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!
With winter break approaching its end, we have to start thinking about returning to school for the new semester. The question is what do we do on the first day back?
For some of us especially in the high school world, it could mean an entirely new bunch of students and it is the first day of school all over again. For others it is a continuation of the previous semester with a 2 week break in the middle.
I hope what we can all agree on is that jumping right into content would not be the best way to start a new semester. Even if we have the same students all year, the students are coming off of two weeks of no school. The students are going to need something to get them back into the swing of school. Here are some activities and ideas that we have found that could work for the first day/week back from winter break.
TEAM BUILDING ACTIVITIESWhether you are starting over this semester or bringing students back together, team building would be valuable at this time. For the classes starting over, it is a good way to get to know your classes and have the students get to know each other. For the classes coming back together after break, it is a good way to reconnect and get students back to thinking about other people and catch up.
Here are some suggestions for activities:
Here are some suggestions for activities:
Some of the potential activities we suggest above could be changed to review classroom procedures.
SEMESTER BREAK IS ALMOST HERE!I know we are all excited for this semester to be ending and to have at least 10 days off. If you are anything like me, you are excited but also thinking about everything that you need to do to prepare for next semester.
One thing that I am trying to work on is balance between my teaching responsibilities and my family responsibilities. To this end I am really trying to work on ways to recharge over the break so I am ready to go when it is time to come back to school!
Here are the ways I am going to work on recharging and we would love to hear from all you on how you recharge over the semester break.
MAKE TIME FOR FAMILY/FRIENDS ONLYBasically I have a ban on work once the semester ends through the 26th of December. Those days are for family and friends. I spend my time baking, hanging out with my family, wrapping presents, and all of that stuff. My family always appreciates this, because they have my full attention and turn off my teacher brain for a little while which I think is really important. It helps clear my mind and allows me to come back to my work with a fresh start.
SPEND SOME TIME/ENERGY ON MYSELFThis is just as important as spending time with family and friends. I need some time for myself, so I don't feel like I am going to go crazy and snap at people. This can be as simple as reading a book for an hour at night or my favorite is a day at the spa. To me, if we don't do this we are really hurting ourselves, family, and students. We can't take of others if we don't take care of ourselves. We just need to find a little bit of time for ourselves, so we can give the best version of ourselves for everyone else.
TAKE SOME TIME FOR GROWTHI have lately really become aware or rediscovered how important it is for teachers to keep learning. When we do this, it keeps us growing which is important considering that is what we want from our students. I have also found that it just gets my creative process going and helps me think of new ways to do things and new ways to solve problems I have been having.
So during my break I am going to finish reading a book on differentiated instruction which is a huge focus for me right now. I have already started it and the ideas are already flowing!
TIME CHUNK YOUR WORKThis is strategy that we use with kids all of the time, but I found that it works for me as well. When I am on break, I find that I like to schedule time for work or a specific task and then I make myself take a break and do something completely not related. I will take time and play a game with my kids, watch a movie with my husband, or have lunch with a friend. This allows my mind to take a break and process anything that I was working on and then I can come back to it or start a new task. This also helps me keep some perspective and not get overwhelmed by all of the things that I want/have to get done.
Also this process helps me keep my work goals realistic for the break. It is a break after all and if schedule chunks of work then I am forced to prioritize my work and really see what needs to be done before I go back to school in January.
FOR THE OVER-ACHIEVERS OUT THERE...Get some work done BEFORE your break. For those intense planners who won't be able to really check out of work, try to get the first 2 weeks of the 2nd semester planned and materials ready BEFORE you leave work for break. If you know that the first two weeks are all set to go, you may be able to unplug better and really enjoy your break!
YOUR TURN! HOW DO YOU RECHARGE OVER BREAK?
This image popped up on our twitter account and it was one of those that made me stop and think.
I read it and then reread it. Would I be up for doing something like this?
I personally enjoy having teachers come into my classroom. I attribute this mainly to the amazing learning coaches that I had my first two years of teaching. They would pop into the classroom and observe me, take a few notes, and give me constructive feedback in between classes. As a new high school teacher, I loved getting the feedback during my morning classes because I could improve that lesson that very day for my afternoon classes! I could feel myself becoming a better teacher in the course of one day and it was so empowering!
Fast forward to a year later when I was taking classes to earn my Masters in Administration. For one of the courses I had to observe and fill out an evaluation form for two different teachers. My stomach dropped upon hearing about the assignment.
I felt a little bit better when everyone else in my class also shared the instant stress over having to ask a fellow teacher if we could observe and evaluate a lesson. Part of my personal issue was that I was new to teaching. Who was I to assess another teacher? It made me incredibly nervous and it got even worse when I actually had a teacher tell me they would rather I not watch their class after requesting to observe them.
Why can it feel so awkward to be watched? And is it worth pushing past the awkwardness to help each other grow to be better educators?
To that first question - It is easy to feel like your techniques are being judged. What if someone decides to come watch that class?? You know, the one with ALL of the kids who have to be told a million times what to do. That class is a rough part of your day already and now you’re inviting an audience?!?
And that, in my opinion, is the real issue here. If someone is just coming in and purely watching, that does absolutely nothing to help you and it is DEFINITELY awkward! It is completely one sided. The observer may have learned something or been given an idea to use in their class, but you are left feeling like they came, they saw, they judged, the end.
It is all about the conversation afterwards.
If you are the observer, ask yourself questions like:
If you are the observed teacher:
If we commit to that 2-5 minute conversation after class breaking down what happened and how it could be better, we all benefit from it! We can bounce ideas off of each other or even relate to having a challenging class together! We could learn a new behavior management technique from the person we are observing OR as a suggestion from the observer! There is so much to be gained from this conversation compared to so little to lose!
So to the second question, yes. If you and the observer can both commit to having a conversation about what went well and what could improve, it is 100% worth the initial awkwardness! After 3 or 4 of these types of observations, it may even start to feel pretty normal!
Give it a shot and let us know how it goes! Is it awkward? Is it worth it?
As this semester draws to a close, it is natural to begin to evaluate it for its successes and challenges. I start thinking about the changes I want to make to next semester and what I wish I had done differently and reviewing new tools that I have found over the past months.
I feel like this is a natural process that all teachers go through as we approach the ending of semester or school year. Being reflective is something that is ingrained in us by our desire to do better for the students and any teaching program I have ever heard of. We recognize the importance of being reflective and intuitively practice it.
My semester has been one of challenges to be frank. I have had personal challenges and professional challenges that have really highlighted the need to be purposeful in the classroom, my reflections, and reactions to my reflections.
I feel like this year I fell into the trap of reflecting but not acting. I was thinking a lot about what was happening in my classroom, but not taking the time to process my reflections and create an action plan around them. Those last two steps are really important to being purposeful as a teacher and reflective professional. The failure of not processing and acting on my reflections is one of the reasons, I continued to struggle.
THE IMPACT THIS HAD ON MY CLASSROOM
Reading this, it probably seems like I am being really hard on myself and that it could just be one of the groups of students that struggle and no matter what I did in the classroom, those students were going to struggle. That could very well be true, but I also feel like this semester was a humbling, challenge that reminded me of two very important things about teaching.
MY PLAN MOVING FORWARDI do not want to make the same mistakes I made this semester, so I have reflected, processed, and developed this action plan for next semester to make sure that I am being the best reflective and purposeful teacher I can be.
Teaching is hard, but it is also amazing, fulfilling, and incredibly important. I want to be the best I possibly can be for my students and I think that doing these things will help me do that. I hope that you take away from this post that it is O.K. to struggle, because when we struggle we learn things about ourselves. That when you find yourself struggling at school take time to reflect on what is happening, but don’t just stop there. Take the next steps. Process your reflections and develop an action to help or celebrate if needed. Lastly, don’t forget to keep learning. Learning is essential to great teaching!
It's no secret that I'm pretty competitive. I also love logic games. Brain teasers are my fave. When I heard about escape rooms, I was so pumped. WHAT IS AN ESCAPE ROOM?An escape room is an activity where participants are put through a search and find like challenge that include puzzles and locks. There is usually a given scenario to help engage participants such as: you are the survivors of a zombie apocolypse but you've all been contaminated. You are locked in a laboratory where they were creating an antidote. Find the antidote within an hour and save yourselves!....You can see how decorating and creating a story helps engage you in the game! Clues can be out in the open or hard to find (invisible ink, random numbers on the wall, etc.). Participants "win" if they can unlock all of the boxes - usually one is containing whatever you are trying to find (example: the antidote). When you find that box, you win!
There are a lot of scenarios where I would use an escape room! This blog explores a couple of times that I used (or would suggest using) an escape room!
THE FIRST WEEK OF SCHOOL Day one - I introduced myself and did a welcome activity.
Day two - I showed the syllabus and the classroom rules/expectations.
Day three - I gave a pretest (yuck)
Day four - BREAKOUT EDU!!!!!
First of all, pretests are not fun but for my class, they are necessary. Because we are on a three track system, it helps me to be sure students are in the right class and allows me to gauge the right starting point for the following week. After three days, they know a little bit about me and my classroom but now I want to know about them. Other than their academic work, I want to know their personalities - enter Breakout Edu.
Breakout Edu has a lot of team building pre-made escape rooms. I had ordered their breakout box (you can also make your own!), picked a scenario, and set up my room. That first Friday, students came into the room and I simply introduced them to the scenario (you need to unlock the box within 40 minutes in order to get the prize!), and started the timer. There were a million questions. But that was my plan all along! I answered some basic structure questions but didn't answer anything that would help them solve the puzzles included with the escape room. I was looking for
As I've said in previous posts, I ask students to choose a project that shows they know the material. They have to present (or in this case facilitate) the project for the class. My Geometry class loved creating escape rooms for their congruent triangles unit. Even more helpful, it ended up creating a couple of days of review for my students before the unit test! They loved watching their classmates struggle through problems and they loved being sneaky about creating it. I definitely saw more engagement for this project choice than any other I've done so far!
Lucky for us, Breakout Edu provides a template for teachers to create their own escape rooms. It walks you through the process so nicely that of course my students can figure it out!
I highly encourage you to have your students create escape rooms. Something I will be trying during my next unit will be splitting the class into two groups and having them create escape rooms for each other to try. That should amp up the competition! :)
THE NEW BREAKOUT EDU OR
"CAN'T I JUST MAKE MY OWN?"Breakout Edu has recently changed their website/cost. It is now a subscription service. When I first began doing escape rooms, I definitely thought the cost was worth it. Now that I have the hang of it as well as the template for myself and students to use, I'm not sure how much I will go back to the site for more game scenarios. It really depends on your experience and how much work you are wanting to put into it. Getting the scenario from Breakout Edu takes almost no work. They have everything completed for you (including a Youtube video that walks you through the story and how to set up the room!). If you are willing to put in some more time (or give your students time to work on it!) you may be just fine creating your own!
Either way, you should definitely try an escape classroom! Competition, team building, content review and more can be gained from it! AND IT'S SO MUCH FUN!!!!!
I spent the past Thursday and Friday at an Educational Technology conference in Springfield, Illinois and it was amazing.
So many times when signing up for a conference, especially when it means missing instructional time, I hesitate. Will it be worth missing the time? Writing the sub plans? The cost of registration, travel, and stay?
The Illinois Education And Technology conference this year was worth it all several times over. You will probably see me reference something from this conference for weeks and months to come! And I LOVE when this happens! So often when we hear “professional development” it feels like a bad thing so I love love love when I can share about a great experience. IETC, you guys are doing it right! 👍🏼
There were several sessions I went to that I felt were worth the full amount of money and time spent, but one seems so fitting for this time of year.
I’m drained. My co-blogger has had a couple of really rough weeks in a row. I’m feeling a bit run down and discouraged myself. Neither one of us is one to start complaining hard about kids or school but it sure helps to have at least one of you in a good spot during one of those low points. Lately for us, that hasn’t been the case. My conference time started off that way. I drove about 30 minutes towards the conference before realizing I’d left my luggage at home and needed to go back for it. When I checked in, they let me know there’d been an error and my room was booked for the following two nights. They were able to get a room for me, but it was quite the process. I checked in and thought, “what a great start this is”.
But that didn’t matter because when you attend conferences like this, you are surrounded by teachers who love their jobs and want to be life long learners! That energy and attitude is contagious!
My favorite session(s) from day one were led by Joe Sanfelippo, a superintendent from Wisconsin. You may recognize him from some of his videos on his district's facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/FallCreekSchoolDistrict/)
This guy was so awesome that I attended his morning session, heard him as the lunch keynote, and then went back for his afternoon session. I felt so energized and ready to role after all of it that I knew ole Joe would get his own honorary blog post (I'm in the Joe Sanfelippo fan club now! Go Crickets!) Below are some of the takeaways from attending his sessions.
The first session I attended was titled "Hacking Leadership", titled the same as his book (which I bought and have already read because wow).
He focused on a cyclical model for healthy and productive schools revolving around being intentional, opening doors, and building staff.
So often I feel bogged down by trying to make a change by contributing to a positive culture but Joe mentioned that upon entering a school building that had had 4 principals in 5 years, he was determined to change the culture 30 seconds at a time. 30 seconds at a time...now that I can do. I think I need to do some huge thing that in the end is too overwhelming to actually happen. Instead, I can commit to smile at people in the hallway, converse with co-workers and students, and making positive calls home.
As a group, we came up with these other ways to be intentional
TELL YOUR STORY At lunch Joe spoke more about his specific experience at his K-12 school of 800. He spoke about the importance of sharing your positive school story. The negative talk seems to be a lot louder and said a lot more often. We need to drown that out with all of the truly terrific things happening in our schools. Even the people making most of our decisions (the school board) only ever get to hear about the three B's: beans, busses, and balls (food, transportation, and sports). If we want the real story to be told, we have to do it!
He started broadcasting all of the important things happening at his school on instagram, twitter, facebook, and through podcasts. While school newsletters are useful for some, we need to meet our community where they are at. After surveying the community, Joe found the majority of our student's parents are more likely to read from facebook because they already spend a few hours there daily.
If we want to communicate with our community, we need to find out where they are and GO TO THEM! They can't only hear from us when we need something. They should be hearing from us all the time! Find the best way to start and then do it! Tell the story of your school and why you show up to work and others will want to be a part of the story!
BE A SOCIAL MEDIA SUPERSTARSchools are scared to use social media. What if someone sues us for posting a picture of their kid? What if someone posts or comments something horrible?
Joe spoke about overcoming both of these issues but more importantly, he tied it back to telling a story and loving what we do. People don't know why we became teachers. They don't know what the day to day looks like inside a classroom. And a lot of those people are not reading that newsletter you send home once a month or quarter by mail. We ask ourselves, "How do we share with people what is going on and how incredible these kids and teachers are?". We already know the answer: social media. But there are so many!!! How will we ever have time to spend on all of the social media? We won't have time to do our own jobs! Well you don't need to learn ALL of the social media outlets, just find where your community lives. Most commonly the kids are on instagram, the parents are on facebook, and the alumni are on twitter. Lucky for us, instagram allows you to post to all three with one click which means it is no longer about managing a million apps. Just start documenting all of those amazing things that are already happening!
But what about kids who don't want their pictures taken?!?! Joe operates on an opt-out clause meaning students have to sign a sheet of paper in order to say that they don't want to be in pictures the school may post. For the few who do sign it, Joe contacts them personally to talk about why they want to be able to share the story and include the students. More often than not the parents didn't read the paper and just signed all of the papers sent home the first week of school...which doesn't speak so great for that process either but that's not what we're talking about this week. :) For the families who truly don't want the picture and aren't able to connect through e-mail or social media the school sends a paper newsletter. The goal to communicate with parents is prioritized.
What about when someone comments something nasty?!? Now that's on our facebook page!!!!
True. Joe suggests replying to it with something like, "I'm sorry you feel that way. If you would like to talk more my number is ___________. This is not the place to have that conversation but I would be more than happy to speak on the phone or in person."....then he runs around and takes 8-10 pictures of the amazing things happening in classrooms and posts them so that the ugly comment gets buried in all of the great things happening.
It's all about the story we're telling. It's too important of a story to not tell because we're scared of a couple of people who are going to complain no matter what. So often the negative comments are the ones heard the most. Change the culture by drowning them out with all of the incredible students and teachers and staff that make up your school building!
There is a reason why many schools hire someone specifically to run their communications and social media: it's important.
I LOVE JOE! GO CRICKETS!I listened to Joe for about 3 hours. I could have listened and talked to this guy for days. Lucky for me (and you!) he has his own website with tons of resources. I know I will be checking it regularly!
Lastly, please please please feel free to ask me if I've written my notes for the day and how I'm telling my story. It is way too easy to go to these conferences and feel the mountain top experience for a couple of days and then....
But culture change doesn't happen that way. It happens consistently....30 seconds at a time.
Teaching is really, really hard. When you take your college classes and visit classrooms for observations, you really don’t appreciate how difficult it really is. Then you start your teaching career and assume the responsibility of applying all of your knowledge from college as well as worrying about how to make the lives of students better while trying teach them your content. Reality sets in and you realize how hard it is to balance everything that comes with your job.
Every teacher is going to have a rough week. Some years, you may have more rough weeks than easy ones. I am personally coming off one of those rough weeks. I have obsessed over the events and struggled with it to the point where I didn’t want to see my students. How do we come back from those types of weeks and keep our love for teaching and students? I can’t speak for everyone, but these are the things that I need to do when I have a week like this past one.
I have been teaching 10 years and the process of taking care of myself so that I can be the best I possibly can be at my job is something I am continuously working on. I don’t know anyone that is perfect at finding a balance between being a good teacher and being a person. It is something that I will continue to strive for. So far doing some combination of the things above have helped me come back year after year to teaching and allow me to gives kids a fresh start every week. I don’t wish any of these rough weeks on anyone, but the reality is that we all have them and it is nice to have a plan of attack for those days, weeks, months, or years. Hopefully some of these strategies are helpful to you when you go through those times, too. And for me, writing about all of it was one more release!
What ways do you intentionally de-stress after a long week? I am open to any suggestions!
I hope you have a fantastic week! And if you don’t, try a few of these steps and don’t forget that you get a fresh start next week.