Feature Friday: Mary Kate Morley

Today’s Feature Friday is spotlighting a past colleague and great friend of mine. Mary Kate Morley was a 5th-grade teacher in Utah for three years before she became a stay-at-home mom. She and I both attended school at Utah State University in Logan, Utah where she received her degree in Elementary Education. One of her favorite parts of teaching 5th grade is the American History curriculum. She said, “I love seeing the students catch the patriotic spirit as they learn the history of their country.”

What made you want to go into teaching? 

“I wanted to work in an area where I could make the highest impact in the world.  My teachers have always been big game changers in my life. Children are with their teachers for such a large portion of each day making teachers huge influencers. I love education and schools. I love the smell of freshly sharpened pencils. Walking in schools just makes me happy…what could make more sense than to work in one!” 

What is one of your favorite ways to utilize technology in the classroom? 

“Research for informational writing. I was always surprised at the excitement my students felt in researching topics that they got to choose (with a little guidance). Some of my student’s efforts really peaked during projects like this. Other than this, the obvious answer is KAHOOT to review!!” 

If you could recommend one children’s book, what would it be and why? 

The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater. I love to use this book on the first day of school to teach that “people aren’t weird, people are different, and different is good.”  The artwork is great and this fun story teaches a great lesson!” 

What is a big challenge you face often in teaching, and how do you overcome it? 

“Handling difficult student behavior is probably the greatest challenge of teaching. It can feel like one misbehaved and disrespectful student can ruin your perfectly planned lesson for you and all the other students! My experience with misbehaved students like these is that if you are truly and honestly ON THEIR TEAM they will be good for you. It sounds simple but it will work. Be their friend. Care about them. Teach them how large of an influence they have on other students. Go to their sporting or music events. Praise them for every good thing they do. Call their parents to praise them.  If they are acting out instead of getting mad pull them aside and ask if anything is wrong because they aren’t acting like their normal selves. You want your tough students on your side. Never let it become you vs. them. That is a lose-lose situation.”

What do you wish someone would have told you in your first year teaching? 

“You don’t have to do it all! You don’t have to grade every paper. Just enjoy the kids and do your best. There is a lot of “fake it till you make it” that happens. The students won’t remember a perfect bulletin board you spend so much time making. They will remember your relationship and how you made them feel.” 

Who influenced you most to choose a career education? 

“My fifth-grade teacher was a rock star. She made me feel like I could do anything. I knew we had a real relationship and that she cared about me. She let us battle out the revolutionary war battle with paper balls. She made me want to be a teacher, and that fact that I ended up getting to teach the very grade she did is a bonus.” 

Why Are Labels So Important For Early Readers?

Labels. What’s the deal? Why are they important, especially in younger kids? 

I always knew they were important, but I was able to witness firsthand just how impactful it can be for children. 

In my daughter’s room, we have labeled many of her everyday objects. 

My daughter’s dresser of clothes
The magnetic chore chart on our back door of daily tasks my daughter does
A close up of the magnets for the chore chart
Her favorite puzzle that I added labels to

For each of these items, she has a visual of what exactly the object is or contains. If she pulls out her bin with socks, she knows it has socks. 

On her chore chart, when she sees the picture of the t-shirt, she knows it means she needs to get dressed. 

At 2.5 years old, she cannot read, yet words are present on each of these objects. Are the labels just for me? Absolutely not. At first glance, she didn’t pay much attention to them, just the pictures, but as time went on she started noticing the words and letters. 

“Mom, this says pig.” she would tell me while she held the pig puzzle piece up. 

“It says…. Dishwasher.” when she would move her magnet to “done” after helping me with the dishes. 

Eventually, she stopped focusing so much on the picture and started focusing in on the words.

A study was once done on kids being read picture books at an early age. It tracked their eyes to where they were looking on the page during the story. Kids who did not know how to read yet focused solely on the pictures for the entire story, paying very little attention to the words. Kids who had a very basic foundation skill of words and reading but could not read yet went back and forth between the words on the page and the pictures, trying to put the two together. While kids who could read focused mainly on the words and less on the pictures.

By putting these words and pictures in front of her, I’ve given her the opportunity to see the connection of words with objects and it took very little effort (or even teaching) on my part! She loves to look at each label and read them to me. Most of the time she doesn’t say it exactly right as it reads, but the purpose is that she’s trying. 

She’s gained confidence in her ability to read, it’s not something that’s just for older kids and adults. 

She’s putting together that letters grouped together can create words. 

She’s gathering that words have meaning and can represent objects. 

She’s recognizing familiar letters in the words and seeing them put to use. 

Is she actually reading? No. But she’s laying down the crucial foundational skills she needs to get there. 

And we’re getting there with one simple, simple aspect added to her day- Labels. Never underestimate the power a labeled object can have on an early reader. 

Look For The Rainbows: The Positives Of COVID-19

We are roughly two weeks into COVID-19 shutdowns, how is everyone doing? Have we settled in and found our new “normal” yet? Here in Utah, schools are closed until May and we aren’t even into April yet! It’s heartbreaking to see teachers and students everywhere long to be back in their classrooms. 

Watching the news is crazy and full of negatives. During this time, let’s focus on the positives. Here are a few I’ve witnessed here in my community. 

Teachers parading the streets their students to honk, wave, and say hi to them from a distance. 

Students standing out in the rain and snow just to watch their teacher’s drive by. 

Rainbows posted in windows throughout the neighborhood to remind us that after every storm, there will always be a rainbow and that it will be okay. 

#chalkthewalk around my neighborhood

Copious amounts of incredible people on social media doing various things to keep our kids occupied and learning during this uncertain time. Storytimes, zoo tours, drawing lessons, free resources, and more. 

#chalkthewalk around my neighborhood

Sidewalks chalked with uplifting, happy messages. 

Teachers posting about how sad they are that they cannot be with their students right now, even though it may be spring break for some. 

Virtual scavenger hunts. 

More reading, more loving, and more time to slow down. 

Right now, things are uncertain and difficult. It’s hard not to be with friends, it’s hard to be walking through the uncertainty each day brings, and it’s hard to navigate our own emotions while keeping up with our kids’ emotions as well. But we can do this. Look for the helpers, focus on the good, keep a positive attitude, and remember that rainbows always come after the storm. 

We can do this. 

Gone Are The Days Of Computer Labs

If you are old enough to teach right now, there is a good chance that while you were in school you had a computer lab instead of a laptop cart. There was one room in the school with the classroom set of computers every class shared throughout the school year. Your computer time was about once every week or two weeks where you would spend an hour typing your papers, playing cool math games, or testing. And there is a really good chance that if you’re teaching now, this isn’t the case for your students. 

Computer labs are a thing of the past, irrelevant to our day. We aren’t setting aside time for utilizing technology in our classrooms, we are picking up this tech and solving everyday problems with it. 

Typing our written papers isn’t a treat anymore, it’s expected. 

Finding learning-based gaming isn’t to kill time in the computer lab, it’s used to boost test scores and teach on a tier-three basis to each and every student. 

Coding isn’t just for fun, it’s there to teach students how to plan and think ahead. Later, they will use these basic fundamental skills in their future careers as adults. 

Thinking tech-minded in schools is becoming easier and easier with more technology access throughout every grade. More often than not, each classroom is equipped with a 1:1 ratio of technology to student, whether that be by laptop, Chromebook, iPad, or cellphone. 

When it comes time to learn about penguins for science, we don’t line up our class and march them down to the computer lab to research the subject. Instead, we ask them to pull out their iPads, watch the videos about the habitats, read the online articles on the different kinds of penguins, create their own presentations, choose their own images, and present their findings to their classmates and friends. What used to take weeks and weeks of time to research now can take one afternoon. 

How are you shifting your technology mindset from a “computer lab” to an “iPad” in your classroom or school? 

An Introduction To Feature Friday

Welcome to Feature Friday! A space where every Friday I will be interviewing a new educator, asking them questions about their teaching and learning, then sharing this here with you. 

Why Feature Friday? Because collaboration brings results. 

I think teachers everywhere can agree that some of their best ideas for teaching haven’t come from sitting in their college classes or in their conferences. They come in the copy room after school or in the teacher’s lounge during lunch with casual collaboration between one another. And being the big thinker I am, I know this can expand beyond the walls of our school with an #edtech mindset. Cue: Feature Friday.

Each Friday will be a new teacher, in a new part of the nation, possibly the world. We will see an insight into who they are, why they teach, and the resources they find most helpful. In the end, I hope we can all walk away with more knowledge as educators to move forward and teach our students to the best of our ability. 

In the spirit of collaboration, if you have any great questions that would be good to ask in an interview, please comment below or reach out via email. If you are an educator that would like to be featured, again, please reach out. 

My Experience At The 2020 UCET Conference

Recently I went to Utah Coalition for Educational Technology (UCET) conference in Provo, Utah. A big conference for tech nerdy teachers, and those aspiring to be. It was incredible. 

We started each day with a keynote speaker- Matt Miller @jmattmiller and Richard Culatta @rec54 where each spoke about technology in the classroom, the benefits, and how easily accessible it can be. Richard focused on digital citizenship and the responsibility that it entails.  

During breakout sessions, they had options to learn more about everything tech imaginable spanning from Google Drive, Google sheets, to Nearpod, to Skype and more. Technology is advancing and we as teachers are here for the hype. 

The timing of the conference could not have come at a better time with Covid-19 shutdowns all across the world. Teachers, coaches, and administrators walked out of there with the tools they needed for schools being based online and at home for the foreseeable future. 

After being surrounded by AR, VR, Microsoft, Google, Apple, iPads, laptops, and more, I am feeling fired up and ready to put these ideas to use! But wait…. I’m not teaching right now! That’s where you will come in. I’ll share my findings on this space over the next few weeks and YOU can implement them into your classrooms and then share with me. 

Next year if you’re in the area, check out this UCET conference and learn more for yourself, your school, and your students about technology and digital citizenship, it won’t disappoint. 

This post is not sponsored by UCET.

An Open Letter To The Graduating Class Of 2020

Dear Graduate, 

Your time is finally here, you did it! You made it through. 

You survived the endless group projects. 

You walked the hallways and sidewalks of your school’s campus for years, and now you’re walking them for the final time. 

You created new relationships. 

You slacked off at times and worked hard at other times. 

The hours you clocked doing homework, staying up late studying for tests, and re-watching powerpoints have finally paid off. 

You are applauded for your dedication to your education. 

You are inspiring others to push on to graduation as well! 

You are our future. 

Our future doctors, electricians, lawyers, agriculture scientists, professors, journalists, and more. 

And now you’re about to embark on a journey none of us have had to go through before. You are pioneering a way for us all, stepping into the unknown.

Because of the Coronavirus shutdowns, many of you aren’t finishing your schooling in a traditional way, and your graduation ceremonies have been canceled. You are packing up, heading home, and resorting to a completely online platform to finish.

There won’t be a day for you to zip up your graduation gown or put on your cap, which is absolutely heartbreaking and scary for most. It seems unfair, and it truly is. But please know this- Just because you were robbed of your opportunity to walk at graduation does not make you less.

It absolutely does not mean you are any less of a student or graduate.

It does not mean you didn’t work incredibly hard.

It does not take away those endless nights of studying or editing papers.

It’s hard to go through something so big in your life and not have the proper recognition for it.

It’s scary to be the first, and maybe only, that has to go through this unique situation.

Here’s your recognition, while not sufficient, please know that we recognize you and applaud you. We see the hard work you’ve gone through and the time you’ve put in. We see the hurt you have for not being able to walk at graduation.

You pushed through the hard times and made it here today. 

We are proud to call you our future.

Congratulations graduating class of 2020!