Monday, September 18, 2017

Kansas Historical Society and Traveling Trunks

I love to use artifacts.

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

Kids love to "do history."

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

Here is my lesson in detail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answer is, the bison.

The bison was their Wal-Mart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 10, 2017

My Blogging Story

This Monday night at 8:00 CST 

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

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

In the Beginning...

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

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

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

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

My Audience...

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

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

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

Getting Started...

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

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

Monday Night at 8:00

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


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

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Classroom Seating: Increasing Movement, Collaboration, and Easing Prep

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

One of those is Flexible Seating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So many possibilities with colors, letters, and numbers.

Monday, September 4, 2017

HyperDocs - A Game Changer!

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

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

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

One of those is Hyperdocs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want a copy of that Hyperdoc?  Click HERE

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

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

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

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

Sounds like a #TeacherWIN to me!

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

Happy Hyperdocing!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Creating My Own "Broken Relics"

I love to mix things up, take something that we have been doing and throw in an extra little challenge. I also love it when the challenge involves something hands-on that makes kids have to work together.

Enter the "Broken Relic"

What I do:
I take a picture of whatever it is I want to serve as the relic.  I love to take a primary source that I'm going to have the students analyze like a poster or photograph. I print off the picture, turn it over and then start creating my puzzle.

I send the puzzle (still together) to be laminated.  This helps preserve the pieces if you plan on burying them.

Once they return all nice and shiny, I cut up the puzzle pieces.  I keep them in envelopes labeled until I am ready to use it.  I can use it as bell work to hook students, as a clue in a Breakout EDU activity, or as a station in order to get the kids moving and working together.  However, my favorite way to use it is...

Bury that baby! I LOVE to bury the pieces in sand. Make the students have to uncover the artifacts. This is a very inexpensive way to add a little "archaeology" into your classroom. Kids love having to uncover them.  You can get a 50 1b. bag of sand at Lowes for $2.00 and a plastic tub at Walmart for less than $2.00. Cheap and easy way to make an activity a little more engaging.

After students put the puzzles together, have them analyze the document. I LOVE to use this evidence overlay (purchase here) with dry-erase markers. Just another way to up the engagement of your students.

Tips for organization and management:

  • If kids have to tape this together and you're planning on using it for more than one class (talking mostly to secondary teachers here) label the pieces on the back a different letter or number for each class.  This way you can keep track of which pieces belong to what class.
  • Anytime you can have a volunteer help you label and cut out the puzzles.  Especially if you have many class periods and you're trying to sort it all out.
  • Reverse the idea and have kids have to locate a primary source photo to turn into a puzzle for their classmates. Rotate puzzles throughout the classroom so that each group gets to analyze another team's primary source. All the prep work is on them and they get to analyze a variety of sources!

By creating your own broken relics the possibilities are endless!

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!