Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"The Dog Ate my Homework" and Other Stories

The Top 5 Excuses for Missing Assignments and How I Manage it all for 100 students:

1. "I forgot it at home/in my locker/backpack/(insert place that is not in the classroom here)."

   When I collect papers, I carry around a pad of post it notes.  When a student has no paper to give me, I have them write the date and the assignment on the post it note and stick it in their box.  The boxes are numbered to coordinate with student numbers and it serves as a visual reminder that they forgot something.  When they get it later and turn it in, they take the post it note from the chart and stick it on their paper.  This way I know it was late and I can easily spot a random paper that needs my attention.  I also send a picture of the chart home on Class Dojo to all of the parents as a second reminder that there's a forgotten paper.  They have until I check the grading complete box for the assignment on my online grade book to get it to me.  
Missing Assignment Chart

2.  "I swear I turned it in!"-meet George

   George doesn't write his name on his paper.  He works really hard because he often does multiple copies of the same assignment.  George has lots of missing assignments and will most likely fail my class. That's what the wall says.  Those color coded magnetic pouches are where my students turn in their work.  There are magnet clips on the wall labeled with George's name.  I clip his papers there in the hopes that someone will see and claim them.

Who is this George guy anyways?

3.  "I lost it."

   I've seen lots of file systems for this purpose, but I repurposed my old BTSA box.  I call it the "First Aid Kit"  It's basically a small file crate with a handle.  I hang it from the side of my desk with "S" hooks.  There are file folders for each day of the week inside, and when I give out papers, I put the extras in there.  This is also where the #5 student goes to get his/her work.  There is a small binder inside where I put the paper copy of the agenda for the day.  The student can go to the date/dates they were absent in the binder and see what they missed.  
First Aid Kit

4.  "I didn't do it."

   The student gives no apologies, no excuses, no promises to do it tomorrow.  Unfortunately there are a few of these kids in every class.  So what do I do with them, aside from grit my teeth and pull my hair out?  The funny thing I've noticed about these kids is that when it's parent meeting time and you have to sit down and talk about less than spectacular grades, the story changes from "I didn't do it." to "I turned that in!" ... or my favorite "You never gave my that!"  My solution to this student issue is the no homework binder.  Students that don't make an effort to turn papers in, need to be accountable for that.  So I have them write their name, the date and title of the assignment, and their reason for not doing it in the "No Homework Binder."  It's pictured below, and each student has their own page in the binder where they document their missed work.  This makes the unfortunate parent meeting more effective because you can skip past the "You didn't give me that paper!" and get right to "How can we fix this problem?"  Better to solve the problem than play the blame game-keep the focus on solutions.

5.  "I was absent."

   This says it all! When you are done laughing, go back up to #3 and get your paper (first aid kit).

Friday, February 20, 2015

2 X 10 = The Resolution

My Funny Valentine

   I have a student this year that is struggling, and has struggled throughout most of his educational career.  He has been to many schools, and his attendance has been less than spectacular at all of them. He has never been in one place long enough to get the help he needs.  He was disengaged in academics, and a bit of a handful in the behavior department when he joined my class.  He was a very troubled child, both in and out of the classroom.  I made all of the appropriate referrals, but the most effective intervention was the 2x10 strategy.  Simply put, the 2x10 strategy is when you spend two minutes a day talking with your toughest student for ten days.  The idea is that if you build a personal connection with the student, the positive relationship will improve their behavior.
Martha Allen, an adjunct professor at Dominican University's Teacher Credential Program in San Rafael, California, asked her student teachers to use the Two-by-Ten Strategy with their toughest student. The results? Almost everyone reported a marked improvement in the behavior and attitude of their one targeted student, and often of the whole class. Many teachers using the Two-by-Ten Strategy for the first time have had a similar corroborating experience: Their worst student became an ally in the class when they forged a strong personal connection with that student. 
In the eleven years that I’ve been writing on this site, I don’t think I’ve ever, ever used the term “miracle” in relation to behavior management. But lately I’ve been hearing a lot of teachers talk about a strategy that might be as close as it gets. 
 -From The Cornerstone for Teachers
    I highly recommend trying this strategy out, it is simple and extremely effective.  The post by Angela Watson, Cornerstone for Teachers, also has some tips for troubleshooting issues that may arise, like if the student doesn't want to talk to you.

   Despite my best efforts with my new friend, he was still getting in a lot of trouble during unstructured times (hallways, lunch, recess, before and after school, etc.).  Things had gotten o the point where he had been suspended from school so many times that he was looking at some seriously cumulative consequences.  He was gone from school for almost a month and when he returned I walked by his desk and wrote "I'm glad you're back :)" on his paper and we got back into our 2x10 routine.  He started coming by during my prep period, wanting extra help on his work and on Valentine's Day when he came by for his routine visit he gave me a Valentine.  I never saw him pass out Valentine's to friends, and I'm not really sure he has many friends.  He knows I love "Star Wars" and he wanted to give me all of the stickers that came in the box of Valentine's.  Things were going really well.
I taped it to my document camera and it's a really great reminder.
  This week I was having a rough time (unrelated to my friend), feeling overwhelmed and under the weather.  When Friday came around I was glad to have survived, but not feeling happy.  I didn't just survive Friday though, the most wonderful mistake happened that completely wiped out an entire week of blah.

Mistakes = Opportunities

   Today we were reviewing plot elements.  We watched a short film and mapped it out on a chart. The class had decided that the resolution in this plot line was that the big bird laughed at the little birds.  I noticed my friend fidgeting uncomfortably and I assumed it was because he put down something else for the resolution on his paper but lacked the confidence to say anything. I waited to see if he was going to say something, and when he didn't I asked him what he had put on his paper. He sheepishly mumbled his answer. He said that the resolution was when all of the naked birds hid behind the big bird because they were embarrassed.  The class agreed that his answer was better. Luckily I was using post-it notes, so I just moved the previous resolution back to falling action and put this new, improved resolution on the chart.  I could tell that he was really proud of himself and that it would be a huge confidence boost for that next opportunity to engage in academic discussion.
   This was such a great success for him.  It was only a month or two ago that he was wandering around the room, leaving the room, touching people, whispering mean things to people, hitting his head on things and completely disengaged in academics.  I believe the 2x10 strategy has played an important role in his transformation and I get something out of it too.  The positive changes I see in him uplift and encourage me as well.

Monday, February 16, 2015

From Poster to POEster: Project vs. Project Based Learning with EdgarAllan Poe

Project vs. Project Based Learning

What's the Difference?

Thanks to FriEdTechnology for sharing this useful chart to break it down.

Project Based Learning in ELA:  The Edgar Allan POEsters

   My favorite lessons are the ones that I didn't plan for.  Every year, it seems, the "projects" are not the ones that I had planned and I couldn't be happier when this happens.  It means the students are driving the instruction.  
  This time we were supposed to be studying "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe, as part of our mystery themed unit.  We watched a documentary about Edgar Allan Poe and the students were so interested in the mysterious circumstances of his death, we got way off track with this "side project".  At first glance, you probably see posters on the wall and think project, but this is actually a really good example of project based learning in an English class.  The POEsters were necessary to present each group's top three theories to the class.  The group in the foreground of the photo could not narrow it down to three, so they have four.  
   In the interest of brevity, I am just going to give a very brief summary of four weeks of work.  I am leaving a lot out, so if you have questions please leave them in the comment section and I will elaborate.  I assigned students to a research teams to analyze the different theories and evaluate the credibility of the evidence for those theories to prioritize a list of the top three.  My initial question that I posed was which one theory do you find to be the most plausible due to the amount of supporting evidence.  The groups were really hung up on narrowing it down to one theory, even after a mini-lesson on the process of consensus decision making.  It was okay though because there was a lot of good debate going on in the groups.
   I work in a low income school district where about half of my students don't have computers, smart phones, or internet access at home, which makes researching at home an assignment I am not comfortable giving.   My access to tech in the classroom is limited as well.  I have six computers (no printer) which the students did use for additional fact checking, but I did the majority of the research for them. I printed and organized supporting documents into four clue sets.  
  1. The documentary
  2. Four articles from the internet 
  3. Primary source documents relating to Edgar Allan Poe's death
  4. Four more articles from the internet
   In their groups the evidence from the documents was analyzed, discussed, and the students were asked to come up with a hypothesis (yes we can hypothesize in English too).  Then the group would be presented with another clue set and re-evaluate their hypotheses based on the new evidence.  The process was repeated four times as each new clue set was assigned.  Then the students worked together to prioritize their list to the top three (or four in the one case) most believable theories.  They presented their theories with the evidence by making a POEster, which was then used in a gallery walk.  I teach multiple English classes, so they were critiquing many different groups' top three lists along with their evidence to support their positioning.    They were asked to describe if their thinking had changed or had the gallery walk confirmed their ideas.  They got their POEsters back and regrouped to  discuss the comments that were left on post it notes by viewers and to evaluate their work. Grades were based on exit ticket reflections and participation rubrics (one for gallery walk discussion and one for the work done in research teams) which the students filled out for themselves and their group members.  I graded the POEsters using a rubric, and since there were only about five per class, it was not a lot of work for me.  
   My top three favorite theories from the POEsters were:
  1. Rabies
  2. Cooping
  3. Brain Tumor (see the paper "The Gutter")
   I did assign the class to write their own argument essays after this "project" concluded and I am grading them this weekend.  So far, I am very happy with what I am reading.  I think all of the group work, discussions, presentations, feedback, and reflections have really helped them to write a much better paper on their own; much more so than if I had just assigned a writing prompt to begin with.

Using Anchor Charts and Interactive Student Notebooks to Improve Student Writing

Interactive Anchor Charts for the Win!

  In my first year of teaching middle school I hated grading essays.  It was so frustrating going to the next student's essay and reading "I'm going to tell you about..." over and over again despite my lessons on writing engaging leads.  When I gave the next writing prompt, following a reading of "Eleven" by Sandra Cisneros I was dreading the possibility of 60 more essays that start with "I'm going to tell you about..."   So I put up an anchor chart to remind them of some other ways that they could begin their essays, but still I got mixed results. 
Anchor Chart
 I was beyond disappointed that my anchor chart was not as successful as I had thought it would be.
Mini Anchor Chart in Notebook with Revisions of the Lead
    I copied a mini version of the anchor chart and had them put it in their Interactive Student Notebooks.  I told them all to rewrite their lead six different ways on the left side, using a different strategy from the chart each time. 
   I had taught mini-lessons on the different types of leads before the anchor chart, and again after the anchor chart-this is key.  An anchor chart alone isn't going to fix this problem.  Students have to be taught how to ask the right kind of question in their lead, otherwise they will all ask an opinion based question that the reader can answer on their own.  Instead of I'm going to tell you about my eleventh birthday you will get What do you like about birthdays?  Not much of an improvement.  After rewriting their lead six ways, I had them pair up and read each other's leads so that they could get advice on which lead made someone want to continue reading the rest of the essay.  My favorite lead was:
How can a raggedy old sweater make you feel like you are two years old again?
  Click on the link to download the writing prompt and full lesson for "Eleven" from Achieve the Core.
   We recently wrote research-based arguments on the theories surrounding the cause of Edgar Allan Poe's untimely death.  This strategy works for research papers as well as narratives. 

"I hope you liked my blog post about ..." 
   There needs to be a sequel to this post to deal with that conclusion.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Turn Down for What?

Getting Our Groove on in History Class

 History Teachers
History Teachers
   I love the History Teachers on YouTube!  After one of these lessons I am rewarded by hearing my students excitedly talking in the hallways about what we had done in class, or singing the History song we had listened to that day.  

Can You Close Read a Music Video?

   If you can use close reading strategies with text, and with an image, then why not with a music video? First we just watch and listen,  Then we watch a second time and focus on the language used in the lyrics, focusing on details and vocabulary words, while making notes on a graphic organizer.  We watch a third time and the students focus on questions that they have about the content, adding to their notes.  Finally, I have the students turn and talk with a neighbor about their notes on the song and identify the BIG idea.  The multiple viewings of the music video really gets the song stuck in their head which helps them remember the content.  You can click on the image for a link to my Google doc of a note taking page to use with songs similar to the one below.

Close Reading a Music Video

"World Frenzy"

   There is a word association game that we play towards the end of a unit  that I call "World Frenzy".  Sometimes I use this game at the beginning of a unit to assess prior knowledge, but I like it better at the end for a review.  I give the students two minutes to write down as many words as they can that relate to our unit of study.  I used a visual timer from an app I have on my iPad.  The problem with the visual timer was that students spent more time looking at the timer, worrying about the timer, and checking the time than they did writing.  

Teenage Daughters + A Drought = A Brilliant Idea

   I have to thank my shower hogging teenage daughter for the solution to this problem.  At home we allow her two songs for time spent in the shower.  This works well because she knows the song well enough to know when she had better start rinsing.  Otherwise, the timer goes off and instead of getting out, she still has to rinse.
    I thought about this and I decided this would be a great way to time the students when we play "World Frenzy".  There would be no timer to check, and they would be able to tell when the song is winding down and their time is almost up.  As an added bonus, there is built in scaffolding with this timer! Students who are struggling to come up with ideas for words to write down will get ideas from the song that they are listening to as a timer.

Who Wins?   

   When the song is over, the students count up their words and the student with the most words shares his or her word list.  They have to put their pencils away and use only a highlighter at this point.  If another student has the same word written on their paper, they raise their hand and they both cross it off of the their lists with a highlighter.  I like this because it makes it hard to cheat and the crossed off words are still readable.  If no one else has the word written on their list, and this is where things get really interesting, the class all gives the word a thumbs up/thumbs down.  Thumbs up means the word is related to the topic and thumbs down means they can't see how this word is connected to the topic.  If the majority vote is thumbs down, then the student gets a chance to explain/convince the class that their word is connected to get their thumbs up.
   For example, the topic was "civilization" and the word getting the thumbs down was bargain. The student then explained how bargain is another word for trade, and how specialized workers that lived in cities traded goods.  All thumbs switch to up!  I felt like I needed to send her a thank you note after the lesson.  
  After all of the debating, discussion, and connections are settled upon, the student with the most words at the end of this process is the king or queen of the world for the day, with a paper crown to prove it.  Here is what makes me adore my class, they decided that they were all winners because they had fun.  And that is why I #LoveTeaching!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

"It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere"

What do you do after school?

"It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere"

  So it's almost Friday (yay) and school is out.  I've got papers to grade, lessons to plan, the daily tornado to sort through on my desk, parents to contact, etc.   A couple of kids come by my room armed with cameras, wanting to know what I do after school.  They're doing a piece for the yearbook on what teachers do when school is out.  I go back through that laundry list of tasks and none of it sounds like fun.  I said, "Let me think about this for a second. I think it would be funnier if I made something up, because what I really do isn't that glamorous."

It's Good to be a "Parrothead"

One of the yearbook students, who is in my English class, has an idea and wants to know if I have that parrot.  For a while I was moving a stuffed parrot around the room seeing if kids would notice it.  I got the idea from my local Trader Joe's (it's a grocery store)  When I would go grocery shopping my kids would be occupied looking for "JoJo" and I was grateful for the clever diversion.  I was wanting kids to notice that there were resources and anchor charts to use all over the room. I have this stuffed parrot, a relic from Jimmy Buffet concerts with the family back in the day, maybe I can make this "JoJo" thing work for me in the classroom too.

The parrot was a good idea, but next to the parrot was a bucket of hand puppets, the shark is also an old Buffet prop:  "Fins to the left!" Now this is worthy of a "What do you do after school?" photo op.  

"Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes"

Earlier in the day, I had sent a student to the office for doing a puppet show of his own behind my back, from that time out chair in the photo, while I was talking to the class.  Okay, so he didn't have puppets he was just using hand gestures.  But here comes my brilliant idea...what if we got some puppets for that space in the office that often is a holding tank for kids waiting to talk to administration about their behavior?  A little role playing about the situation that got them sent there might be helpful, as long as I'm the blonde cheerleader puppet and not the shark.  Maybe the office staff would be grateful for the diversion as I was in the grocery store.  Love you Annie, I'll be submitting all period attendance shortly.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

If You Can't Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen

I am having a conversation with my significant other, who is a chef, about what is happening in New York.  How can I put this in terms that make sense to a non-teacher?  This would be like if you went into work and they said you're making (insert dish that no one has heard of here), but we're not going to give you a recipe, and you are going to be missing several key ingredients, and if the yelp reviews are bad, you're fired.  It makes about as much sense.  

I am hopeful that there will be a point in time when the demonization of teachers will end and the real work towards solving the problems with our education system, as well as the issues that our disadvantaged students face, can begin.  I fear that an evaluation system based on standardized test scores will only widen the achievement gap.  Who is going to work at schools in low income areas with at-risk students under that type of system?
From the Washington Post

The Evolution of SWAG

Moving your classroom management into the 21st century

In the beginning, I combined two great ideas (not my own) from Pinterest...

Rewards written on ping pong balls and a behavior management system using some "hip lingo" that kids can relate to came together in this creation:

During the last few minutes of class we would discuss SWAG criteria 1-5.  For every SWAG goal that they met, the class would earn a ping pong ball in their bag.  There were some ping pong balls that they coveted more so than others.  Game day in the computer lab, donuts for brunch, and an outdoor reading picnic were among their favorites.  Then on a not so random day, usually a day that coincided with one English class being a full day ahead of the other-and that's no good, the class that was a day ahead would get a "Swag Day".  It was kind of a self serving reward, because planning when classes aren't doing the same thing is more work for me. Also, if one class is a full day (or more) ahead of the other, then they were clearly working really hard and deserve a reward.

As my teaching practice has changed, so have my ideas about SWAG.  I got this wonderful app called Class Dojo, and started losing interest in SWAG.  Then I realized, this can all still work together.  Class Dojo will give me a percentage of positive behavior for an entire class.  I can use that percentage to decide which class deserves a bit of SWAG when the time is right. 

Then I found another app called "Win a Spin".  Now I can enter all of the rewards that I want to use from the ping ping balls as prizes in the "Win a Spin" app.  The cheesy game show music plays as the wheel spins around until our prize is revealed, which is so much more thrilling than pulling a ping pong ball out of a ziplock bag-yay technology!
Win A Spin!
SWAG has gone into retirement, as it really seems unnecessary at this point.  Class Dojo keeps track of behavior, "Win a Spin" determines the reward, and my classroom management has moved into the 21st century.  

I still love saying SWAG though...
I know swag is played out, but I still love it.
A New Kind of SWAG

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Theme Is: Kids Like Learning When it Involves Talking and Moving

Teaching Theme:  

The Gallery Walk Approach

This was a lesson that my students really enjoyed.  They have made it clear:  they like learning when it involves talking and moving.  Gallery walk for the win!

To set up the gallery walk, they were given two sets of paper:  purple pages with themes and green pages with book summaries.  The colored copy paper really helped to make it obvious which strips of paper were themes and which were texts.  The chunks of text were assigned a letter, which coordinated with a poster on the wall.  They worked together to match the themes to texts.  They were coached on how to disagree in a scholarly way and there was a lot of discussion among group members trying to decide what the theme of each text was. Once the group had decided which theme went with which text, they wrote the text letter on the theme so that they could post it in the appropriate place. 
Around the room there were posters (A through J) for all of the groups to post the theme they had chosen for each text.  Once all of the groups had posted their themes on the posters, we had a gallery walk.  There was a lot of good discussion around the posters as groups noticed that other groups had chosen different themes.  

The exit tickets show the thought processes during the discussion better than I can describe.  Their reflections are invaluable to me.  I am a BIG fan of the exit ticket and I have told my students many times that exit tickets are my favorite papers to "grade". 

Exit Ticket A
I love how this student recognizes that she could have been "on topic" a little more.  
Exit Ticket B
I am pretty sure "reanswering" is not a word, but I liked that "reanswering" leads to more "reanswerings".  I also love the insightful reflection about being more open to other ideas.

Monday, February 9, 2015

"I'm Worried About my Reputation"

"I'm Worried About My Reputation"

Why I Love Being a Teacher

Meet Calvin

At the beginning of the school year I had given a 3-2-1 type of exit ticket and one of the questions I asked is what is one thing that you are worried about.  The answer that one student wrote on his paper saddened me.  For the sake of making this post easier to write, I will call him Calvin.  I teach sixth grade and coming from the elementary school, I had already heard of Calvin, so I guess he had valid reason to be worried.  I didn't hear much in the way of details, just that Calvin was a behavior problem.

The next day I was walking across the playground and he came running up to me.  I took the opportunity to let him know that I had no preconceived notions about him and that his reputation in this new school was whatever he wanted to make it be.  A tiny little white lie, but for the greater good.

Although I could see why former teachers had found Calvin to be a bit of a handful, I quickly learned to appreciate the motivation behind the behavior.  Calvin was just a kid that was REALLY excited about learning, so much so that he just had to yell out ideas at every moment he had them.  I loved his creativity and his enthusiasm.  It was one of those years that the planets aligned and that kid with the "behavior problem" got paired with the exactly right match in a teacher.  I know those years when students like Calvin get paired with the wrong match in a teacher can be very frustrating for both parties.  Believe me, despite my best efforts to be what each student needs me to be for them, I have had my share of bad match ups.

Fast forward a couple of months into the school year, we are learning about early humans in History and our current project is to make a report card for an early human.  Calvin is jumping out of his seat with excitement asking if he can make it on a rock.  I'm thinking I have no idea how that is even possible, but I say, "Sure, that would be really awesome."

I should mention that Calvin only turns in work on occasion, and usually it is not a worksheet that spurs his interest enough to get him to complete a task.  Every day that week Calvin is telling me about his project and how he has found the perfect rock, etc. I have to admit, I'm not really convinced at this point that he is actually going to be turning something in on Friday.

Then the big day arrives and Calvin presents me with this:

Lucy's Report Card

The kids were all so impressed with Calvin's project, and very vocal with their admiration of his great idea.  You could almost see him swelling with pride.  

Reputation make-over complete!  

Moments like this are why I #LoveTeaching !

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ms. Marshall and the "Tear-able", Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Why I Love Teaching

Ms. Marshall and the "Tear-able", Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

This past week I had a very, very tough day.  Alexander and the terrible, horrible kind of bad.  One of those days that makes you wonder if maybe you've been teaching for too long, or maybe you shouldn't have become a teacher at all.  One of those days where you turn into "that" teacher.  One of those days where you feel like you're going to want to call a sub for a mental health day and just not come back.  I hope I'm not alone here.  I have to believe I'm not the only one that's not perfect.

So I come home still all frazzled, and stressed, and feeling generally irritated.  I give myself a little "time-out" to pull myself together again-just me, my iPad, my cup of tea, and Pinterest.  I know a mindful sit would have been better, but just wait, it's all going to work out in the end.

I'm swiping through pins and I come across this gem and I have a light bulb moment. Can it be that easy really? I had a seriously negative vibe going on in my classroom, could a piece a paper really solve the problem? 

I always share an inspirational quote on my agenda for the day.  That day I chose: “The only time you should look down at someone, is when you are helping them up.” Jesse Jackson I shared the quote, a few students volunteered to share what it meant to them and then I pointed out this piece of paper on the news board.  I explained how the slips of paper at the bottom were cut so that they could be torn off.  I told them that if they needed one, take it.  When you no longer need it pass it on.  

By the time second period came around, which is usually my worst class of the day, my piece of paper looked like this.  But the best part was every few minutes I'd hear someone go "Awwww!" and I knew why.  Before the class was over, someone discreetly left one on my desk and it said, "You can do it!" And I too went "Awww".  I had to laugh a little because it was just the message I needed.  I think I learned the most that day.  My enduring understanding:  a little bit of positivity goes a long way.

And that is why I #LoveTeaching 

New purposes for some old things

Teacher Hacks:  Upcycled, Repurposed, Cheap Tricks

Padfolio Grade Book
The BTSA padfolio turned grade book.  Take out all of the old BTSA pages, add grade book sheets, dividers, pocket dividers and you have a seriously awesome grade book.  I teach five classes and I color code the dividers, folders, and turn in trays for each class.  I have a blue divider with grade book pages and a blue pocket divider tor hold answer keys and late work/random papers.  When I collect an assignment I put it in color coded "To Grade" or "To Record" folders in a file holder on my desk.  The padfolio has three filing compartments on the left and when I need to take papers home to grade, the file folders slip right into my grade book.  The whole thing zips shut so papers don't fall out, and it has handles for carrying it to and from school easily.  I contacted my local BTSA office and asked if they had any extra padfolios and got three more.  I made one into a planning book and the other keeps all of my SST, RTI, and IEP documentation.

Another great BTSA find, was the handled file box.  This was later replaced by the padfolio, but luckily I held on to mine.  I used some "S" hooks from IKEA and hung it by the handles from my desk.  I put a red cross on it with electrical tape and I call it the "First Aid Kit".  It holds files for each day of the week and when papers are handed out in class, the extras go in the folder for that day.  When a student is absent or loses their paper, they can go to the file box and find it. 
First Aid Kit
Book Boxes
I'm not really sure what this thing is. It is some sort of a clicking counter that I occasionally use when I have a student that is having some major issues with blurting out.  I use this counter to measure actual data to see if behavior modifications are successful.  It is also much better to cite actual data rather than to say a student is constantly interrupting when discussing behavior with parents or administrators.  I added a sticker to it and dubbed it the "Yacker Tracker".
Yacker Tracker
I bought my kids a Melissa & Doug Band in a Box and it came in this handy wooden crate that I now use to hold the daily warm ups.  When the students enter the room, they take a warm-up (short text or notebook entry) and go to their seats.  Text warm ups have a prompt that involves "Turn and Talk" or "Quick Write" and "Notebook Entry" is a teacher input that needs to be added to their interactive student notebooks.  I made labels on card stock, hole punched them, and attached them to the wooden crate with metal rings.  I can easily flip the label to let the students know what type of warm-up activity they need to start when they come in.
Warm-up Crate
I only had one of these chair organizers and I do hate to throw things away.  It was a relic from my elementary teaching days and I used to use it on my teacher chair at my reading group table.  I have a single time out chair in my middle school classroom and it just made sense to put it on that chair.  I put a sand timer in the velcro pocket, time out slips, hall passes, office referrals, and positive notes in the other pockets and labeled them with a sharpie.  The last time I had a substitute they left feedback on how helpful having all the behavior slips in a central area were.
Time Out Chair
This is a low tech, quick way to assign students to groups using gum containers and centimeter cubes.  Since I no longer teach elementary math I didn't really have any use for these centimeter cubes, but again, I hate to throw things away.  I put two colors of cubes in one cups to make groups of two, three colors for groups of three, four colors for groups of four.  When I need to get students into groups quickly, I walk around the room and shake a cube out into each child's hand.  In about thirty seconds I have random groupings.
Student Grouping
I also use these cubes to assign work when doing a jigsaw type of activity.  The assignment is divided up into colors and I assign the work (vocab definitions, pieces of text, questions from the text, etc.) based on what color of cube falls into the student's hand.

If you have upcycled something for use in your classroom, please share it in the comments.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

My Pocket

This app has done more for my teaching than any other app!  It is the greatest tool I have found in months, like a virtual file cabinet.  I tried diigo and a few other things but they were rather complicated and I couldn't figure them out. I stored videos on a website, I think it was teacher tube, but it wasn't very convenient or easy to use.  This app has solved every problem I have had with every other app I have tried.
Now it doesn't matter if I am on my computer at work, my phone, my iPad, or my home computer when I find something I want to use in my class.  I can add tags to the pages I save so that I can easily pull up all of my digital resources on Edgar Allan Poe at once.  

Another problem this app has solved is the always fun sidebar content on YouTube.  Nothing is more embarrassing than pulling up the video you want to use in class and having one of the sidebar videos called "Sex in Ancient Egypt".  You just never know what content is going to be over on that sidebar.  With this app, I can save my YouTube videos and play them from my pocket with no other content showing.  Here's a peek at my pocket:
And I saved the best part for last...it's free.

Characterization and Wordles

I downloaded this app called Phoetic that allows you to create wordles out of pictures while we were reading "Peter Pan" in class.  I was playing around with it and found it to be kind of fun and I was thinking how can I use this in my class.  I don't have the technology available to allow for students to create their own wordles, as I am only using my own ipad in the classroom.  So, I used a character traits list that I probably found on Pinterest, with a google image of the characters and...
Peter Pan
 I just gave them the Peter Pan wordle for their notebook to start with.  I had them put it in their reading notebook and with a partner they took turns highlighting character traits.  They were instructed to cite evidence from the text to justify their chosen character trait to their partner.  If their partner agrees, then they both highlight that word on their charts.  If they don't agree, they discuss, making their claims for and against the trait until one is convinced.  After reading more of the text, we repeated the activity with Captain Hook.

Captain Hook

I enlarged the wordles on the copy machine to make posters.  After both characters had been discussed at length in pairs I had them come up to the poster and highlight a character trait, explaining their reasoning.  Some of them really surprised me!  When a student said, "Peter Pan was confused..."  I have to admit that I was doubting for a moment that the claim would be well supported.  The student went on to say that he was confused because he insisted that mothers were bad and that he never wanted to have a mother, but at the same time he was having Wendy pretend to be his mother. 
And because I am the the nerdiest teacher ever, I wore this shirt that I found on Pinterest that day. The image is made using the text from "Peter Pan".

Six Word Memoirs

I also had the students write "Six Word Memoirs" on the characters.  I am a fan of this game, and use it in the classroom often.  It's a great way to get the students to summarize characters, plots, texts, etc.

Shifting Instruction to Meet the Common Core Standards

Shifting Instruction to Meet Common Core Standards

Pharaoh's:  Gotta Catch 'Em All

In past years I had used the old trading card activity during the Egypt unit in History.  The kids enjoyed researching information about the pharaohs and drawing and coloring, but I had to really look at this project from a standards perspective and although it was fun, I couldn't see the value in it.  Thanks to the autistic student in my class that I have to get so creative to engage, and her interest in Pokemon, I have figured out a way to keep this activity in the plans!

In the past the cards had an image of the pharaoh, what unit we were studying, a symbol for the unit, two important details about the pharaoh, an interest rating, and a historical importance rating (all unsupported-just the students opinion)

When the project was completed the cards were put up on a bulletin board for display.
New and improved card project!
 In the updated lesson I changed the following elements:
Historical Importance/Interest Rating is now "Attack"/'Energy".  Instead of putting two facts in the boxes above the ratings meter, those boxes are now for justification of the ratings.  In the top box students were to list as many accomplishments as possible (up to ten) to coincide with the "attack" level.  For example, Ramses II signed the first known peace treaty color in one box for that accomplishment.  This keeps the students from giving all of their cards/pharaohs a 10 "attack" and if they do get a ten, they really had to work for it (doing the research).

For the "Energy" the students had to use the second box to come up with valid reasoning for the "energy" level based on how long the pharaoh lived and how long his or her reign lasted.  Some used math problems to justify their reasoning, others used comparative reasoning when they were lacking information in one category or the other.  For example, one student gave Hatshepsut a 3.5 for "health" because she divided 50 (yrs of life) with 15 (yrs of reign) and it was less than 4 but she decided to round up to the nearest half box for coloring in.  She then said that King Tut had many diseases and didn't live to be 20, so his "energy" should be less than Hatshepsut and she gave him a two.

The final improvement on the cards was the element on the front of the card where they had previously filled in the unit of study (Ancient Egypt) with a symbol of their choosing for the unit.  In my revised project those boxes are now used for "What will this pharaoh evolve into in their afterlife?"  Since a connection to the afterlife was so important to the Ancient Egyptians, and since Pokemon characters evolve it just made sense.  The box that was once a place for a symbol of the unit, usually a triangle for a pyramid, now is a box for a symbol of the pharaoh's evolved character.  Some of the examples the students came up with were:
Akhenaton evolves into the sun because he worshiped the sun god Aten.
Akhenaton evolves into the "Sun Disk" because he worshiped the sun god and he had himself called "The Sun Disk".
And my favorite example:
Hatshepsut evolves into "ManShepsut" and her symbol is a beard.
Skip the bulletin board-Let's play!
For the final day I got a lesson in how to play Pokemon, which the kids have dubbed "Pharaoh-mon:  Gotta Catch 'Em All!"  This was also interesting for me to observe how the kids would adapt the Pokemon style game play to make it work for the elements on our Pharaoh cards.  There were a couple of things that they made note of on the exit slips when they left that day for me to add to the cards to make the game play work better.  

The autistic student that I mentioned earlier, raised her hand (for the first time this school year) and volunteered to lead a group as the "Pokemon Master".  Since she rarely engages in social interaction, this was THE big success of this project.

For information on key shifts in English Language Arts go to:  http://www.corestandards.org/other-resources/key-shifts-in-english-language-arts/