Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Bill Becomes Law...Maybe??

There are always lessons, activities, and projects that I get so excited to do in class I can hardly sit still.  Today is one of those days.

This activity hits all the major bullet points of a successful lesson.

  • Application of knowledge learned
  • Active involvement of students
  • Validity in what they are creating.
  • Student-Centered class environment
  • Differentiated grouping.
Today's lesson is titled "How a Bill Becomes a Law - Classroom Rules"

First thing:  We quickly review the (basic) process of how a bill becomes a law by listing out the steps and watching the catchy video "I'm just a Bill" from School House Rock.

Activity Set-Up:
  1. Students are divided into a House of Representatives (large group) and a Senate (small group) **here is the differentiated grouping** My quieter kids who will get "talked over" in a large group setting are all grouped together as the Senate.  I want my House of Representatives to be filled with my more active, loud, and "bossy" students. 
  2. Each group is given a list of 10 classroom rules created by the teacher.  These are created with a "tough teacher" stance.  Little room for students to error and be human.  Some examples are...
  • The end of each Unit of study will have BOTH a written test AND group project.
  • Late work will result in assigning detention after school for 30 minutes.  Extracurricular activities will NOT take precedent over the detention!
  • All assigned essays must be typed on the iPad and submitted by email to Mrs. Weber by midnight of the due date.  
  • No name papers will receive a 0 score no matter how big the assignment is.
Activity Procedure:
  • Senate and House of Reps separate and work to change each rule into something that is fair to them, but what they would believe is acceptable to the teacher (who is playing the President).
House of Representatives debates what "laws" to make in the classroom.

Senate discusses the laws they would like to see in the classroom.
  • Each house must keep 10 rules and each rule must stick with the same "theme."  EX: the rule on detention still has to be about detention.
  • Once each group is done we call a "Joint Session of Congress" and each house presents their version of new rules.
Congress works to try and negotiate and compromise to come to a majority vote on one bill to present to the President.
  • Congress works together to create one final bill to vote on and present to the President.
  • President the power of VETO (shocker!!)
  • Congress has the chance to override the veto with a 2/3 vote.
Here's the key to making this lesson really work.  

I am prepared to accept the student rules as "law of the classroom" if they complete the entire process within one class period (I have 75 minute blocks).  Otherwise they force a "classroom shutdown" and I decide on all the rules for the class.  This provides validity.  They will have to live by the "rules" they create.

Kids love this.  They get to debate, argue, and have a say in what goes on inside my room.  Some students left the room still arguing about the "fairness" or rules they accepted.

So fun!

**I have 3 different sections of 8th grade American History.  If all 3 classes are successful in completing the process, I will take the best rule from each group to make a combined list of classroom rules.  This way each class feel like they have a say in what policies we put in place.**

Click HERE to see the Laws of the Classroom this group created

Thursday, September 24, 2015

5 Things I Learned About Teaching When We Gave All Our Students iPads

We are currently in our fourth year of a 1:1 initiative in our district.  Through the use of iPads, Mac Books, and PC laptops all students K-12 have access at any given point of the day to some kind of technology.

Our middle schoolers have iPads.  The move to 1:1 devices has made for some challenging, frustrating, and learning experiences for all those involved.  Here are some of the things I have learned along the way.

1.  Know Your District's Expectations Upfront

Throughout the first year I found myself having imaginary arguments in my head with administration.  I felt guilty every time I didn't have my students using their iPad in class or every time I would print copies of papers to hand out in class.  I was worried that someone would come in and accuse me of wasting the districts money or printing too many copies.  In my head I would defend myself (and win) every imaginary argument.  It was stressful.

Eventually that lead me to making digital scans of all my assignments and having kids complete things using apps on the iPad.  We did assignment after assignment and my paper usage decreased more than 50%.  

Here's the thing.  No one ever said anything about going "paperless."  No one ever said the kids have to be using the iPads "X" amount of days in the year.  These were expectations I just figured administration wanted.  They didn't.  Administration wanted me to learn how to best use the technology in enhance the education of my students.  

2.  Learn the Terms Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition 

These all deal with the use of technology in the classroom.  Our Administration handed out this nifty little chart to help guide our use of technology.

Each level has a place in education.  Substitution works great for my room when the kids are going to do research and have to fill out specific information that I don't want them to lose.  It helps communicate make-up work for students who are absent and makes information available when needed.

However, not everything I did on paper is better on the iPad.  In fact, I have found the the students would much rather complete a worksheet paper/pencil than electronically.  

I have integrated technology at every single stage on this chart. I find I have more students excited about what we are doing with it involves creation and learning something completely new.  It helps me rethink what I am requiring of the students when I plan on having them use the device.  

3. The Word "Project" Takes on New Meaning.  Be Careful How it's Used.

5 years ago, when I would have the students create a poster illustrating the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation I called that a project.  I graded it with a rubric and it was given a project grade in the grade book.  

By the end of the year the first year we had iPads in the classroom the students were groaning and moaning when I said we were going to do a "project."  In fact, when given the choice at the end of our Civil War unit on taking a test and doing a project, they overwhelmingly voted to take a test.  That really made me wake up to the fact that we were all overusing the word "project."  

Integrating technology allowed for some really cool and creative projects for students to participate in.  However, I was still calling the poster a "project."  That along with 7 other teachers all working to incorporate the technology our 7th and 8th grade students had probably heard the word "project" over 100 times.  They were done with it.

Now, I reserve the word "project" for something that is requiring the students to produce something with the information they learn.  Whether using stop motion and adobe voice on the iPad or creating infographics on the web, I make sure that something is worthy of the name "project."  Everything else is an assignment, activity, or performance assessment. 

Also.  Communicate with the other teachers in your building.  If kids are working on a big-time tech project for Social Studies, Science, and Language Arts at the same time...they will be stressed and anxious.  

4.  Student Collaboration is Not Cheating.  Learn the Difference.

Learning something new, problem solving, and critical thinking look very different in a classroom than completing a worksheet.  Students should be talking, discussion, reasoning, thinking aloud, teaching each other (and you), and moving around.  You should be too.  Mix in with their conversations be a part of the learning.  

This is different than cheating.  Showing another student how they made the words on their video grow and shrink is completely different than copying a math problem. 

Don't be to proud to sit next to a student and work together to figure out a new App or web-based program.  They can help you solve your tech problems, and they love it!    

5.  You have to Teach the Technology You Want Students to Use.

Some kids love it.  The challenge of playing with a new piece of technology, trial and error, and the learning that comes with it.  But they are in the minority. 

Probably the biggest mistake I made while integrating technology into my classroom was say "Just play around with the app and figure it out."  I assumed at all my kids would enjoy discovering the new and exciting things all the apps had to offer on their iPads.  I was WRONG!  Big time.  

I would be so excited by the awesome project ideas that would come from one or two groups of my students that I ignored the concerns and frustrations from all the others.  Then when it came time to present there were maybe two or three GREAT ones and the rest sucked.  

This was MY FAULT.  I expected all my students to just "figure it out."  And they didn't.  So now, having learned from this, when I plan a technology project with my students, I focus on one app and teach them 1.) how the program/app works & 2.) what makes something a GOOD presentation.  It may take an entire class period to get through this, but it is worth it!  Trust me.

You still have to teach them how to use the technology to enhance their education.  This means you need to try and complete the same assignment as your kids.  If it is hard and difficult for you, it will be fore them.  You need to be able to give them advice, show examples and non-examples, and help when someone is stuck.  And use those kids who "get it" as mentors of the class.  

If your district is making the move toward 1:1 don't be afraid.  A lot of it is trial and error for everyone involved.  Try something, if it fails, admit it.  If it works, share it with your colleagues.  Don't be afraid to collaborate with anyone and everyone who might give you and idea.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Guide to a New Type of Test

My 7th graders will be taking their first test for me this week.  I thought this would be a good time to talk about what a Social Studies test in Mrs. Weber's class looks like.

Social Studies has changed.  Teachers should be implementing activities, lessons, and strategies to help students read and analyze primary sources, think critically, and "do" history.  We should be teaching kids how to become historians.  How to question sources, look at conflicting view points, and draw conclusions based on the evidence that is given to us.

But what does that LOOK LIKE?

And what does it look like on a TEST?

I have spent the last three years developing a method for creating unit tests/assessments that involve more analysis and application as opposed to simple regurgitation of facts.

Here's a taste of what you will and won't see on one of my tests. 

Won't:  Multiple Choice.  Those tests were so much easier to grade.  Just simple regurgitation of what we spent the last few weeks learning.  However, multiple choice tests only tell me if you are good at memorizing information or have a good "guessing game" strategy.

Will:  Multiple Mark.  Here is an example of a couple of my multiple mark questions which uses a map and primary source document as a guide to the question and answers.

Note:  These are current questions I use on current 7th and 8th grade tests.  I know kids might read my blog.  Do I care if they see a question before I issue them the test. Nope.  Hey, if their taking time out to read my blog and see if one of the possible examples may be one that shows up, good for them! :) 

Won't:  Vocabulary Matching.  Boring.  Plus, I don't care if you can memorize a definition.  I care whether or not you UNDERSTAND how the word is used in the CONTEXT of what we are studying.

Will:  Applying the knowledge of vocabulary words in context.  I love using strategies such as Tic, Tac, Tell, and incorporating the vocabulary into questions.

Won't:  Have one word answers.

Will: Have to explain why, make connections to events and/or people, site evidence from text given, or list details discussed in class.

Won't:  Just consist of 3-4 pages stapled together.

Will:  Have to reference documents we discussed in class, use images (paintings, pictures, maps) to complete questions, and fill in charts, graphs or graphic organizers.  Not everything needed for a test can be put on the actual test itself.  Students will be using iPads for color images (so I don't have to print off 70 copies of a color test) and handouts of primary source documents.

Wont:  Find "Google-able" questions.  I often get questions from teachers and parents if this type of test (using technology to view photos, maps, and documents) can encourage or facilitate cheating by having access to the internet.  Guess what...these kids live in a day where they can (and will) access the internet in an instant at their fingertips.  Good for them.   The questions I ask require kids to draw conclusions from documents provided, make connections to terms and events we have discussed in class, and think critically.


  • Was the Declaration of Independence written for ideological reasons, such as liberty and freedom, or selfish reasons by those who had money and power?  Support your answer with evidence from the sources provided.
  • When looking at John Gast's painting of "American Progress," how do you think he wanted you to feel looking at the image?  Why do you think this?  
  • Using the primary sources provided, explain why those who practiced temperance wanted a prohibition amendment.  What method did they use?  Do you believe it was successful? Why?
And yes, those are current questions on my 7th and 8th grade tests.  And yes.  They can answer these type of questions successfully.


Because we practice it in class.  Consistently.  Nothing that shows up on these tests, whether it's topic or method required, is brand new to the students.  We do this sort of thing daily.  The kids are used to it.  If you try to implement this type of test without practicing the same thing in class on a regular basis, you will have frustrated kids with frustrating scores!

Will: See questions, documents, maps, and processes done in class.  I do not create tests in order to make kids feel like I am trying to trick them.  Almost everything that shows up on a test has been looked at, discussed, or practiced during our normal class periods.  

Won't:  See test score by the end of the class period.  I used to be able to do that.  Get a traditional test graded, entered in the grade book and passed back out to the students during the same class period they took the test.  Wow.  Seems crazy now.  This "new and improved" method for testing does mean that I have to spend a little more time with each student's response.  Grading takes longer.  

Will:  See a true result on how well students know the material.  It is easy to learn how to cram for a multiple choice test, guess at the write letter and end up with an A or B.  Not now.  This gives me a true look into what my students' strengths and weaknesses are.  The answers are not always "yes" or "no," "A" or "B."  If a student can explain their answer, and site evidence to support their reasoning.  That tells me so much more than a guessed letter.  

There you have it.  At least a taste of it.  What to expect on a test that requires kids to do more than just spit back the facts they could have googled in ten seconds. Whether your a teacher looking for ideas, a parent trying to understand what is expected of your teen, or a student trying to get a leg-up on the next exam, if you have questions...ask!  I will help in any way I can.