Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Classroom Christmas Card

Every year in the mail I receive letter after letter, picture after picture, from family and friends telling me how the last year has gone.  I thought this would be a good idea for a blog post about my classroom.  I am sure parents would be interested in our year so far.  (Count yourselves lucky...I didn't even do one of these for my OWN family!)

The school year is off to a great start.  Mrs. Weber came back in August after having 5 WONDERFUL months off for maternity leave.  The transition back to school was challenging, but she finally settled into a routine of managing life at home with life at school.  It definitely was nice to be back among the middle schoolers again!

Things in Mrs. Weber's classroom took a drastic change.  After 6 years of teaching and having the classroom set up a certain way, it was time for a new look.  Student groups took a new arrangement (you won't believe how LONG that took...Mrs Weber can be kind of particular), the teacher's desk moved to a new corner, and the projector is now shining it's light on a brand new Smart Board.  Figuring out the Smart Board is a slow but fun process.

Speaking of figuring things out...there are many new things with technology creeping up in the classroom.  Mrs. Weber is utilizing her iPad with the students more and more, and wishing she had more for the students to use...Santa???

Mrs. Weber has also started using a new website called Edmodo.  Edmodo allows for her to post assignments, presentations, and student collaboration outside of class.  The 7th graders were VERY excited for Edmodo, thinking it was "Facebook for the classroom."  However, Mrs. Weber is confident that the new "cool" factor about the website will go away as soon as the students start to realize that they have to do WORK.  The use of websites and technology is something that is being integrated throughout the district, so more and more teachers will be using these methods. 

The 8th grade came in to class ready to pick up where they left off last year.  Small in number, but tons of fun, the 8th grade have been working hard learning about the U.S. Constitution.  We even took a break for a mini-unit on the election.  You might have had some rousing conversations with your son or daughter on political topics.  Liberal or Conservative????  The 8th graders will be continuing on with their study of American History after the Christmas Break.  Mrs. Weber is relaxing on her time schedule since the 8th graders will not take the Social Studies State Assessment this year.  She will be incorporating strategies from the Common Core Standards and getting a head start on creating lessons that will follow the new Social Studies State Standards set to be released next school year.  These standards will require the student to think like Historians, back up their answers with evidence from different text sources, and analyzing primary sources.  Be prepared...all subjects will be making these changes in the future!

The 7th graders have already been incorporating these new techniques and are already familiar with the process.  Their tests have changed from regurgitating multiple choice facts to open-ended questions over primary sources.  Mrs. Weber is happy with the results of the tests and is excited to see what growth will come from this new way of teaching.  7th graders will continue with their study of Kansas History in January by talking about homesteaders and the adaptations settlers made who lived in Western Kansas which had few trees and little water. 

All-in-all it has been a great first semester, and Mrs. Weber is looking forward to seeing what her students will create next!  As she says every year, after Christmas Break the school year is on a very fast slide to summer break, and there is still much work to be done!  Stay tuned for more exciting news from "The Web."


Friday, December 14, 2012

The "Giving" Season

No matter what profession you have, the last few weeks of work before Christmas can be a tough time to concentrate.  But, working as a teacher means trying to force a classroom full of sugar-soaked kids to pay attention and stay focused on the lesson. 

If you're not a teacher, you don't understand. Period.

You can try to say that your own kids are crazy at this time of year, but those are your kids. You can duct tape them to a chair if you have to.  (OK, probably not a wise move, but parents have more options for dealing with a rambunctious child than teachers do).

I have always been a big believer in keeping the kids working and focused until the last minute of class.  My focus always involved a test over our economics unit. 

But this year I wanted a different kind of work.

I decided that I was in the giving mood.  Or lack of giving...

Meaning, I didn't feel like "giving" a test to my 8th graders on their last day of school before the break.

(That's what is great about being the teacher.  I can make those kinds of fun decisions.)

Instead I decided to bring back one of my all time favorite activities/assignments that I had to cut the last few years due to testing.  (More on that later...)

I love political cartoons!  I love teaching kids about political cartoons.  I used to do so much with them, and I want to get back to that.  Using humor to teach is a very powerful weapon!  My assignment involves learning about different types of political cartoons and then requiring the students to create one of their own.  I put the student cartoons on display and they ALWAYS turn out great!  I've even done contests where other teachers vote on their favorites and give out prizes.

The kids enjoy it, I enjoy it, and parents enjoy seeing them at conferences in the spring (I do leave them on display for a really long time...).

Stay tuned after the New Year for pictures of some of my favorites!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


For the record.  I am on board with any technological changes that come our way.  It is the future of education and I will be involved in the education system for another 25-30 years.  I have to be on board with it. 

However, today was frustrating.

The majority of my lesson today involved the kids using technology.  Laptops, mobile devices, and websites. 

There were problems.

Problems with websites.

Problems with email.

Problems with computers.

Phone calls to tech support of various websites, on hold much of the time.  When I finally get an actual person...she transfers me.  Voice-mail.  Lovely.

This wouldn't be a huge problem, if it didn't involve a very large assignment that all has to be done on the web and emailed to me.  So, yeah...kind of a big problem.

Thankfully we have wonderful tech support at Cheney who is working on solving these problems. 

In the mean time, I have some thinking to do.

I can cancel the assignment, but what about the students who are already finished AND have the extra credit done?  What about the students who WANT to do the assignment because it is a good way for them to raise their grades?  What about the students who struggle to get things done even when there's time in class, and now that has even been jeopardized? 

Lots and lots of thinking... 

Not how I wanted my Wednesday to go.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why I Teach Middle School

Reason # 437

Me:'s hot in here!  Is anyone else hot or it is just me?

and without missing a beat, before anyone else could chime in...

7th Grade Boy:  "Oh sorry, that's me.  I'll try to tone it down."

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Why is it that kids are so quick to learn new technology?

I was having this same discussion with another teacher one day. 

Her answer was simple.

"Because they aren't afraid to push buttons."

Kids will try anything.  They aren't afraid of messing up or starting over.  They download a new app on their iPod and just start pushing away.  Curious, wondering what each part of the program is.  Sucking in all that knowledge.

I need to shift my thinking.  I need to stop being so scared of starting over, and become more curious. 

I need to push more buttons.

Friday, December 7, 2012

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em

Teachers and schools around the country have been fighting a battle over the last 10 years.  The battle of students and technology.  As technology has increased, schools have been forced to evaluate their policies on mobile devices within the school walls.  Most schools started with a heavy ban on all electronic devices within the building.  Myself included.  I didn't want those interrupting my class or being used for high-tech cheating.

7 years into the fight (and my teaching career) and I am holding up my white flag.

I surrender.

I can't beat it, and the more I tried to fight it, the more I learned about it.

Uh oh... I just said "learned."

There it is.  The reason why I chose teaching.  To get students to learn. 

So, I am changing my attitude.  A complete 180 degree turn. 

Yesterday, during my planning period, I spent 45 minutes collaborating with a 13-year-old student.  We were trying to figure out how to make my assignments on Edmodo work with the iPads. 

I collaborated with a student.  That thought still amazes me.  Education is changing so my teaching must change with it.  Gone are the days of hour after hour of teacher lecture and explanation.  The classroom of today is one of collaboration.

Between all ages.

Because I don't have enough to do...

I decided to start up this classroom blog.

Stay tuned for more...  :-)