Thursday, January 18, 2018

Planning with the New California Framework

I love our history department and I love how committed my colleagues are to creating engaging lessons for our students. Recently, I've been working with my department on how best to approach the three massive documents California Social Science teachers are supposed to incorporate in their classrooms. 

This slide deck reviews how I approach the new California Framework and the existing California State Standards. 

What I have found most useful are these planning sheets (Grade 8, Grade 10) I use when working through what I've used in the past and comparing it to what the Framework asks teachers to now focus on. 

I plan to create another deck with resources on how to mix the framework, content standards, and the CCSS Literacy Standards but for now feel free to check out this deck! It works kind of like a Hyperdoc so feel free to click the links and engage in the activities.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Going "Gradeless": Planning for Second Semester

In summer, using reflective standards based grading was amazing. Students were engaged and learning, they felt confident about what they had learned and what they needed to learn next, and I felt like I had hit a high point in my teaching.

The first step to effective reflections is ensuring students understand the goals they are working towards. Here are their learning goals for our unit on World War I. 

Then I took that experience and tried to make it work for the regular school year. I thought about how the regular school year gave me more time so students could go into more depth and so there was a lot of time between reflections (in summer school students reflected every day.) This caused problems for me, it felt like every time we stopped to reflect I had to teach the process over again to more and more students. I realized that summer had been so successful because of the culture of reflection I had developed, I needed that culture to become a part of every day in my classroom during the regular year as well.

I've also spent a lot of time reading about lesson design, specifically the C3 Framework for history. What was missing from so many of my lessons was a clear "why" for the students. I had read of a history teacher who added the "why" to his learning objectives but when I tried that during first semester, it felt like I was often adding the same statement over and over again "we are learning this to try and prevent future world conflict." That "why" wasn't enough to engage students, it seemed detached from them and the reality of how they saw themselves as part of the world society.

Then I read the book "Essential Questions: Opening the Door to Student Understanding" and suddenly the inquiry component of the C3 Framework and my need to give my students a "why" found their answer in the development of compelling and enduring essential questions.

These are the compelling questions that will guide the same unit you see above (World War I).
I love these questions. I love that they can transcend the unit and allow students to make connections to today, other parts of history, or their own understanding of the world. I am excited to try these questions with my students and have designed all of my lessons around the learning goals listed above and these compelling questions. I've built in time for discussion of these questions as we learn content that connects with each one. And most importantly, I've built in time for daily reflections.

I believe part of what made summer school such a successful experiment in reflective grading was that students engaged in reflections every single day. When I started the first semester of the regular school year, I knew I'd have more time to go in more depth on some learning objectives and because of that I thought it would be okay to spread out the reflections.

I had built a culture of reflection in summer school, for many of those students I was the only teacher they saw 3 hours a day so that culture I created was all they knew. In the regular school year, I see my students every other day, and they have 5 other teachers they see, most of whom still use traditional grading practices. I was fighting an uphill battle.

But, I still see immense value in reflective grading: my teaching was still the strongest it had ever been, my students were still learning and engaged, and those who understood the reflection process found it to be beneficial. For second semester, I need to focus on creating a culture of reflection and creating a culture of inquiry.

Having reflected on all of this, I plan to make the following changes: students will reflect daily, even if we are not done exploring an objective or learning goal, they will take time to reflect on what they understand so far. And to show my students how important reflections are to their learning, when they reflect, I will reflect.

This new blog will be updated daily by me and my students as we reflect on the daily learning objectives and compelling questions. 
When I give my students 20 minutes at the end of each class to reflect on the learning for the day, I will open this blog and project it on the screen so they can see me reflect as well. I have 3-4 reflection questions for my students daily (what did you learn, how did you learn it, how does it connect to the learning objective, and then a compelling question will be asked) and so I plan to have 3-4 questions for myself as well.

I see so much value in students being able to articulate a learning goal, explain how they met that learning goal, and explain the importance of learning that information. I am hopeful that these changes will help build that culture in my classroom.

Are you trying non-traditional grading in your classroom? I'd love to hear about your experience! Share in the comments!

- Mrs. Byars

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Why I Use Technology In My Classroom

There are a lot of arguments to be made about pedagogy and edtech. We could have a long discussion about the SAMR model. We could talk about the many reasons why technology could never replace teachers. We could talk about how much time students already spend in front of screens.

But today, I just want to talk about why it is so important to find ways to incorporate technology in our classrooms because if we really want students to be college and career ready we have to embrace the fact that their experience is one we cannot truly predict.

My own experience with technology: 

Yes, it is true that I barely remember life pre-personal computer in my home. In middle school,  I was able to recreate the sound of our dial-up internet perfectly. By high school, I thought I was the queen of the AIM Away Message. In college, I had a LiveJournal and my college actively campaigned to be added to this new social networking thing called "Facebook."

But in school, I only took two classes dedicated to computers. I remember them both vividly. One was a typing class, they put these cardboard covers over the keyboard and we had to type away blindly. I spent an entire semester of my life where one hour a day was spent just typing. My average speed is 65 words per minute and I wear that badge with far too much pride.

Then I took "Intro to Computers" where I learned how to use Microsoft Word and Microsoft Publisher (Is that still a thing? Does it exist?) I learned how to change the font size, change the margins, use a hanging indent, and save the file in several different formats.

That's it. That is all the formal education I got on computers from school. Everything else I know I learned because I had to in order to survive the job market.

I graduated college in December of 2007. It was a terrible time to have a BA in Political Science and only customer service jobs on my resume. I took any and every job I could, often working multiple part time jobs at once because that is just how the world was in 2007 for a new graduate.

But I moved up quickly with almost every job I had and the reason was always because of my ability to adapt to technology. For example, when I started working in property management I moved from sales to accounting because of my ability to quickly learn accounting software. I should point out that my experience with math had been one of failure (I had to repeat a math class in high school and it was devastating) but once I was able to prove I could quickly learn the technology needed for the job, I found myself managing multiple properties at the age of 23. I credit that quick rise to two things: hard work and an ability to adapt to technology.

They didn't offer classes on the software, I had to figure it out on my own or get left behind. But that tech grit helped set me apart and helped me keep a job that put me through my credential and masters program so I could ultimately do what I was passionate about: teach.

I tell this story because it is the reality our students will face. When we talk about making technology as a part of making students college and career ready, it is not about ensuring they know how to use a specific list of digital tools. It's not that our students need to be Microsoft experts or Google certified, it is that they need to be comfortable learning how to use technology on their own because that is what they will face in the real world, no matter what job they have.

So in my classroom, technology is something I feel compelled to use in a variety of ways so students can learn and develop their tech grit. No, technology cannot replace outstanding teachers and no, you shouldn't use technology just to say you used technology and no, technology is not the most important thing in my classroom (that will always be relationships.) Like any part of a good lesson plan, it is a piece of something bigger, something more thoughtful and complete that helps the student achieve a learning goal in a meaningful way.

What are your thoughts on technology in the classroom? Share in the comments.

Monday, January 8, 2018

World History Lessons: Maps that Explain World War II

Today I want to share a lesson I made based on this Vox Article. I think maps in the history classroom are incredibly important tools for helping students understand the world. They can tell stories in unique and engaging ways and far too often map work if simply coloring, labeling, and memorizing.

What I love about that Vox list, is that the maps tell stories that are much more rich and engaging than "here is where things are." I decided to make an introduction to World War II where students explore some of the maps from that article prior to diving into any of our World War II content.

I took 14 of the maps from that article and created a Google Slides deck from them. I will either have students explore the maps on their devices using this link ( or print the maps and do a gallery walk.

I created this worksheet to go along with it and plan to host a discussion with the class, reviewing their answers to the reflective questions when they are done.

Looking for more lessons for your World History Classroom? Join my mailing list or check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store. 

Do you teach World War II? Do you have a favorite map that you use to teach the content? Share in the comments!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

EdTech Tutorial: How to Use Adobe Spark Video

Recently I wrote about some of my favorite tech tools you can use in class to get students sharing what they've learned. By far my favorite for ease of use is Adobe Spark Video. While it does not have the most features and it is not the most complex video creator out there, it works incredibly well for creating videos in the classroom.

Adobe Spark is fairly user friendly, below I have created a step by step tutorial for those who have never used it before. Scroll down even further and you can watch a completed adobe spark video.

And here is what an Adobe Slide Video looks like in action using the same content as you see above!

Adobe Spark is easy to use and even has an App for iPad and iPhone. I especially love that you don't have to download the video, students can turn in the shareable link making the process of grading and sharing the videos much easier overall. 

Have you used Adobe Spark Video in class? What do your students use it for? Share in the comments! 

Mrs. Kathryn Byars 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Book Review: Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding Jay McTighe & Grant Wiggins

I love the new C3 Framework from the NCSS. I think building a history class around 1. Developing questions and planning inquiries; 2 Applying disciplinary concepts and tools; 3 Evaluating sources and using evidence; and 4 Communicating conclusions and taking informed action is a fantastic way to make the learning real and engaging for students. Each step in the C3 Framework  provides meaningful opportunities for students that are applicable outside of the history classroom.

What I am not a fan of is how California took the idea of questioning and inquiry and created questions for their framework that were anything BUT compelling or engaging.

So when working with the new framework for California, I needed more help and guidance on how to develop questions for the inquiry process. Leave it to the awesomeness of Twitter to give me guidance:

Essential Questions by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins the missing piece in how I was approaching the C3 Framework and the California History Framework. The question of how to approach inquiry in the history classroom today has been a main focus of the department I am a part of. Just before break I had a conversation with another teacher about whether or not the inquiry model means you no longer teach content traditionally. We both felt hesitant about inquiry because our students need more structure than just: do projects every day.

What I loved about this book is that inquiry is not just project based learning, inquiry is a classroom culture. By using essential questions that are open ended, compelling, and timeless, you begin to establish an inquiry culture in your classroom. The book goes into more detail on how to create and use the questions and how to establish the culture.

What I loved most about the format of this book was that it gave examples of each step of the process for every single content area (art, performing arts, world languages, physical education, science, math, history and language arts!) 

This was one of those education books that had me opening up lesson plans and making immediate changes and revisions. I cannot wait to try the new Essential Questions I have made using this book and I am really excited to use the framework presenting in this book to create a culture of inquiry.

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Share in the comments!

Mrs. Kathryn Byars

Monday, January 1, 2018

One Little Word 2018: Engage

I decided to do One Little Word this year because I like the idea of setting a direction or intention that is simple and easy to remember. When thinking of what I wanted the word to encompass, I wanted it to be something that applied not only to my classroom and my professional development but also to my personal life. It didn't take long to come up with the word: Engage

For my classroom: I want my class to be meaningful and engaging for students. I want the rigor to be compelling, intense, and interesting. I want students to never look at the time. I want students to leave my classroom excited to come back next time. I want learning to be fun, engaging, and rigorous. If I can focus on engaging my students, I will get closer and closer to these goals every day.

For my own professional growth: I don't want to be passive in my growth as a teacher. I want to seek opportunities and see them through. I want to meet others and build my PLN by stepping out of my comfort zone of passively reading online and getting out there and joining groups and organizations that can help me become the best teacher I can be. 

In my personal life: My husband and I have put a lot of things in life on hold for school, for career, for health, for money. I am tired of putting all our adventures on hold. Right this minute, he's looking at a new bike that we could take on or off road with bags for our backpacking equipment. It's been weeks of searching online for the perfect bike for him to fix up for us so we can get out there and go on new adventures together. We are both tired of scrolling through instagram and wishing it was us out there. It is time for us to get out there and live it. 

I am excited for 2018 and all the potential it brings. Do you have any goals for the New Year? Are you participating in One Little Word? Share in the comments! 

Mrs. Kathryn Byars 


I tweeted a late night thought this week that I really didn't think anyone would notice. It's a tweet I almost deleted because I ...