Monday, August 14, 2017

5 Simple Ways to Increase Writing in Social Studies Class

Gone are the days in which reading novels and writing essays belonged in an ELA classroom.  All subjects are expected (and should) be integrating and supporting the reading and writing skills that students are taught in Language Arts class.

"But, but...I went to college to be a history teacher, not an English teacher. I don't know HOW to teach ELA!"

That was me. Seriously. I was ready to fight teaching reading and writing skills as long as I could.

Until I learned some simple strategies to help me.  This list is meant to help those who are struggling to add reading and writing skills into their classrooms and possibly give some new ideas to others.

#1: Go talk to you ELA Teachers. NOW!

Think about it. If another subject area wanted to start adding in pieces of Civic Engagement into their classroom and needed ideas, you would want them to come to you right (get ready...cause that's coming)?? You are the "social studies" expert. Why wouldn't you be running down the hall to see the "reading and writing expert" in your building?  Go.

Tell them you want to start including some more writing skills in your room. Ask them what language they use? How do they teach the kids to structure a paragraph? What grammar skills are they focusing on this year? Trust me...depending on the year it could be different. Last year our 7th grade ELA teacher really focused on capitalization of proper nouns. I was able to help support that. The kids knew it.

Piggy back off of what they are doing...Have they taught supporting evidence with quotes from sources? How do they want students to cite their sources? What are some simple strategies for locating evidence within text?  Anything that you can say that reinforces what your ELA teacher is doing will make it easier on both of you

The amazing ELA teachers at Cheney Middle School!

#2: Start with what you know. 

This is the first thing I did. I started requiring the kids to write in complete sentences. I know that one. I don't know exactly what year the kids are taught how to capitalize the first letter, subject, verb, and end with punctuation. But they know it before 7th grade. Unless it was specified on an IEP I started counting off for those simple errors.

You see, kids came to my class thinking "it's not English so I don't have to do things correctly." Once they knew I was taking points off for not writing correct complete sentences, they magically started doing it correctly.

#3: T. A. G.

I love using acronyms for the classroom. Especially when it's short and easy to remember. TAG is --great because it gets kids writing MORE than just the basic "it happened on 7-4-76"

T: Turn the question into a statement
A: Answer the question. (sentence one)
G: Give more detail. (sentence two)

This is automatically a two sentence response, but it's more than just having the kids respond with two sentences. It forces them to give more detail. TAG requires students to go back into the text and find something else to say about the topic.

I would be lying if I said the students cheered when I told them TAG had to be used to answer questions, but 100% of the time, their answers are better. So I like it and we use it!

#4: Poetry is where it's at!

If there's one thing about incorporating ELA strategies that I love, its using various forms of poetry for students to express their understanding of a topic. We use acrostic poems in our "bell work," haikus to summarize a topics, "I AM" poems to understand perspective, and this year I hope to add "Blackout Poetry" because it is awesome!

#5: Step up your vocabulary game!

Still having kids just match up vocabulary words on quizzes and tests. That's JV ball right there. Let's step it up a notch. Try some of these strategies, which still require that kids know the vocabulary, but apply the word to the correct context.

As you start trying to add more writing into your social studies classroom, give these 5 things a try. As always with everything on my blog, if you need any copies of anything or want to talk ideas don't hesitate to contact me @JillWebs on Twitter.

Want more writing ideas? This post is a shorter version of a previous post with more examples found here.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Mrs. Weber and the Four-Letter "F" Word

Hands-down, without a doubt, this is my favorite time of year.

I just LOVE "back to school" time!

The sight of pencils, notebooks, and glue lining the aisles of the grocery store.

Filling out my brand new "school-year" calendar for the top of my desk...with brand new pens.

The smell of the school as I walk into the doors for the first time in months. You know, that freshly waxed smell.


It's this time of year that I like to take a chance to introduce myself to the parents (and any students who may read this) and give them a little heads up about me, my classroom, and any points of emphasis I'm going to focus on this year.

I teach social studies at Cheney Middle School. 7th and 8th graders are some of my favorite people on the earth and I honestly say, that Mondays don't bother me! Sometimes I get so excited for things coming up the next day, that I can't sleep at night. I am active on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook...Follow me @JillWebs

Many times, I am the first time students encounter someone who specialized in Social Studies. This means that things may be a little different that what kids are used to. In my classroom...
  • There is no textbook to lug around.  We use one periodically, but rarely.  I keep a class set in the room.
  • Very few, if any, multiple choice questions.  A lot more writing. Tests will be very different from anything your student has probably tackled before...especially in a social studies classroom.
  • Worksheets are used for data collection, applying something learned in class, and assessment.  A lot of collaboration with peers and team work.  
  • More projects.  Technology integrated into the subject. Projects are completed at school. No "parent assembly" needed...that is unless your child has an awesome idea and chooses to involve your help at home :) 
  • Every day vocabulary such as primary sources, contextualize, corroborate, bias, artifacts, inference.
  • Questions that don't have one right answer.  Having to defend their answers with evidence.
  • Learning to "Think like historians."
  • And very little homework. If any. 
This is a lot to take in for kids coming into my room...and for parents as well. Don't worry...I will train your child in the ways of historical thinking, they will receive advice from past students, and will have many opportunities to have their great work shared throughout the state, country, and world through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!

The Four Letter "F" Word.

Will NOT be allowed in my classroom.

Will NOT be allowed to be used to describe my class.

Will NOT be used to explain how the day went, once mom or dad ask at home. 

Don't worry...we're "G" rated around here. I'm not talking about anything inappropriate. I'm talking about the word FINE.

Ugh! I HATE that word. It literally is the laziest thing you could possibly say in response to "How was _____?" 


Not good. Not bad. Fine. 


All 7th and 8th graders will be told on day one that this word is NOT allowed in my room as a response to anything. Find a word, any word that is better than that. Provide some evidence to your answer... Always. 

For example...if you ask your teen "How was your day today?" Don't let them get away with saying "Fine." Make them give you a REAL answer with examples to back it up.  

And if they try to sneak it past you...let me know! 

I'll handle it.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Wanna GREAT Year? Start Here!

I am no expert. So who am I to try to offer tips or tricks or any kind of advice to have a great school year?

I will be starting my 12th year of teaching and I have been all over on the "how much do you love your job" spectrum.  I have had the burning excitement for teaching that those first few years bring on.  I have looked at the school year and my growing family and fought back tears thinking "I can't both be a good parent and a good teacher," I have to find a way out. I have felt the spark of passion ignite from the idea for one project, and seen that grow continually into a passion for teaching over the last three years.

My 9th year teaching was the best ever.  Until my 10th year, it was amazing.  I thought "surely 11 won't be as good as can't be."  It was. 11 was simply awesome. are some of the things that have helped me have not just one great school year, but three in a row (and I have high expectations year 12 as well.)  ***Authors Note...these are all things I have tried doing in my classroom in the last 3 years, but I am still a work in progress and looking to improve in each of these areas every year.***

#1 Reflect on the last few years (or weeks or months...) and reflect HONESTLY.  

Seriously. If you're not willing to take a good hard, HONEST look at your classroom and your teaching, then don't even bother with this one.  Ask yourself some easy questions to get started... What did you like teaching last year? What didn't you like? Why? If you were a student in your own classroom would you be excited to come to your class? What do the students actually think? Can you find out? Are you willing to listen to what they have to say?

These are not always easy questions to answer...but they are a necessity if you are looking at improving your classroom and having a better year (or week, or month, quarter, or semester) than you did before.

Teaching truth... I have NEVER seen a student excited about a worksheet. Ever. Don't be blinded by the fact that you love your subject and you would like to do the activities, lessons, and assignments you hand out. This is why you gotta ask the kids! They'll be honest, and have some good ideas if you're willing to listen!

#2 Student engagement impacts everything in the classroom.

If you want to have a better school year it starts here. If student's aren't engaged in what they are learning, they're not really learning.  They're looking for anything that's going to capture their attention; a cell phone, classmate, fidget spinner, or anything that is more interesting that the lesson you have going.  Classroom management, building relationships, assessment, and pretty much anything else with school can be improved by students being actively engaged in your class.

I have been actively working to increase student engagement the last three years. They notice. My 7th and 8th graders know they're going to get to do fun, different, and challenging things in social studies. But even I have days that need improvement. My rule of thumb... if I'm bored, so are the students, those are the days I need to improve. I am challenging myself to BRING IT each and every day.

Teaching truth... students sitting on exercise balls instead of chairs working on a worksheet are still just working on a worksheet. It's not actively engaged in class.

#3 Start Simple...Your class can be more engaging with a few simple changes!

If engaging your students in class seems like a daunting task, start small.  Start with these simple tricks.

  • Start with you! If you are PUMPED for the lesson, they will be more likely to want to know why. Not feeling it? They don't care, so you better bring it anyway! 
  • Sticky Notes: Take that worksheet and instead of passing it out (and making copies) ask the question aloud, have students write their answer and initials on a sticky note and put it on the board under "#1" - - Or take those question on the worksheet and write each one on a different piece of construction paper. Students travel around with sticky notes answering the questions.

  • Get them up and moving!  Have students mix around the room, shout out a pairing task "someone with the same color of eyes," students pair up...ask the question, they discuss the answer and move on and repeat!
  • Jigsaw and discussion. Try a Gallery Walk with the question on a worksheet...each team gets one question, a piece of poster board, and 15 minutes to answer the question and create the poster. Hang posters around the room...students move from poster to poster. Speed dating is another great one!
  • Try a mini puzzle or challenge to start the day.  I love to use this one with my 8th graders to start our discussion on the Preamble to the Constitution. They LOVE trying to figure it out :) 

  • Stations... I use various stations many times throughout the year. Especially when I have a lot of content to present and I'm low on time.  I set up 5-6 different stations and have kids move through them. I always try to have the stations be interactive with a game or white board to write on or sorting to try to figure out...and then throw in a couple reading stations. 
  • White boards and markers. KIDS LOVE THEM. I don't know what it is about using an Expo marker on a dry-erase board, but kids go nuts over it. I love to review a previous days' information by passing out one board and marker to each team of students and having them rotate the writing responsibilities. Ask question...think/write time...countdown (with actions...get into it!) and BOOM. Answers up! So much fun!
Teaching Truth...Many of these activities are actually LESS WORK for you than going down to the office to make copies and grading worksheets!

Worksheet Challenge...try going ONE WEEK without giving your students a worksheet. See the difference, I promise your students will!

#4 Add Technology

I have talked before about the importance of adding technology into your classroom. If you won't start to integrate tech into your class, you are doing your kids a disservice. They WILL BE USING IT (and many already are) on a daily basis. Their jobs will depend on it. 

I am currently in love the the possibilities that QR codes can bring into the classroom. Scavenger hunts, gallery walks, student/peer feedback, etc... can be achieved with the use of a QR code. My kids can expect to see these many times throughout this school year. 

Teaching truth...if you're just taking scanned copies of your worksheets and having students complete them online, it's still just a boring worksheet, and the addition of the technology does very little.

#4 Don't be afraid to let your middle school (and high school) students cut, paste, and color!

Bust out the construction paper, colored pencils, crayons, and glue! As much as I am a proponent for using technology, I'm also a proponent for letting kids touch, make, and get sticky.  My 7th graders will create an interactive notebook that I call our H.I.T. Books. (Historians in Training).  These books are used throughout the year to collect and analyze historical evidence. Students have complete freedom with creating the pages of the book and even assess themselves on the rubric (I don't ever collect and grade it!) 

Teaching truth...your room will be messier. 

#5 Collaborate, Share, and Show off!

Some of my BEST stuff has come from other teachers who are not in my same building, city, or state! Find teachers who are doing cool things and sharing their stuff...and follow everything they do. This includes teachers of other subject areas and grade levels too.  Maybe something a 3rd grade teacher does in his/her classroom can be easily adapted to fit your MS classroom. Got a HS teacher friend who does cool stuff? Modify it slightly and you can work that in your classroom...(Shout out to Mr. Shutte, @coachshutte and Mr. Warsnak, @thewarsnak for giving me some Buzzworthy ideas for my classroom) 

Once you're done stealing and modifying what other teachers do, it's time to give it back. Share what's going on in your room. What worked well? How did your week of no worksheets go? What failed? Seriously every teacher is doing something awesome...have some confidence and share what you're doing!

Lastly...but possibly most importantly. Show off the cool things your students do! I once took a picture of a student who showed me a cool search trick on Google, and again for another student who showed me a less-messy way to eat a cupcake. Seriously. Kids want to know when they do something well...share it! 

Teaching truth...Kids LOVE it when you ask their permission to share their work, and their parents love it even more. Shoot an email or call home and ask if it's OK to share something that Johnny did in class!

Once again, I will say that I am a work in progress. I have days that aren't great and units that need major improvement. I don't always have every kids hooked and engaged in class.  These are just a few of the things that I am focused on because I know that it works. As I look to improve each and every day, I know that each year will keep getting better and better!

Happy School Year!

Monday, June 26, 2017

My Journey into PBL: Reflection and Final Thoughts now you've probably read my first two installments of my journey into Project Based Learning.  If you haven't...

  1. My Journey into PBL: Learn, Set, Go
  2. My Journey into PBL: The Project
The key to growing and learning and becoming a better professional is to honestly reflect on the lesson, activity, or project.  To me, I reflect using three main pieces of information.  What went well? What will I change? What did the students think? I take a lot of stock in what the kids say, because they are the ones who truly live it, they are the ones I work to engage in my lessons, activities, and projects.  I NEED to know what they think.  And...they have good ideas!

First Up...What went well?
  • This project! I will definitely be using this project as a final to our study on Kansas History.  The idea of time travel, reality shows, and history is a great combination and allowed for some awesome ideas from the kids. 
  • The variety and depth of content knowledge that some groups discovered was amazing! The history of prohibition and speakeasies, 1920 fashion, the Underground Railroad. One of my favorites, that didn't make the judges top 3 was a documentary style reality show called "Keeping up with the Daltons" focusing on the most exciting time of the Dalton Gang.  Those kids became experts on the Dalton Gang.  I couldn't have taught them all that they learned, and to this day, they know more than cool! 
  • The grouping of teams based on interest. This worked out great, putting some kids with friends who they haven't had the opportunity to work with this year, but it also allowed for some teams to realize that they had similar interests in things. 
  • Having the students help me with the rubric. They did a GREAT job, and they really pinpointed the same qualities in a good presentation and visual aide as I would have. They had ownership in this project. 
  • Presenting in front of judges outside of the school.
  • The "soft-deadline" which allowed for peer/teacher feedback and the teams to get a chance to practice before the big day

What will I change?

First and foremost the biggest change I will make next year will be the timing of this project. Attempting to do this in the last month of school was a fun way to end the year, but it was a nightmare when it came to the schedule.  May is chaos. Most of the "bumps in the road" we encountered with this project happened because of timing. Two of the biggest challenges we had to "roll with" involved the soft-deadline and finding judges.

We are on a block schedule (I see my kids for 75 minutes every-other-day).  We had it worked out so that presentations would be on Monday, May 22nd.  The soft deadline was scheduled for the Thursday before that, with Mrs. Harris' class.  Our school was chosen to host regional track, which is an awesome opportunity for the school and community.  Due to crazy spring weather in Kansas the track meet was moved from Friday (the 18th) to Thursday (the 17th).  This caused our block schedule to swap days. Meaning the soft-deadline would now happen on Friday.  This was a problem because now there would be no school days before the final presentation on Monday for students to get together. And the biggest bummer about it, was that Mrs. Harris (communications teacher's class would be involved in the soft-deadline) was going to be out on Friday with a sub. Mrs. Harris is awesome with public speaking, acting, and persuasive techniques. I was really looking forward to her feedback. Oh well...there's always next year.

Judges.  Ugh!  This one was a struggle. Everyone I reached out to was busy with their last week of school, last day in-services, or out of town. Even community members, business leaders, and news outlets I contacted to find someone to judge were busy or out of town. Apparently May 22nd was the worst possible day to pick for final presentations. This left me literally combing through my Facebook contacts THE MORNING OF looking for anyone who could make it to the school by 8 AM.  The good news, I ended up stumbling on a former student who was now a stay-at-home-mom living in town. She came up, brought her son (the students LOVED playing with him and keeping him busy when they weren't presenting). Plus, she participated in drama throughout high school and college, making her a great resource for feedback to the students. Her notes were awesome! I'll definitely call on her again!

Ginger Lewman gave me a great idea, to live-stream the presentations on Facebook or Twitter and have a live vote.  I love that idea, but throwing that together the morning of final presentations was a little more stress than I wanted to put myself through. BUT it did give me a great idea for next year. I will still have all the teams present to judges at school, but the top three chosen by the judges will be posted on social media and voted on by anyone willing to watch!  I can't wait to try that out!

Look for this project, next year around the Feb-March time!

Lastly...and probably most important...

What did the students think?
I asked them to fill out a survey on their thoughts about the project, what they liked and what they would change.  Here are some of their comments, with my thoughts added below.

"We got to pick our own topic" 
"I liked that we had a choice on whatever we wanted to do." 
"That you let us choose what to do and we got to help make the rubric."
This is a common theme among many of their comments on the survey.  The LOVED that they had complete control on whatever they wanted to do. They were shocked when someone mentioned "alcohol" as a topic and I told them that would be an awesome topic.

"We were allowed to use our creativity without many constraints"
Seriously I was really impressed with what these kids came up with for their reality shows. I wish there was time and space to share all 24 ideas with you!  I really think they were amazed at the freedom...they didn't really know how to handle it at first.

"Presenting in front of judges" 
"Being able to fix things after practicing for the other class."
The presentations went great. Some were awesome, some weren't so awesome. But all teams learned how to create a persuasive presentation and deliver it to judges. They were nervous, but in the end, loved it!

"I wish we had more time."
"You should give us more time."
"Not enough time."
I will say...they had 7 days of a block schedule. I can't give any more time, but I can try to do a better job on teaching kids how to manage their time, create realistic daily goals, and reflect each day on how they did and what they need to do to improve. It's not about MORE time, it's HOW they use their time. It's my job as the teacher to help them develop the skills of effective time management. This can be done consistently throughout the year and not just during this project.

"Allow us to pick our teams."
For every person who said they loved their group, there were those who didn't. Every single time I have a project where I pick the teams, this comment comes up. I still rarely (if ever) allow the kids to pick their own teams for big projects. To be blunt, they are 13 and they suck at it. They all "think" they want to be with their friends, but in reality they get too distracted and goofy with their friends.  Plus...there's always those one or two students who get left out. Sorry kiddos...this one probably won't change.

"Give us a paper copy of the rubric."
This one shocked me.  I had quite a few kids say this, and I responded with "but you all had access to the rubric online, didn't you?" They did, but for many of them, they wanted that hard copy to feel in their hands. Again, it's about teaching kids to be advocates for what they need.  IF they needed a paper copy, I would have been happy to print it off, but not one person asked. I will remind them and hopefully do a better job of teaching kids throughout the year to COME TO ME and ask if they need something.  The worst I could say is no.  Plus this is a LIFE seek out the materials you need!

I LOVED this project and providing this opportunity for my students. I look back on how I used to do this project (where I was MUCH MORE controlling...and didn't even think I was at the time) and how this went. I can't imagine restricting any of their creativity.

Finally...I worked harder than I had all year! This was not a project where I could just give instructions and sit at my desk while they worked. I was right in the midst talking with groups, asking questions, listening to them talk, providing encouragement and trying to offer "realistic" options when they were dreaming just a little too big. (There was one group that had a great idea, but the work and time needed to pull it off would be VERY difficult. I warned them of this, but said they could still go-for-it...they did, and it didn't end well. Falling and learning from it are important too!)

At this point, I don't see myself moving to ALL PBL...a project here and there with some specific strategies incorporated all year, but I have never been an "all or nothing" teacher.  I like a blend of different strategies and ideas that help make my classroom engaging. This, of course could change, as I do more and more with PBL...but for now I'll look to add another one next year on top of this one and go from there!

Always learning, always striving to make my classroom better and reach more kids. The minute that goal is no longer with me...I need to leave.  And I don't plan on going anywhere!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

My Journey into PBL: The Project

Once I made my mind up and started down the path of PBL, it was done.  I find that once I make a true commitment to doing something, I find myself having to calm down, relax, and focus.  "OK...this is happening, now buckle down and figure it out."

I needed a way to organize my thoughts, figure out exactly how I was going to prepare for my PBL unit.  I had decided on a topic, by taking an old project I had done a few years ago, and using Project Based Learning strategies with it. Ginger was a HUGE force in helping me get all my thoughts organized into something that was workable, answering my questions, and helping me feel like I was on the right track. Eventually I decided on a title for the project.

"Reality TV Goes Back in Time."

The Launch: 
I struggled with a way to launch the project.  At first I thought about somehow using BreakoutEDU to merge the idea of reality shows and Kansas History, but after talking with Ginger, she convinced me to do something much more simple.  The key was for me to be PUMPED!  So the students would feed off of my energy.

I used Google Sites to create a page to push to the kids via Google Classroom.  There I included what they were responsible for doing as well as a link to the rubric, which they would help create.  Click HERE to view that site.

I wanted a way for the kids to see different types of reality TV shows. After thinking about it some, I decided that a Kahoot! game would be the just the thing to get my students excited about this project. I create a game using pictures of reality shows, and having students try to guess which show it was. They LOVED it...and of course were wondering WHAT IN THE WORLD DOES REALITY TV HAVE TO DO WITH OUR FINAL PROJECT?

Excitement.  Curiosity.  Engagement.  It was a successful launch.

Until it wasn't.

The site didn't work.  I had tested it out on other people, both inside and outside the district, but for some reason when I pushed it to the students, it was blocked by the filter.  Something our tech guy said shouldn't be happening.  But it did. So we rolled with it.  I projected the site on the board and read it aloud to them.

Driving Question:  (More of a "Driving Scenario")

WE HAVE DONE IT!  Time Travel is now possible, and the state of Kansas wants to take full advantage of this opportunity by increasing tourism to our state.  
What better way to do that than creating a new reality TV show that will be filmed "back in time." 
Our host, Caroline Sandiego (cousin of the famous geographer Carmen Sandiego) will be sent in the time machine back to a moment in Kansas History and will film the show. This way all can see the awesome past of our state! 
Your Task:  What show should she host?  You will pitch an idea for a reality TV show to a panel of judges.  The show will be set sometime throughout the history of Kansas and YOU must persuade the judges that your idea is the best!  The judges will then choose which reality show they will begin working on.

We had 6 work days available for this project.  We are on a block schedule so that's 6, 75 minute class periods.  One of those days would have time for a soft-deadline, which I had arranged to work with the 7th grade communications teacher. When the students were in my classroom, they would take turns with a "practice run" of their pitch presentation. This would happen in front of Mrs. Harris' 7th grade communications class. This would provide the teams with feedback coming from students that weren't in their normal classes, students would have the opportunity to learn how to provide meaningful and helpful feedback without being rude, and Mrs. Harris would get the opportunity to see the presentations. She is awesome at public speaking techniques and would be a valuable resource to these kiddos.

An example that comes directly from this "Soft-Deadline" and student feedback happened, when one of the teams, who's title of their show was "Speakeasies" was looking at their feedback from the communications class. The note said "I wonder why you titled your show 'Speakeasies'?"

The student read that and looked at me and was a little confused about that feedback.

"Well, what does it mean if your audience didn't know why you picked that titled for your show?" I simply asked him.

(Light bulb moment...) "Ohhhh...that we didn't do a good enough job explaining what a speakeasy was."


Because of the feedback from their peers, this group was able to make some adjustments to the amount of information they gave. This was invaluable to the groups progress.

In the end we had many awesome historic reality show ideas and pitch presentations. The top three reality shows chosen by the judges were...

Fashion from the Past:  Created by Korri, Maddie, and Braylin.
This reality show would bring fashion designers from today back to a time period (that would be randomly chosen by large spinning wheel).  The contestants would be required to make clothing using the materials and style of that time.  The clothes would be judged by past and present style icons.

Speakeasies:  Created by Quincy, Harrison, and Trenton
This show would take place during the time of prohibition in the 1920s and 30s.  Famous make-over couples from HGTV (such as Chip and Joanna Gains, and the Scott Brothers) would go back in time with the task of designing the hidden bars called Speakeasies.  The contestants would present their design ideas to a team of 1920s Bar Owners who wished to operate illegal bars under the radar. 

Barebacking Kansas:  Created by Tyner, Molly, and Ashlynn

This show was unique in that it would require going back into two different time periods.  Two families would either travel back to the time of the Homestead Act, or the underground railroad.  Each family would get a set of supplies and attempt to survive either living on the homestead and maintaining a farm through all the challenges that Kansas environment has to offer.  Or successfully escape along the underground railroad to freedom in the North. The show would document each family's journey. 

See...Awesome, right!?!?

The overall winner ended up being "Speakeasies"!  The boys dressed the part, presented a quality show, and persuaded the judges that their idea was the best.

Stay tuned for my post on the reflection including; the struggles, successes, and thoughts from the students themselves!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

My Journey into PBL: Learn, Set, Go!

I have played around with it.

I have pondered using it.

I have implemented certain strategies of it into my classroom.

But I have yet to take the plunge into the waters of Project Based Learning.

Until now.

This is the first of three blog posts I will do on my journey into PBL.  I split it into three parts because as I got to typing, I realized that there were actually three different posts within my story.  The path I took to get here, the details of the project itself, and my reflection.  I felt like it was important to include each of those pieces because, chances are, there is some teacher out there pondering the same things about PBL that I was.  Each phase of the journey is important.  So this section is titled, Learn, Set, Go! in order to explain how I got here in the first place.

I spent a good amount of this school year trying to learn more about PBL and what it can look like in a middle school social studies classroom. much time as I could between preparing lesson plans for maternity leave (which would start at the end of November), teaching a brand new class for HS students who are considering teaching (read about that class here and here), and trying to prepare for a student teacher starting in January.

I find I have to fit in professional development wherever I can.  Which means, social media.

I wanted to learn from the best, and there was no question who that would be.  Ginger Lewman, has known for awhile that I've been following her and wanting to learn a little more about PBL.  I think she could see my interest growing.  I LOVE the concepts behind PBL and what it does for empowering students.  I have struggled to figure out just how to implement it.  I needed training, but summers are out for me until my kiddos are more self-sufficient.  I already go to quite a few PD workshops in the school year.  I was struggling to find the time to learn more. (Follow Ginger on Twitter @GingerLewman)

This year, in August, Ginger started doing short little Facebook Live posts about PBL.  I tried to watch every single one.  I wanted to know more, I wanted to see how something like this could work in my classroom.  I learned incredible little tips about grouping students, soft-deadlines, and making students a part in the creation of the rubrics.  I used all of these strategies first semester, but not in a true PBL style project.  That would come later.

I knew that I would have a student teacher in the spring semester, and that would free up a little time to work on developing something that would be true to PBL, and it might offer me the chance to work with Ginger.  If I'm going to do this, I want to do it right.  I want to make sure that my students get to see the benefits of PBL in the classroom.

I made a decision.  I wrote it down.  "I WILL do a PBL style project in May."

I decided on a topic, by taking a recycled project I had done years ago.  It was close to PBL (or at least close enough that I didn't have to start completely from scratch), I bought Ginger's book, Lessons for LifePractice Learning, scheduled to work with her via Google Hangouts on my planning period, and had her help make sure I was on the right track and following all the "rules."  I really wanted this to be true to PBL.  I committed to sharing my story with her, so if she wanted to include it in the future, she could.  All of this to set the stage for transitioning my classroom
Want this book too? Click HERE   
The date was set.  I was launching the project on May 3rd with my 7th grade classes.  Reality TV Goes Back in Time was GOING TO HAPPEN!

This was definitely worth all the time and effort that went into it.  The students LOVED it and it helped end the year on a strong note!  It wasn't all smooth sailing...I ran into a couple bumps along the way.  I'll talk about those bumps and in my next post on the details of the project.

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

May I Introduce You To...

The Future Teachers from Cheney High School
(and some still considering...)

I have mentioned before (here) that I have the privilege of teaching the introductory course for the Teaching and Training Pathway at Cheney High School.  The class is called "Teaching as a Career" or many times as I refer to it as my "future teachers."

I LOVE this class.  And these students.

This class has been insanely hard to prepare for as a teacher.  There is SO MUCH to learn about teaching, how do you narrow it down?  Where do you start?  How much "teaching" should they do? Where do you go observe?  How often do you observe?  What should the final look like? How do you teach it?  How do you take the material from a college level textbook (that expects the class to be "sit and get") and create lessons that reflect best teaching practices?

I have enjoyed spending the last year getting to know these eight high school students.  Their personalities say so much about what their classrooms will look like someday (IF they choose teaching...there are still a few "undecideds")

After spending the year with them and watching their opinions about school and education develop, I wanted to make them something, something that would show them what I SEE IN THEM and what they could do with their classrooms someday.

So I started writing.  I created an "Inspirational-Educational saying" that was based on each student and what topics, theories and ideas they seemed to latch onto.  And then I went to one of my favorite classroom tech tools...Adobe Spark and created these.

She has mentioned many times this year that students should have a choice and a voice as to what goes on in the classroom.  Whether it's flexible seating, the assignment the complete, or just voicing their opinion in a class discussion.  As my only Senior, I hope her dream classroom comes true!

This young lady, was my youngest in the class, as a Sophomore, she was adamant that teachers be respectful of students as they require respect from their classes.  She will make sure that she never calls out a student's mistake in front of the class.  Such wise advice for us all!

I expect this lady's classroom to be filled with bright colors and creative activities that make students want to be in her classroom, instead of "have to be" there.  She is one of the most creative thinkers I have met and I can't wait to see what she does!

God Bless her.  She wants the "littles."  Kindergarten.  And she will be great at it! She really seemed to take a liking to the Multiple Intelligence theory and loves the idea of coming up with various ways for students to learn and interact with content.  As my oldest heads off to Kindergarten in August, I hope her teacher possess these same interests!

In case you missed the reference...she's a Star Wars fan.  I just see her connecting with her students on a whole different level.  And being one of my only two students who were considering secondary education, she will be able to make her classroom a part of her personality.  Students will know who she is from walking into the room!

I think, out of all the students in my class this year, this young lady surprised me the most.  She came in, a little unsure of her path.  She is leaving my class this year confident and strong.  She has mentioned many times how she was inspired by teachers, so she wants to inspire the students in her classroom.  I have no doubt that she will.

Goal oriented, strong leadership skills, and striving for perfection are qualities that Ms. Campbell possess. She doesn't just want to be a good teacher, she wants to be great.  I am positive that whatever goals she sets for herself, both professionally and personally, will be met, if not exceeded!

This young man will be successful at whatever he chooses to do.  Strong in people skills and many talents, he struggles knowing which career path is the best for him. I, however have a feeling, deep in my gut, that he is meant to be in education.  IF he does choose teaching...his classroom will be an active one. He despises the "sit and get" methods of instruction, and will create the classroom he would have learned best in as a student. The current trends in education are just perfect for someone like him.

As the year closes and these students walk out of my door, many head to the internship phase of the education pathway.  I see them as eventual colleagues, and hope that they come knocking at my door when they get the keys to their classrooms, wanting to chat about all things teaching!

Good luck and inspire many.

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Power of Positivity!

Wanna know a secret?

Everyone WANTS to love their job.

Unfortunately, some don't.  One question that I seem to keep running into on Twitter chats, especially the chats with a topic for new teachers or future teachers, is "What do you do when you encounter a colleague who is continually negative?"

This is a legitimate question, because it's reality.  There are teachers, principals, counselors, and students who are struggling daily with the challenges of school.  Those challenges look different to different people, and some just can't seem to get out of the rut.

I'm not talking about the encounter with a teacher who was just involved in a frustrating situation and needs to blow off a little steam.  That's venting.  We all need to vent.  Usually after voicing our frustration, taking some time to reflect, we calm down and move on.  I'm talking more about those who just always find something wrong with every situation.  The chronic complainers.  You know who they are.  Maybe it's you.

My answer to this question of "how to deal with the complainers," is the same every time.

Stay positive.  

Listen, offer support, but always...stay positive.  Because you can't force someone to see the positive side of education.  You can force someone to stop complaining...they'll just complain about being forced into it.  And you can't force someone to love their job.  But if you stay positive, smile, and let the love you have for your job radiate out of you... it's attractive and contagious.

You see...everyone WANTS to LOVE their job.

Eventually those who are struggling and frustrated will start to wonder WHY you always look so happy?  Why you are able to stay positive?  And HOW you do it??

And then they come to you.

They'll ask for your advice.  It may sound a little like...

What can I do to feel better about my classroom?
I wish I knew how to feel motivated about my classroom...
You're always happy, how do you do it?

And now you have the opportunity to help someone find a passion for their job.  This is powerful.  Don't shy away from it.  We need positive leaders of the school to be willing to share what works for them, what motivates them, and how WE GOT HERE.  Was it Twitter?  Was it developing a PLN? Was it getting to know your students more? Whatever it is...share it.

Because if something is going to spread through a should be positive.  Never under-estimate the power of POSITIVITY.  It is contagious and it can be just the thing you, your colleagues, or your school needs.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Power of the Ripple Effect

It seems appropriate for this post today.  National Teacher Day.  The power of influence a teacher has is hard to really fathom.  Today I'd like to dedicate this post to the most inspirational teachers I have had.

I don't do this to embarrass them in any way.  It's more so that they have the opportunity to see the ripple effect that they started so many years ago, when I sat in their classrooms.  You see, we talk about the "ripple effect" that a teacher has, and how inspiring one student can be a spark that may change the world.  But many times teachers don't actually get to see it.

Mr. Bart Kulhman, Mr. Chris Varvel, and Mrs. Sally Gates Donahue (may she rest in peace...) this post is for you.

It should come as no surprise to many of my classmates that I became a social studies teacher, when all three of the above mentioned educators were my social studies teachers in high school.

I first encountered Mrs. Donahue as a wide-eyed (and VERY nervous) Freshman.  I had heard the rumors of her class and the copious notes you would take.  In fact, I'm sure she mentioned that on the first day, using that word, "copious."  It quickly became a part of my vocabulary as I honed in on my method for note-taking.  Don't get the wrong idea here...she didn't just lecture.  Her class was the first time I can remember actively learning about history.  She taught World History.  Some of my favorite memories of her class involve studying Islam and having to cover myself with a sheet while sitting on the floor in the back of the room and her love for Alexander the Great.

Mr. Varvel opened a whole new world to me my Junior year with his National/International, current events class.  I can remember sitting in his class, watching the news, debating controversial topics with my classmates, playing the weekly current event quiz game, and producing our Year in Review project.  I sat in the front row as we watched the controversy unfold over the "hanging chad" of the 2000 election, I knew all of the countries that belonged to OPEC and their leaders, and first learned to develop opinions different from my parents and peers.  While I was away at college, I watched the events of September 11th unfold and so desperately wanted to be in his class, that I called him from my dorm room that night, just to talk about it.  What I wouldn't give to be teaching in the same building as him.

I was lucky enough to have Mr. Kuhlman for Junior American History and Senior Government.  His energy and love for the subject was contagious.  The first day of school our Junior year found us digging in boxes of dirt to discover the various eras of American History we would be talking about throughout the year (which was inspiration for my archaeology project we did this year).  One day he ran full-speed into the cinder-block wall just to hook us into his discussion on World War One.  Did I say he was high energy?  Our Senior year, we created a working government throughout the different classes.  Each class period helped run a presidential campaign, whichever class had the winning candidate became the executive branch (President, VP, and Cabinet), one class the Senate, and one the House of Representatives.  We had to pass laws, override vetos, and balance a budget.  There was some seriously powerful learning happening in that classroom.  So much so, that I can honestly say when I creep on my fellow classmate's Facebook pages, I am proud to say we have many who are actively involved in civics and politics today.

These three teachers, unknowingly at that time, instilled a love for history, government, and current events.  I knew that I would be a teacher, but I started out wanting elementary education.  After about a week observing in a 4th grade classroom (just a couple years into NCLB) I realized that my love for the social sciences would never get to be put into action in the elementary grades.  I decided to change to secondary education, social science and never looked back.

Together, these power-house educators helped inspire me to be the teacher I am today.  As I finish my 11th year as a middle school social studies teacher, I am just now starting to see the ripple effect continue from my classroom.  I have had three student teachers in the last three years and one who was sitting in my very first 8th grade classroom.  Who knows how many ripples will come from these new teachers.

All starting from Mrs. Donahue, Mr. Varvel, and Mr. Kuhlman at Burlington High School.  The ripple effect and influence that you three have had on your students continues today and will continue for year and years to come.

Thank you.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

What Do Your Students Think?

One of the best ways to be able to sit back and honestly take a good look at your teaching is to have the students complete an evaluation on you.  So I do.  I use a Google Form to ask them questions such as...

What was your favorite activity we did this year?

What is your favorite way to receive new information?

What do you wish we did more of in class?

What was your least favorite activity we did this year?

What is one thing you would change about Social Studies if you could?

Is this teacher willing to admit his/her mistakes?

Do you trust this teacher?

List five words to describe this teacher: (this is a fun one I ask so I can create a word cloud for the next year)

I don't want questions that will only give me good feedback.  I want honest feedback from my students so I can see what I'm doing well and where I can make some changes.  And I take it seriously.  Student responses has led to some good changes I have made for my classroom over the years. 

My favorite question on the evaluation is, "what advice would you give to new 7th graders on how to be successful in Mrs. Weber's class?"  This gives me good information to use at the start of the year last year.  For some reasons, students take the advice from other students better than what I suggest. (Even though it ends up being the same thing...Shhh!)

The end of the year is always a good time to reflect on your teaching and look to make changes, what better way to do that, than asking the students you've been working for all year?!?

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!