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!
One of my goals going into the second semester was to start using nearpod now that I have a class set of chromebooks.while we’ve only been back 8 school days, I’ve been doing a lot of playing around with the site and used it a few days in each of my classes so here is what I’ve learned and loved so far!
What is Nearpod?
Nearpod is a tool that allows you to create interactive lessons for your students. You can set the lesson to be student paced and allow them to move through the content or you can use Nearpod like an updated version of a projector to make sure every student has interactive access to what you're talking about as you talk about it.
While I love having things work at a student pace, I have been using Nearpod the last couple of weeks as a projector. My classroom projector doesn't work very well so adding Nearpod allowed me to get back into sharing information more dynamically instead of turning my back to write on the dry erase board. For group discussions (or really most of my assignments....gotta have kids talking about what they're doing!) I have students get out one Chromebook per table and enter the access code for Nearpod. They don't have to have a login but they do enter their name once they join the session.
How much does it cost?
There are multiple options available for Nearpod users but it does have a free version!
How easy is it to use?
Very easy! Nearpod has step by step questions, almost like you're going through a flowchart of options. It keeps it from getting overwhelming and allows you to take a lot of different paths with your content. Beyond your typical powerpoint slide you can offer interactive polls, open ended questions, and more.
What other Nearpod-like options are out there?
Peardeck is very similar to Nearpod. I used to use Peardeck at my old school but now that I have had a chance to play with Nearpod, I definitely prefer it. That being said, I do have the paid version under my school account so some of the features there may be swinging my vote! :) Check out more about Peardeck here!
You can find out more about Nearpod here!
I'm teaching a new class this semester - one that I've never taught before. The school I teach at places all freshmen together in their core courses and tracks them. If they are below a certain map score when entering high school, they can also be placed in a "Reading and Writing Strategies" course or a "Math Strategies" course. While a long term sub taught the first semester of Math Strategies, I am taking over this semester and I am pretty excited.
I get a whole class period every single day to help freshmen work on strategies for math! I can finally do all of the activities that I don't have time to do in my Algebra or Geometry courses. And I can go sloooooow.
I have loved this week so much and I want to share a couple of the activities that we did in class that could be adapted for time or grade level pretty easily!
the 8 mathematical practices
My goal for this class is for students to know and understand the 8 mathematical practices. I asked students on the first day, "what makes someone good or bad at math?". Many of them said focus or not giving up. After we had shared out what they thought, I introduced the 8 Mathematical Practices. I downloaded this freebie from TPT and hung them up in my room. Most importantly, after each activity we do, I ask them to each write down and share out which mathematical practice(s) we used and how.
This one takes a round or two for students to really catch on to the goal. Just ask them to bear with you and make sure you understand and can prompt students through the first couple of times. It also helps if you can divide your class evenly by something visual. I usually do boys v girls but I have 13 boys and 2 girls in my first Math Strat class so that wasn't going to work. I numbered them teams 1 and 2 counting off around the circle and gave a bright sticky note to all of my team 2 players so they could be easily identified.
1. Get in a circle with each person in between two people from the other team.
2. Declare the location of THE COUCH! 4 spaces in the circle become the sacred couch. The goal is to get your team on the couch in all 4 spots. At the beginning of the game, it should always two people from each team.
3. Create an open seat or spot in the circle not on the couch.
4. If you have an open spot to your left, then you can call someone's name and they must move to that location. The one person who's name is called is the only one to move.
5. After the person moves, there will be a new open spot in the circle. Repeat step 4. You cannot move the same person twice in a row.
6. The game ends when one team has all four spots on the couch.
An oldie but a goodie!
1. Choose one person to leave the room so they cannot hear discussion.
2. The remaining people get into a circle and decide on a rule. The rule could be that every person is now the person to their left or it could be that everyone is Suzie. Whatever the rule is, everyone in the circle should answer all questions following the rule.
3. The person who was outside comes back into the room and stands in the middle of the circle. They have 3 chances to guess the rule but can ask an unlimited number of questions.
4. The person in the middle asks questions like, "What color is your shirt?", "Are you a boy or a girl?", "What color shoes are you wearing?", etc. The students in the circle answer the questions according to the rule. If they do not know the answer without somehow giving it away or if they answer a question incorrectly, someone can call out "Psychiatrist" and everyone in the circle gets up and moves to a different spot in the circle. The game continues until the person in the middle either guesses the rule or uses all 3 tries.
Logic Puzzles & Sudoku
If I teach my students how to complete logic puzzles and sudoku squares then I am giving them another option for an activity to use when they need a brain break. Beyond the perseverance and critical thinking needed to solve these puzzles, I want students to be able to work independently or in small groups on something that doesn't require a lot of noise or movement. Much like English teachers can start class with some independent reading time, teaching students to solve these puzzles could add a great spot for some math practices to be done quietly at the beginning or end of a class period. I used Puzzle Baron's Logic Puzzles to teach them how to complete them. The only issue with this site is that some of the problems include alcoholic drinks. Just keep an eye out for that!
I saw someone post on Facebook about doing something like this in a journal personally and I loved the idea! I created a Google Sheet and added it to my Google Classroom for my math strategies students to use. Many students (and adults) struggle with interpreting graphs and may think only of the coordinate plane when hearing the word graph.
I started by having students tell me something they knew based off of the example chart on the right. Students were able to summarize that the example represented a generally happy person who had a couple of rough days. I responded that it was my personal pixel chart and that I was generally happy but I had a pipe burst (in 3 spots!) and got my basement ripped up on January 5th. They filled out the days they could remember leading up to this week and will now fill it in each day when they come to class.
I am excited because I can pull a lot of things from this.
The color code
With another focus on interpreting graphs, I had my freshmen students take the color code test. When they got the results, they looked at the pie chart (which shows only the most dominant color) and tried to guess about how much of the pie the other colors took up.
This was great for self reflection, for learning about how they are motivated, and for learning that others are motivated differently. It was also great data for me to see so that I can use it in future lesson plans.
I bought the jumbo pack of popsicle sticks so that I could create multiple Kaboom! games but I decided to use them in Math Strat as well.
I put students into teams of 2 and gave them 20 popsicle sticks, 4 feet of yarn, and 1 foot of ductape. They had 30 minutes to make the most money.
The money aspect definitely took it up a notch from just challenging them to build the tallest tower.
week one done!
We did all of this in a 4 day week back from Christmas break and I absolutely loved watching my students who feel like they are not great at math be so confident and enjoy themselves with each of these activities. I'm looking forward to week 2 and more!
A few weeks ago I wrote about how much I loved attending the Illinois Education and Technology Conference and focused the blog on the first amazing keynote, Joe Sanfellipo. He spoke about leadership and culture in your school which is really important for the building as a whole. The second day of the conference was all about Alice Keeler for me. She was 100% about putting tools into the hands of teachers so we can serve students better.
Who is Alice Keeler?
You can find out a lot about Alice Keeler by going to her website (alicekeeler.com). What she shared with us at the conference was that she is a mom and was teaching math and needed Google apps to do more for her. She started coding within Google apps and sending them to her friend who works at Google. Some of what she codes becomes an extension Google offers. Others she lists on her website for easy access regardless of becoming an official extension or not. These extensions exist to help save time or be more efficient or effective in teaching or organizing information. Also, I think she may like sheets even more than me...I didn't know that was possible!
Alice at IETC
I attended two breakout sessions as well as her keynote lunch. Her first breakout, Google Apps Coding for Noobs, was a great introduction to coding. A lot of people get intimidated when they hear the word "coding" because they picture someone sitting in a dark basement surrounded by computer screens wheeling back and forth between them and speaking words no one ever really uses...or maybe that's just me! I went anyways and I was pleasantly surprised! Alice reiterated that most of coding is looking for patterns and then knowing which things to copy and paste. The link below takes you to the presentation she used for the session and walks you through how to:
- Create a Google sheet that has a separate tab for each student with one click of a button
- Send an email
- Copy a Google Doc
- Do something a lot of times with one click
-And more that we didn't actually get to within the breakout
Google Apps Coding for Noobs Presentation by Alice Keeler
No, I would not need to write a code in order to send an email or copy a Google doc BUT learning the code behind it was helpful in order to complete the other codes.
NO, THAT'S TOO OVERWHELMING! I CAN'T CODE!
THAT'S OK! THE SECOND PART WAS WAAAAAY EASIER!
The second breakout was about the add-ons that she has already created so that all you have to do is copy and paste! At alicekeeler.com/scripts there is a list of add-on codes that Alice has already created, posted for easy access, AND written a blog about how to use.
***Because they are created by her and not an official extension of Google, you will be prompted to give access to your GSuite apps each time you copy Alice's code. Just do it.***
I already thought she was pretty legit but this breakout and exploring her website more just put it over the top! There are so many to choose from. I highly suggest taking an hour or two one day and just playing with these.
This may seem overwhelming but please try one before you decide it's too much! You may decide you really like them!
My Favorite Alice Codes
Not sure which ones to check out first? Here are my favorites!
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 Activities
Whether 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:
Content Review Activities/Games
This is mainly for the classes that are staying together all year. Reviewing the content from last semester is a great way to get students thinking about the content again and getting back in the school mindset. Depending on what type of activity you do for this, it could also double as a team building activity.
Here are some suggestions for activities:
Classroom Procedures Review
This is something that we think is essential whether you are starting over or picking up where you left off. The start of the new semester is the perfect time to review the classroom procedures and remind students of how they need to operate in the classroom.
Some of the potential activities we suggest above could be changed to review classroom procedures.