Thursday, September 1, 2011

I've Got a Feeling

What a great kick off to the year!
As a brief reminder, I am in a new school.  We are a small school with 50 students that is housed inside another school.  The school is only in its second year.  Most of the students are new and the staff is new as well.  What to do on the first day?  Team building!

I think team building is an important way to begin every year, but this year it is especially important.  We are keeping the kids together today and tomorrow and then we will divide them up into advisory periods for the experience/ pbl learning environment we have once we know the kids a little bit better.

Team building activities that we used include:

  • Name Game.  Come up with an adjective that begins with the first letter of your name and an action to go with the adjective.  We went around in a circle introducing ourselves.  This really helped kids remember names better than normal introductions.  We did this as a whole school, and next year I think it would be better in smaller groups.
  • Play-dough People.  Pick an object to represent yourself and shape it out of play-dough.  Everyone then went around and explained why they created what they did.  This was done in small groups and worked really well.  I didn't lead this activity, but a co-worker said all of the kids were really into it and shared some really great things.
  • 2 Truths and a Lie.  Kids write 2 true things and one made up thing on a card.  Then they share the three items and the kids guess which is false.  I gave an example before I gave the kids a few minutes to work on their own responses.  We then went around the circle and kids guessed which was false by holding up 1, 2, or 3 fingers.  This worked really well for background knowledge.  Some kids shared some really personal things.  In the future I would have them all share with an elbow partner first and then open it up to the whole group because due to time constraints some kids did not share.  I also think this would have encouraged deeper discussion between a small group of students.  
  • A variety of physical team building games such as pass the noodle, pass the hula hoop, etc.  These were a lot of fun and broke up some of the more personal sharing times.  It also allowed the kids to work as a team.  In our learning environment this is going to be really important.
  • Letter to a teacher.  At the end of the day we had the kids write a letter to a teacher (or teachers) to share some info with us that we should know.  We recommended things like successful past experiences, topics they were interested in exploring, etc.  These letters were really great and also serve as a great baseline writing sample.
So I am exhausted but happy.  How do you build a team in your classroom?  Do you have any favorite team building activities you use?  I'd love to hear everyone's ideas!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Generative Curriculum

I am thrilled to be using a generative curriculum model for the upcoming school year. Although I have encouraged student choice in the past, this type of curriculum is really going to allow me to take student choice and student centered curriculum to the next level. I am really looking forward to connecting with others who use this technique.

So what is generative curriculum? I really had no idea and googling the term doesn't net a lot of results. Basically, it is allowing the students to direct their learning. Students are still required to meet the same standards as other students in the district and (sigh) take the same standardized tests, but they learn content and skills as they develop a need for them. A teacher at the school told me about one such experience she had this past year.

This teacher has a mixed-age class with third, fourth, and fifth graders. She had been noticing that a few classroom jobs would be helpful. She jotted these on the board and asked the students what they thought about these jobs. They loved the idea and then brainstormed a list of additional jobs that they felt would be beneficial. The teacher then discussed with students how jobs should be assigned. The students decided that some sort of an application process should occur. That night the teacher went home, created a job application, and worked with students to complete the application the next day. They also learned how to create resumes and answer interview questions. A panel of three adults eventually held interviews for the classroom positions.

After the positions were given, the teacher pretty much thought that would be the end of the learning experience. However, after a while the students decided that they should probably be getting paid for their work. A classroom currency was created and the teacher began stocking a little store with trinkets. She discussed with the kids how adults do not get to keep their entire paycheck. Taxes and rent are required every month. I don't recall what the taxes go to pay for, but a lot of great spin-offs could happen with this. Once again, the teacher thought this was the end of the learning experience.

Then a student wanted her mom to teach her how to sew. One weekend mom bought fabric and the student started making pajama pants and a few other items. She asked the teacher if she could bring them in to 'sell'. These items were a big hit and other students began creating items they too could sell in their classroom. Some students have integrated projects, performances, and other hobbies into the classroom economy. Once again, the teacher thought this was the end of the learning experience.

You may remember that a lot of craziness happened in Wisconsin in January. Around this time, students started asking questions about health insurance. The teacher did a mini lesson on how insurance works and integrated it into the classroom economy as one more 'bill' for students to think about each month. They had a choice to go without health insurance, to have a high deductible plan, or a low deductible plan. Plans were used to see the school nurse. (Regularly needed meds and emergencies were free). Not only did this teach elementary school kids (!) about copays, deductibles, and budgeting, but it also helped one student who was constantly requesting to go to the nurse for bandaids to rethink the frequency of her visits.

I can see a lot of additional directions to go with this amazing experience. Additional financial literacy lessons would dovetail with this experience. Historical economic lessons could have been covered (new deal legislation, the national bank, etc.). Basic economic concepts could be covered with the students who are creating their own cottage industries. Speaking and listening skills were covered during the interview portion of the learning experience. Additional literacy and writing skills could also be covered with finding an appropriate novel for the kids to read on similar topics. (I am pretty sure the teacher did this, but I am not sure how closely it tied into the classroom economy)

I think as I work through this generative curriculum process I will rely on current events for inspiration. The students will also be working on individual projects that could provide opportunities for whole-class learning. I should mention that we will only be covering writing, reading, science, social studies, technology, and the arts with the generative curriculum – math will be separate.

So that is my understanding of how life is going to work. I think it's all about recognizing and capitalizing on teachable moments – and finally having the freedom to follow them down the rabbit hole as far as they will take us!

Does anyone have thoughts or tips? Could this work in a more traditional singular discipline classroom?  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

How You Doin'?

This trick is so easy and cheap, and thus far is working really well with the kids!  I just had to share!

This is a classroom management strategy that I have been using for the past month or so, and I think it will work really well in my new PBL home.  Each child gets a stack of three cups (white, yellow, and red) for their work area.  If all is well, they leave the white cup on top.  If they are starting to get confused or have a non-urgent question the student puts the yellow cup on top.  If they are totally lost and need my help, they move the red cup to the top.

Reasons I love this:

  • The kids know that they should keep working at all times and if they are hopelessly lost, they should move onto something that they are comfortable with.  This expectation is really helping the kids stay focused and productive even when they get stuck in one area.  
  • They know that I am working around the room and that I will get to them ASAP.  
  • It also allows kids to struggle with a problem a little longer.  I love it when I see a student change a red cup to a yellow.  
  • I have not done this yet, but students that finish early could work with students indicating they need a little bit of help.
  • I had a real problem with students mobbing me with questions and interrupting my time working with other students.  This has really stopped that.  Now I know that if a student comes up to me it is an emergency.

I wish I could remember where I collected this idea from, possibly it was from The First Days of School.  I think this will work well in a PBL setting, but I am wondering if there are any other ideas out there that could also work.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What's In A Name?

I am trying to set up a classroom blog where I can start to update students and families about things over the summer.  Eventually I would love for the kids to take over the blog.  Once the school year gets started I see it as a place for absent students, parents, and local people that we are working with on projects to find out what is going on at school on a day to day basis.  I think the posts will be relatively short and include a variety of media types.  I don't know if it will be necessary to have it obvious that a lot of different people are posting or if there should just be one general author name that is actually many different students.  I anticipate that the students (at least some) will start their own personal blogs to go into more depth on specific learning experiences and their reflections.

I have looked into several platforms, and I think I am going with Tumblr., although I like the ease of having multiple people work on a Posterous blog.  If you have experience with either of these platforms, I'd love to hear what you think about them.

Here is my bigger question.  What do I call the thing?  The obvious: Ms. Smith's Classroom Blog or something more inclusive?  The whole point of this school is to create a student directed, individualized learning environment.  Does plastering my name on everything take away from the community feeling I am trying to create?  Would a 'house name' (it is my understanding that Griffindor is already taken) say to students and visitors "This is a student-centered learning environment?" more so than using my name?  Or would using a house name create unnecessary confusion?  (Wait, which ridiculous, made up word is my child a part of again?)

The blog is what is forcing me to make this decision, but I am thinking about an entire vocabulary switch.  Why should only my name be on the door?  Why should students say "I am in Ms. Smith's class" instead of "I am in the Tiddlywinks".  (I am a Tiddlywink?)

Also, if I do have a group name, I don't want to choose the name.  If the whole point is to give the kids ownership, it would be dumb for me to pick a random word or non-word to use.  (The Caffeines?  The Penguins?  The Heffalumps?)  But, as afore mentioned I want to get the blog going before the beginning of the school year - so what do I go with now?

Of course - I could be over thinking things a bit.  Thats always a possibility as well :)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

In the Beginning

The to-do list of things to decide before September 1st is long to say the least.  I am excited to think about all of the different possibilities for the coming school year.  I am probably going to be bothering everyone a lot over the next few months for opinions and feedback, as I am going to be in a lot of new territory.
Some things I will be focusing on

  • Space.  We will be changing our learning spaces.  I will be thinking about everything from use of space to paint colors.
  • Standards.  We are reworking our standards to work better in our multi-grade learning environment.  The kids also use the standards when designing projects and learning experiences.  How specific is appropriate?
  • Pacing.  This is a big concern of mine.  How do I set reasonable standards and timelines so that the students and parents (and me!) know the peanuts are making adequate progress?
  • Assessment.  Currently we are thinking about creating portfolios and an "assessment triangle" consisting of student/teacher self-reflection, project and experience assessment, and a more traditional assessment for people that are used to paper and pencil assessments.  How we organize and share this information needs to be decided as well.  Will we use the traditional report card?  Switch to a standards based report card? 
  • Community Building.  Because middle school is the easiest time when it comes to everyone being comfortable in their own skin. With the kids being expected to work in cooperative groups, I really want the kids to understand how they think and work and use this information to work more productively in groups.  I want everyone to feel safe and accepted in the school and it seems that there is a need for some bridge building in this area.
  • General Curriculum.  ELA, Math, Social Studies, Science, and more :)
  • Using Generative Curriculum.  If you have a class like this - I would love to talk!  It has been hard to find many resources in this area!
  • Project Based Learning.  This is the area I am most comfortable with.  It just makes sense.  I'll be looking for information on how to start the year and set the kids up for success.
  • Entrepreneurialism.  The goal of the school is for the students to start and operate a business.  This past year the business has focused on an organic garden.  We are looking to take this project to the next level.  We also want to work with the kids to develop the skills required for business leaders.
  • Sustainability.  I am pretty solid here as well.  I used to work with our local environmental office and was in charge of environmental education.  If I come up against a problem I don't have any clue about, I at least know the local resources that I can utilize for help.
Well, I think that just about covers it.  Its a good thing I have all summer and a fabulous group of people to help me get through all of this!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

When A Door Closes

As the year winds to an end I am finding myself more sentimental than usual.  Finals are ready to be given. I have purchased this years copy of Oh The Places You'll Go.  (I buy a copy every year, read it on the last day, and then have the kids sign it like a yearbook.)  The peanuts are all excited about their summer plans (and I am too!).

And finally this last week I couldn't avoid the questions I have been getting for the past few weeks.  The kids have noticed me leaving as soon as possible (unusual for me) and the fact that I have been packing up a few more things than I normally take home for the summer (and I usually take home almost everything).  So I told the kids I had gotten a new job and wouldn't be returning in the fall.  I work with kids that have people come in and out of their lives with disturbing frequency so I was glad that I had the opportunity to explain why I was leaving and how I hoped we would all keep in touch (what did people do before Facebook?).  It wasn't as long-winded as Oprah's farewell, but it was closure.  I am going to miss working with this group of kids and I will probably cry like a baby at graduation, but I am also very excited about the things to come.

In the fall I will be moving to the 'burbs working in a mixed-grade classroom at a 6-8 charter school.  The schools focus is on entrepreneurialism and sustainable initiatives.  The curriculum is a mixture of project based learning and experiential learning.  It is also generative.  I am a little type A so while I'm sure this won't be a cake-walk, I am very excited to say the least.  We are going to do standard based grading, which I have experience with, but not on this grand scale.  We are working this summer to rewrite standards and learning targets into a multi-grade format.  The school is only in it's second year, and there is only one other teacher (who is also a new hire).  We have a million ideas and I think our biggest problem will be that there are only so many hours in a day.

So, while I have recently taken a brief sabbatical from the online world, it has not been for lack of thoughts.  I look forward to this new journey and can't wait to share it with all of you as well.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Weather Day and the Milwaukee Brewers

Today we took half the school to a Milwaukee Brewers game.  The event began with TMJ4's weather day where the kids learned a lot of interesting facts about meteorology.  The kids were very engaged in the presentation and especially enjoyed learning about the technology used by meteorologists and television production.

The students also really enjoyed the game.  I was surprised to learn that many students did not know how to read a ticket to identify their section, row, and seat number.  In the future, I would include this information in my discussion of expectations prior to the event.

I was so proud of how well the students behaved.  Our students were being polite and were having a really great time.  I noticed one of my peanuts even went up to a man to politely inform him that he had mustard on the back of his shirt.  Another highlight was when one student decided it was his goal to get on the big screen.  He led the students in cheers and the wave and just as we were about to leave, the whole group made it on the big screen.

I had a few personal take aways from this event.

  • Going over expectations and content with students increased the enjoyment of the event. 
  • Double check EVERYTHING before leaving for an event.  We discovered that we had only grabbed half the tickets (!) but this was quickly solved.
  • Having procedures in the classroom is really a benefit when traveling outside the classroom.  We marched to the stadium and when we needed to have the students shift out of the way, it was very easy to give a side-step direction that is commonly used at school.  I was also able to quickly gain student attention by calling out 'Marco'.  Students respond with 'Polo' and then pay attention to the speaker.  These types of procedures make for a smooth event.
  •  I had a student ask if he could journal about the event.  I think I will rework my lessons for tomorrow to reflect and connect yesterday to our curriculum.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Dream Classroom

Recently I have seen several interesting posts by teachers reflecting on what their perfect classroom would look like.  If I were to create the perfect classroom it would include
  • Project Based Learning.  I was reading Star in the Storm aloud to my students today and the phases of the moon were mentioned.  I saw the students were a little confused, so I set the book down and drew a model of the orbits on the board and we talked about how the phases occur.  This led the students to further questions and I pulled up Google Sky on my phone and showed the students where some constellations and the moon were at that very moment.  We talked about how the recent earthquake in Japan shifted the axis of the earth and the literary and scientific meaning of the phrase "blue moon".  At one point a student raised her hand and said, "Wait Ms. Smith, are we doing science now?"  I laughed a little and said, "Life kinda mushes all of the things we study together and when you think about it, it is a little odd that we have to split them up so much in school."  She agreed. 
  • Student Choice.  I am currently using a modified Daily 5 model for my literacy instruction.  In my ideal classroom, I would expand my knowledge and implementation of this strategy.  I love mini lessons and use them in all subject areas to support my student's Individualized Learning Plans.  I have also been utilizing strategies found in the book The Strategic Teacher.  This book has been a great resource as I continue to implement research-based best practices in my classroom.
  • Technology.  Currently I work in an environment that offers very few technological options for students in school.  However, life offers them a plethora of tools, skills, and decisions.  As I currently work with middle school peanuts, I know how important twenty-first century skills and digital citizenship are.  As they are just beginning to create their digital footprint, I would love to teach them about the various tools available, and how to select the right tool to fit the job on which they are currently working.  This also includes teaching students how to vet a source.  This skill is important off-line as well, but is so much more important when reviewing online information.  Obviously, a 1:1 classroom would be ideal.  I would also love mp3 players to listen to lectures and podcasts, recording devices for audio and video, and adaptive technologies for students who need technologies to meet learning needs.
  • Mobility.  Learning should not end at the threshold of my door.  I would love bicycles, kayaks, and a webcam.  Digital field trips would be a great way to supplement local expeditions.  This way my students could experience their local community and the world.
  • Organization.  I am a certified, card-carrying member of the Type A Club.  Currently, I have a color for each class.  Binder tabs, background paper for bulletin boards, magazine holders - all color coded to keep me sane.  I have to thank my sixth grade teacher, Ms. H. for this one.  She was the queen of organization, and although I didn't know it at the time, she set me up for a lifetime of organizational success.  She modeled organization for us in so many ways.  I learned how to organize my notes, my desk, and an English paper.  I have obviously modified her organizational tactics and made them my own, but she gave me a blueprint.  I hope to provide the same model for my students.
  • My Grandma's Sofa.  My Grandma was always my biggest fan.  Sadly, she passed away a few months before I got back into a classroom position.  By the time we were ready to sell some of her furniture, I knew I had a classroom to call home so I brought her couch along with me.  It now sits in my library area and I dutifully yell at students when they put their feet up on the couch.  But the kids love that I have it in the room.  Sitting on the couch is a highly coveted place.  I love that I have a comfortable space that welcomes students and other staff.  I have counseled and counseled on that couch, just like Grandma did for me.
  • Authentic Assessment.  Learning, in my humble, should be relevant and rigorous.  My goal is to make students be able to be successful in the "real world".  Projects should be multi-disciplinary and incorporate a wide variety of Gardner's multiple intelligences.  Too many teachers talk about the virtues of the "real world".  Let me tell you, I have worked in the "real world" and I never turned in a project past deadline.  However, if I did, I don't think my boss would have taken off 10% per day it was late.  I don't know if I would completely commit to a no-homework policy, but I definitely believe in a limited-homework policy.  
  • Digital Picture Frames.  I would love for each student to have a digital picture frame where they could load inspiring pictures, photos of projects, photos of family and friends, and anything else they felt expressed or inspired them.  Digital picture frames are pretty cheep on Black Friday, so this dream may become a reality next year!  I think the idea of digital picture frames also represents having an aesthetically pleasing classroom.  I want my classroom to have a comfortable feel where students have a sense of ownership.
  • Parent Communication.  Just as it is important to create relationships with students, it is equally important to create relationships with parents and other stakeholders of student success.  Ideally, I would have weekly communication with each parent.  This could include face to face contact, a phone call, or an e-mail.  I would also like students to take ownership of communicating their learning to stakeholders through daily blogging, videos, or updates to a classroom Facebook page or Twitter account.
  • An Open Door.  Just as no man is an island, no teacher should be an independent contractor.  My ideal classroom would support co-worker collaboration through common planning time.  I would also like to explore team-teaching and guest speakers.  Parents, community stakeholders, and other educators have a wealth of knowledge.  I would be remiss in my commitment to the best interests of my students if I did not tap these great sources of information.  Technologies like Skype and digital field trips would also allow students to meet with other experts from around the world.
Hat tip to Helping Young Minds to Grow and Tartan Learning for the inspiration to write this post. 
photo © Michael Jastremski
for CC:Attribution-ShareAlike

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Time flies....

Lately I have been letting time get away from me.  I don't have a clock in my room so I have to keep my cell phone handy.  Usually it gets left up at the front of my classroom, where I am not, so I end up scrambling at the last minute to distribute homework or have the student helpers do their jobs.

To help fix this problem I have found a few tools that are very helpful.
1. I set a daily timer on my cell phone to go off ten minutes before the kids have to switch subjects.  This is a signal for the student helpers to begin doing their jobs.
2. I have been projecting an online stopwatch for small group work.  This allows the kids to see how much time they have left in each activity.  It also allows them to accurately monitor how much each student is talking.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Reflections from a (Non-Union) Teacher

I am not in a union because I work at a private school.

I have a class size of 64.
I had a class size of 98 last year.  Yes, all in one room at one time.
I am really good at my job, so I feel as secure about my job as anyone can feel in this climate of slashed budgets.
I have a really good colleague who is nervous about her continued employment if she has a bad day.
I don't think she should be nervous.
I have had colleagues who were not asked back, even though they had more seniority than I had.
I do not pretend to be in a position to judge if these teachers were good or not.
I can be told I have to stay late or come in early with very little notice.
I can get raises based on my (not my student's) performance, but there is no guarantee I will get raises.
I could get a pay cut based on budgetary needs (but this has not happened).
I can have additional duties added to my day, but this has never happened without compensation.
I have a weekend and there are additional days off during the month.
I usually work from home on these days, not because I am told to, but because my student's need me to.
I have a very flexible administration that can give me a yes or no answer very quickly if I have a question.
I have a lot more questions because there are fewer guidelines and policies.
I got to create the outline of the school's social studies curriculum.
I got to decide what my literature and math curricula would look like.
I got to decide what textbooks I wanted my students to have.
I did not get to order enough textbooks so that every student could have their own copy.
I can modify my curriculum at a moment's notice to meet the needs of my students.
I do not have to teach U.S. History in chronological order. (I teach it thematically)
I do not have health insurance.
I do not have benefits.
I have a husband whose career allows me to not require these things.
I have no idea if I would get any paid time off if I got pregnant or how much time I could take off without pay.
I just found out we have four-ish paid sick days a year.
I have gone into work when I was sick because I knew my students needed me, not a substitute.
I was able to take several days off at a moment's notice earlier this year when my father had a heart attack and required a quintuple bypass surgery.
I debated about, but eventually did not, Skype into my classroom while at the hospital to teach a lesson.
I had to attend meetings throughout the summer.
I had to miss work at my summer job to attend those meetings.
I work on modifying units, lessons, and try to learn new things over the summer whether I am at a meeting or not.
I have to work 70 hours some weeks (obviously some of this is from home), others I work 40.
I understand that while I don't get comp time for my 70-hour weeks, it is why I have the summer off.
I have worked 60-hour weeks in the summer and I have worked 0-hour weeks in the summer.
I don't know if people count reading PD books as work, but if they do, then I take back my previous statement about working 0-hour weeks in the summer.
I don't know where the line is between what I have to do and what I do because I want to be better.
I have to make a lot of 'I' statements because 'we' is very different without a union.

We really care about our students and want to do what is best for them.
We work well together as a very small team.

Some of these factors may be due to the fact that I am not in a union.  Some of these factors may be due to the fact that I am at a fairly young school.  Some of these factors may be due to the fact that I am young, don't have children, and am a certified work-a-holic.  I know many of these things were true when I was in a Union as well.

This list isn't a list of brags or complaints.  It's just what my life looks like.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Most Influential Person in US History

This is a bracket to determine the most influential person in US history, via a March Madness style bracket.  I made mine into a Prezi so I could try out the website.  I loved it!  This one is a little rough, but I think with time I would transfer most of my PowerPoints to this format!

I'd love to hear what people think about my choices as well!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Parent Teacher Conferences

Ah the joys of parent teacher conferences.  At our school all of the teachers set up at tables in the cafeteria mess hall so parents can easily meet with teachers and drill sergeants.  Although students miss the opportunity to share our classroom with their parents, I enjoy this set-up because it allows me to see parents of past students.  I can also eavesdrop on other teachers to see how they run a conference.  Some trends were obvious.

  • Data, data, and more data.  We brought WKCE results, most recent report cards, grade books, and I had my students' folders.
  • Sign in sheet.  This way we can collect the most up-to-date contact information for parents.
  • Business cards.  A quick and easy way for me to hand out my info to parents.
  • Graduation requirements.  This was specific to teachers with 8th and 12th grade students.  It was a nice reference tool.
  • Student's personal assessment.  In the past I have created a half slip of paper with report card comment options.  I have the students circle comments they feel apply to their performance in class and answer a few short questions about future goals.  They then staple a few pieces of recent work to the slip.  This was a great way to make the conference student centered and have work samples readily available.  I have the students reflect on their performance for their parents first, and then I build on what they say as we discuss future goals.  Finally, we review the work samples and parents can take the packet home.  (I wasn't able to get around to this for the most recent round of conferences and I really missed my packets!)
One of the most awesome parent teacher conferences I noticed was when a student's aunt came in to see a colleague. My colleague jumped up and they both hugged because they hadn't seen each other "in a while", which was actually just a few weeks.  The teacher texts the parent when work is more than a few days late or if there is a big assignment coming up.  I know she does this with several parents and it was so obvious that she had built fabulous relationships with them throughout the year.  Conferences were merely a formal meeting to recognize and celebrate a year-long relationship.  What a wonderful goal!  

What are your conference essentials?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Door Busters: 30+ ideas

They are called many things: door busters, do-nows, entrance activities, bell ringers.  Having a short activity to get kids thinking about class as soon as they walk in the door gives me the space and time to take attendance, get absent kids their work, conference with a student, or collect and return homework.  It is a good practice that many teachers use and I learned about in college through the book The First Days of School.

However, sometimes it is very easy to get into a routine, using the same type of activity day after day.  In an effort to brainstorm some new ideas, I came up with the following list.  Some activities also make great exit activities as well.

  • Analyze a quote - historical or not
  • This Day in History
  • BBCs list of History through 100 objects
  • A video of a news story from the previous evening
  • Analyze a political cartoon, photograph, or paragraph from a primary source
  • A few multiple-choice questions
  • Journal question
  • A wordle of a primary source, news story, or speech
  • A text poll (if you can have students use their cell phones or are in a 1:1 situation)
  • Think-Pair-Share on a question
  • Create a Venn Diagram or a Double Bubble graphic organizer on a topic
  • KWL chart
  • Vocabulary introduction or concept mapping
  • Uncle Jay Explains the News
  • Listen to a contemporary or historical song and respond to the lyrics
  • View a biography of a great person in history (especially in months dedicated to certain topics)
    • September - Hispanic Heritage Month
    • February - African American History 
    • March - Women's History
  • Have students call in or text their response to a video or picture at Voice Thread
  • Write a question on the board and have students respond on the board.  Check out this picture from @dontworryteach.  This is especially great if you have an interactive white board.
  • Have students place themselves on a continuum in response to a question
  • Analyze a map, chart, or graph to review historical skills
  • Jot down a list of tweets or facebook updates from a historical figure
  • View a short video of a job or occupation - list some of the skills needed for this job or questions students have about the job.  
  • Have a student suggest a discussion question
  • Who Am I? or other content related riddles
  • Daily Geography Series - introduce or review a geography concept each day
  • Have students review learning objectives and assess their progress
  • Have students reflect on yesterday's lesson and predict what they will do in class today
  • Brainstorm a list of artifacts for a museum display on a theme covered in class
  • Brainstorm a list of artifacts for a time capsule
  • Take a virtual tour of a historic site
  • Write an ode or poem about an event or person
  • Comment on a blog post
This is by no means an exhaustive list.  What ideas did I miss?


  • Distribute creative name tags with characters, historical figures, etc. as students walk in.  Have them answer a question about the person and "mingle" for a few minutes.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Civil Rights Lesson Plans

I am really looking forward to next week.
This week I didn't have students because the drill sargents kept them for a mid-year boot camp.  So is working at a para-military school.  So next week I have lessons planned that are interdisciplinary and centered on Civil Rights.

The goals:
  • read, write, and understand poetry
  • analyze historical biographies
  • create an art product about a Civil Rights leader
  • understand the economic impacts of the Montgomery bus boycott
  • identify ways youth impacted the Civil Rights movement
  • identify ways youth can become politically involved in politics today
While these are a lot of lofty goals, having students rotate through stations will make life a lot easier.  Making life easier still?  Many of the lessons I will be using were created this summer at an NEH workshop with some of the most amazing educators I have ever had the pleasure of working with.  

Plan for the week:
  • read a short biography of Rosa Parks from our Literature books
  • read a poem about Rosa Parks from our Literature books and analyze an art product accompanying the poem
  • watch a video introducing students to the Civil Rights movement
  • view PowerPoint presentation about children's role in the movement
  • complete station rotations 
  • in cooperative groups, read a biography about a Civil Rights leader
  • create a poem and art product about that Civil Rights leader
  • participate in a gallery walk to view other student's work
For the PowerPoint and stations (which include looking at how student's can be involved in politics today) I will be using you can visit the Wiki from the NEH workshop.  There are a ton of great resources on the wiki, including amazing projects and DBQ's from other groups.  For my group's work download the .zip file from Yellow Group 3.  

The Civil Rights Movement is huge!  What do you focus on?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Communist Lesson Plan

I love a good red scare as much as the next guy - well, teaching about one at any rate.  To begin the lesson I always start with a game of Communists - a popular party card game also known as Mafia.  This game causes students to understand the weak evidence used to accuse people of communism in the 1920s or 1950s.  It also familiarizes students with people involved and their actions (or lack-there-of).
Materials and Roles
A deck of playing cards.  Remove the jokers and aces, 2 queens, 3 jacks, and as many numbered cards as you must to equal the number of students in your class.

I play the narrator and act as a moderator throughout the game.
Whomever gets a king card is a communist
Whomever gets a queen card is a member of the HUAC committee
Whomever gets a jack card is Edward Murrow (or other journalist)
Whomever gets a numbered card is a citizen

Playing the game
Each round consists of a day and a night.
The narrator announces that it is night time and has everyone close their eyes to go to sleep.

Next, the narrator tells the communists to open their eyes and acknowledge their fellow members. They kill off one of the other players by silently gesturing to indicate their target. Then the narrator instructs the communist members to "sleep" (close their eyes again).
Now the HUAC members will open their eyes and point at a suspect.  The narrator nods or shakes their head to indicate if the person is a communist.  Then the narrator instructs the HUAC members to "sleep" and the journalist to open his or her eyes; he or she points at someone to protect, then goes back to sleep.


The narrator tells everyone to wake up. Unless the journalist and the communists selected the same target a murder is announced, sometimes with a little narrative detail. For example, "In a very sad twist of events, Billy was run over by a car with a hammer and sickle bumper sticker last night."  This player is "dead" and may no longer participate in the game in any way.
During the daytime phase, the players deliberate over which student is a suspected communist that they wish to try for treason. Once nominations are made, the narrator administrates an election between the nominees, in which all players vote.  Whomever receives the most votes is tried and electrocuted for treason.
Because players have less information and more freedom to deliberate, during the day, the day phase tends to be longer than the night phase. I usually have a five minute time limit for day rounds.

Ending the game
If the citizens discover (try for treason) all of the communists, the citizens win.
If the communists outnumber the citizens, the communists win.

I encourage citizens to listen for "things that go bump in the night" or to make wild assumptions and associations to 'discover' the communists.  Students generally get really into the game and require very little encouragement to participate.  We always end with a discussion about how decisions were made by both parties and how few facts were generally used in the trial of the suspected communists during the day.

If you are covering this lesson, you may also be interested in the dots game where students are given a card with a red or green dot on a card and must make groups without any 'red dot' members despite keeping their cards a secret.  This was a wonderful idea that @ColoradoHowe shared in a #sschat on active learning.  Also, be sure to check out @'s blog about teaching Marxism through Rock Paper Scissors.

I would love to hear how others also cover this topic!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Managing the Paper Mess: My late work policy

I have always struggled with how to assess late work.  There seem to be a few different theories.

My policy (until recently) was that I would take late work until the end of the quarter, but it would only be for 50% credit.  This was deflating a lot of my peanuts' grades beyond repair so I knew I needed a new policy.

After some great chats with some great teachers on Twitter (specifically @ and @) I was pointed to a fabulous blog post by @ detailing his abhorrence of late penalties.  Basically, he feels
 Late Penalties lead to inaccuracy, which leads to deflated grades, which distorts the students’ achievement; their true ability to meet the intended learning outcomes.  In most jurisdictions (if not all) grades are supposed to reflect the student’s ability to meet the intended learning outcomes of the course they are enrolled in. In my 20 years I have never seen a curriculum guide that had “handing in work on time” as a learning intention.  It’s possible that one exists, I've just never seen it. 
So here is my new and improved policy.

  • I'll take your late work until the week before grades are due without penalty to the assignment.  
  • There is one assignment in my grade book for "timeliness".  If you hand in an assignment late, I will remove points from this assignment (1 point per day).
  • I drop the lowest assignment at the end of the term.  If that ends up being your late work assignment, late work will not artificially deflate your grade, but timeliness has the potential to allow you to bomb one assignment without negative effects.
Did I miss any glaring problems with this new policy?  I would love feedback on the new policy as well as other ideas for what teachers do!  

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Managing the Paper Mess: Collecting homework with folders

I finally got around to updating my paper grade book for second semester.  In addition to my computer grade book, I have to keep a paper record for DPI because I work at a choice school.  Let me assure you, it is as backwards as it sounds.  In doing this, I got a final count of the peanuts: 58.  Yup.  That is, assuming I have a day with perfect attendance, I will have 58 middle school students in one room for four hours straight.  Considering I had 98 last year, this seems like a cake walk.

The problem, however, is that there is rarely a day where I have even close to perfect attendance.  I have two kids in jail right now, parents keep kids home to baby sit other siblings, illness, and kids who just plain don't want to come to school on any given day.  I had one kid who's mother let him stay home for several days because it was his birthday - which must be really nice.  I am going to have to discuss this policy with my boss.

For the first year I was scrambling to keep absent kids up to date with absent and late work.  I thought I was an organized gal, but the paper issue was getting the better of me.  This year I am using individual file folders to manage student work and it has made my life a zillion times easier.

Folders are my first line of defense to deal with absent work.

Each child has a folder.  A student helper distributes the folders at the beginning of each class and collects them at the end of the day.  Each folder has the peanut's name on the tab and a sheet stapled to the front of the folder.  The sheet has a spot for each subject and each day.

The absent folders get set aside in a separate pile and I write 'ABS' in the margin.  I have a student helper stuff the folders with any worksheets or written assignment instructions from the day.  If there are lecture notes, I put a copy or CD of the lecture into the folder as well.  If there is classwork that can not be made up because of an absence, I try to have an alternative worksheet or activity to put in the folder as well.

Students keep their folders with them all day.  Classwork and assignments are put into the folder as they are completed.  At the end of the day I have my student helper collect all of the folders and I go through each one and pull out any completed work.  When work is completed I make a check mark to show I took the work out of the folder and that it is in my possession.  Any work that was assigned but not completed I mark with a highlighter.  This means the work is due the next day.  This easily allows me to see, at a glance, how many assignments a peanut has missing.  It also allows me to easily see when I am collecting work if it is late work or absent work.

Kids also write me notes in the margins of their folder.  These notes can be anything from requesting extra help to planned absences to notes letting me know what is going on in their lives.  This is really helpful and prevents a flood of kids handing my permission slips and notes at the beginning or end of class. The folders have become my go-to reference for a snap shot on how a kid is doing in class.  I never call a parent without a kid's folder in front of me.

Going through the folders at the end of the day takes me around 15 minutes.

This week I am starting something new.  I typed out each assignment on the folder sheet and will highlight it once the student turns it in.  I think this will look more positive than highlighting what is missing and I won't have to flip between holding a pen and a highlighter so it should make the process a little faster.
This trick has been working very well for me, although it would take some tweaking to use it in a traditional middle or high school classroom.  I think the kids would just grab their folders when they entered the room, rather than wait for them to be handed out.  Also, I don't think a weekly sheet on the cover would be necessary, as there would be only one subject, with maybe one or two things to put in a folder each day.  Maybe a sheet could be created for a unit or a two week period.

Or maybe it wouldn't be necessary at all - this strategy is effective because of the number of students I have as well as the amount of absences.  Simply creating absent packets may be equally effective.  I'd love to hear how others manage this issue!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Useful Bulletin Boards

I am quite the creative gal, if I don't say so myself.  I scrapbook as if my pictures are going out of style.  HGTV is the one reason I miss cable (well, and the History Channel makes two....).  But when it comes to bulletin boards I used to be at such a loss.  As a secondary teacher it seemed as though everything was too elementary.  Sure, I have the quintessential current events board, but beyond that?

Thanks to a colleague, I have a new plan of attack this year.  She calls these bulletin boards "Walls that Talk, Walls that Teach".  It is a usable board that students can use for information and reference and changes with each unit.  

The nitty gritty - a board for each class includes:
  • Vocabulary
  • Objectives in student centered language "I will be able to...."
  • Key question or unit focus
  • Examples of student work and associated rubrics
I also sometimes add a timeline for the unit, lists of assignments, or major project rubrics if it seems to make sense.  Anything I post on the board is fair game and can be used and referenced during class or assessments.  My theory behind letting students use the board during assessments is that there are very few times in life where I have a problem that I can't Google.  Some of my boards are on windows with blinds, so by simply closing the blinds I could have covered specific information as well.
There are laminated yellow stars that I move each day to highlight the objective on which we will be working that day.  I also used plastic sheet protectors to hold vocabulary and unit questions so that I can easily swap information in and out because a lot of my boards are not actually boards, but butcher paper taped to windows and walls.

I would love to hear what everyone does to use their wall space!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

This is my pen...

This is a short piece I wrote, modeling the Rifleman's Creed.  I work at a military school so the creed seemed like a logical muse.  We recite the Writer's Creed between a mini lesson and our writer's workshop time.  I find that it helps the students focus on the task ahead after the direct instruction and the transitions to workshop stations.  It has almost become a sort of class motto.  I would love to hear if others do something similar!

The Writer's Creed
This is my pen.  There are many like it, but this one is mine.  My pen is my best friend.  It is my life.  I must master it as I must master my life.  My pen, without me, is useless.  Without my pen, I am useless.  My pen represents my ability to communicate.  I must use my pen to persuade, to inform, to entertain, and to inspire. I will…

My pen is human, even as I, because it is my life.  Thus, I will learn its weaknesses and its strengths.  I will use it to organize my ideas and share my voice through strong word choice, fluency, and conventions.

Before all, I swear this creed.  My pen and I are the defenders of my aptitude.  We are the masters of our enemy.  So be it, until education is mine and there is no ignorance, but intelligence.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Polls & Quizzes in the Classroom

When I look through my Facebook stream it seems as if the only things ever accomplished online are polls and quizzes.  I can find out which color my aura is (purple), which famous star would be my best match (results are inconclusive at this time), my Disney Princess (Aurora), what type of shoe I am (?!), and a plethora of other useless information.  On the other hand, if I know my students seek out quizzes to learn more about themselves in their spare time, I would be remiss to not include this type of activity in my classroom.  It also makes perfect sense with the developmental stage of most middle school and high school students that they are obsessed with these types of 'discover yourself' quizzes.
A few that I have found:

Myers-Briggs-esque Quizzes
HumanMetrics.  This test has around 75 questions and gives a lot of great information on the personality types.
Facebook Application. This test seems accurate, but fewer questions and less info on the personality types.

Learning Styles
Peterson's.  This 20-some-odd question quiz tells students if they are an auditory, visual, or tactile learners.  Students can get study tips based on their specific learning style and take additional quizzes from this site as well.
Birmingham Grid for Learning.  This quiz is one of my favorites.  It shows students what type of learning style they have according to Gardner's list.  Each student gets a code that you can enter into the site and get an overall average for your class.

Political Quizzes  Thanks to Partially Blue over at Blogging Blue for finding this one.  I think students would struggle with some of the questions which are a little ambiguous.  However, I think it would lead to a lot of interesting discussions about what factors of morality impact political affiliation.
Political Compass.  A popular quick quiz that plots the user on a grid of conservative and liberal with authoritarian and libertarian.  It's important to note that this quiz is not specific to American politics -- liberal and conservative are not stand-ins for Democrat and Republican.

Make your own
Poll Daddy and Survey Monkey allow you to customize quizzes for your specific curricular needs.
What are your favorite quizzes to use in class?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Factors of Production

We had such a quick, fun lesson today and I just had to share it.  We were working with factors of production.  The students created a good from modeling clay.  We then discussed the three things used to create each good: natural resources (the clay), human capital (themselves), and capital resources (the tools such as rulers and molds).  The kids had a good time fashioning their creations and looking at other's handiwork.  Each child shared their object and I asked a quick question to review what we had previously learned about goods and integrated new vocabulary about factors of production.  At the end of class we took the notes, which went very smoothly because the kids really seemed to grasp the concepts during our discussion.

As a follow up I present my students several items and have them identify the factors of production for each.

Some additional ideas and tips:
  • Have students vote on the most creative sculpture and give a small prize
  • Set a timer and give verbal cues so students know how much time they have left on their creations (7ish minutes seemed like a good amount of time for my kids)
  • Have students share goods in small groups rather than as a class
  • I have the small "party favor" play dough containers.  This is enough play dough for 2 students.
  • Take photos (I forgot this part!) and post with definitions of economic terms
This lesson was modified from Play Dough Economics.   I have used several lessons from this book and they have all been quite popular, but I tend to use them as introductory lessons because I teach middle school.
Do you have a favorite econ resource or lesson for teaching factors of production?  I'd love to hear about it!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Review Games

Reviewing material prior to an exam can sometimes mean I spend long hours making flashy presentations and modifying test questions so that the students can review material for the duration of class.  This type of review can be great to really help focus students on specific data I want them to hone in on.  However, there are a few different review games that I have been using for a while now that are more engaging, cover more material, and are student created.

Both review games operate on the same premise.  Students are given a list of topics that need to be reviewed.  Students then create a specific number of review questions and answers.  In class the next day students quiz each other using their questions.  Pretty simple.

For Tic-Tac-Toe Review, students will need to create nine unique questions with answers prior to class.

To begin, students should take a piece of notebook paper and fold it into thirds the long and short ways so that when the paper is unfolded there are nine sections to the paper.
The upper right corner is used for a heading and a final count of games played and won.  The additional eight squares are each for a different game of tic-tac-toe.  I have the students write vs. in each square as well to remind them to write down who they play.
Once students have created their boards, they are free to play each other. 
 The general rules include:
1. Find a free person - no waiting to play friends - and write the person's name on your paper
2. Play one round of rock-paper-scissors to determine who will go first.
3. The first student decides where they would like to place an 'x' or an 'o'.  Each spot on the tic-tac-toe board corresponds to a different question the student created.  The second student asks their 
 numbered question that corresponds with the space.  If the first student answers the question correctly, they take the square.  If the student gets the question wrong, the student who asked the question gets the square.
4. Questions that a student deems unfair may be brought to the teacher to see if they are appropriate or too nit-picky.
5. Games can end in a win, a loss, or a tie.  Students should write the outcome on the bottom of the square and move on to play another game.  Students cannot play the same student twice.

Jenga is very similar.  I have several versions of the game and have numbered the tiles.  Students write questions to match.  The first student pulls a tile and answers a question.  If they get it correct, they place their tile and play continues to the next student.  If the first student answers a question incorrectly they must continue selecting tiles until they correctly answer a question.  There are a lot of tiles that come with some versions.  To keep the kids from writing 56 (!) questions, I have each child write 14 and play in teams of four.

If a child doesn't have their questions done, they simply cannot play a game until they are ready.  Questions are turned in along with the game boards at the end of the class and I count this as a small homework assignment.  I also sometimes offer some extra credit points (1/2 point for each game played and an additional 1/2 point for each win) to additionally motivate students.

These are great review games because they engage all students throughout the period, get kids moving around the room, and allow students to take ownership of their learning.  I would love to hear how others engage their students in review!

Friday, February 4, 2011


My name is Analiese and I have been teaching for three years.  I decided to start this blog because I (and a lot of other teachers I know) am always looking to share ways to fit more quality content into what seems like not enough time.  It always feels as though June is barreling towards me, hence the title of the blog which comes from the average number of days in a Wisconsin school year.

I especially felt this when teaching A.P. US History, but the pressure is on with other courses as well.  Currently I teach in an urban school working with at-risk middle schoolers.  Most have been expelled from the local public school system and have ADD, ADHD, and a host of other issues.  With a class size of 64 and all the core subjects to cover, well, let's just say I don't sit down much!  I am always looking for ways to individualize instruction and streamline classroom procedures so my entire day isn't lost with sharpening pencils and trips to the bathroom.

I look forward to talking about what content we cover, what we would like to cover and just can't find the time, how technology can help, and basic classroom tips that keep us sane.  I look forward to your comments, questions, and discussions.   And always, feel free to e-mail me at analiesek at gmail dot com as well.

Gotta bounce!