionize education.
  • I love listening to other teachers talk about the amazing things they are doing in their classrooms. I always, always, ALWAYS leave an event with an idea or twenty that I can use in my classroom on Monday. How cool is that!
Mostly, I attend conferences to be inspired. I go to hear people like our keynote speakers Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome inspire me to keep loving the most important job on the planet. And don't our #KidsDeserveIt? Think about it. Who would you rather learn from? A teacher who is so bored with their own teaching that they can't even hold their own attention? Or a teacher who is so passionate about teaching that it energizes everyone in the room?!

I think the answer is fairly obvious. Now, ask yourself which teacher you would rather be. And follow me to a conference soon!  

Middle and high school students sharing their thoughts about education

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Using Padlet in Social Studies

Each year, I have my eighth grade students work on a project that involves researching all of the events that led to the American Revolution. When I first began doing this project with students, it was a fairly simple project that involved poster boards. As I began integrating more and more technology into my curriculum, the project changed from something students turned in and promptly forgot about to something that they could, hopefully, take more pride in. Knowing that their work will be available online for others to see usually leads students to put forth the best possible product they can.

With the introduction of the 1:1 iPad program last year, I asked my eighth graders to demonstrate their knowledge of the Road to the Revolution by creating a video using iMovie. Students were given a great deal of freedom in creating their videos. Working in groups of four, some chose to act out scenes based on their research, while others created news programs or History Channel-style videos. One group even managed to create a video in the style of John Green’s Crash Course videos. (If you haven’t seen one of his videos, I highly recommend it!)

This year, as we had just finished a video project, I decided to do something different with the Road to the Revolution project. Rather than have students create another video, I chose to assign a project that would use the website Padlet. Padlet is a wonderful online tool that allows collaboration on projects, lets teachers gather information from students, and can also be used by students to create individual projects. A nice explanation of Padlet along with examples can be found here: Technology Resource Teachers.

Using Padlet, students created timelines that included the significant events that led America towards war. The instructions for this year’s project along with the rubric can be found here: Project Instructions and Rubric. Overall, I have to say that I was quite happy with what students created. I should add that some of the students had trouble working with Padlet on the iPads, preferring instead to work on a computer to complete their project.

Here is a Padlet that was created by one of my eighth graders:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Photo Caption Contest

One of my favorite writing activities to do with students is to provide them with a photo and ask them to write a caption for it. Yesterday, I shared a photo of a squirrel that I found on Pinterest (of course!) and asked them to write away. Not only did they love the activity, we all loved the captions they came up with.

I told my students that I would choose a few of their captions and ask the world to vote for a winner. Unfortunately, there were just too many to narrow down the choices to even a top five. So, dear reader, I need your help. Would you be so kind as to select your two favorite captions in the form below? If there is no clear winner, then I'll create a second form with fewer choices.

Thanks so much for your help!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Goodbye to Cliches Contest

Do you have one or two minutes to help me determine the winners in our Goodbye to Cliches contest? Last week I had my seventh graders rewrite some tired old lines and now we need your help to determine who gets the Smarties. I would really appreciate it if you, dear reader, could take just a moment and complete this form: Goodbye to Cliches Contest. And feel free to pass this along to all your friends and family members!
Thanks for your help!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Welcome to Seventh Grade!

Tomorrow is the first day of school for us. I've spent the last week getting my classroom ready for my students' arrival, and, as I was getting ready to leave the classroom this afternoon it dawned on me. I still hadn't written my "welcome back to school" letter for my students. And that was one thing I really wanted to do this year, so I sat back down at my desk and composed the following:

Dear Seventh Graders:

Welcome Back! Now that you’re finally in seventh grade I have to tell you something:

I’m so excited to get to know each and every one of you!

Not a day passed this summer when I wasn’t thinking about you and our seventh grade classroom (I hope you noticed I said “our” classroom because this space belongs to all of us!) I know I haven’t gotten to know all of you yet, but I do know at least two things about each and every one of you:

  • You Matter! and
  • You Are a Genius!

I believe it is vitally important that every student who walks through the seventh grade classroom door understand that they matter to me. But it’s more than matter to so many people in your life. Stop for a moment and think about it.


How many people can you think about? Parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, classmates...and every single person here at our school. We ALL know that YOU matter! You are a person of tremendous value and you are loved. Never forget that!

Seriously...don’t forget it!

You Are a Genius! Each and every single person in this classroom has genius within them. You may not have found it yet, but I know it’s there and it’s my job this year to help you find it. So, start thinking about it...what is something that you are really good at? What can you teach all of us this year?

Have you figured it out? It’s important that you recognize your genius and here’s why:

We’re going to change the world!!!

So, repeat after me: “I am a genius and the world needs my contribution!” Keep repeating that to yourself all year long.

Welcome to Seventh Grade! It’s going to be an amazing year!

Miss McMillan


All credit for this idea goes to Angela Maiers who shared two letters that Arin Kress has written to her own students. You can read Angela's blog post here: Two Letters That All Students Should Receive. Thank you to both Angela and Arin for this wonderful idea! 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Let's Go, Team!

It's almost GO time for me; two weeks from today I'll be back at school preparing for a new year with a new group of seventh grade lovelies. This, of course, means that I will be working diligently these next two weeks (in between naps) to create a year of Wonder (our new school theme) in seventh grade.

I had the pleasure of giving a presentation on blogging to a group of teachers attending the MERIT program last week (you can find my resources here: When I wasn't presenting, I was able to attend a few great sessions including Roni Habib's session on creativity in schools. Thanks to Roni I have a pretty good idea of how I will introduce group work to my students this year. It begins with a video:

Before showing this video to students, I will ask them to keep in mind one question: What did it take for this group to create this video? After we watch it, I'll give them a minute or two to discuss the video with a neighbor as long as they brainstorm some answers to my question.

"Yes, I know it's cool...what else?"

I'm hoping they'll come up with answers that speak specifically to what it takes to work effectively in a group:

  • Communication. This must be clear, positive input, not destructive criticism. 
  • Collaboration. Everyone must do their part in order to create a quality product. 
  • Cooperation. Working well together often involves compromise. Get used to it!
And some non-C words:
  • Hard work. Do you think this group just showed up in New York and started filming?
  • Time. How much time do you think they spent practicing before filming? After filming...and filming again?

Do you have any other suggestions for introducing group work to middle school students? Please feel free to share them in the comments. Thanks!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Helping Students Choose2Matter - Part 2

An important aspect of helping students choose to matter is also helping them discover what they are most passionate about. If we want our children to change the world, then they first need to care about it. But caring about and fixing the entire planet is far too big of a task for one student or one group of students. We need to help our students find at least one thing that they are passionate about and then to focus on that one thing as a means to making real change.

Here's the problem: Students are rarely asked the question "What are you most passionate about?" So at the beginning of the year I use this question as a jumping off point for my paper blogging activity (you can read more about paper blogging here: Learning to Blog Using Paper). I explain to students that they will begin by writing one to two paragraphs on something that they are passionate about. And half the class stares blankly at me. This leads to a conversation on what it means to be passionate about something until we come up with a clear enough definition that the entire class understands. (It's usually something like "I know I'm passionate about something when I think about it all the time, when I talk about it constantly, and when I want to talk to others who are also passionate about it.")


Another activity we do that focuses on our passions is to create heartmaps for our writers workshop binders (I found this lesson via Scholastic: Writing From the Heart.). Not only does this help students think about the many things that they are passionate about, it can also provide a source of writing topics throughout the year (hence the placing of the heartmaps in our writers workshop binders). Here are a few examples:

Their ideas were pretty vague, "family," "friends," "nature," so I think next year I'll have them make two maps. The first one can be like those above, with fairly general ideas on what they're passionate about. The second heartmap will dive a bit deeper into these topics and I'll ask them to be a lot more specific.

Heartbreak Maps

During her Quest2Matter webinar on Classroom2.0 Live, Angela Maiers spoke about "heartbreak maps" as a tool to helping kids explore what breaks their heart about their world. Two days later I had my students get out their heartmaps and begin looking at them from an entirely new perspective. I asked them, "Now, what breaks your heart about these things that you are passionate about?" I provided them with an example of my own: "I am passionate about reading, but it breaks my heart that there are children in this world who will never hold a book in their hands."

That got us a bit off topic for a few minutes, but it was a wonderful conversation about reading and the number of books we were going to read over summer. I'm always happy to have these kinds of interruptions!

But back to the task at hand. Students were then asked to make a list in their journals about the things that break their heart. After a few minutes, when it appeared that some students were having trouble with the exercise, I had them discuss it in their table groups to try and generate new ideas. While they were talking I had the idea to have them create new heartmaps in their groups. These would be our heartbreak maps.

These were the instructions:

  1. In the center of your map, write and/or draw the things that you are passionate about.
  2. In the next level or circle, write and/or draw what breaks your heart about these things.
  3. In the final level or circle, write and/or draw your ideas for the ways to resolve these heartbreaks. 

And here's what they created:

Clearly I need to do a better job of introducing this activity as not every group included the first task on the list (write what they're passionate about). I also think I'd like to have them do this as individuals or in pairs or groups working on one idea at a time. If we would have had more time, I would have used this as more of a brainstorming activity to help all of the individuals in the group understand how to complete a heartbreak map and, hopefully, develop some ideas of their own.

No voice should go unheard. Often when working in groups too many beautiful voices are drowned out.


The next step for my students would have been to develop their own projects based on their heartbreak maps and then submit those projects to the Quest2Matter site. Unfortunately we ran out of school days with which to work together on this. My wonderful students, however, expressed a keen interest in working on a project or two over the summer. I'll be giving them a little push in that direction this week. Stay tuned.

To learn more about Choose2Matter, visit the following links:

To help with the Choose2Matter movement, visit Choose2Matter - Indiegogo