Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Perfect Teachers; There Are None

I once had a lesson that I titled "Constitutional Scavenger Hunt." I had a list of questions, all of which could be answered from looking in the constitution. I didn't want students to just Google the answer so I also wanted them to tell me what Article and Section number the answer was found in. In order to try and SPICE it up a little, I placed the question in random places around the school, created a map and sent my students on their way.

Sounds good?

Nope. It was awful.

I forgot to take into account how BIG the constitution is, and how hard it would be for 8th graders to locate a specific answer, when their background knowledge on the subject is was very little (this was the start of our Constitutional unit).

I also sent them around the school with copies of the constitution located in the back of a textbook. Talk about awkward. Book, worksheet, pencil, clipboard, and locating random questions throughout the school.

They hated it.

They let me know they hated it.

I hated it.

This was just this last month.

I just finished up with one of the busiest months of my teaching career to date. I presented multiple times at a couple difference conferences and workshops, parent teacher conferences, huge 8th grade project that involved outside guests serving as judges, and that's just the work side of October and November. It doesn't even begin to count the birthdays (2), holidays, and mountains of laundry that sat unfolded in my bedroom.

I love it all.

I love presenting. I love teaching. I love my family. I love blogging about it and connecting with other teachers though social media or face-to-face. But there is a danger in all of that. I present on the things that are going well in my classroom. Strategies that I use to SPICE up your classroom and increase student engagement. And I do it all hoping to show the passion and drive I have for teaching.

But, I don't want to send out this notion that I'm a perfect teacher. That I have 100% engagement, no student/parent issues, and that I don't struggle with my own intensity from time to time.

Because it's not true.

There are no perfect teachers. There are no perfect strategies for the classroom. There isn't a teacher out there who doesn't have a bad day, week, or month and question whether or now he or she should continue in the profession.

The difference is, what do you do on those types of days, and what are you doing to continually improve.  I am WELL aware that the Constitutional Scavenger Hunt was a dud. I reflect (honestly) on my lessons, ask students for feedback, and know that I'm gonna have to either make some MAJOR changes to that lesson, or toss it completely.

As teachers, we should always be looking for ways to improve our lessons. Always be searching out the next best thing, and always be looking to collaborate with other's to gain good ideas. Trying to make our classrooms better.

And no matter how good things are going, no matter how great we may be...there's always room to improve!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Taking Risks: 8th Grade Congressional Hearing Simulations

This is NOT meant to be easy. It is meant to CHALLENGE you. 

Because when you are CHALLENGED you discover talents you never knew you had. You learn what AMAZING things you are capable of. 

If it was easy...we wouldn't be spending out time on it. 

I probably said this everyday for the last two weeks to my 8th graders. We were all embarking on something new. Something we were a little unsure of how it would look on the final day. And it was going to challenge us all.

This year, I decided to leap forward and attempt the "We the People Congressional Hearing Simulation" project.

I was first exposed to this, last year when I was asked to sit as a "Constitutional Expert" judge for the Seniors of Halstead High School who were preparing for their congressional hearings. I was BLOWN AWAY.  The level of constitutional knowledge the students portrayed really impressed me. I decided, that day, that I needed to do something like this with my 8th graders.

Luckily the materials for "We the People" have a middle school section with topic questions that are more on the 8th grade level. (But still above what my students are used to when we study the Constitution.)

Here are a couple of examples of some of the questions:

The very first amendment, added to the Constitution in 1791, contains guarantees freedom of religion.

  • Why did the Founders think freedom of religion was so important?
  • Explain the difference between establishment and free exercise clauses.
  • Do you think limitations should ever be placed on the free exercise of one's religious beliefs? Explain your answer.

Voting is one way a citizen may participate in politics. Many other activities are possible.

  • What activities besides voting are available to citizens?
  • Which of these activities, if any, do you think is the most useful? Explain your answer.
  • How should a citizen decide which of these activities to participate in?


I ordered a set of 10 of the We the People textbooks. I'm not a big user of textbooks, but at the right time they can be a very valuable tool. This is one of those times. I could have my students go out into the world of the internet to research their questions, but I wanted something that they would know would be accurate and written at an 8th grade level. Many reputable websites out there would help answer the questions, but the level of vocabulary would be enough above the majority of my students that they wouldn't understand the material.

Understanding is key.

I divided my classes into teams of three or four students and each group was given a topic and question. Their job was to research and prepare a statement response to their assigned topic/question. I required each team to combine their efforts to write (at least) a 5 paragraph essay. Then they would have to present their answer to a team of constitutional experts who would also ask follow-up questions. Teams would be "under fire" for 10 minutes.

We spent four class periods researching and working on the essay. I gave them a graphic organizer to help plan and write their essay. I'm not an English teacher, so I struggle to tell them the proper way to write a large essay with a solid thesis statement and conclusion. I looked to graphic organizers to help guide the kids along.

On the 5th day, students were given the chance for a "soft deadline."  The soft deadline is something I stole from my work with PBL. This gives students the chance to practice their presentation for valuable feedback before the final due date. I have come to feel that the soft deadline is the best thing for my students when we do large projects for and extended time. The result of the practice and feedback is ALWAYS a better product than before.

Students met with my principal, high school student intern, and the high school social studies teachers for their soft deadline.  This was the final day to prepare for the big presentation with our team of constitutional experts.

Making things REAL. I have worked to make any project my students do have a "real" audience. They take it more seriously and produce higher quality work when they know the work has an audience other than me.

My Constitutional Experts:
Our state Senator: Dan Kerschen
Our local mayor: Linda Ball
High School Social Studies teachers: T.J. Warsnak and Derek Schutte


It doesn't get anymore real that that!

The Congressional Hearing:
The 8th graders showed up that day dressed and ready to impress! And impress they did. I was so proud of how well they did on stage. Sure, there were some groups that did better than others, there were content errors mentioned, and there were times when they couldn't answer some of those tough questions from the committee. But they did a GREAT job overall. They were poised, professional, and surprised themselves with what they were capable of doing.




That's what I wanted. I wanted them outside those comfort zones, challenged in ways they hadn't been challenged before, so they can see that THEY CAN DO THINGS LIKE THAT! Even after it was all over, they admitted that they were proud of what they did and even had fun!

Reflections:

  • I loved the LEVEL of content my students had to deal with. I LOVED that it was difficult for them and they had to find ways to understand it. 
  • As always with group projects, there were some teams that didn't divide the work evenly. My future idea is to have each team member write the essay on their own and then combine the best of each essay. I had this down in my original requirements for each team, but we ran short of time due to a schedule conflict so I had to change it up a bit. 
  • I loved having our state lawmaker and local mayor on my team of experts. It is amazing to me who is willing to participate in classroom activities when teachers reach out and ASK. 
  • I really think this would be an awesome cross-curricular activity to pair up with the ELA teacher, the difficult part with that is timing. Definitely something to consider for the future.
  • I loved taking it to the auditorium. My future goal is to have it held down at City Hall, but this would involve the cooperation of the other teachers in the building, to adjust the schedule so that students would and could be late to classes. Definitely something I think we could discuss.

Whenever I try something BIG that's new, I know that its a risk. There's a chance we could fall flat or not work out in my head the way I see it in my imagination. But more times than not, it is worth it! Taking risks inside the classroom, forcing myself and my students OUTSIDE THAT COMFORT ZONE, yields some amazing results over and over again!




Curious about "We the People"? Click HERE

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Why I "Dress it Up"

I have been known to walk down the hallways of my school, before class, in scrubs, surgical hat, and gloves.


I have also paraded myself around in full-chef-gear. (Thanks to our culinary arts department).


I have a replica Indiana Jones hat. I wear it. Strutting through the hallway.


But WHY???

Curiosity.  Anticipation.  Excitement!

You see, while I'm walking through the halls, interacting with students I am creating a buzz. Students from all over the halls want to come and get a look at Mrs. Weber all done up. I start getting questions from the kids who'll show up in my classroom that day.

What's going on today? 
Oh...we must be doing something fun! Look at Mrs. Weber? 
Yes! I can't wait to come to class.

And then there's also the students who have me as a teacher, but aren't scheduled to see me that day. Those conversations are fun too...

Why can't I have you today? 
What are you doing? 
Is today social studies day...awww man, I wish it was our day to have your class.  
Will you do this activity with us too...pppppllllleeeeeaaaaaassssseee? - Keep in mind, they have no idea what the activity is or what students will be required to do.

The next set of comments come from the 6th grade students. These are probably my favorite. You see, I don't have 6th graders. But my get-up gets them curious about who I am and what goes on when my classroom door closes.

What do you teach again? I can't wait until I have your class. 
Can I come to 7th grade today?

You see. Because of my outfit, I have kids in our school who won't have me for at least a year, excited about my class. This way, they know, when they walk into my classroom as 7th graders it's going to be different. I am building a reputation just by putting on a silly hat and gloves.

We are always advertising.

Think about it. What are you doing to promote your class?

Even if you sit in your room with your door closed, you're advertising. You may just not realize it.

But, Mrs. Weber...it's not in my personality to do stuff like this.

I get it. Really, I do. For years I thought the exact same way. I'm not "outgoing like that" or "I just can't act goofy...I'm too shy." But then I started to take a look at my classroom and the things I was asking my students to do. I was asking them to STEP OUTSIDE THEIR COMFORT ZONE all the time. So why shouldn't I?

You won't discover what talent you have outside your comfort zone if you never venture out there.

There are many ways to pump up excitement about our classes. Occasionally dressing up when the activity supports it is my way. :) 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Kansas Historical Society and Traveling Trunks

I love to use artifacts.

Some are actual, real artifacts that have been purchased through eBay, acquired at workshops or conferences, or passed down. Some are replicas, but look and feel like the real thing. Some are photocopies (letters, diaries, etc...).  I loving being able to put something from history into the hands of my students. It's amazing. That one arrowhead can hook their attention and help them engage in the lesson better than any other teaching technique I use.

Kids love to "do history."

One of my favorite lessons I have involves the students studying artifacts, sourcing, contextualizing, and corroborating, before finally making a claim (close reading) as to what these artifacts all have in common. What they all mean.



Here is my lesson in detail.

The Hook: 
I ask my class..."What are the things we have to have in order to survive?" I have them brainstorm with their teams what (four things) we need to live. After about two minutes we share out. They are good at this. I think they talk about it in science the year before, so we get them down in no problem. I have them copy it on their page in their HIT Book (Click here to read about my Historian's In Training Interactive Book).



Then I have them brainstorm a list of supplies they would need in order to fulfill those needs. This takes a little longer, but again, they are pretty smart and their lists are excellent. Together we make a large combined list on the board. They add things they didn't think of to their lists in their HIT books.

I ask..."Today, where would you go to get all of these supplies?"

They throw out different store names, but eventually it comes out that they could really get all the things they need to survive at Walmart. Sometimes a debate ensues between Walmart and Target, but that's not really the point.

Artifact Analysis:
I now explain that we are going to study some artifacts. I have 6 different stations and an analysis chart. The chart allows them to source and corroborate at one time. I ask them to simply sketch their artifact, describe the physical characteristics, and then infer what it is and could be used for.  Students already know that we are studying Native Americans, that helps them put all of this in context. They are able to look at the artifacts knowing that the time period revolves around Indians.

In teams the students move from artifact to artifact, interacting with each item. Some are easier than others to guess, and some are a little gross.

I am constantly amazed by the conversations that I overhear as I walk around.
Look at this part, it's sharp, but it probably isn't used as a weapon since they had arrowheads.


Ok! See this right here...there's little grooves. I bet this was used to take meat off of the skin. If you look at the hide closely there's little grooves in it.


This thing is gross. I don't want to touch it. Oh...but it's like plastic. Maybe they used it to carry water. I hope it's not what I think it is...



Class Discussion
When the analysis is all done and we're all back together, students have sourced, corroborated, and thought about these items in context. This leads them to make the claim that these are all parts of the buffalo used by early Native Americans. (See...thinking like a historian all class period!)

They are right, and now I get to tell them what each item actual is and what it was used for. They ohh and ahh when they find out something new, and they cheer when they were right. This year I had two boys who guessed correctly what the flesher and awl was. That has never happened before! Not gonna lie...they kinda stole my thunder. (I make a big deal about it... I am THRILLED for them). It's fun to let kids have the joy of impressing the teacher.



Our discussion ends by revisiting that question we talked about during the hook. If you lived as an early Native American, where would you go to get all the supplies in order to fulfill your basic needs to survive.

The answer is, the bison.

The bison was their Wal-Mart.

Such a great day...plus. I get to watch their faces when they realized they have all touched a buffalo bladder.

Resources.
This lesson is made possible because of the awesomeness that is the Kansas State Historical Society. They LOVE to provide teachers with resources that help make history come alive. Their traveling trunk program allows for teachers to rent out artifacts, complete with lesson plans and other primary source resources for a reasonable cost.

$30.00 to rent out and pay for shipping to return the trunk. All in all, I pay about 60$ when I borrow a trunk.  If I was ever going to be in or around Topeka when the trunk was due back, I could always drop it off and save the mailing cost.

Depending on who you are and what your situation is at your school this cost may seem small or too large.  I pay for the trunk, I could probably ask my school to do it, and some years they might. I keep my receipts and claim it as part of my $250 deductible for being a teacher. I try to make sure when I spend money on my classroom it's going to be something that will make my lessons better. Usually it's spent on tech items like mice and headphones, or these traveling trunks. Think about what you spend your money on for your classroom. Is it going to enhance the learning, or is it going to provide a reward for compliance (candy, prizes, etc...)?

The KS Historical Society has a variety of trunk options to choose from...Including



If you've ever thought about how fun it would be to let your students get their hands on some pretty cool artifacts, give these trunks a try. Your kids will thank you!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

My Blogging Story

This Monday night at 8:00 CST 

I have the pleasure of leading the #ksedchat Twitter chat. Our topic for the night will be teacher's blogging. Within the last year I have had more and more teachers approach me with that subject and want to know more. I figured the topic would be fitting. 

I also thought it would be fitting to write a post about how it all started for me, and the changes that have taken place since then. 

In the Beginning...

I didn't take a class on blogging. I didn't learn how to write a specific way to blog. I simply read blogs. My cousin, Casey, wrote a blog about her family. Stories here and there that allowed us to follow their lives and feel connected even though it would be months (sometimes years) that would pass before we would be able to get together. 

I decided to do that too. I chose the exact same program that she used, Google's Blogger. It was free and relatively easy to setup. 

After four years of blogging about my personal life, dating, to engaged, to married, and babies. I decided that this could be beneficial for the classroom.

So I added another blog. This time one about my classroom.

My Audience...

Initially I started my classroom blog as a way for me to reflect about my day, but also share with parents of our community what was happening in my classroom. That was it. I wasn't anticipating large numbers of readers, just parents and students of our area. 

But as time went on, my audience started to shift. As more and more teachers started taking notice and commenting on posts about lessons or activities, my writing started to change a bit. 

I was now writing for educators.  I still shared the blog with parents, but the majority of my readers were other teachers. Today I am contacted by more teachers for materials and lessons and collaboration than I ever thought was possible. I love it. I love making connections with other educators, sharing resources and collaborating to make our classrooms better for kids.

Getting Started...

I am not an expert in blogging. I can't tell you step-by-step how to create a blog or what to write about. All I did was open up a free blog and started clicking. 

I think many people I talk to are worried about that part. The technical stuff. How did you do all the backgrounds, fonts, colors, pictures, etc... I seriously just clicked buttons until I liked what I saw. If I saw something cool on someone else's blog that I wanted to try, I Googled it.

Monday Night at 8:00

Join us at #ksedchat to talk about teacher blogging. We'll look into the benefits and possible pitfalls to writing a blog, and share some resources or favorite blogs we like to read. 


Resources:

If you're hoping to get step-by-step instructions on setting up a blog, I'm probably not the person you want to talk to. There are blogs out there just for stuff like that. Remember...I just started clicking around until I liked it.  Never be afraid of clicking to learn. There's not much online now-a-days that can't be changed with a "delete" or "undo."  You can also refer to these links for some set-up help and advice.




Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Classroom Seating: Increasing Movement, Collaboration, and Easing Prep

IF you're reading this blog post, chances are you're pretty up-to-date with education today and some of the new things that are happening in the classrooms.

One of those is Flexible Seating.

My classroom does not have flexible seating. While I love the theory behind it, and I hope that my own children get to experience a classroom with flexible seating at some point in their education, it just doesn't work for my classroom.

And that's ok. What I have works for me. So I thought I'd share, cause it may work for you too!

One of the reasons we don't do flexible seating in my room is that we move around a lot. A set seating chart gets us started for the day, and many times we move from there. I have finally figured out a system of being able to quickly and easily move students from one place to another.

Each table group is given a colored label. On the label is a letter and a number. So now, each group can be identified by a color, number, and letter.  I hang signs from the ceiling...so much smarter than taping it to the desk like I used to do. Drove me crazy when kids picked at it. Now they can't :)  I then created cards out of construction paper and labeled them with a number and letter.




This allows me to quickly and easily get students into random groups all by handing them a simple card either as they walk in the door in the morning or as they are sitting quietly working on Bell Work. Then I just simply say....

"Move to your color group to play a vocab game over the terms from the Civil War."
"Move to number groups to read this diary entry from a soldier in the Civil War."
"Now to letter groups to create an acrostic poem with the word ABOLITIONIST"

Three quick movements, and the students have all the need for it with one card they get at the beginning of class.  TEACHER BONUS...I can "set up" at least one group by placing the cards of one specific letter or number at the bottom of the pile. I slyly pass out the cards from the bottom of the pile to students I have selected to be in a specific group and the students just think it's "random." What they don't know won't hurt them...but many times it helps them! :)

I have also split the class into two large groups for a competition review game by passing out the cards and having all the evens on one team and odds on another.  I try to vary when and what I do with the cards to keep the kids guessing. I have even been known to pass them out and then do nothing with them!

So many possibilities with colors, letters, and numbers.

Monday, September 4, 2017

HyperDocs - A Game Changer!

I have mentioned before that I have been on a quest the last few years to find ways other than lecture or direct teacher instruction to present new information to my students.  I have tapped back into the Kagan strategies, played with gummy bears, had my students dig for artifacts, and operated on Preamble Pete.  These have all been great additions to my classroom.

Last year I stumbled onto another strategy that I have been obsessing about, if I had time to obsess about something new...

I have, once again, gained another powerful tool to add to my "teacher bag of tricks" from getting together with other Social Studies teachers at our Social Studies Study Group, which meets four times a year.  The room is just filled with awesome ideas from amazing teachers.  Two of those rock star educators are Derek Schutte (@coachschutte) and T.J. Warsnak (@thewarsnak).  They teach at Halstead High School and do some pretty powerful things in order to increase student engagement in their classrooms.

One of those is Hyperdocs.

T.J. and Derek presented their use of Hyperdocs to the group back in February.  Needless to say, I was hooked.  (Which just happens to be part of using hyperdocs.)

What is a hyperdoc?  Google Teacher Academic says:
Hyperdoc is a term used to describe a Google Doc that contains an innovative lesson for students- a 21st Century worksheet, but much better. ... With one shortened link, students can access a lesson that contains instructions, links, tasks, and many clever ways to get kids thinking.
I like to think of it as the extreme makeover of a digital worksheet.  Improving on it so much, that it's not even worthy of the name "worksheet."  You see, a quick search for "how to create a hyperdoc" can tell you that the goal is to make this MORE than just a worksheet.

We are looking at trying to find ways to use technology beyond the simple "substitution" method. Don't get me wrong...I still use substitution type tech with my kids, but I try to limit it. I want the technology the ENHANCE the lesson or make it better, not just scan a worksheet and have kids complete it online just to say I'm "using technology." But sometimes it happens. Sub days are a prime example. Or at least it use to. Until Derek and T.J. introduced me to hyperdocs. I knew I wanted to try it and wanted some guidance. I found this very helpful site with some templates for creating Hyperdocs. That site is HERE and the template I used is pictured below.


Hyperdocs can be created in any of the Google Suite programs, however my favorite it Google Slides. By using Google Classroom I can push this out to my students so that each one gets his/her own copy. Students each complete their own Hyperdoc by editing the document directly, then turn it in via Classroom. So awesome!

BONUS...while they are working on it, you can use the edit and chat tools of Google and give immediate feedback to students. (It freaked my HS students out the first time I did that...I was away at a workshop and "stalking them" as it was so kindly put to me)

This is an example of one I did for my high school Teaching as a Career Class. I was going to be gone, but didn't want to give "busy work." Our next topic was classroom management and I decided to try out the Hyperdoc on the HS kids. They were the guinea pigs :)












You'll notice that I attempted to color-code the document similar to the template. I did this more for me as I was creating it try and hit all of the items in the template.  As you can see I didn't. I've never been good at doing things a "specific way."  I think the important thing is that I give students choices both in their research options, but also in their application. Then I have them create something in the end that can be published, printed, and shared. BONUS...they learned a new tech program Piktochart for creating cool infographics. (I had many of them tell me that they LOVE it and used it for other classes as well... #TeacherWin)

Want a copy of that Hyperdoc?  Click HERE

But Mrs. Weber...that's A LOT of work! How do you have time for all of that???

First of all. Anything worth doing right, is worth the time to put into it!

Second, don't reinvent the wheel. Take a worksheet you already use for gathering information, trim and cut a little, provide trusting websites and videos for students to use to gather data and information. Then find a cool tech website you want to try, something student friendly with self-guided tours and tutorials on YouTube (seriously...the kids can watch a video to learn how to apply make-up or create slime, then they can watch a video to show them how to use Adobe Spark Video). Put learning into the students hands.  BONUS...they will collaborate when they have questions!

With Hyperdocs you can provide student choice, create an atmosphere for student collaboration, showcase student work, and make them independent learners.

Sounds like a #TeacherWIN to me!

Want some more ideas for Hyperdocs already created??? Check out this site. (Warning, there are TONS of examples here and it can be overwhelming, but you can find something on a topic you want, it can give you a start).

Happy Hyperdocing!