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!