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!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Short on time? Try a Mini-Breakout

A few posts ago, I wrote about BreakoutEDU and how cool it is for the classroom.  I just LOVE the concept and how it can combine collaboration, problem solving, and critical thinking with content. (Read that post here.)

But I get it.  Sometimes teachers don't have the time to sit down and plan or set up an entire breakout that's going to take a majority of the class period (if not a couple days depending on time and post-breakout discussion.).  And sometimes it's just plain over-whelming.  Too much to think about during the precious few minutes of plan time.

Today I scaled it back.  Instead of creating a game filled with a variety of locks and clues, I used just one.  One lock, one locked box, with one "puzzle" to solve.

I really had no real idea how it would go.  I decided to try it on my HS class of future teachers. (Read about my Teaching as a Career Class here).  I have told them many times this year...since it is the first year for the program...that they are my guinea pigs.  This time, I was testing out how a Mini-Breakout would work to teach new vocabulary terms.

It was awesome!

Here's what I did.

I selected four of the most difficult vocabulary words on our next topic and  used a basic "Frayer Model" type of vocabulary template.  Word. Definition. Example. Image.  I filled in all areas of the chart with correct information. I did this for each word giving me a total of four Frayer model vocabulary cubes.

I then went to work making my QR codes.  Using Google Docs and a free QR code generator I created the link the code would take the students to, looking something like this...

Whoop Whoop!

I created a separate one for each word, each with a different number.

I placed the QR Code in the center of the Frayer Model square, printed off the four vocabulary cards and cut them into four separate pieces.

An example of one of cards I made. I had a total of 4.

Shuffle the pieces all together.

Now the fun part.  I placed a 4 digit lock on a small lock box (anything that locks would work here...even a zipper pouch with at least two zips in order to lock it.)  Wrote the words "Alphabetical Order" on the board as a clue... some saw that right away, others had to be directed.

When class started students were randomly placed at a table which had the lock box and set of cards. We briefly reviewed the Frayer Model and reminded them that each block of 4 cards would include a word, definition, example and image.

I smiled, told them that this would be MUCH MORE FUN than copying down definitions on a worksheet, and told them to begin.

That's it, no other instruction on what to do and how to figure it out.  I just let them go and attempt to work with their partner to figure it out.  Some groups knew what to do right away, while others had to practice a little "growth mindset" before realizing what they needed to do.

Eventually all groups had it figured out.  If all four squares were correctly put together, the QR code would take them to a number for that word.  If you put all the words (with their numbers) in alphabetical order you would have the correct 4 digit combination to get into the locked box.

Success!  This "trial run" on my high school class told me that I don't have to spend hours pouring over clues and locks and content to create something fun and engaging in class.  This is definitely something I will do again with my middle school classes.  It took me one day to pull it all together.  Definitely time worth spent!

***My HS students have had experience with Breakout EDU and understand the basic idea behind using QR codes and trying to figure out how to break into a locked box.  If your class hasn't ever done anything like this before, you may need to give more instruction than I did.

Seriously...Stop Talking!

Let me know if you've heard this before...

"My students just will not read instructions. Ugh...they should be able to do that by now."
"These kids are soooo needy.  They are driving me crazy with all their questions." 
"How come these student won't just try to problem solve and try to figure something out on their own?" 
"I gave those instructions five times is that you haven't heard me?" 
"I cannot get those kids to work together.  They just won't listen to each other."

If you're a teacher (or a student) you have probably said and heard a variation of the above statements multiple times. And as a teacher it is extremely frustrating to say something and have to repeat yourself time and time again.  I have a solution for you.

Stop talking.


By the time students have entered middle school they have become experts at toning out the teacher's voice and thinking about whatever is interesting.  They know how to play the game of group work and do only what it necessary.  And they know that teachers with an apologetic smile they can get a teacher to repeat the instructions again.

Kids are smarter than we give them credit for...

Kids are smarter than they think they are.


So make them.  Remove yourself from the tedious work of "reading instructions."  Give it to them, tell them to read it with their teams, collaborate with others if they don't understand, and figure things out if they get stuck.  Remove the temptation.  Tape your mouth shut!

It is AMAZING what they will do on their own, when they don't have you to tell them.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Zoom In to History - Lesson for Students...and Teachers!

About 3 years ago I was first introduced to a new web program called Zoom In.  They were financed by the Bill and Linda Gates Foundation and were trying to create an online platform to help students use historical thinking skills, and help teachers learn how to best instruct these skills.  Because, let's face it.  Most of us were NOT taught this way, and most of us were not instructed on HOW to teach this way.

For me it was love at first sight.

And then I got the bad news.  The program wasn't completely iPad friendly, and we are 1:1 iPads.

But I was too much in love with this idea to just let it go.  So I did what I do best...I changed it up to fit the needs of my classroom. (What I would later find out is just what the creators of Zoom-In wanted me to do.) For this post I will be detailing what I did with the Zoom-In lesson over Lowell Mill Girls.  I will also provide a link to a Google Doc that has everything I did to make this paper/pencil or iPad friendly lesson.

Here's how it works.

Each lesson has an essential question and is divided into the following sections:

  1. The Hook
  2. Context Information
  3. Document Analysis
  4. Deeper Thinking Discussion
  5. Making Connections
  6. Written Response
Lowell Mill Girls:  This is the first Zoom-In on History lesson we will do for the year, so I will spend more time going through each of the different sections listed.  Eventually we are able to get to where I only participate in the discussions and they are able to do the rest independently.

The Essential Question
I take some time to break down the question and make sure the students know exactly what we are trying to answer.  Once they "get it" I show this quick video for some brief background knowledge (and the video plays the "unremitting clatter" noise that is talked about in the "Hook" activity.)

Students are placed in "Zoom-In" teams and given a folder which has all the materials they will need for this unit (a bunch of work to set up ahead of time, but saves valuable time later).

The Hook:
In their teams, students read and discuss the two quotes mentioned on this page.  We discuss the differences in the two opinions of working in the mills, identify any vocabulary we don't understand and start to see that there were some very different view about the opportunities for women and the hardships they encountered.

Setting up some background information.  I converted the activity from the website into a PowerPoint which share with the students.  They go through with their teams reading the slide, answering questions, and are prepared to discuss with the class.  **I do not read the slides to them. This is done in their teams.***  We then go through what they came up with on their slides and make sure they all understand. 

Document Analysis:  
Again, these are taken directly from the Zoom-In website.  I copied the documents and sourcing information into a Word document and then saved it as a PDF.  This allows my students to be able to open it in various apps on their iPads so they can highlight important information in the text to use later.  Students work in their teams to complete the document analysis form.  **This may seem like tedious worksheets, but it does help them to understand the document and start to pull out important details that will be used later to help form their opinion and in their written response.

Deeper Thinking Discussion: 
During this time I take specific questions that I want to go over, and use the teacher manual that comes with each Zoom-In lesson on their site. (Seriously...they have created such an awesome resource for teachers to instruct historical thinking).  We usually play some sort of Kagan game in order to make sure students have grasped the concepts of each document and the context of the time period.  My favorite is Numbered Heads Together.  I don't want this to take too long, just a quick over-view before they begin working on their own.

**Up until this time kids have been working in their Zoom-In teams.  I don't do much in the area of grading for the first three exercizes.  That was all team work, discussed in class, and not something I want to spend hours upon hours grading.  I usually take some sort of "completion" grade.  The bigger scores come next (and are worth my time grading) because the next activities are done individually.  This is where they prove to me what they know and can do.

Making Connections:
Here the students start to organize all the information they have learned about life as a Lowell Mill girl.  This "sets the stage" for their written response, which comes next.

Written Response:
Students now answer the essential question in written form.  The website actually walks them through step-by-step how to write a 3-5 paragraph essay, depending on the type of essential question.  Unfortunately, I just don't have the time for that in class, so my students usually need to respond with one or two paragraphs.  I always have a rubric for them to use (and to make grading SO MUCH EASIER).

And there you have it.  The first "Zoom In on History" lesson that I do with my 8th graders for the year.  We will do 3-5 more depending on time available within the year.  I have modified five of the lessons from the website to this version.
  1. Lowell Mill Girls
  2. Conflict of Nations - Indian Removal Act
  3. Underground Railroad (my personal favorite)
  4. Lincoln and Emancipation
  5. African American Soldiers during the Civil War
I don't always require a "written response" to answer the essential question.  Sometimes we do an interactive game such as Cut-Throat History or History Chef, or we might do some sort of technology integrated presentation.  

Want to check out Zoom-In site.  Cool Stuff and many more lessons to choose from!  Click Here

Want the materials to this lesson that I have modified?  Click HERE

Want more?  Contact me via Twitter @JillWebs or leave a comment!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

BreakoutEDU and the Serious Awesomeness it Brings to my Classroom!

I have stumbled onto a recent passion in education these last few years.

Putting more FUN into the everyday content that I teach.  This includes but is not limited to...
  • Using Kagan Cooperative Learning strategies to get kids up and moving.
  • Replacing lectures and worksheets with more active forms of learning in which students are still able to grasp an idea of the content.
  • Using reality TV shows to force students to be creative with historic content.
  • Find technology programs, apps, and games to transform the history into something else.
  • Creating projects that have more student voice and choice.
Basically I'm stealing anything that is fun, challenging, or different in order to make my classroom more "student-friendly."

Don't let that fool you.  There are still traditional days in here, but to give you an example.  My 8th graders will have listened to a grand total 6 lectures (all 20 minutes or less) the entire first semester. This number is down from approximately 15-20 just 3 years ago.  The cool part is, my kids are still learning the material without the seated, note-taking format.

And then last year I encountered my first "breakout" experience.

Breakout EDU comes from the "escape room" concepts in which a group of people are locked into a room and have to use a variety of clues and puzzles hidden throughout the room in order to escape. These are very popular forms of entertainment in cities throughout the country.  By participating in an escape room activity the participants use a variety of skills such as collaboration, problem solving, creativity, and perseverance.  All great "buzz" words in education today...and the workforce!

Bringing these skills into the classroom is as simple as locking a box.  That's about where the word "simple" ceases to exist.  The box is locked with many different lock options and the keys or combinations to the locks can only be found through solving a series of content related clues throughout the room.

Without a doubt one of the most fun ways to embed content into those "buzz word" type skills that can be hard (if not impossible) to teach in a traditional classroom.

The website houses over 250 already pre-made games that range from general team building to high school algebra, small group and large group games, even games for adults as well as the little ones in elementary school. (Click here for BreakoutEDU site)

I have now ran all of my classes through a breakout game.  Two of them have been made specifically by me.  I created a breakout on the Executive Branch to kick off our election unit.  My 8th graders loved it and are constantly asking to do another one.  My 7th grade breakout was created over Bleeding Kansas.  This could easily be adapted for a "Causes of the Civil War" Breakout and I'm sharing that here.  Feel free to try it out!

I now see the world completely different.  Everything is a potential puzzle, lock, or clue that could somehow be used to help engage kids in my classroom.   And as much as I love using it to help jazz up class, it's nothing compared to how excited the students get when they know a breakout is coming!