Spring break is either happening or coming up soon for most of us. What are you doing with your time off? Hopefully you are doing at least one of these things.
1. A fun craft or recipe
Do something that is totally you! Make one of those pinterest recipes or crafts you saved back in August and haven't had time to do. You have time for this week and then probably not any more until May. Use this time to accomplish something just for you- and it doesn't need to be something for your classroom, feel free to save those for June!
2. Binge watch that show you've heard so much about.
I love hearing from others about shows they've found on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc. that are binge-worthy. Now is the time to try one out! Find a comfy spot and relax!
3. Read a book.
There are plenty of great educational books you can read if you're looking for some ideas to try when you head back to school but you could also spend some time reading something completely unrelated to your job. It's Spring BREAK! I plan on reading a few books and only ONE of them is school related. I know, such a #Rebel.
4. Spend time with friends or family.
Teaching takes a lot out of you and sometimes our friends and family don't get the attention we'd like to give them. We have a few days off this week to not think about school. Take that time and give at least some of it to your friends and family. Invite a friend over for that binge-watch session or take them/your spouse lunch if they don't have spring break. Do a craft with your kids or plan a date night. You have time this week, use it on the people you love!
Some of use won't be able to resist the urge to use Spring Break to go work on our classroom and break goes by way too fast. If you have the opportunity, get out of the area! Out of sight, out of mind! I have a couple of friends who started planning a Florida trip back in November and I am so glad they did! We will only be gone for a couple of days out of Spring Break but I know that those days are already dedicated to friends and relaxation. It forces the much needed break on those of us who may not use it otherwise.
6. Stay up late!
Teaching is EXHAUSTING. My husband if always making fun of how early I go to bed but almost all of the teachers I know are heading to bed around the same time. We're tired from the day and we know we have to be up and on for the kids tomorrow...not the case on Spring Break! This is the week to stay up with your friends, kids, or spouse and live it up! You can sleep in tomorrow!
7. Sleep in!
Get some extra rest this week. Sleep in or take a nap - we don't get to do this normally. This is the week to stock up on sleep before we hit that crazy 4th quarter!
8. Get some alone time.
We are around people a lot. Whether you teach Kindergarten or Seniors, it can sometimes feel like we are at the beck and call of 30-180 students. Even if you are a mom with little ones to play with over break, take some time for just you. Spring Break marks the 3/4 mark in the school year for most of us and sometimes that last quarter is the craziest. Take some time for yourself before you head back into the chaos.
9. Do something you can't do during the school year.
Yes, we have the summer but that is still 2-3 months away! And that is a long freaking time when you are trying to teach 20-180 students who are itching for summer break themselves. Find something you're looking forward to for summer and have a little taste of it this week.
10. Get outside and get active!
Hopefully the weather is nice for break...regardless, find something active to do for at least one day of the break. Enjoy some sun if possible and get moving no matter what! Even a 5 minute dance party would work! Just move. Don't let your break fly by without DOING something or you'll go back to school more tired than you were before!
For teachers, conferences are both something to look forward to and something that we dread. They are necessary so that we can talk to parents about their students progress in class. They are difficult because those conversations can be hard, awkward, and sometimes confrontational. At the secondary level it is also a struggle to get parents to come to parent-teacher conferences at all. It can start to feel like a waste of time when there can be so much preparation involved.
Both of us (Danielle and Becca) have conferences this week and we assume that they are fast approaching for others as well. Maybe you are a first time teacher or maybe you just continue to be on the struggle bus with conferences. Either way, here are our thoughts and ideas about have successful parent teacher conferences.
To start, many schools are different in their opinion of how to structure conferences. Some schools want students to be there and have student-led conferences and some would say it should be just parents and teachers present for conferences. Is it open house style or do you need to schedule times with specific parents? What materials do you need to have ready for parents who do attend?
The best conferences I (Danielle) have ever participated in were the conferences my building did when I taught middle school. I taught at a true middle school where we had two 6th grade teams. Every teacher had a homeroom/advisory class. When it came to conferences we would schedule conferences with the parents of our homeroom class. The school scheduled one day after school for conferences and then on the next day the students did not have school and we were there until 4 but we were open all day for conferencing appointments. We scheduled an appointment with those 20-25 parents of students in our homeroom. Then my 6th grade team would meet and discuss which conferences we wanted to have as a team. If there was a student that really struggled or had specific behavior issues, we would all block out that time slot to have a team conference with that parent and student which was student-led.
In the weeks leading up to conferences, we would take time in homeroom to organize a portfolio of work from each class and the students would write reflections on their work that they would go over with their parents during the conference. I would discuss any issues that had been brought to my attention by the other teachers and answer any questions I could. If the parent wanted to talk to a specific teacher, then they could also schedule time for that during conferences as well but the main responsibility was for the homeroom teachers and meeting a different teacher was more of a special case. When we did it this way, I felt really supported since I had my team and a lot of preparation ahead of time. The responsibility was really on the students because they were leading the conference and they knew what issues they were going to have to talk about with their parents.
I (Becca) have not had experience with scheduling conferences, though that sounds like it may make it more worth the time! I try to have some candy available as well as a folder for each student containing student work and some student reflection. As parents arrive, I offer candy, ask them to sign in, and show them student work along with their grade. Most of the time the student is not with them. I explain how the grade is calculated, how their student behaves and performs in class, and how they could get better. I express any concerns I may have and check for questions. With any time left (many times the parent is trying to get around the building to see 6 other teachers and may be in a hurry), I make sure they understand our LMS so that they can have as much information about their student’s grades and attendance as possible!
The few times that the student is with them, I always include the student in the conversation. I have found that students are much more likely to say what they may need to be successful while sitting one on one with a parent present. While many would not pull you aside in class and tell you then need help being reminded what to do or would like more examples, they might in a conference setting! I have seen many students take some responsibility when I can tell both them and their parents what I think their strengths are. If their grades are not correlating well with their ability, they more often than not will take responsibility for their part. I would much rather have that conversation than just talk to a parent about what their student communicates to them versus what they communicate to me. Again, those are rare occasions for me, to have students present.
When it comes to conferences and if your district is considering any changes to your conference procedure, I would suggest the following:
If you don’t have control over your structure of conferences, try to find ways to work within your system.
We all know that technology is a huge piece of the classroom today, but the big question that looms is are we using the technology for the sake of technology or is there some purpose behind it? It can be a hard transition from little to no technology to a 1:1 environment.
At our school, Joplin High School, we made the transition very suddenly six years ago after the tornado destroyed our school. The computers were a donation and the decision was made that we would not buy replacement textbooks. It was a very stressful situation for everyone involved.
Teachers and students now had to learn how to do school differently than they had ever before. There was not much in the way of training for our staff in how to manage a 1:1 classroom and there was this perception that the teachers had to change everything about their teaching style. Students struggled because they were not used to learning in a technology heavy environment.
What we learned in those first few years in the 1:1 environment, is that you have to have really solid classroom management and that you have to base your technology on good teaching pedagogy. We have been learning that using technology for the sake of technology does not help our students learn, but actually hinders learning and can do a number on our classroom management.
When deciding on what technology tools to use in the classroom, the first question I ask is how can this help the students meet our learning intentions? The technology needs to serve a purpose. If it doesn’t help the students, it could end up distracting them from actually learning what you want them to learn.
The second question I ask is how does this tool inform me about student learning? There are so many technology tools out there that are there to help teachers collect data on student learning.
I also recommend using the SAMR model for evaluating technology use in the classroom. Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. This is a great way to check the reasons and plan for how you use your educational technology.
The point is for us to really evaluate the technology we use in the classroom and make sure that it serves a purpose and supports or extends the learning for our students.
As many you probably know though, all the questions in the world about use of technology, do not help if you do not have proper professional development to help you understand the technology and how to make the best use of it in the classroom. I have found that learning from your fellow teachers is one of the best ways and if you school is lucky enough to have technology learning coaches, they are a great resource to help. We also have a cohort at our school that gets together to learn about and work with educational technology and then we present at professional development days. It has been really helpful in encouraging teachers to explore educational technology, but also work on evaluating educational technology and how to use it in the classroom.
If you have any ideas for evaluating technology or ways for teachers to get together and learning about implementing technology in the classroom, let us know!
What did they do wrong? Most problem sets in a math textbook have at least one problem where they look at a student’s work and they have to figure out what the student did wrong and how to fix it so that the problem is solved correctly.
I love problems like this because it really challenges the students to look for mistakes, a great practice to learn for checking answers! Considering how great these types of questions are, we don’t ask them enough.
Training our students to evaluate work and find mistakes can be one of the most useful things we teach them in math (and other subjects!). This is why when I noticed my co-taught Algebra students making common mistakes consistently while learning to solve one step equations, I wanted to give them some training on catching their own mistakes without simply telling them to check their work. The best way to do that, I’ve found, is by turning it into a game! Here's how to do it:
Find the mistake:
I love playing this game and hearing the students explain their answers as well as “someone else’s” mistake out loud. It is great to see those a-ha moments and class just flies by!
Try it out and let me know how it works in your class!
A back channel is a program/tool that a teacher can use in the background of a lesson. Typically they are chat windows that are used to allow students and the teacher to communicate together while they are working on notes, projects, or any class activity. Many teachers use these to allow students to ask questions without having to speak in a whole class setting. It benefits the students that are quiet and do not like to talk out in class. It also gives students that know the content well to answer student questions and allows them to become leaders.
1. GoSoapBox - GoSoapBox creates events for students to join. There are multiple functions within each event. Students can participate in discussions, polls, and quizzes. For the teacher there is a profanity filter, confusion barometer, and name requirements. You can also download quiz results. Students do not have to sign up for an account. Teachers give students an accent code to enter when it is time use it.
Uses - I have used this when I given my students reading assignments. I love that students can ask questions, let me know if they are confused, and have different modes of interaction. I can give them a quiz to check for understanding and then have students engage in a discussion and poll them on their thoughts about the content.
2. TodaysMeet - This is the basic chat room. Students can use their phone or computer and have no account to sign up for. You can close out rooms whenever you want. This is great for in the background chatroom. Students can ask questions and respond to student questions while the class activity is happening. You can download a transcript of the discussion before you close it. There really isn’t much control for the teacher unless you pay for an upgrade on the free account.
Uses - I have used this as an exit ticket activity or progress check. I like that this is quick. Student can do a quick response about whatever question I ask. I’m not a big fan of the lack of controls in the free version.
3. CoverItLive - They call it a live blog. It is a chat window, but the teacher can act as a moderator in the conversation. A teacher can deny posts that are inappropriate. Another great function is that it can be embedded in a website or LMS page. The chat can also be replayed at any time. It is marketed to corporations, but I emailed them about a teacher account and was given one for free.
Uses - This is my favorite chat window. I love that you can embed it in a website. I love that it has moderator functions to limit students that choose to make irresponsible decisions. I have used this one as a background chat during lecture and days when I am meeting with small groups and cannot immediately answer every question. It allows students to answer each other's questions without disrupting the rest of the class. I have also seen this used at pd conferences so attendees can discuss what is going on as it is happening!
I read an article this morning from Edutopia Visualizing 21st-Century Classroom Design and it really made me think about my desire for change in my classroom. In my desire to change my class to a more self-paced environment, I feel myself working towards the principals talked about in this article.
In the article the author, Mary Wade, describes five elements of a 21st-century classroom and gives some really great ideas of how to implement them in a teacher’s room. I loved her ideas, but it got me thinking about change and how hard it can be when we know where want to get to, but don’t know how to get there or how fast to move in that direction.
In my teaching career, I have gone from teaching with an overhead projector to teaching in a 1:1 district. That was a massive change for me even with my masters degree in Educational Technology. I love the technology that I get to work with and I don’t want to go back to not having it, but over the past 5 years I have been trying to figure out the best environment for students to work and learn with technology and create meaningful learning opportunities for students.
I have been moving towards a self-paced classroom for a while now in small trials and units and have only now 5 years into my 1:1 classroom experience have made the full jump to trying it for an entire semester. I was scared of failing and letting students down, of having a high F rate, and not feel like a teacher anymore if I wasn’t in the center pushing students along. I finally found the courage to change, because I was so unhappy with they way things were going that I couldn’t argue against it anymore and someone I respect and trust was trying as well.
Change is hard, but making small, slow changes is better than making no changes at all. I encourage all teachers out there to read the article on visualizing 21st-century classroom and find a partner that would be willing to experiment with you. I have found that finding someone that you trust and work well with that can go through the experience with you or at least support you in change can go a long way in making those positive changes happen in your classroom. Maybe you will find some inspiration from this practical article and we can all move toward a more positive and productive atmosphere for all students.
Even if you pick one thing to change, you will be making a positive change and moving towards creating a learning experience meant for ALL students. Isn't that what all teachers want?
WE CAN DO THIS!
If you are looking for a way to incorporate current events into your class or just share resources with students or faculty, scoop.it is a great tool to use! Scoop.it is somewhat like a professional Pinterest page.
With scoop.it, you create a profile with topics. In each topic, you collect articles or videos that relate to the topic and you can curate them by adding your own thoughts about the content. Then you publish to your page/topic. Your account is usually connected to a social media account which will post your material as well, but there is an option to create an account not connected to social media.
The website is geared towards businesses with a marketing angle, but if you search users you will find a lot of college professors and teachers that are using the website to collect resources for their classes.
There is a free account option which is great but the downside is you are only allowed to curate one topic on that account and you don’t really have any personalization options. There is also a pro account and a business account. That give you more topics and personalization options.
Once you are signed up, you can set up your topic and begin curating content (basically publishing articles and videos to your topic). It also allows you to add a bookmarklet so when you are browsing the Internet and you find an article or video you want, you can click on the bookmarklet to “scoop it” and curate content on the spot (just like Pinterest). Your topic can be embedded in a website and/or LMS and can be shared as a link.
Uses in the Classroom/School as an Educator:
Uses in the Classroom as a Student:
We're nearing the end of the year! I've loved having technology and really embracing the self paced classroom this semester but I'm most excited about seeing the final projects. It's also the thing I've had the most questions about from students.
They are used to getting a lot of structure and most of the time, I try to provide that and be fairly predictable with class. We know that a lot of kids don't have that at home and providing it helps them in more ways than one. In my class, they know what format the quizzes are in and how to access resources. They know the expectations for classroom behavior as well as what goal they should aim to be on each week in order to be "on track". What they don't know is how to get full points on a final project...and I am loving it!
This has been up on the board since the first week of this semester and when students ask me about the project, I tell them it needs to be high school level math...and that's it. When they start to get that confused look on their face, I tell them they can pick something they like in math and I will help come up with a topic or they can pick a topic they like and I will help them come up with the math, but that it is completely up to them as long as it is a high school level math project. They do not have to present in front of the class and they can work on it when they want to in class (as long as they are "on track" with the quizzes).
As most students are nearing the end of their quizzes, they are trying to come up with project ideas and it is so great to hear the different ideas. I love that they have buy in to the project and I love that I will be able to differentiate the expectations based on the student and what they've done all year.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- I have a student who carries a transformer figurine as a fidget. He loves that thing so much. He informed me that when it is in the form of a jet, it is a replica of a real jet. He is going to find the dimensions of the real jet and compare it to his figure. After that he will change it into the transformer and calculate the "real" dimensions of the transformer using the scale factor he found.
- I have a student who loves their phone (who doesn't?) but is always concerned about her battery. She is collecting data using a Google Form about the top 4 apps people use in a 24 hour period and how much of their battery percentage each has used. She'll be calculating averages and finding the most popular apps as well as researching if particular apps are used more commonly on specific days of the week.
- I have a student who would like to compare clothing costs at different stores. She is going to find the same article of clothing at two stores and compare the price. She'll do this with multiple stores and connect at least five stores so that she can compare the markup at different retailers despite being the same brand of clothes purchased.
- I have a student who is going to research the history of pi and create a children's book about it.
- I have a student who is going to calculate the number of seconds spent in school in a single school year, throughout high school, and K-12. They are then going to use different units to share their findings. ex: I could listen to my favorite song, _______ x amount of times
- I have a student who is comparing the cost of buying a house against building the exact house from scratch...so much work....and they know it...and they still really want to do it!!!
Are these projects super relevant? Maybe not. Are my students more engaged in this than they have been all year? YUP!
I have heard a lot of really good ideas and I am excited to see them come to fruition and share them with you. I just wanted to share how AWESOME it has been to step out of the rubric life for just one project and really let them do something crazy and interesting!
Only a month or so left! Let's finish this out strong! :)
Projects are awesome! I am one of those teachers that loves to do as many projects as possible. The unfortunate thing is that I struggle fitting in all of my project ideas within my short semester timelines. I feel like for every unit I have over the years come up with 4 or 5 projects that I have tried at different times. The struggle is that every student likes different types of projects and as teachers we are trying to reach as many different types of learners and interests as possible.
The solution to this that most of us have figured out is to give our students a list of project options to choose from. Students like this because they have the ability to make a choice in their learning and what they focus on within your parameters. Teachers like it because typically students take the project more seriously and care more about the project overall since they had the ability to choose what they work on.
Project choice options are another tool that teachers can use in the student-directed classroom or as a tool to differentiate assessments in your classroom. There are a lot of pieces in creating quality projects and structuring those options for your students. Here are 5 tips and things to think about when creating your project options:
A phrase that I have heard many times since moving to teach high school is that elementary teachers love kids and high school teachers love the content.
I have always had a problem with that comparison. As a teacher it boggles my mind that you wouldn’t like kids, that you would care more about passing on the content you are teaching and not reaching the student with the content. Unfortunately, that is something I have witnessed before as a student and as a teacher. There is sometimes this stigma that high school teachers do not know how to connect with their students or just don’t want to.
I will admit that I don’t have any experience teaching below 6th grade, but what I have noticed is that high school deals with an entirely different type of learner. It is harder than ever to reach students and it can be harder and harder for teachers to connect with students. Another part of the problem is that we are I feel sometimes limited in our range of what it means to build relationships in our classrooms. Many high school teachers that I have worked with have said that they feel the traditional ice breakers and community building games are too touchy-feely for them and seem less than sincere.
I will admit that at times, I fall into that sentiment as well. I don’t always like the typical team building materials, but I 100% believe that building relationships with your students is important. That goes for all of your students as much as you can. What I think we should work on is finding ways to build those relationships in way that is authentic to our personality and teaching style.
Don’t get me wrong there is a place for cheezy and over the top and I think it is a good thing for all age levels to participate in those activities as well. As much as some may complain, they can definitely build a bond and build community in a group. What I want to talk about though are some ways that teachers that struggle with that type of community building can still build meaningful relationships with all of their students.
Here are some ways that I take time to build community in a way that I feel is authentic to me and my students.
The key to building relationships in the classroom is to find a method that you are comfortable with. Do you like humor, games, competitions, projects, or conversation? What are some ways that you can authentically show students that you care about their story? I do not think that there is only one way to build relationships with students, but we do them a disservice if we don’t try to connect with them on at least some basic level. We also cannot be afraid to try something outside our comfort zone if we are not reaching our students in the ways that we have in the past.
We would love to hear how you build relationships with your students!