Wednesday, May 24, 2017

May I Introduce You To...

The Future Teachers from Cheney High School
(and some still considering...)

I have mentioned before (here) that I have the privilege of teaching the introductory course for the Teaching and Training Pathway at Cheney High School.  The class is called "Teaching as a Career" or many times as I refer to it as my "future teachers."

I LOVE this class.  And these students.

This class has been insanely hard to prepare for as a teacher.  There is SO MUCH to learn about teaching, how do you narrow it down?  Where do you start?  How much "teaching" should they do? Where do you go observe?  How often do you observe?  What should the final look like? How do you teach it?  How do you take the material from a college level textbook (that expects the class to be "sit and get") and create lessons that reflect best teaching practices?

I have enjoyed spending the last year getting to know these eight high school students.  Their personalities say so much about what their classrooms will look like someday (IF they choose teaching...there are still a few "undecideds")

After spending the year with them and watching their opinions about school and education develop, I wanted to make them something, something that would show them what I SEE IN THEM and what they could do with their classrooms someday.

So I started writing.  I created an "Inspirational-Educational saying" that was based on each student and what topics, theories and ideas they seemed to latch onto.  And then I went to one of my favorite classroom tech tools...Adobe Spark and created these.

She has mentioned many times this year that students should have a choice and a voice as to what goes on in the classroom.  Whether it's flexible seating, the assignment the complete, or just voicing their opinion in a class discussion.  As my only Senior, I hope her dream classroom comes true!

This young lady, was my youngest in the class, as a Sophomore, she was adamant that teachers be respectful of students as they require respect from their classes.  She will make sure that she never calls out a student's mistake in front of the class.  Such wise advice for us all!

I expect this lady's classroom to be filled with bright colors and creative activities that make students want to be in her classroom, instead of "have to be" there.  She is one of the most creative thinkers I have met and I can't wait to see what she does!

God Bless her.  She wants the "littles."  Kindergarten.  And she will be great at it! She really seemed to take a liking to the Multiple Intelligence theory and loves the idea of coming up with various ways for students to learn and interact with content.  As my oldest heads off to Kindergarten in August, I hope her teacher possess these same interests!

In case you missed the reference...she's a Star Wars fan.  I just see her connecting with her students on a whole different level.  And being one of my only two students who were considering secondary education, she will be able to make her classroom a part of her personality.  Students will know who she is from walking into the room!

I think, out of all the students in my class this year, this young lady surprised me the most.  She came in, a little unsure of her path.  She is leaving my class this year confident and strong.  She has mentioned many times how she was inspired by teachers, so she wants to inspire the students in her classroom.  I have no doubt that she will.

Goal oriented, strong leadership skills, and striving for perfection are qualities that Ms. Campbell possess. She doesn't just want to be a good teacher, she wants to be great.  I am positive that whatever goals she sets for herself, both professionally and personally, will be met, if not exceeded!

This young man will be successful at whatever he chooses to do.  Strong in people skills and many talents, he struggles knowing which career path is the best for him. I, however have a feeling, deep in my gut, that he is meant to be in education.  IF he does choose teaching...his classroom will be an active one. He despises the "sit and get" methods of instruction, and will create the classroom he would have learned best in as a student. The current trends in education are just perfect for someone like him.

As the year closes and these students walk out of my door, many head to the internship phase of the education pathway.  I see them as eventual colleagues, and hope that they come knocking at my door when they get the keys to their classrooms, wanting to chat about all things teaching!

Good luck and inspire many.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Power of Positivity!

Wanna know a secret?

Everyone WANTS to love their job.

Unfortunately, some don't.  One question that I seem to keep running into on Twitter chats, especially the chats with a topic for new teachers or future teachers, is "What do you do when you encounter a colleague who is continually negative?"

This is a legitimate question, because it's reality.  There are teachers, principals, counselors, and students who are struggling daily with the challenges of school.  Those challenges look different to different people, and some just can't seem to get out of the rut.

I'm not talking about the encounter with a teacher who was just involved in a frustrating situation and needs to blow off a little steam.  That's venting.  We all need to vent.  Usually after voicing our frustration, taking some time to reflect, we calm down and move on.  I'm talking more about those who just always find something wrong with every situation.  The chronic complainers.  You know who they are.  Maybe it's you.

My answer to this question of "how to deal with the complainers," is the same every time.

Stay positive.  

Listen, offer support, but always...stay positive.  Because you can't force someone to see the positive side of education.  You can force someone to stop complaining...they'll just complain about being forced into it.  And you can't force someone to love their job.  But if you stay positive, smile, and let the love you have for your job radiate out of you... it's attractive and contagious.

You see...everyone WANTS to LOVE their job.

Eventually those who are struggling and frustrated will start to wonder WHY you always look so happy?  Why you are able to stay positive?  And HOW you do it??

And then they come to you.

They'll ask for your advice.  It may sound a little like...

What can I do to feel better about my classroom?
I wish I knew how to feel motivated about my classroom...
You're always happy, how do you do it?

And now you have the opportunity to help someone find a passion for their job.  This is powerful.  Don't shy away from it.  We need positive leaders of the school to be willing to share what works for them, what motivates them, and how WE GOT HERE.  Was it Twitter?  Was it developing a PLN? Was it getting to know your students more? Whatever it is...share it.

Because if something is going to spread through a should be positive.  Never under-estimate the power of POSITIVITY.  It is contagious and it can be just the thing you, your colleagues, or your school needs.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Power of the Ripple Effect

It seems appropriate for this post today.  National Teacher Day.  The power of influence a teacher has is hard to really fathom.  Today I'd like to dedicate this post to the most inspirational teachers I have had.

I don't do this to embarrass them in any way.  It's more so that they have the opportunity to see the ripple effect that they started so many years ago, when I sat in their classrooms.  You see, we talk about the "ripple effect" that a teacher has, and how inspiring one student can be a spark that may change the world.  But many times teachers don't actually get to see it.

Mr. Bart Kulhman, Mr. Chris Varvel, and Mrs. Sally Gates Donahue (may she rest in peace...) this post is for you.

It should come as no surprise to many of my classmates that I became a social studies teacher, when all three of the above mentioned educators were my social studies teachers in high school.

I first encountered Mrs. Donahue as a wide-eyed (and VERY nervous) Freshman.  I had heard the rumors of her class and the copious notes you would take.  In fact, I'm sure she mentioned that on the first day, using that word, "copious."  It quickly became a part of my vocabulary as I honed in on my method for note-taking.  Don't get the wrong idea here...she didn't just lecture.  Her class was the first time I can remember actively learning about history.  She taught World History.  Some of my favorite memories of her class involve studying Islam and having to cover myself with a sheet while sitting on the floor in the back of the room and her love for Alexander the Great.

Mr. Varvel opened a whole new world to me my Junior year with his National/International, current events class.  I can remember sitting in his class, watching the news, debating controversial topics with my classmates, playing the weekly current event quiz game, and producing our Year in Review project.  I sat in the front row as we watched the controversy unfold over the "hanging chad" of the 2000 election, I knew all of the countries that belonged to OPEC and their leaders, and first learned to develop opinions different from my parents and peers.  While I was away at college, I watched the events of September 11th unfold and so desperately wanted to be in his class, that I called him from my dorm room that night, just to talk about it.  What I wouldn't give to be teaching in the same building as him.

I was lucky enough to have Mr. Kuhlman for Junior American History and Senior Government.  His energy and love for the subject was contagious.  The first day of school our Junior year found us digging in boxes of dirt to discover the various eras of American History we would be talking about throughout the year (which was inspiration for my archaeology project we did this year).  One day he ran full-speed into the cinder-block wall just to hook us into his discussion on World War One.  Did I say he was high energy?  Our Senior year, we created a working government throughout the different classes.  Each class period helped run a presidential campaign, whichever class had the winning candidate became the executive branch (President, VP, and Cabinet), one class the Senate, and one the House of Representatives.  We had to pass laws, override vetos, and balance a budget.  There was some seriously powerful learning happening in that classroom.  So much so, that I can honestly say when I creep on my fellow classmate's Facebook pages, I am proud to say we have many who are actively involved in civics and politics today.

These three teachers, unknowingly at that time, instilled a love for history, government, and current events.  I knew that I would be a teacher, but I started out wanting elementary education.  After about a week observing in a 4th grade classroom (just a couple years into NCLB) I realized that my love for the social sciences would never get to be put into action in the elementary grades.  I decided to change to secondary education, social science and never looked back.

Together, these power-house educators helped inspire me to be the teacher I am today.  As I finish my 11th year as a middle school social studies teacher, I am just now starting to see the ripple effect continue from my classroom.  I have had three student teachers in the last three years and one who was sitting in my very first 8th grade classroom.  Who knows how many ripples will come from these new teachers.

All starting from Mrs. Donahue, Mr. Varvel, and Mr. Kuhlman at Burlington High School.  The ripple effect and influence that you three have had on your students continues today and will continue for year and years to come.

Thank you.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

What Do Your Students Think?

One of the best ways to be able to sit back and honestly take a good look at your teaching is to have the students complete an evaluation on you.  So I do.  I use a Google Form to ask them questions such as...

What was your favorite activity we did this year?

What is your favorite way to receive new information?

What do you wish we did more of in class?

What was your least favorite activity we did this year?

What is one thing you would change about Social Studies if you could?

Is this teacher willing to admit his/her mistakes?

Do you trust this teacher?

List five words to describe this teacher: (this is a fun one I ask so I can create a word cloud for the next year)

I don't want questions that will only give me good feedback.  I want honest feedback from my students so I can see what I'm doing well and where I can make some changes.  And I take it seriously.  Student responses has led to some good changes I have made for my classroom over the years. 

My favorite question on the evaluation is, "what advice would you give to new 7th graders on how to be successful in Mrs. Weber's class?"  This gives me good information to use at the start of the year last year.  For some reasons, students take the advice from other students better than what I suggest. (Even though it ends up being the same thing...Shhh!)

The end of the year is always a good time to reflect on your teaching and look to make changes, what better way to do that, than asking the students you've been working for all year?!?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Stepping Up My Final Game


I have been waiting to unveil the 8th Grade final to the students for at least the last two months.  I love their final project.  It has taken me years to develop, modify, and improve.  Last year was the best year yet.

This year is even better.  And I introduced part 1 today.

For the last three years, my 8th grade final has been a project that had an authentic audience.  I wanted something that would carry some real validity with it.  I had my students create infographics based on social studies standards and topics at the elementary level.  Those infographics would be given to the teachers to use as teaching tools in their classrooms.  The first year, we partnered with the 4th grade teachers.  I wrote a more detailed blog post on that HERE.

Last year I wanted to find a way to give the students some choice, so I offered them the chance to do one of the following...

  1. Create an Infographic for the elementary classrooms (this year 5th grade)
  2. Interview a U.S. Veteran and design a page for him/her in a Veteran Book we put out each year on November 11th.  
  3. Create a board game that could be used in the 5th grade classroom, over 5th grade topics.
This year I stepped it up even more!  Thanks to an AWESOME idea from, ROCK STAR TEACHER, Brent Wolf (@BrentWolf).  I borrowed stole adapted his idea of making students apply for classroom jobs to fit this project.  

I decided I wanted to incorporate some real life skills into this project.  (Remember, our job is to teach more than content...).  The first thing I did was give my projects "real world" career titles.  The students would have the choice of the following "job openings."
  1. Graphic Designer:  Creating the infographic (partnering with 3rd grade this year.)
  2. Journalist:  Interviewing a Veteran and creating his/her page for the book.
  3. Game Design Professional:  Creating a BreakoutEDU game based on social studies standards at the elementary level.  Game information will be given to the teachers and uploaded to the Breakout EDU website for teachers all across the world to have access to.  HOW COOL IS THIS! 
The next step is student choice.  Kind of.

They get to choose which job they want to apply for and then participate in an interview.

Yup. Apply and interview.

I created an application using google forms for each of my three job openings, including a "Wanted" add and a list of responsibilities and desired skills.  I put it all together on Google Slides and used Google Classroom to push it out to the students.

The application is legit.  Name, address, phone number, and then specific questions about the position itself.  Links for the applications I created are at the bottom of this post. (So keep reading...) 

Today in class they worked on filling out their applications, I will spend the next few days pulling kids for interviews while they work on finishing up their Civil War unit with my student teacher. During the interview, students will have to convince me that they are the person for the job.

Here's a little secret.  This is mostly to give students a glimpse of that "working world" they will soon be entering.  For the most part, the job that students interview for, they will get.  With one exception.  

The BreakoutEDU Game Design.  You see, I anticipated quite a few students wanting to do this one.  They have participate in breakout games in class and LOVE it.  However, on the flip-side of these Breakout games, designing one takes a lot of time, work, and content knowledge. 

So...essentially I have 12 spots open (four teams of 3) and the 39 students who applied for that position will have to prove to me in the interview that they are the person for the job.  27 students will not be offered that job, and must choose a different project to complete.

Real life.

This is what I love doing.  I didn't re-invent the wheel.  I took solid projects I had done before, added in an awesome idea from Brent Wolf, tweaked it until I was happy and we go!  

Want a copy of the Google Slides Presentation I used?  Click HERE

Want a copy of the application forms I used?  Click the titles below.

Seriously.  If you want to increase the "buy-in" of your students to the things you do in your classroom.  Design a project with an authentic audience.  The quality of work and the excitement of the students will increase beyond your expectations.  And then you can start to raise those expectations even more.  Win. Win. 

As always, feel free to steal, modify, and ask me any questions you may have!  Leave a comment or contact me via Twitter @JillWebs

Friday, March 31, 2017

Little Reminders that Make a BIG Difference

Sometimes, we as teachers forget that our job is to teach.

I'm not talking about content.  We never forget that our job is to teach content.

We sometimes forget that the job of teaching includes so much more than just content.

And when we are reminded it's like a smack in the face.

I was smacked in the face yesterday.

We have less than 38 days of school left this year, not counting weekends.  This means that we have had over 130 school days so far.  During the first week of school (125 weekdays ago) we discussed what "team work" or "team discussion" looked like in class.

Yesterday we were starting to work on one of our Zoom In on History lessons, which requires quite a bit of team work and discussion.  It was a rainy, dreary day and I figured the conditions would be perfect for some "half-asked" team work.  It was just a feeling that I had.  Something in the back of my brain, or deep in my gut told me that we needed to simply review what "teamwork" looks like. (What's Zoom-In?  Click here)

So here's what went down...

ME:  "Since you are to be working with your team members, what should I see and hear as I travel around the room?"

"that we are on-task"

ME:   "ok...but what does that look and sound like?"

Now they started to get a little more specific.

"We should be talking about the Boston Massacre."

"Everyone should be talking in the group, no one should be sitting back and not paying attention."

"We might be arguing about what the answer could be."

ME:  Ok...great.  What about body language?  What will your groups look like?

"We should be sitting up."

"Or leaning in to talk so everyone in the group can hear."

"Maybe we could sit on the floor so that it is more comfortable to sit and work."

Result: We had the best day of teamwork and discussion of the year so far!  Why?  Because we discussed what that would look and sound like, immediately before asking the students to participate. They were given clear expectations of what I would see and hear as I walked around.  I didn't have to nag kids to get back to work, groups worked at similar speeds and didn't get off-task until they were finished. (When I don't mind if they chit chat quietly while we wait for all groups to finished up before moving on.)  All of this happened because I took less than two minutes of my class time to remind the students what the task should look like. A small reminder, that made a BIG difference on our day.

I was reminded that my job is to teach more than the content of the Boston Massacre.  My job it to also teach kids how to work with others, how to participate in a discussion, and what that actually LOOKS and SOUNDS like.  Giving them specific examples made a world of difference.

I need to do this all the time and with more skills in the classroom.  When I think of how many times I just "assume" that students know what they are supposed to do and how it should look... I am doing too much assuming and not enough teaching.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Cooking up a Response!

Kahoot. Reality Show Inspiration. Hyperdocs. Weber Bucks. Historical Thinking. Creativity. Expensive Resources. Hashtags. Google Forms. Time Limit. Noisy.

This is my classroom on Tuesday.

On Monday night, the last evening of our three-day weekend, I realized that I still hadn't figured out what I was going to do in class on Tuesday.  Crap!  So I started brainstorming in my head as I sat on the couch surrounded by Candyland, a princess puzzle, and a 3-year-old chef who was bringing me "pancakes" she baked in her "kitchen."

Ah ha!...thanks for the idea little one! Food is always a good option.

I really would have liked to do Cutthroat History again, they LOVE that!

Or History Chef another good one, that I usually do with this topic of Indian Removal.

But they have to finish up something from last week at the start of class and I haven't gathered any supplies or materials in order to be even remotely prepared for either of those activities.  I need something where I don't have to get anything ready, that will make them work together and answer the essential question for the day.

Here's what I decided on.

"Cooking up a Response"

Once all the catch-up work from last week was completed.  Which included our first hyperdoc (I'll post about that later!) and a survey about their thoughts on the hyperdoc we prepared for a fun little review Kahoot game over Andrew Jackson's presidency.  There were 10 questions and it ended up being very easy (I will make it harder in the future).

At the end of the game, the teams would get their final score (usually 10,000-5,000 points).  I then awarded each team 100 Weber Bucks for every 1000 points.

I explained my inspiration for "Cooking up a Response," went over the rules, and reviewed our "Big Question"

What was the reasoning behind the Indian Removal Act and how did the people try to fight it?

And then I showed them the "price list."  **Cue the moaning and groaning about how expensive various objects were, while I smiled deviously**  I gave them one minute to come up with a plan of action and a shopping list.

Shop was "open for business" for the first 10 minutes of the work time.  After that business was closed and they had to make due with whatever they purchased.  Each class ended up with about 20-25 minutes.

When time was up, the presentations began.  A quick explanation of how they spent their "Bucks" and then how they decided to present the answer to our question.

Reflection: What went well.

  • Students loved it...even though I was worried they wouldn't be as "into it" as they have been with Cutthroat History and History Chef, but they still loved the challenge of limited items and having to make a plan based on the amount of money they earned.
  • I loved seeing the variety of ways students would answer the question.  I had written essays, skits, posters, Google Slides presentations, Spark videos, and debates. 
  • For the most part all students were engaged in the content and participating with their teams.
  • I had the students create a #  to describe the day...some of my favorites
    • #cookinguphistory
    • #presentingfacts
    • #lit
    • #WeberBucks
    • #notenoughmoney
    • #IndianRemoval
    • #SSROCKZ 

Reflections:  Stuff to fix.
  • I didn't do as great of a job teaching the content prior to this.  There were some presentations that included wrong information that I believe was due to lack of instruction.  I really needed a couple more days to make this topic more clear.
  • This technically ended our discussion on Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act because I have a student teacher taking over.  I would love for this to be practice for an assessment of some sort so I can see how each student understood the material. 
  • At the start of the day I thought it would be fun to require a specific type of presentation, but in the end I actually liked seeing the variety and allowing the teams to create their own.
  • Next time I do this, I will have the teams discuss a possible presentation BEFORE awarding them their money and giving the price list.  This would make the students have to adjust on the fly based on the amount of money they ended up with. 

All-in-all it was a great day!