Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Say Yes!

This is the first year of my teaching career (including my student teaching) that I have not coached a sport.  This is the first of 10 years that I get to focus solely on my classroom.  I was so excited that I could finally get to all the things I never had time to do.

You know what??  I still don't have any time.

I've had this post planned since August.  It is now November.  I created a previous post about what two things teachers can do to improve their teaching and have a better classroom experience.

1. Reflect

2. Say YES!

I talked about reflection here, and said that the second part of this "Say YES" was coming soon.

Well, "soon" is just going to have to be a few months later than planned.

In my interview for the current job I have, I was asked the typical question "what are some of your weaknesses?"

And I answered with the typical response, "I have a hard time saying no.  I want to do everything and then get overwhelmed with all my irons in the fire."  (Starting to understand why this post took months to finish...)

So, why do I believe that saying YES will help improve your teaching experience?

Because as teachers need to be saying YES to the right things.

Do you want to participate in this conference made up of middle school social studies teachers?  YES

Are you willing to videotape some of your best lessons to create a database to help give other teachers ideas?  Scary, but YES

Will you share that test you created using primary source documents, analysis questions, and writing?  YES

Teachers HAVE to be willing to collaborate with other educators.  And not just any educators.  Work with other teachers who....

  1. Teach the same subject and age you do:  This is so important.  I can collaborate with the high school social studies teachers some, but it is mostly to make sure I am instructing the things students should know before coming to high school.  I can't really use those teachers ideas, nor do I want them using mine.  I want to work with teachers who teach the SAME THING I do so I can beg, borrow, and steal their ideas!  (Giving due credit of course...)  On the other side of that I am always willing to share what I do in the classroom with any other teacher.  
  2. Collaborate with the GOOD ones!  Don't hitch your wagon to a team of drunk horses...or something like that.  Find a teacher who is doing it right.  Who has good ideas and is willing to share.  Hanging out with good teachers will make you a better teacher!
How about this one...

Are you willing to take on a student teacher?  YES!!!

Wait one minute, Mrs. Weber, are you telling me that I should take on a student teacher during a time when state assessment scores are so important and I am being judged on how my students preform?  


I should let some newbie take over my classroom, let go of the reigns and just watch him or her flounder for 8-16 weeks?  

YES!  Help them, guide them, let the flounder some, but not drown.  Teach them. 

Here's my reasoning.  

We don't just need teachers...  

We need GOOD teachers.

The best way to get good teachers is to have the "newbies" trained by GOOD teachers.  

So good teachers need to be willing to share their talents with other people besides their students.  Take a few weeks out of your year and teach someone else to be a good teacher.  This will help create a better classroom experience for more teachers and students.  Creating a ripple effect of greatness!  

I still struggle with taking on too much, and saying "yes" to more than I can handle, but I am working on trying to say "yes" to the right things.  Things that will continue to help make me a better teacher and improve my classroom experience.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

11 Things You Will See in Social Studies This Year

All across social media are these Buzz Feed lists.  Things like "23 Things Only Parents of Toddlers Will Understand" and "The Best Things About Growing Up in the 80's." I will admit, I can't seem to stop myself from clicking the link and laughing along all the "so true!" statements and funny photos that go along with it. 

Then I clicked on one today that was awesome...called "21 Things Every 21st Century Teacher Should do this Year."  And while was happy to see some of the things that I am currently doing and planning on doing this year on the list, it got me thinking of a neat way to further communicate some of the things that will go on in MY classroom this year. 

So, without further ado...  11 Things You will See in Social Studies This Year

***All photos are real examples from inside my classroom, I'm not holding back or trying to show something different that what is really happening!***

1.  Teamwork/Collaboration:  One of the biggest things that we continue to hear from employers in the "working world" is that youths entering the job world for the first time don't know how to work with a group of people.  We will do a lot of team work and collaboration in this classroom.  It happens on a daily basis in my classroom.  Students read, discuss, and answer questions together as a team.  Daily teamwork and collaboration is just that.  Each day students have the opportunity to show me that they are willing to work together. 

 Yes...there are a few select students who choose to hang back and just wait for the answers.  Just know, that I am aware of who they are.  When it comes time for a BIG project that involves partners or a team, those who hang back will be matched up with other students who hang back.  This solves the problem of the "Donny-Do-Nothing" being paired up with a "Charlie-Do-Everything."   I informed all of my classes this year about that policy...and wouldn't you know, after almost a month of school I have VERY FEW who are choosing the "Do-Nothing" path

2.  Technology: Last year our school made a big jump into the techno world by increasing the technology available to students.  All of my 7th and 8th graders have an iPad that they can take to and from school.  We. Will. Use. It.  It may not be used every single second of every day, but it is an important part of my classroom.  Projects, daily work, photos, communication, etc...  We. Will. Use. It.

3.  Rubrics:  I am not out to trick my students.  I want them to know exactly what to expect.  Rubrics are very important to for everyone involved; teachers, students and parents. 

For me, rubrics make grading simple.  It takes the guess work out of "did he or she really have enough information?" I can simply go through each item and circle what was presented as the final project.

  For students, they know exactly how I grade.  They will always have access to rubrics before, during, and after a project.  I will say, from past experience, very few students use it.  The ones that do, always end up with the highest scores in the class.

For parents, it is justification.  We have more and more parents who are involved in their child's learning, and it is awesome.  Rubrics only give parents more information on what their child is expected to do, and why he or she received the grade they did.

4.  New Social Studies Standards:  Last year Kansas rolled out the new Social Studies State Standards.  I went from having over 30 different indicators in five different disciplines of social studies (history, government, Kansas history, geography, and economics) to having a total of five. 

 They were developed with the purpose of having kids "DO History" instead of memorize trivial information.  No longer are kids asked to know what date the Battle of New Orleans officially ended, or what exactly, word-for-word definition of the Monroe Doctrine.  Instead students are going to be given questions such as... "Was the Declaration of Independence written because of ideological reasons such as liberty and freedom or for selfish reasons of the rich and powerful?"  They will investigate sources, both primary and secondary that support both sides of the argument and then have to answer the questions based on information they learned along the way. 

The good part. It is MUCH better than trying to drill and kill trivial information and there seems to be less pressure to be able to answer specific multiple choice questions on state assessments. 

The hard part.  Retraining students, teachers, and parents who have been taught and have been teaching social studies "the old way."  I have seen over the last two to three years that I have been slowly implementing this new approach, that students who traditionally were very good at memorization and spitting back facts, struggle at first to grasp the idea that they are going to have to analyze information and back up their answers with evidence. 

You now have to put some effort in to social studies.  You have to THINK like a Historian!

5.  Historical Thinking:  Speaking of thinking like a historian...  That is exactly what drives my classroom this year.  Asking questions, questioning sources, analyzing documents.  By the end of the year students should be pros at historical thinking!  We are doing it almost every single day. 

Again, this is new to many students, teachers, and parents, and again I'm not out to trick my students in anyway.  I have a variety of visual reminders throughout my classroom (and more added all the time) to help students remember the process, until it becomes second nature to them!

6.  Social Media:  Facebook, Twitter, Blogging, and most recently Instagram.  I'm using it all.  I'm using it for parent communication, students communication, professional collaboration, and because it it FUN to document what goes on in my class.  It is FUN for kids to see their pictures and ideas on with big wide web, and because it is FUN to see the outpouring support from the community, my family, other social studies teachers, and students.

 7.  Tests and Projects:  Due to the changes in the way we are teaching social studies, my tests have changed too.  No longer do my assessments have multiple choice, fill in the blank, or true/false questions.  Tests are always 100 points in the grade book and will consist of primary source document analysis, photo analysis, essay responses, correctly using vocabulary in paragraph form, and other forms of historical thinking.  Don't panic!  I never put anything on a test that students aren't familiar with the process.  Also, students shouldn't NEED to study in the traditional drill and kill fashion of the past.  All the answers (except for vocabulary knowledge) can be found within the text and documents on the test.  The important thing is that students are able to identify the answers and BACK it up with EVIDENCE found within in the text.  Again something that is practiced in the classroom on an almost daily basis. 

I will not always have a test to end my units.  Sometimes there will be a final project that requires original thinking, technology, teamwork and collaboration, and presentation skills.  Projects will always have a detailed rubric, where they will be able to know exactly how they will be assessed.  Because projects tend to take many days, they are typically worth anywhere from 100-200 points in the grade book.

8. Absences will hurt:  It is hard to express to someone who isn't in my classroom how much we do on any given day. We are busy in here. I have the kids from 75-80 minutes, and some days it seems like we bounce from one activity, to the next assignment, to the group discussion, to a video clip and it's over.  A lot of what we do is done together, or collaborated with team members.  When someone is absent, I can't recreate that.  The student is still responsible for the material, meaning they end up doing a lot of work independently.  Much of what we do in class will show up again on assessments and in projects.  Depending on the day missed and material taught, that information on the test may be more difficult for the student.  I am available to answer questions over make up work and try to help students understand, but bottom line is... Anytime you are absent you miss out on things that cannot be made up or recreated.  This holds true for the "working world" as well.

9. My Mistakes:  I. Am. Human.  I am not perfect, and I don't claim to be.  I forget things at home, I have typos, I have recorded the wrong grade for the wrong student, I have created lessons and projects that have sucked.  I don't try to hide my mistakes.  I want students to see that I am human too.  This helps me have empathy for my students and approach their mistakes in a kind and helpful way.  The same type of treatment I expect.  However, that doesn't mean that I am wrong every time.  Out of every missing assignment that a student says "I know I turned that in..." I have found the turned in assignment only a handful of times, usually the paper has been put in their notebook and forgotten. 

10. Writing:  We will write in here.  This is the area of my subject and Common Core Standards that I am most nervous about.  I was not trained on how to teach students to write, I don't even know if I could still pick out all the prepositional phrases correctly. I do know, that we are doing more and more of it.  As I require more writing out of my students, the more comfortable I am with it.  I try to work with the Communication's Teachers (Language Arts) in using the same vocabulary and strategies that they use in their classes.  And you know what??  The students are getting better at it.  Every time. 

11. Selfies!  Because it is fun.  Because it gives me a little "street-cred" with the students because I actually know the difference between a "Selfie" and an "Us-ie."  And because what better way to blend learning history with modern technology! 

There you have it a taste of what's to be expected this year in my room, although there are many more things I could add to the list.  I seem to change things every time the wind blows in my classroom.  Something sparks an idea and I'm off trying to create something new. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014


In my opinion there are two things a teacher can do to improve their teaching and have a better classroom experience. 

1.  Reflect.

2. Say YES.

Today I want to talk about reflection. (Say YES, is coming soon...)

Today was one of those days.  It followed a SUPER AWESOME lesson on the Declaration of Independence (found here) and unfortunately turned out just blah.  (Although part of this could be that I hadn't seen my 8th graders in 5 days...block schedule is murder on a holiday weekend!)

The students were required to do more independent work with two different sources that had different opinions.  The problem was, they weren't getting it.  I'm still not sure if this is because they truly don't understand what to do, or because they want to be spoon fed answers so that everyone gets an A.  Honestly, it's probably both. 

Now to my point of this post.  Reflection.

I could just sit here and create a post about why kids today want all the answers and how no one wants kids to EVER fail, so that creates teens who don't want to work and just want everything handed to them.

I could say that kids today are just lazy.

It is very easy for teachers to pass the blame of a poor lesson on to the students.   But that doesn't make a better classroom.  The students end up getting the same poor lessons, and the teachers just continue to get mad because of "kids these days..."

Reflection is something that will make a better teacher and an overall better classroom because it is ongoing. 

But it is hard.

You have to take a good HONEST look at your lesson or activity and try to figure out what didn't work.

Then you have to fix it.

About half way through my class today I figured out how to fix it.  How to make it better.  In fact, how to make it awesome. 

(Awesome in "teacher vocabulary" not teen talk, because my idea involves preparing the students throughout the entire unit to write an essay at the end.  They don't think it's awesome.  For some reason anytime I mention that they are going to have to write, there are groans and moans like I just told them they were going to have creamed spinach for lunch.)

The good news is, some things, methods and delivery I can change right away.  Daily work instruction and modeling to get the results I want, and be SURE that the reason for a poor lesson, wasn't my approach.  The problem is that to make the entire unit awesome, I can't do until next year, when I start again.  This unit is almost over, it would be unfair for me to try to force an essay on them, which I haven't prepared them for.  However, that doesn't mean I can apply the methods to future lessons and units :)

In the mean time, I have taken notes, written down what I want to do and how things need to change.  And am beginning to rethink everything for next year. 

HONEST reflection is a MUST for any teacher who wants to continue to improve and make their classroom better.   Good teachers do things that are difficult.  It can be very difficult to look at yourself, your teaching methods, and your poor lesson with open and honest eyes to discover what the REAL reason was. 

Then go to work and make it better.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

History in a Bag - Part 2

"Mrs. Weber, why do we need to learn about history?  I mean, it's in the past, what does it matter now."

The "typical" history teacher response usually goes like this.  "Because in order to not repeat the bad things in history we need to learn from them."

Yeah, yeah, that may be true.  But that's a boring answer.

Today, my students got another answer out of me.

I prepped this activity with my previous blog about the first day of school activity "History in a Bag."  If you missed it, click here, and read about it.  I'll wait...

....All caught up?  Good.

***This post is long.  Read it anyway.  You will be glad you did.***

Today my 7th graders came in seeing a big box which had a grocery bag taped to it with the words "REAL History in a Bag."  (The items were too big to put in the actual bag.)
 There were also 5 questions on the board with the statement that said:  By the end of today's activity you should be able to answer the following questions.
  1. Was the person who owned all of these items male or female?
  2. What was his or her name?
  3. Where did he or she live?
  4. What did he or she do for a living?
  5. What were some of his or her hobbies.
We then reviewed our two vocabulary words from last class period.  This sort of shocked them because we never wrote down definitions, used terms in sentences or drew illustrations.  I never even said "we have two vocab words we are going to learn today."  They didn't even realize we talked about vocab words last class.  Then I told them to think about their bags and what the purpose of that activity was... and wouldn't you know, they were quickly able to identify our words.  Primary Source and Infer.  They could also tell me the definitions and give examples.

I love it!  They learned and didn't even realize!  Score one for the teacher!

Next I told them today we would be taking the process we learned last time and applying it to a "real" history in a bag, with primary sources.  (See what I did there...taking something we previously learned and APPLYING it the next day.  The education gurus would be so proud of me!)

***There were literally hundreds of ways that I could have organized this lesson, the way I finally decided to do it was based on purely time.  How to squeeze in 5 cool primary sources, discussion, and learning in one 75 minute class period.***

  • I started off by handing each student a worksheet and a playing card.  The worksheet was divided in to 5 sections, one for each station, which would each have an item from the bag.  Each station had 3-5 questions that the students were to answer by studying the items.  Each object started off with the question:  Is this a primary or secondary source?  And What type of source is it; Artifact, Letter, Newspaper Article, or Photo.  After that the questions were specific to the item that was there. 
  • The students looked at their playing cards and went to the station that matched.  All they needed was a pencil and their worksheet.  I then passed out the items that belonged at each station.
  1. Jewelry:
  2. Letters:

  3. Box #1: A Tackle Box (the kids did not know this...they had to use the clues)

  4. Box #2:  Sewing Box...again, students had to use the clues.

  5. Newspaper Article
  • Students now got to spend 5 minutes at each station studying the items and answering the questions which included "What is this?" "Who made it?" "What was the purpose of this?" The newspaper article and letter asked questions over what they read.
  • When time was up and all stations had been visited, the students went back to their seats and discussed with their groups the answers they inferred from studying the items.  After about 5 minutes of team discussion we then discussed as a class.  I wanted to hear what they inferred.  Some of them were correct, some of them were wrong.  But to hear the students talk with such enthusiasm (and in some cases, argue) about what they thought about each object was exactly what I was going for.  They cared.  They wanted to be right.  And they WANTED to learn the truth.
  • The next task involved team discussion again.  I instructed the group to write down answers to the five questions on the board, based only on what they discovered from the objects.   This was again, everything I wanted from them.  All groups all day long answered every question right.
  • Was the owner of these items male or female?  Male
  • What was his name?  Paul A. Lohmeyer
  • Where was he from?  Kansas City
  • What did he do for a living?  He was the president of a jewelry company called, The Green Company Inc. 
  • What were some of his hobbies?  Fishing and sewing (sewing wasn't really a hobby, the story is much cooler about the sewing box...I'm getting there.)
Finally we were to the point of class that all the students were waiting for.  The answers.  The stories. 
  • I passed around a photo of Paul Lohmeyer so they could put a face to all of this information that they discovered today.
The Answers:

The Jewelry:

Mr. Lohmeyer was President of the Green Company Inc.  He made these two pieces out of a thimble cut in half and dipped in gold.  The flowers were old tie pins that men used to wear to hold their ties in place on their shirts.  These pins were a gift for his wife.

The Letters:

One of my favorites!  Mr. Lohmeyer had many high profile clients.  He designed and sold a charm to Princess Grace of Monaco, more popular in the U.S. for her movie films such as "To Catch a Thief."  Grace Kelly.  This is the thank you letter she sent him.  Watching the students try to figure out the signature was great!  They did a great job using the clues on the envelope to discover that Monaco wasn't her last name, but some type of city or country.

The Tackle Box:

Probably one of the easiest.  Mr. Lohmeyer enjoyed fishing.

The Sewing Box:  (Are you ready for this...)

Mr. Lohmeyer also served in the Army during World War Two.  He raised to the rank of Captain and was placed in charge of a German Prisoner of War Camp.  His treatment of the prisoners respectful and fair.  To thank Captain Lohmeyer, the POW's made this box for him.  Without tools.  The screws were inserted with a can lid.  Even some of the pieces were fashioned out of a can.  See...I told you.  Cool stuff.
The Newspaper Article:

I do not have the actual newspaper article for the kids. I had to copy the words myself.
 Mr. Lohmeyer stopped off at an animal auction one day, just for the fun of it.  With all the bidding excitement he joined right in and ended up buying a Hampshire Lamb, and taking it home in the back seat of his car (can you imagine his wife when he got home???)  The lamb lived in his back yard and his two daughters would walk the lamb on a leash up and down their suburban street.  The neighbors must have been entertained!

The conclusion:  Mr. Lohmeyer bought that lamb in October of 1967, little over a year later on December 3, 1968 he was killed in a car accident on his way home.  He was 55 years old.  This picture is a school photo of his youngest daughter in 7th grade, less than a year after he died.  Her name is Julie.

This is her today on the far right. I am pictured on the far left with my sister in the middle.  My daughter is the cute little baby.

Gasps.  Oooo's.  Ah Ha!

The kids figure out the connection.  Paul Lohmeyer was my grandfather.

Why do we study history???

Because HISTORY. IS. AWESOME.  Because history is more than just dates of events that took place in the past.  History is full of stories, awesome stories about ordinary people who lived extraordinary lives.  History doesn't just tell us how our country was founded and who fought who in which war. History tells us who WE are and how WE got here.  It is a part of all of us.  And it is AWESOME!

Friday, August 15, 2014

History in a Bag - Part 1

I always hated the first day of school as a student.  Not because I had to go to school, I liked school fine.  Because all we did were rules, rules, and more rules.  Ugh!  Suckfest. 

I am embarrassed to admit it, that the first few years of my teaching career that's what I did.  I tried to disguise it with a "scavenger hunt" or station "activities," but it was still just rules.  I still hated it.  I was still bored by it.  But I felt like I HAD to do it.  The kids need to know what to expect in my class. 

By the end of the day I wanted to beat my head against the wall.  So I'm sure my students felt like that too. 

So a couple years I changed it up.  Each day I do a few "Need to Knows."  Select rules and policies that the students need to know on that specific day.  The first day my 7th graders meet me, they need to know that they must be an ACTIVE participant in this class.  It is a must.  But they don't need to know my late work policy until we start having assignments. This allows me to spread out my "rules" and get right down to business.

Today was my first day with 7th graders, and after a brief introduction of myself, tour of my classroom, and the select "Need to Knows" for the day we jumped in.

The activity is called History in a Bag and I took the idea from here.  But you know me (or you will very quickly) and know that I can't just leave it at taking someones idea.  I have to jazz it up a bit.  Make it fit my classroom and what I want my kids to gain from the activity.

Today was part 1. 

  • We had a discussion on what history is, how historians find the information, what a primary source is and how historians use a variety of sources and points of view to infer what happened.  The more sources and the more reliable the source is, the easier it is to be accurate in the story.  I told the kids that today they would get their first chance to "Think like a Historian."  Something they will be asked to do MANY times this year.
  • I gave each student an empty paper bag and instructed them to fill the bag with 5 items that they have with them (or in their lockers) and place the bag on the empty group in the front of the room.
    Bags filled with artifacts ready to be discovered!
  • Each student was then given a bag at random along with questions to answer about about the owner of the bag.  They could only use the items in the bag to answer the questions.
  • The questions were...
  • Is the owner of the bag male or female?  What makes you think this?
  • What is a hobby this person might have?  What makes you think this?
  • What type of music do you think this person likes to listen to?  What makes you think this?
  • Who do you think is the owner of the bag.
  • For some students the answers were easy.  Pink lip-gloss, perfume, and a key that says Princess were some good artifacts to use to answer the questions.
    Male or Female???

    Hmmm...Deodorant?  I wonder if he or she play sports?

    "I don't even know what this is?!?!"

    "Cherry Limeade chap-stick.  Female."

    "I think this person is female because there is a picture with three little girls"
  • For others, they had to use some reasoning and critical thinking to answer the questions.  Like the student who found a pair of running shorts in the bag.  He decided that her hobbies might be running or working out, that they would need fast, fun music, so he inferred that the owner of the bag listened to pop/rock music.  Great reasoning.  Awesome thinking.  
    Running shorts??
For me the best thing about this lesson is how it sets up the next one.  You see, what I described above is pretty much step by step and word for word what I took from Glenn Wiebe's back to school blog post.  In our next class period I will have a "real" History in a Bag filled with actual historical artifacts, pictures, and articles.  The students will have a series of questions to answer based on what they discover by studying the artifacts.

Stay tuned for part 2 next week!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Out of My Comfort Zone

Teachers are lucky.  We get two "New Years" to set resolutions and make changes. 

January and August.

I love the start of school (most years...) and this year brings on a whole new burst of excitement and energy.  I start each year with a few changes or points of focus that I want to put my attention to.  A few years ago, I started this blog.  And while I don't get the opportunity to post as often as I would like (you should see the number of posts I have started and never had the time to go back and finish...) I still enjoy writing about what goes on in my classroom.  Whether you are a parent of one of my middle schoolers, a teacher looking for ideas, or a friend of mine who just likes to see what I'm doing, hopefully you all find something interesting about this blog.

Last year my focus was survival.  Maternity leave is hard.  I wanted to survive and not completely hate coming to back to school after new little baby was born.  That didn't really work until the end of the year when I had a renewed spirit. 

This year my focus is communication with parents. 

I am well aware that getting information out of teenagers about their day at school is about as easy as breaking into a bank vault.

So I want to help with that.

I have come up with a cool way to communicate with parents what my classroom procedures are, what cool lessons we did in class, and what we have coming down the line (student teacher, field trips, etc...)

I call it Weber Wednesdays

I plan to post a YouTube video of myself explaining various parts of my classroom to give parents a peak inside our walls.  The videos will start out every week for a while and then taper off to an "as needed" basis.

The cool thing.  I think parents and members of our community are really going to appreciate it. 

The not so cool thing.  I want to throw up every time I push "POST." A video of myself out in the big bad world of social media, scary.  (Seriously...I'm getting a little queasy just typing this out.)

This is WAY outside my comfort zone.

But when I think about what I'm doing and what the purpose it, I come to another conclusion.  Stepping outside our comfort zones only can lead to the discovery of new talents, new strategies, and personal growth.  These are things I want my students to do, and that I ask them to do on a regular basis.  Why wouldn't I want to model those actions. 

Because I hate videotaping myself.

But I'm going to do it.  And I hope the sensation to vomit goes away after the first few Wednesdays.

Friday, May 16, 2014

This Title Could Be So Many Things...

Stupid Me!  I'm an IDIOT!  It's the end of the year and my brain is obviously gone.

It's May..

The last Friday of the year. 

The final project for your 7th graders is due today.  You worked hard to create a relative, cumulative project that included technology integration, performance piece, and collaboration with other teachers.  You are proud and excited for it. The students have worked like champs to perfect their presentations for the two guest judges you have coming in.

The superintendent.

And the local education cooperative history guru (who planted the seed for this awesome project).  He is coming from out of town.

And because it's the end of the year.

And you have ZERO brain left.

And your the biggest IDIOT out there...

You tell your judges to be there an hour late.  Even confirmed it in an email last night.

Even though your first class had the SAME START TIME ALL YEAR LONG.

But it will all work out because I work with some amazing people who will work with me!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

UGH! (But it's ok)

New web filter.  Kicking us off every 8 minutes.  Means impossible to watch the 15 minute video.  Google Drive not working at all.  Kids can't access the assignment.  All of this happening in 2nd block. will not defeat me.  I am nothing if I'm not flexible.  We are rolling with it.

But that doesn't diminish my frustration.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Reflections: History of Slavery Through Time.

We are finished!  A month later than planned, this due to two reasons.  Snow and Fantasticness.

Snow days on a block schedule are MURDER.  I didn't see my 8th graders for an entire week.  But I did get to spend three days cuddled with my girls at home...  If this wasn't a "no fault" year for state assessments I would be freaking out about how much time I have lost and how behind I am from previous years.  I am hoping the changes in standards and testing will help keep me more relaxed on my schedule.

Fantasticness.  It became apparent very early on in the project (after day one..) that in order to give the kids enough time for their ideas to turn in to products, this was going to take a lot longer than I previously thought.


That said.  I thought a list of pros and cons would be good for anyone thinking of doing a similar project.  Here is a list of what WE came up with (I say "we" because the kids helped me with this, their struggles, their reflections, and their successes.)

* The students worked independently. They thrived when challenged with LESS instruction from me.  They came up with ideas for projects I never would have thought to assign.  The level of UNIQUE creativity was just amazing.

* They enjoyed the project and talked about it outside of class.  Kids who NEVER do homework were working on this outside of class.  They didn't see it as homework.  I never once heard "When am I going to need to know this?"

* They explored new apps, if they didn't know how to do something they wanted done, THEY looked it up or WE collaborated together to figure something out.  Sometimes as teachers we can get frustrated with the lack of student understanding and just give in and give out answers (don't act like you've never done it...), but this project took that away.  I truly didn't know the answers to some of their questions.  They had to be independent, collaborate with their partner and seek out the answer for themselves. 

* We had some STANDOUT presentations that were just AMAZING, the projects that weren't great were good.  And even the projects that turned out to be duds (and there definitely were...), those students still LEARNED MORE about slavery than if I would have just given a test.

* Many groups wanted to do humorous presentations.  Slavery isn't funny.  After hearing some of the ideas we had to figure out ways to either scrap the funny concept all together or put humor in the characters rather than the subject.  After doing this project I have thought about moving it to a different unit of study (maybe Constitutional Convention) where there could be some humor added, but that comes at the beginning of the school year and I'm not sure if the kids would be ready.  Lost of thinking to do here...

* Early finishers.  I mentioned before that this took quite a bit of time for those groups that were working super hard and going that extra mile.  Well that was true for about 90% of the groups.  There were about 10% who finished early.  I had one group done in a day and a half.  What to do with them?  For this project, I pretty much left them alone as long as they weren't bothering or distracting other groups.  They were good to use as recorders and I could give them simple tasks to do for me.  I know when I do this next time I need to have something in place for them to do.  Maybe something truly awful and boring so they will want to do anything and everything to make their project better.  Any ideas out there???

*  Grading is hard...I didn't create a specific rubric based on specific guidelines that I didn't set.  I started out saying here's what you need to do
  1. Have technology:  That's easy.  No technology no points.  They all have technology in some way shape or form.
  2. Be creative.  This is the really hard one.  It is hard to justify one groups creativity vs. another.  I tried to link it to having a job in the future.  Someday you may have to give a presentation to a client.  If they don't like it, they don't buy it, or hire you, or pick your firm.  I am your client.  Impress me.  PowerPoint presentations will get a low creativity score. 
  3. Presentation:  You have to be part of the presentation whether you are speaking, acting, drawing, singing etc... PRACTICE. 
I'm still not convinced that I graded this correctly.  Do letter grades even match this type of project?  This is truly the most difficult part of the entire project for me.  Letting go of the control was easy, but justifying the letter grade is VERY difficult. 

After some more reflection and exploration into rubrics, I have found ways to assess this project in the future.  Rubistar has some great ideas on how to score originality (a MUCH better word than creativity).  There ways to give expectations without limiting the possibilities. 

* Absences??? This problem didn't hit each group of students, but the ones who did experience the sick partner would probably say this is the biggest problem they had.  Absence can't be helped and they can frustrate the best and brightest students.  One thing I will do for sure next year is make sure the kids share project information from iPad to iPad.  If the partner who has ALL the material on his or her iPad is gone, this leaves the other out to dry.  Maybe that will solve itself if I move the project to the beginning of the school year and not smack dab in the middle of flu season.

All in all, this was a great project and I enjoyed seeing the results it yielded.  This being the first time I let go of the control, I liked it and hope to have more adventures with this method in the future.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ohhh Yah!

The Scene:  The 8th graders are working hard on their History of Slavery projects that I detailed here.  It is going much better than I ever predicted.  They are busy working, there are ALL KINDS of awesome ideas, they are talking about it outside of my class and on days they don't even come to me, and best of all...I get to walk around and enjoy. 

Proof that this is going the way I wanted...

8th grade boy (Let's call him Billy) walks in the door from recording something in the hall way:  "Hey!  Where is Mrs. Weber?"

The class laughs at him as I turn around sitting with another group of kids working RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM.

Someone yells out:  "HA!  She's right in front of you!  Geeze!"

Billy says:  "Oh blend right in with the other students!"

And that, my friends, is what I was going for. 

Not to look as young as a teenager again (you couldn't pay me to relive my 8th grade style.)

But to be mixed in with the kids; watching, facilitating, and providing assistance when needed. 

Not up in front of the class instructing. 

I still can't wait for presentation day!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Letting Go...

I'm Back!

After 7 weeks (and 2 more bonus weeks of Christmas Break) off for maternity leave, I'm back in full force in the classroom.

Well...I might not be "full force" yet.  I kinda loved being at home with my cute little girls, and getting a 22 month old toddler and a newborn ready to go in the morning before school has taken some adjusting.  But we're making it work.

In my short return, I have picked up where I left off at the beginning of the year.  Trying to use the new technology placed in the hands of our kids, making small changes to each unit to incorporate said technology, and implementing new Social Studies state standards at the same time.

As I try creating new activities, converting old lessons, and figuring out apps, I had to remind myself of the purpose of the iPads, and technology in general. 


Having the kids create takes my teaching to some major uncharted waters.  Not to mention changing up the learning for the students.  This is new to them also. 

It requires me to let go of the control and put it in the hands of the students.

Can you say SCARY.

And completely different than any other world I have taught. 

I give instructions.  You follow.  I grade based on how well you followed those instructions.  If you don't like your grade I can point to the specific place on the detailed rubric where you didn't follow my instructions.

So here I go with my first scary attempt at giving up control.

I decided to do a little mini unit on slavery in the United States.  Definitely not spending as much time as I could on the topic, but enough to give the students a better understanding of slavery and how it affected the creation of America.  At the end of the unit, I didn't want to do a boring old test.  Instead, I gave the students a list of events that had something to do with slavery.  I took them to the library and they spent two days researching what those events had to do with slavery. 

Then I gave them their task.

With a partner, create a presentation of the history slavery through time.  Use technology available to you.  Present it to the class.  Be creative.  Think outside the box. 


That's it.  No other instructions, no specific directions on how to use certain apps.  I don't care.  You want to use it,  you figure it out.

They started off very slow, and VERY conditioned.  Immediately 90% of the groups went straight to Keynote or some other PowerPoint-type app to create a typical, very boring presentation.  It is almost as if we have conditioned the creativity right out of them.

I had to remind them.  They had NO SPECIFIC REQUIREMENTS on what to do with the information.

The next thing they did was go straight for the apps and try to figure out which one they wanted to do.  This also boxed them in because they went only to the apps they were familiar with.  I told them to try and reverse their thinking.  Come up with an idea that you want to try and then see if you have an app that can help you do that. 

Once they shed the restraints of past projects and years of following STEP.BY.STEP instructions the ideas started to flow. 

Here are just a few of the cool ideas so far...
  • A clay-mation video
  • A newscast
  • A QR code scavenger hunt! 
  • A song parody

And this is just day one.

Coming up with the idea was the easy part.  Now they have to DO THE WORK.  Each and every group has the potential to have an awesomely creative and different presentation, they just have to put in the effort to make it that way! 

I can honestly say I haven't been this excited about something in my classroom since, well, before maternity leave, maybe even all year.  It was a FUN day filled with brainstorming, learning, and noise...oh there was lots of noise.

I can't wait for presentation day!