Monday, December 14, 2015

Motivation - Go Get Some!

It seems like the right time of the year for this kind of post.  Most of us are counting down the days to a well-deserved break from the stresses of teaching.  Which do seem to pile up around this time of year.

But more importantly the new year is fast approaching and a great chance for reflection and a time to make change, not only in our personal lives, but in our professional lives as well.  If you've had a rough start to the school year, or just found something new you want to try, this is the time to give it a go.

I have had a hard time verbally expressing just how the last few years have been for me in the classroom.  The last year and a half have been the of the best of my teaching career, and it has been hard to narrow down just why that is?

And then, while perusing through Twitter, I came across an infograhic that explained everything that I was feeling.  With pictures!!!

I have done everything on this list in the last two years (a few of them more than the last two years...) and it has changed everything from my approach to creating lessons, activities, and projects for my kids, but also in how I mentally tackle the "frustrations" that come along.  I started earlier on with#9 professing how important it was for teachers to participate in PD workshops and conferences.  So many inspiring teachers sharing awesomeness!

That led me me wanting to learn more from other teachers than just the 4-5 workshops I go to each year.  So I tried out #10 by participating in just two Twitter Chats.  Holy Cow!  Talk about MOTIVATION!  It was like starting out each week as the first day of school excitement.  New ideas from other teachers across the country who were experiencing some of the same difficulties as I was, and many others who had much more!  If you choose ONE THING on this list... #10 should be it!!!

Trust me, this doesn't mean that there aren't frustrating days, or people, or things that happen from day to day.  I've had days where I run across the hall to Mrs. H. and vent (loudly) how frustrated I am that "X" is happening and "Y" doesn't seem to care, because she feels my pain!  It happens, and we all need our "Mrs. H." to talk to!

This also doesn't mean that I don't have lessons, projects, or activities that suck.  I do.  But because I've attempted to develop  #4, I realize that failure is ok.  I'm modeling to the students how to reflect on choices I've made and I need to do to MAKE IT BETTER and I involve them in the conversation!

I have been attempting to do #3 more and more.  Even if it means dropping what I had planned for the week and attempting an assignment that's more FUN than lecture and a worksheet...which is basically anything else.  I am finding that the students are still learning when I turn them loose with the content.

Trust me, if you start with #2, then #6 is sure to follow!  Start out by giving your students a survey about your class asking for what they like and don't like.  Be sincere.  Take their suggestions seriously and incorporate one or two.  They will be impressed! (So will you...)

Somedays it seems like I am being tested to the MAX with #7, but in the end everything gets worked out, figured out, and done.

Throughout the shifts that I have made in the way I approach teaching and things that go on inside my classroom, I have also started to notice an increase in #8.  And not just assuming that kids "like my class."  I have received more positive feedback about my class and what it is doing to inspire kids than I ever have before.  These are coming in the form of verbal discussions with students, handwritten notes, emails on the weekends, and parent comments.  I feel for the first time in a 10-year career that I am actually inspiring to the students in my classroom.

If you're interested in making a change.  Feel "stuck in a rut," or unhappy with the direction that education has been going in the last few years.  My advice to you is to try ONE THING ON THIS LIST.  Just one.  I promise that will have a positive effect on your, your classroom, and/or your students.  Which will leave you wanting to try more.

Motivation.  Go get some!

Thursday, December 10, 2015


I could have also titled this post...




Today was awesome.  My 8th graders have been studying the Lewis and Clark Expedition of the Louisiana Territory for two weeks now.  They've watched an awesome video from National Geographic, they've wen't "old school" and colored a poster illustrating encounters with Native Americans and today they were able to participate in a debate centering around the question...

"Were Lewis and Clark respectful to the Native Americans they met on their journey?"

The lesson plan over the debate or Structured Academic Controversy (SAC) comes from the Stanford History Education Group or SHEG.  (Click HERE for the lesson plan on Lewis and Clark).  If you haven't checked out SHEG yet...what are you waiting for????  Seriously.  Go now, or at least after reading the rest of this post!  Click here for SHEG

It was super fun.  The students were able to argue in a structured environment and EVERYONE was successful in using evidence from documents to support their view.  It was awesome.

And that's how I planned on ending the discussion of Lewis and Clark.  Turn in your written explanations and we move on to the War of 1812.

And then something happened.

While I was moving from group to group and arguing with them (super fun to argue historically with the students by the way...) An 8th grade boy, Cody, responded to a point made by saying...


I stopped in my tracks and said, screamed "That was awesome!" (I might have scared him a little...)  "Great idea Cody, I am totally going to use that to sum up the end of this topic.  You're awesome!"

And that's what we did.  After students finished with their written conclusion I told them that they were to think about what all we have learned about the Lewis and Clark Expedition and they were to write on the note card a hashtag phrase that would describe it.

What followed was an engaged group of students all excited to share their best ideas for a hashtag.  They were helping each other sum up their ideas, think of words, and even write legibly.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • #explorerlife
  • #'murica
  • #thefirstdelegates
  • #travel
  • #countrydoubled
  • #floatingontheriver
  • #Sacagawea
  • #Livinginthewilderness
  • #Adventure
  • #NoGPS
  • #unexpectedconsequences
  • #Nosopeaceful

I am definitely going to do this one again! I had students stopping by throughout the day to add more hashtags to the group!  Talk about something that got students' attention and made them think!


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Power of a Story

This is a long post filled with many pictures.  Read it anyway.  You won't be disappointed.

My 7th graders walked in to class today, as we are about to start our next unit of study.  They didn't know what the topic was, or what the plan was going to be.  To them, it was just another day.  I have been waiting for this activity for weeks now.  I knew this would be a good one.  Stories always are.

Stories are so powerful.  The more truth behind the story, the more invigorating it can be.

Make the story have a secret twist at the end to include you...and your kids will be HOOKED!  They get to actually see how things that happened in the past directly impact us today.

Here's what I did to set it all up.  Students were divided into teams and given a copy of this worksheet to fill out based on a series of primary sources I will be giving them.
I then told my 7th graders that they would be given a photo.  This photo is the focus of today's lesson. By the end of the activity, they should be able to answer all the questions on the sheet about this one photo.  I will be giving them clues throughout the activity in the form of other primary sources.

I hand them the first photo and tell them to use the clues in the photo to infer as many responses to the questions as they can based on the clues in the picture.

It is amazing to see how much they figure out just from one photo.  As I walk around I hear great conversations...

  • "This is definitely a farm.  Look at the land around it."
  • "I bet this was taken all the way back in the early 1800's"   - - "No it wasn't, look at those roads, they wouldn't have that nice of roads in KS back then.  There were probably cars."
  • "This was taken form an airplane, so that means it has to be late enough for airplanes."
  • "I think I see power lines in the background...maybe."
  • "I bet this was taken here in Cheney."

They are now given another photo of the same place, only this time from a different angle (and time period, since it is in color.)  They quickly notice the paved road, also giving them a clue that this photo was taken later than the first.

The next two photos, kind of throw them for a moment. These are present day photos that I got by using Google Earth to capture a similar angle of the same plot of land.  I also give them a present day photo from the second photo angle.

It doesn't take the kids long to realize that this is the same location, just present day.  The conversations again are awesome...

  • "Oh..look it is Cheney!" - - "No it's not, look at those store fronts in the bottom picture, we don't have that here."
  • "I think it is Wichita, I have seen these stores before."
  • "Look, there's that same road that cuts across the top of the picture.  Looks like there are houses and stores there now."
  • "This is Wichita!  That's the building where I go to the dentist."
  • "I know exactly where this is.  This is 21st and Maize Road. See this one that's facing the stores, if I was standing on this street there would be a Dillon's behind me!"

At this point the students have pretty much narrowed it down to the correct location.  However, it is the next clue that I give them which helps fill in all the blanks, and provide a nice little twist! 

A newspaper article about the family who owned the land and what happened to it.  The kids read through the article and the awesome history of the family.  
  • The family who purchased the original homestead was Matthew and Helena Jansen.  They were married in Holland before moving to the United States at the request of Helena's mother.
  • The two traveled with their family, by wagon, from Illinois to Kansas.
  • The baby, Albert, fell out of the back of the wagon along the journey.  It was two miles before Helena realized.  They turned around and found him playing in a pile of dirt.
  • That baby, ended up living and raising his own family on that very farm.
  • One of his children, a daughter, Josephine grew up to live and raise her family on that farm. Josephine married a man named William Weber.
  • William and Josephine were the last to raise their family on this farm.  Their children and grandchildren continued to spend many weekends, holidays, and family gatherings at that farm, until it was sold and eventually turned into a housing development.

Now, it's during the reading of this newspaper that the students pick up on the name "Weber."  It starts to dawn on them, that there may be a little more to this activity than just thinking historically.  I get a few "Hey, your last name is Weber, are these people related to you?"

This is the first student who recognized the "Weber" as a possible connection to me.  He was so proud!
I just smile and keep walking around from group to group observing their conversations.

At the end of the activity, after each group has successfully filled out all the information we gather around for a discussion about what they learned about that first picture.  They all mention that they found it funny that Albert fell out of the wagon as a baby and that he was lucky to be found.

I answer any questions that they have, and of course, the biggest question they want to know is "are they related to you?"

The answer is in the family tree.  Josephine and William had 10 children; Marlene, William (Bill), Tom, Lavern, Kenny, John, David, Mary Jo, Bonnie, and Rita.  Bill grew up and married Dolores Biggs, who just happened to grow up and graduate in Cheney!  They had five children; Kevin, Ron, Beth, Ethan, and Todd.

And I am married to Ethan.

This whole activity was designed to introduce our topic of the Homestead Act to my class of 7th graders.  But it did so much more than that.  They were able to see how something that happened in the past was connected to everyone in that room.  They had a chance to see how awesome it can be to know your family's history and who lived it.

American History isn't just made up of dates, wars, congressional laws, or Presidents.  American History is made from the people who lived it.  Ordinary people who were involved in all these important events that show up in textbooks.  Throw out the textbook and teach the stories.  You won't be disappointed.  And neither will your students.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Mystery Artifact Challenge

I got this idea from the American History Study Group I get to go to four times a year.  This activity was done one of those days a few years ago.  (I am SO THANKFUL and lucky that I am part of a district that allows me to continue to grow and learn through this workshop!  If you're interested in my personal feelings on Professional Development, head over here).

The basic idea for this activity is to divide kids into teams. I did it randomly by having my students think of their favorite holiday food or drink and lining up alphabetical by the first letter of that food.  (Apple Cider, Pumpkin Pie, and Mashed Potatoes were among the most popular favorites!)  I then counted them out by 7's so I would have 2-3 in a group.

PS...I love three students to a group or less.  Makes it harder for someone to just "sit back" and do nothing.  Sometimes I have to go with four based on numbers.

They were then given a paper for record keeping.  It asks three big questions they have to try to infer based on nothing but the photo of the artifact.
  1. When do you think this artifact was used?
  2. What do you think it was used for?
  3. Who do you think used it?
Each group was then to send one person to "pick up" the first artifact.  I give them some time to analyze it, walking around asking them questions such as; "Why do you think that?" when they write certain answers.  Then I repeat this step for each artifact.  The students are to keep all artifacts throughout the activity, because they all have something in common.  They all are a part of the topic we will be studying for the next two weeks.

I love how this activity made them think like historians.  They really looked closely at the photos and tried to determine what our topic would be.  Their ideas evolved as they received new pieces of evidence.  Most groups by the end of the day had reached the conclusion that it was Lewis and Clark or at the very least "explorers." 

The kids liked it too.  They were involved, engaged, and excited to figure out our next topic.  

They did think it would be "WAY COOLER" if I had real artifacts and not just pictures.  I told them if I won the lottery I would put "buying historic artifacts for my classroom" on the list of stuff to buy!  :)