Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ending the Year with a Bang

 "Quickies":  Activities that require little to no prep and can be completed in a class period

1.  Tweet to Next Year's Class:  I teach 6th grade and right before the end of the year the 5th graders come for a visit/orientation. Rather than write the traditional friendly letter about how to survive the transition to middle school, I give them sentence strips and have the class write tweets and tape them to the wall outside of our door.

2.  Illustrated Six Word Memoirs: I love using Six Word Memoirs throughout the year as a warm up, a way to collect background knowledge, to summarize, or to reflect on learning. It only seems natural to write them at the end of the year. I don't generally have my students illustrate them, but there is a lovely blog post (with examples) here: Illustrated Six-Word Memoirs by Students from Grade School to Grad School, by Maria Popova

3. Report Card for the Teacher: I know this idea is neither new, nor exciting, but it is a great reflection tool for me. I allow my students to choose anonymity when grading me to get really honest answers and it is always interesting to read and definately helps me to improve on my practice as a teacher. Here is a link to the one that I am using for this year: Report Card.

Some really involved projects that might take a week or more to complete:

1. Teacher for the Day: Here is my google doc on this project to print and use with your class. This one was new to me this year, but I guess it has been around for a while. I heard about it through a twitter chat and then found this article about it on the Teaching Tolerance blog: ‘Teacher for a Day’ Energizes Students, by Jacqueline Yahn. It's new to my class, so we are going to have some fun with it.

2. "We are so Inspired"

Instead of "We Didn't Start the Fire" have students reflect on their year of learning by writing a song, record it and make DVDs for them and you have a great end of the year gift for them as well. I wrote a separate blog post on this one. You can also visit my Teachers Pay Teachers store to purchase this lesson.

3.  Game Based Review: There are so many formats in which you could gamify a little end of the year review.

  • My kids love this one I found from Kara Wilkins' blog, To Engage Them All. She calls it "Grudgeball" and the directions for how to play are on her blog.  
  • I also like to have my class create their own games, and I recently wrote a blog post about a game that we made. That lesson is also available on my Teachers pay Teachers store. 
  • I'm fan of Kahoot and Quizziz, but those require access to the computer lab, which can be difficult to get this time of year. 
  • I have a big pocket chart that we use to play a quiz show type of game and I was able to purchase some cool light up buzzers with my scholastic bonus points this year to add to the fun. 
Regardless of the style of game we are playing, I prefer to have the students come up with the questions-it's a sneaky way to get them to review the material. I have an example page that I use when explaining how to write different styles of questions. Feel free to download it and use it with your class: How to Write a Quiz Question.

4. Orientation Videos: The 5th graders come to the middle school for an orientation/field trip at the end of the year and I teach a Media elective in which we study all forms of persuasion in the media (PSAs, political cartoons, commercials, documentaries, TED talks, etc.). For our end of the year fun in that class we are making commercials for the elective classes and clubs, PSAs on middle school survival tips, and some other videos to add in just for fun. The videos will be shown at the orientation and will be posted on our web page.  I am super excited about "The Locker Games". It is a parody of "The Hunger Games" scene with the cornucopia, but instead of getting survival gear, they must get to their locker, get their materials, and make it to the next class in four minutes while avoiding the hallway obstacles.

Some Stuff I want to try out next year:

1. TED talk: I am hoping to get a TED-ed club started next year and I would like to end the year with TED talks, which we have in the evening so families can attend. If you have an interest in starting a TED-ed club go to:  and apply. Once you apply, you can download the facilitator materials there.

2. Student Media Festival: I would really love to showcase all of the awesome videos we made and have a film festival with "Academy Awards" rather than the traditional style Open House.

3. Poetry Slam: Poetry Month is in April and it would be great to showcase that work poetry slam style. There's a local cafe that has evening poetry events and it would be a wonderful opportunity to show off our rhymes in the community as well. I can't think of poetry without also thinking about "Epic Rap Battles in History". They are not all classroom appropriate, so don't take this as an endorsement and not preview first. Do check out their website though, the videos are funny. I teach English and History and I try to integrate the two subjects as much as possible, so our epic rap battles might be between historical figures and literary figures or authors.

These last two ideas are awesome, but they would require multiple teachers or an entire school to participate:

Will Kimbley from Tulare County USD shared some photos of their "Night at the 21st Century Museum" on Twitter last week and it looks like an amazing event.  The Tulare County Office of Ed has resources that they are sharing on their website if you have an interest in trying this out next year. If your school has a "Genius Hour" program, this would be a great opportunity to showcase those projects. "Genius Hour" isn't something I know very much about, but I am really interested in exploring the possibilities of getting this started next year too. I found a blog that seems to be mainly focused on "Genius Hour".  If you are reading this and you have additional information to share, I would love to learn more.

We haven't yet adopted the Maker movement at our school, but if we do I am thinking that an end of the year parade with Maker group floats would be so cool. Battlebots are also awesome. What middle school student wouldn't be into an event that involved Battlebots?

If you've got an idea to share please add it in the comments below.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Gamers, Makers, and Learners: A journey along the silk roads

Traveling the Silk Roads: The Game

After reading the regular textbook version, I showed my class three short videos(less than 10 min each), starting with the edTED, and had them take some notes about positives and negatives on a T-chart:

Discussion: We often glorify the positive exchanges along the Silk Road, but can you think of a possible negative impact of global trade on society in either the ancient or modern world? The Silk Road and Ancient Trade: Crash Course World History #9
The positives and negatives from their notes would be used in their game as good moves/cards and bad moves/cards.

After the students were settled into their teams for this project, I gave them a text set that contained 4 sections and instructed them to divide up the reading and have each person do their assigned reading and come up with 10 questions based on what they have discovered, that will be used somehow in their game. I also did a mini-lesson review on how to write a question.

They brought in games from home for inspiration, and to study procedures and instructions.

They practiced playing their own game to make sure that it would work as they had planned in preparation for the game to be played by their classmates. If something wasn't working out properly, then they made adjustments to their game.

I made a rubric and the project will be graded by the groups of people that play the game. I plan to have the students rotate through each game playing every game made by the other teams in both of my classes. I offered bonus points for using recycled materials.

We worked on this project in the last periods of the day after some long mornings of SBAC testing, and I have to say a little game playing was a much needed element in our day.

There were so many different and creative versions of the Silk Roads game. The one pictured here with the cups had a Mancala theme. There was another game that involved the exchanging of beans as goods traded along the journey. There was also a game with a trivial pursuit element to it where the players had to answer questions to collect objects. The objects represented themes of things that were exchanged through the Silk Road (religion, ideas, goods, technology/inventions, etc). 

I have written up a lesson that includes pre-game discussion prompts as well as post-game reflection prompts. It also includes rubrics for the students to use to grade and critique each others games. There are a couple of pages specific to this game on the Silk Roads, but all of the necessary pages for game creation and directions are focused on game design, mechanics, and revision and can be used with any unit of study. The lesson is available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store for $4.50. I have used this format with my class to create games for the hero's journey/monomyth, Buddhism and the Eight fold Path to Enlightenment, and for a review of a Mythology unit. My next plan is to try out games for "Histories Mysteries"-I'm thinking "What Happened to the Mayans?" with a Clue element. 

In short, I love games. Any time a learning experience can involve gaming, I'm game!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Anchor Charts

That "sought after neighborhood" on your classroom your anchor chart bringing down the property value in the neighborhood?

<------------------That was a question lead.

How to create an effective anchor chart:

The key is to showcase only the most important information without clutter or "busy-ness" that detracts from the message. Some teachers create anchor charts collaboratively with their students as they are teaching the lesson. I have a hard time doing that because I like to be neat and careful, and I don't like wasting chart paper when I mess up. I also find making a big chart in class distracts me from the lesson. What I do instead is, I make the "chart" collaboratively with my class in my notebook which is projected on the board using a document camera. It is like my rough draft before a final copy (the big chart). You do not have to be an artist to make a great anchor chart. Sometimes anchor charts begin as my own notes as I am reading a great book, below right.

If your doubts about your handwriting or artistic abilities are holding you back, you can enlist an artistic student to make one for you. I have done this before as well, even though I can make a pretty nice chart on my own. Sometimes I just have too much to do and I see a great chart on Pinterest that would really help my class with something we are doing, but I just don't have the time to make it. I take a screen shot photo of the chart I want and ask a student (or sometimes my own children) to make it for me. They are always very honored to be asked and do a great job! 

If you are a particularly talented chart maker, why not host an after school "Make and Take Workshop" and have some fun with your colleagues? Set out some chart paper, pencils, markers, and maybe some printed images for the more reluctant artists and have a nice chat over some snacks and charts.
An Anchor Chart on Making an Anchor Chart-Genius!

Anchor chart inspiration:

Showcasing your anchor chart: walls, table tops & notebooks

There's the obvious, bulletin board, that is shown below in a spruced up display with border frames. I have also seen them on rings and curtain rods, the curtain rod pictured below is magnetic. IKEA makes these wonderful tension line curtain rods that are really handy in the classroom. The bathroom department is also a good place to look-shower curtain rods and rings make great anchor chart hanging tools. What works for you will depend on your space.
The table top version is also nice whether you DIY your table top stand out of PVC pipes, or buy your own at IKEA.
 Chart Stand

When we have used an anchor chart, I like to make a mini-version for the students to keep in their interactive student notebooks. I have heard from teachers that have my students in their classes the next year that they wished they still had their notebooks, so I guess some of those charts were really helpful. We have decided that we are going to save the notebooks until the next year and pass them on to the next teacher so the students can continue in their notebooks and still have the tools from the previous year-we will see how that goes. 

Anchor charts on the go:

Thanks to technology, my class can now have access to anchor charts anywhere! When you are in a professional development session or visiting another class and you see something awesome, what is your first instinct? My first instinct is to take out my phone and take a picture of it! With a class website or social media, you can turn your wall charts into a portable resource. I prefer Instagram, since that is what is popular with my students. Now I can take pictures of notes or charts and have an online collection that my students can access any time.

Storing your anchor charts:

Storage possibilities range from plastic bag holders from IKEA, garbage cans up-cycled with stickers and a label, shipping tubes, or a laundry rack with hangers. I have these weird bars in my closet that I didn't know what to do with, so I hang mine with hooks on a bar. 

Getting the most out of your anchor chart:

Like word walls, anchor charts can be useful tools that strengthen content, vocabulary, or procedures. They can reinforce the application of skills from lessons, or they can take up space. You can have the Mona Lisa of anchor charts on your wall, but what does it matter if no one uses it?

I  have written a blog post on the usefulness of a specific anchor chart: "I'm going to tell you about how I ..."  And I will finish up this blog post with my anchor chart on blogging:

Words with Friends: It's All Greek to Me

Words with Friends & Greek Roots:

   For teacher appreciation week, Teachers Pay Teachers was having a sale and I picked up this cute set of Greek root word cards. As a former elementary school teacher, I have to admit, I am still attracted to cute. I bought them mostly because they were cute. Here is a link to the 2 Brainy Apples TpT store where I bought the Greek word wall cards.

   Okay, it's cute but now what do I do with this? I was cutting and thinking while my class was busy making up games for an unrelated lesson in History when it occurred to me: I need to make a game too. I used to like playing Words with Friends and I know a lot of my students are familiar with the game as well. If you are unfamiliar with Words with Friends, this site explains the rules. It is similar to scrabble.

So why not combine this root word wall with a game everyone enjoys? 

Root Word Wall Goes Interactive

   I used a sticker chart poster for the game board. I cut the student name side and enough of the grid off to make it square. Then I looked up an image of Words with Friends online so I could color in the double and triple word/letter squares accurately. We don't have a laminating machine at school any more, so I used clear packing tape to cover the playing board. I hope that the packing tape works to make it so that we can write on the board with vis-a-vis pens and wipe it off and start over. We shall see.
   My plan for adapting this game is to display three root words for the game. Students can add words to the game board whenever they get an idea-the bulletin board is right by the pencil sharpener, so it's not out of the norm for people to get up and go over there. My two classes will each use a different color of vis-a-vis pen, so I know who's words are who's. The catch is, only words containing one of the three Greek root words can be added to the board. 
   Over the weekend, I post a photo of the three Greek root words for the week on my class Instagram, so the kids can start thinking of words ahead of time.

   I added a piece of chart paper to keep track of the highest scoring words from each class, and inspire a little friendly competition.  

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Analyzing TED Talks

I am a big fan of TED, whether it's edTedTEDx, or TEDxYouth

Adapted from Audrey Lee, MSUSD
   I like that the talks are short, yet still very thought provoking. I really wanted to use them in my class, but do it in a meaningful way. I didn't want to just show a video and say there you go, think about that. I adapted a four C's graphic organizer to make it applicable to watching a TED talk, and now we have TED Talk Tuesdays. My class really enjoys TED Talk Tuesday and if we miss it for some reason, they always grumble in disappointment. I've linked to a google doc that you can download and print.
   It does take a little behind the scenes work to find the right TED talks, so I have included a top ten list of my favorite TEDs. In the beginning, I spent a great amount of time trying to find talks that went with our current curriculum, but I have since let that go in favor of talks that will get them thinking about the bigger picture, making real life connections, asking questions, or questioning themselves. My students have gotten really great at connecting to what we are learning, so I feel like I am taking something away from them if I make it so obvious by showing a talk on river systems when we are learning about the agricultural practices of ancient civilizations.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Men are from Mars, Confucius is from China

This lesson happened in History class, but it could have easily been a lesson in English class. We were learning about Confucius during a History unit about Ancient China,when it occurred to me how many of Confucius' saying are still very relevant today and I wanted my students to make that same connection. There are so many good character lessons to be learned from Confucius.

I decided that the best way to go about this would be to do a speed dating activity with our History notebook and a favorite Confucius quote.  I have already written a post about speed dating so I won't go into detail again and risk being repetitive. It was titled "Talk Moose's be dating mystery date with Sherlock Holmes" What?!?!  
In this variation the students paired up with a face partner around a row of desks, and then read their quote to their "date". Their partner then talked about their interpretation of the quote, how it might be applied to present day situations, and if there is a modern day phrase that is similar in meaning. Then the "couple" would repeat the procedure with the other partner sharing their quote. They would both write down what their partner had said about their quote in their notebook. After a couple of minutes I gave the signal and partners stepped to the left on one side of the table and to the right along the opposite side of the table to find a new "date". At the end of the lesson each student had a nice list of ideas from their classmates about the meaning of their quote.

Some of the quotes I used were:

"Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it"
"It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop"
"It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve; and bad things are very easy to get."
"To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge."
"A superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions."
"Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire."