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!