Starting a New School Year, Planning for Success

posted Jul 14, 2016, 11:23 AM by Ms. Agbowo-Onyewuenyi   [ updated Jul 14, 2016, 5:35 PM ]
Happy new school year image
2015-2016 was a phenomenal year for me: I came out of my foxhole and was selected for awards and recognitions for 12 years of work! I'm so appreciative and so fired up to share more! As one of my students said, "How do you have like brand new tablets, like these are brand new, out of the box?" [the network was down, I created a hotspot so students could continue working....they _really_ appreciated that lol] My response, "Because I'm Agbowo, baby!" [if you know Sofia the First episode "Blue Ribbon Bunny"'s on rotation in my household] then I explained about the grants and planning for future classes. Anyway, as summer winds down I've been reflecting on my practice as I've presented in various forums and I wanted to share some of my keys to success:

"Blue Ribbon Bunny" Sofia the First


For the last 2 weeks of summer, when all my programming has ended (except parenthood), and I have nothing on my calendar (purposefully to rejuvenate) I begin planning.


  • grading periods
  • holidays & teacher work days/student days off
  • regular events: like known testing dates, senior what not, prom, Health Education Week, College + Career Week, etc.
  • finals weeks
  • dead weeks: 1 week to catch up before finals or end of marking period
  • assignments: unit plans, lesson plans/goals/ideas, assessments & projects
  • anything that will impact students being in class: field trips
The assignments & assessments are the meat of this conversation: in a 6- or 8-week grading period, I plan instruction for 6 weeks to allow a makeup week and finals week. I found this semiannual calendar to markup and provide a visual overview, I attempt to formalize my lesson plans with Microsoft Office templates I found years ago, but usually I simply create or update the student facing assets (Google Slides decks and Google Docs, Google Forms, Google Classroom classes).

Learning Management System

I then load assignments into my learning management system, currently Google Classroom, in past years as simple as a Google Sheet in a calendar format with links, which I prefer because my content is available to other teachers.

UPDATE: I'm looking into newer options after attending ISTE: Canvas & Moodle [Moodle Cloud,] for an LMS, Seesaw for Computer Arts portfolios.

This way all the heavy lifting is completed before school begins, which leaves time for tweaks and to innovate in other ways. I'm not saying EVERYTHING is done before school begins, just that at least the skeleton is created, which I can fill in and buy time to develop later curriculum.


Throughout the year I compile new thoughts, tools and projects for each subject area I teach using a Google Form [HINT: I added the links to my website contact page hidden in my name for convenience instead of searching for the Google Doc, mouse over "About Ms. Agbowo" to see 2 links. I also added bookmarks to my browser bar but it depends which profile I'm logged in to]. I'm also an avid pinner of great curricular ideas with my insomia (some personal, lots more educational-check out boards beginning with class-). During these 2 weeks I check them out, trial them, then add, or not, to my curriculum. Attending conferences is a quick way to gain knowledge of the latest and greatest, but if not, one can 
  • review the conference workshop & session list
  • listen to videos of keynotes
  • follow the conference hashtag on Twitter
This is also time where I reflect on how each unit and project could better serve students, #Fails that occurred, and how I was able to move along the personalization continuum in recent years, to allow student voice in the subject of projects and some choice in which content they'd like to learn.


Even with a learning management system (LMS), I find it helps to have a home on the web so parents and administrators can get an inkling of what's going on without all the details students need. It's helpful to provide general information to students also (grading schedules, policies, additional resources) and usually more graphically pleasing than the LMS. Truth be told, the creative outlet as a teacher means I limit myself to a few hours to come up with my color palette and associated graphics :)

NOTE: the domain was blocked by our firewall because of *questionable content* hosted by subdomains; my tech director had to whitelist my class website; Wix creates cooler sites than I could create with other free hosts.

UPDATE: I'm looking into how Squarespace can be used for education.

UPDATE: Done with Squarespace: beautiful but not free.

NOTE: I really want the Google Sites refresh to be successful: it's convenient with GAFE to use Google Sites but the limitations of including non-Google assets is why I moved on. Google, hear our cry! Play nice with other web technologies!

My former colleague, Mr. Mac, has web assets "mathisnotacrime" and "algebrotha" [I suspect he's not teaching 6th grade math anymore], but since I can't find his former websites enjoy and be inspired by his hosted videos. 

In the interest of time I'm going to direct all to Extreme Makeover: Classroom Website Edition by Brent Coley, a presenter at an Annual CUE conference who curated not only the best workshop title, but a great collection of ideas to not only generate content for your classroom website, but also to drive viewers to your classroom website ["Mom! Dad! Come watch my video!"]


Grants are important because in order to innovate you may need new tools, and instead of funding out of your school's nonexistent innovation budget or from your own pocket, grants help fund those items that improve student engagement and bring 21st century skills to the classroom.
  • Donor's Choose
  • district or foundation grants
  • Google search [really weak, I know, but there are so many: Target, Best Buy...just DO it!]



"Common Core" is not bad, teachers are just out of habit of creating their own textbooks, curriculum, assessments, etc., unlike some of us who NEVER had any of the above! Look to standards for guidance on assessment: killing 2 birds with 1 stone. Using ISTE's technology standards and student profiles is how I guide my technology class assessments.

Lesson Design

Speaking to standards to guide assessment, there are many ways to plan a lesson. As a technology teacher it usually goes, "Cool tool/website/toy/etc! How can I use this?" Understanding by Design and backwards lesson planning were part of my credential courses. The 5E lesson design structure [short version | looooong version] was part of Science and STEM training by NASA. Both are applicable to all subjects and guide me from the cool factor to integrating assessment, learning goals, and a focused, coherent lesson plan.

Project Based Learning

Finally PBL: some students are really good regurgitating what the teacher teaches. Others are really good with their hands. I've found that both modalities do really well with authentic assessment, which is a bit of vocabulary for academic language and skills acquisition and project based learning to simulate a real world task and "show what you know". So as much as PBL is the latest buzz, I've found it to be authentic and I assign projects with 6 weeks of learning goals, a project built from skills learned during the 6 weeks, a makeup week, and a finals "drop dead" "it must be completed or that's the end of the grading period" "I charge $200/hour to do your assignment" "Bribes? I can't be bribed, I have my integrity", which takes us full circle to the top of this list!

What's Margaret innovating in 2016-2017?