Tuesday, November 26, 2019

It Finally Happened.

This is me.

In the middle full-on melt down.

It is day 2 of Thanksgiving Break.

It is finally coming out in the only way I know how. The only way I have left. Tears. They started an hour ago. They're still flowing. I can't stop. Months of stress built up come pouring out, as I try desperately to stop before my kids notice or my husband gets done with work. Hoping that no one asks how I'm doing, only to start the flood of tears all over again.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Just enough time to slow down and relax.

Not this year.

Some of it is my own doing. The cooking, baking, and decorating. BUT I love cooking, it brings me joy. But this year it is just another thing on a list that I need to rush to finish up in the tiny window I have of "nap time". The decorating has to happen this week if it's going to happen. It has to happen. We have kiddos who are VERY excited to get the house ready. They ask every day. Multiple times.

I just feel like I'm pulled in 20 different directions and I become the "jerk" if I say no to any one of them. And they're all legitimate "fun" activities that I should "want" to be a part of. So many obligations...

But right now it's just another thing on a list that too long, with time dwindling away.

This was bound to happen at some point.

So I write. Because I cannot be alone in this struggle.

And it is worth it. It is just really, really hard right now.

Monday, November 11, 2019

New Deal Run

I never regret it when I get my kids up and moving. When I'm able to imbed content into some sort of physical activity. Sometimes it's as simple as reading them a statement on content and having them move to one side of the room if they "agree" and the other side if they "Disagree."

Sometimes it's a little more involved. Application. Action. Engagement. Today's activity comes originally from John Meehan (@MeehanEDU) I ran into the idea when Derek Schutte (@coachschutte) posted his "Constitution Run" on Twitter. I immediately tagged my colleague Becca Hawthorne (@MsHawthorne266) mentioning that we should do this sometime. Luckily for me, "sometime" to her meant the next day. She created the New Deal Run and our kids have all benefited from the simple, active-learning, application activity!

Here are the details.

We have been studying the Great Depression and done a few things with FDR's Alphabet Soup New Deal programs. Today the activity centers on applying what they have learned with senarios of different people and then deciding which New Deal Program would have been best for that person's situation. This is mixed with the idea of a "run".

1. Warm Up: Like anytime prior to activity, we should warm up. So I had the students "warm up their brains"  They were given a reading from pages in the text book. I decided NOT to staple them together so teams could "divide and conquer" allowing each person to take a page. They were given highlighters and told to read through the information highlighting anything that seemed important. I gave about 10-15 minutes for this and then allowed each group to discuss among themselves what was most important. ***This worked out great in the end because each person was able to recognize when they had read or highlighted something that was important in the scenarios later. This made sure everyone participated***

2. There were 10 scenarios cut apart and placed in a box in the middle of the room (we actually went to a vacant room in order to be able to spread out more. BUT this can be done in your own room as well).

3. Rules: Teams were to send ONE person to "run" to the box in the middle of the room. Grab ONE scenario and take it back to their team. Working together they answer the question, glue to scenario to the larger 11x17 paper and then bring the page up to me for approval. If they are wrong, they have to go back and try again until they find the correct answer. (immediate feedback...BOOM!) Once I approve it, someone from their team can "run" back to the box and grab another scenario. The first group to get all 10 scenarios answered correctly (with my signature) and glued to the paper (in any order) wins. Prizes for the first two groups to finish.

This activity was awesome. Not only did I have most students participating in various ways, they were applying what we learned and practicing for their test. Such a great way to engage the students in an activity with content. Plus...I haven't met a student yet who doesn't love getting prizes. Even something as simple as a Jolly Rancher.

Want the scenarios created by @MsHawthorne266 --> CLICK HERE

Just a side note. While I have very high student engagement with this activity. I did not have 100% of the students with me. It is my hope that I am able to provide an engaging classroom for my students and many times I have most of the kids with me. BUT I am not perfect. There are no perfect teachers. Those students who did not participate fully miss out on participation points and a chance to practice scnearios that will be VERY SIMILAR to what they will see on the test. Choices have consequences. 

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Game Changers - Project and Reflection

Reflection is the name of my game this year. I have told my HS students this semester that they are my guinea pigs all year. Everything I do is the first time I try it. Even if it's something I have done before, this is the first time I try it with this age group of students.

Changes are coming. My notebook is riddled with sticky notes of changes to make next time.

I thought I would write a blog, giving you an idea of what that looks like. I share the stuff I use in the classroom, but I don't always share my thought process at the end. So, here it is.

Project Title: Game Changers of the United States

Descriptions: Working in teams, students will identify a person, document, or moment in history that caused our country to shift directions. They will decorate a ceiling tile to dedicate in that Game Changer's honor. A speech will be written and delivered during the "Dedication Ceremony" in class.

Project Instruction Sheet and Rubric >>> CLICK HERE

This project is something I have done on a smaller scale with my middle school students in the past. If you want to read the blog post detailing that project >>> CLICK HERE


Aren't those cool?? I just love how they turned out. But that doesn't mean it was perfect. That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. When I reflect on what I look at both what went well and what changes need to be made in order to make it better.

What went well?
  • The end result was awesome. The tiles look great in the ceiling and my super artistic students had an opportunity to shine. 
  • On the first day, I had the students make a list of their academic strengths and weaknesses, things they add to a team when tasked with an assignment or project. I had them share the lists with their groups. This helped the groups delegate tasks based on the strengths and weaknesses of their members.
  • For the most part students used their time wisely. There wasn't a bunch of wasted time, but there was time that could have been better organized...for example all 3 group members spend a day and a half researching and writing their speech, then were stressed to finish their tile on time. They could have "divided and conquered" the work so they weren't stressed with finishing the tile at the end.
  • I was worried initially about "content" and what might be covered, but I was insistent that students have choice in their "Game Changers." The great thing was that all groups except for two chose a topic that falls within my scope and sequence. Many choosing something from what we could consider modern history.
  • I took a risk and put together a group that was made entirely of the kids who struggle to participate. They ABSOLUTELY ROCKED IT. I saw leadership, delegation, engagement and I didn't ONCE have to tell them to get to work. They picked a topic they were interested in and have one of the coolest tile designs! I am so proud of them!
  • In general students love working on projects, but to just move from one project to another can be taxing. We are moving into more "traditional" learning methods for the next couple weeks. The students are excited for those and seem to approach class with more confidence and energy. It's almost as if they recognize they got to do something cool and fun and want to do well on even the "regular" assignments so they can keep doing things that are different.
  • The cool thing about this project (one of the many) is that it automatically provides advertisement for the things we will do in class. My Sophomores were asking if they get to do this. Its one of the first things kids see when they enter the classroom and one of the first things they ask about. The tiles create a buzz of excitement.
  • Grouping worked decent. I used a strategy that I detail HERE in this post about differentiating the students who are artistically talented. This made sure that every team had someone who could hold a pencil. For the most part my groups were good. Maybe a couple changes here and there...but grouping kids is the HARDEST part of any project or assignment for me. 
  • The kids are PROUD of their work. They bring in friends from other classes to show off their hard work. :) 

What is needed next time?
  • Each team member will complete the research and write their own speech before we begin working on the tiles. Then they can compare speeches and create one "MEGA-Speech" out of the best of each. This way I am ensuring that each student does the research and content portion of the project. This can also be a part of their assessment. 
  • I will be more specific on what elements I want on the tile. I was pretty general with my tile requirements in order to allow for creativity. And while I got that with some, other's needed more guidance. I think I can find a happy medium. 
  • Timing...The original idea had this be the final project of the year. I was worried though, that I may run out of time and end up cutting it. I still like the idea of the end of the year, BUT it worked well as a mid-term type project. Knowing that this project will be a priority may keep the project in the middle of the semester, but I have flexibility depending on when I want to use it.
  • I try to have a good balance of checking in with the groups and allowing them time to work on self-regulation and time management. They cannot learn how to manage time without me giving them time to have to manage. I always feel like I can do better and helping them with those skills.
  • Looking at how I can increase our audience base. Do I have some sort of online presentation and voting to share out? Do I invite guests? How can I increase the stakes of the presentation pieces.
  • I would love to make over my classroom so it looks like an actual ceremony. Black table cloths, fake candles, snacks and have the kids dress up for their presentation OR dress in character. That would be a cool way to wrap up the project. 

There you have it. A look inside my head and how I analyze the things I do in my classroom. Many changes to come and my classroom is slowly starting to resemble who I am as an educator and reflect my education philosophy. It takes work. But it is worth it!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

How Am I REALLY Doing?

Today, a colleague walked by my room nodded my direction and asked "how are things going?" And I responded with the simple truth...Great! I love it! 

And I wasn't lying I love it. I 100% believe I made the right decision for myself in my career and in the long-run for our family. This is where I'm meant to be. I know it. That clarity has been so comforting this school year. This change is everything I didn't know I needed and I'm SO GRATEFUL that I had the courage to step out there and challenge myself. I love it!

And as I walked back in my room a thought crept into my head... He doesn't really want to know the FULL truth to that question. 

But maybe he needs to. 

And so do you. 

You see...so many times we get caught up in the moment of posting the awesome. The things that make us proud to be a teacher. The things that validate everything we do and inspire others to become teachers. We don't do this to mislead anyone...it's the fun stuff. It's the stuff that we get excited about and what to shout out from the roof tops...or "tweet" from virtual tree branches. 

But that's only part of the story. Part of the truth. 

So here's the whole truth. The entire thing. Here's how I'm REALLY doing. 

I am STRUGGLING. I am working harder than I have worked in years, only to find myself constantly behind. And not just behind in my grading...behind in it all. Everything. And when I actually get somewhere, Oh yeah...no I didn't, cause now there's this to do. 

I LOVE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS. I absolutely love being around their quirky energy. The "bros" and VSCO girls. I love their sarcasm, their hearts, their ideas, their goofy dance moves they do to the "walk in songs" I play each day. I LOVE the conversations we have. 

I'm LITERALLY one page ahead of the kids in the book. Some of this content I haven't even looked at in over 15 years. Some...even longer. Some I can't recall ever having it. I mean, I made a model Mayan City out of candy in 6th grade, that counts right? Teacher Pay Teacher has saved me more often than I like to admit. I am grateful for those...but tired of not having the comfort of knowing it. I know it will come. I'm trying to be patient with myself. 

I cannot say enough about the awesome people I get to work with. Having a team to bounce ideas off of, supportive administration, trust, getting evaluated by someone who doesn't already "know me". There are so many great people to learn from and being a part of that energy is unbelievable.  I miss friends I left back in Cheney. I would love to go have a drink and catch up with them...but there isn't time. I have an awesome PLN that will support me and share resources on a moment's notice. I am so thankful for those people!

I spend hours every weekend working. I go up to the school for 3-4 hours on a Saturday or Sunday and then work in the evenings. People...this is not dedication. This is SURVIVAL. You don't walk into a high school class without a plan. You. Just. Don't. 

I fail daily. I realize within the first 15 minutes of class that I should have done something differently. My lesson notebook is riddled with sticky notes of ways to improve a lesson. I also succeed daily. I find ways to push kids out of their comfort zones and explain how and why the activity we're doing is relevant. I will apologize to these kids when they graduate. Next semester's class will get so much better, and the class after that, and after that... 

That's been one of the hardest things. Knowing how much better I can be, but lacking the ability to be there right away. Giving myself the GRACE to get there. 

I am CONSTANTLY shifting gears. I get excited and start making headway in my World History class...I'm pumped! But have to stop. Time to think of dinner, 2nd grade homework, laundry, and play with the baby. Read to my 2 year old, find Halloween costumes, and help the 5 year old with her sight words. Kiss my husband hello. Shifting gears. Stopping mid-thought to work on another "to-do" list that's overflowing. 

I am gaining my students TRUST. They were "doubters" in the beginning when I told them that I LOVE this profession and it's my goal that they know every single day, there is no where else I'd rather be than in the classroom with them. They're awesome. They're starting to believe me. I have students who love my class. I have students who confide in me. I have students who give me a fist bump everyday and some who stop by when they don't have to just to say hello.

I have students who hate my class. Who love to find little moments to make sure I know how much they hate history and think it's worthless. I love them too. I'm working on winning them over. It takes time. 

I am NOT doing this alone. I have a support system that is making it all possible. My husband has been so supportive and helpful with this shift. We knew this first year would require more work for me than I usually do outside the classroom. But I don't know if either of us were truly ready for it. He has stepped up in a big way and helped to ease some of the guilt I feel for missing out on the things at home while I turn through pages of material at the school. 

I have laughed and cried. I have fallen asleep early each night this week, with full intentions of working after the kids went to bed. I have a presentation to have ready in a couple weeks. Haven't started. I am exhausted. 

Even as the list keeps growing and the days get shorter, I am THANKFUL to be where I am. I know this is making me stronger and better in the classroom. But that doesn't mean it's all a bed of roses and things are great all the time. I struggle daily. 

And I love it all. 

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Document Yelp Review!

You know what I love most about my Social Studies PLC group that meets four times a year (besides the food...)? That I always walk away with something that I can use in my classroom. Even if I don't use it that week or even month. It's always there, hanging out in the back of my head as something to use to "spice up" a lesson. If you're a teacher in Kansas and can sign up for workshops at ESSDACK in Hutch... this one is worth your time. Plus we're a fun bunch!

Document Yelp Review is one of those. Last year we did an activity that had our teacher groups rank the "usability" of various historical thinking websites. We looked at many factors and then gave them a ranking of 1-4 stars. Much like a movie or Yelp review. This is an awesome activity to adapt for the classroom, and one that I loved watching my Juniors use today.

Lesson Plan: (As much as my lessons are actual plans...)

Promoting Temperance
Materials and documents provided by SHEG lesson. Click HERE for SHEG

Big Question: What methods did people who supported temperance use in order to convince the American people of the need for a prohibition amendment? Which method do you believe was the most effective and why?

Opening: I gave a short lecture (students taking notes was optional, I provided the slide presentation in Classroom) on some background information on the temperance movement and prohibition. We ended with the BIG QUESION that students would be eventually writing their own responses to. This took maybe 15 minutes. Want that slide presentation...click HERE

  • I placed kids in groups of 3 randomly.
  • Reading through the instruction sheet, I explain that each person would have a distinct "role" to play in the creation of this activity; Analyst, Scribe, and Spokesperson. Analyst was to be in charge of the discussion of the documents, keep everyone on task, and keep track of time on task. Scribe's job was to create the "Yelp Review Chart."  Spokesperson's job is to explain the team's ranking and why to the class. I then read through the remainder of the instructions making sure everyone was clear what they were doing. Want the Instruction Sheet? Click HERE

  • Students analyzed four documents as a team deciding the "star ranking" of 1-4 based on their view of the effectiveness the document had for convincing people to stop drinking of practice temperance.

  • Groups created their poster by listing the title of the document and drawing their number of stars.

  • Sharing. Each spokesperson shared out the groups rankings and reasonings. Each group was different, and different than I would have been. Interesting! 
  • Students completed their own written response to the big question in Google Classroom. Want that assignment and rubric? Click HERE

I only graded the written response here. That was done individually and tells me more about what each person knows that observing this activity. I work to be selective about where I spend my time grading, and assessing each student on their own responses to the big question is definitely worth my time. 

Reflection Tip: Call the "poster" a chart instead. To students, a POSTER sounds like a project that should include more detail. The may have freaked out a little when I told them the poster should be done by the end of class. Chart is a better term for the required outcome. 

What I love about this...

It allows for each person to have a distinct role and be responsible for something specific. This allowed for groups to utilize their strengths and/or be forced outside their comfort zones a little without the pressure of a big graded project hanging over their heads. 

It provided a different way for students to use their analysis of primary sources. Sometimes when we're working with documents daily, it can get to be the "same old thing" and this activity allowed for team discussion, analysis, and a quick justification of their reasoning along with a connection to their world by calling it a "Yelp Review".

Finally, this is easily used with different topics in almost any class you have. Win Win!

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Polish it Up - Take 2!

A year ago I wrote a post about an idea I had to help students apply a growth mindset without costing us more time and energy that what we would normally do in class. It was called "Polish it Up Day". You can read about the entire thing HERE.

This post is about my own reflection of the concept, and how I made changes (by applying a "growth mindset" to my own teaching) And how MUCH BETTER this has become, thanks to reflection and growth.

What Didn't Work
  • With the "Polish it Up Day" at the very end of the semester, before Christmas Break, many students simply didn't want to redo work. They had already "gone to break" and even though parents encouraged them to take advantage of the opportunity...many didn't. 
  • Some kids did try to "polish up" and were trying to complete work that was done over 9 weeks ago. They struggled to improve their scores, find the necessary materials, or even remember what the assignment was.

How I fixed it.

There was really one major change that I made that fixed these two problems. Instead of having it be one day at the end of the semester, I have it included as part of our "review day" before the test of a particular unit. Each review day before a test and up until the end of the class period on the test day, students can resubmit anything done during that unit for a better grade. Once the test day passes so does the opportunity, for that unit. We move on to the next topic, and so do they. Grades stand after that. 

This goes for any student and any grade. If someone scored an 89% of a writing assignment he/she can go back, add more details, make corrections and improve their score. Same for someone who had a 56%. Everyone has the opportunity to get better. 

This is also perfect because by redoing those assignments it is a great way to review for the test other than just filling out the review sheet. It also gives kids more than one shot at improving throughout the semester. 

The Results:

This was great!I am so happy I didn't just throw out the "Polish it UP" idea because I had so many students take advantage of the opportunity to get better. I had F's turn into C's because of this. I had students come to me to ask clarifying questions, explain their grades, and review material before a test. This will definitely remain in my daily rotation.

Also...what a great conversation to have with parents at conferences when they as what their child can do for a better grade. I have no need for extra credit and parents will appreciate the opportunity as well. 

Friday, August 30, 2019

Final Fridays: Discussions, Community, and Coffee!

Last fall I attended our Kansas State Social Studies Conference, like I always do.  This is my FAVORITE conference to go to each year. Why? Because Kansas has some Kick-Ass Social Studies teachers who like to share their stuff. This conference is awesome. I always walk away smarter and I always walk away with ideas to implement into my classroom right away.

Except last year.

Last year I walked away with an awesome idea... but struggled to see how it would fit into my middle school classroom.

If only I taught high school - I thought.

That thought, this activity, that moment is when I seriously started to consider looking for a change. It seems funny now, that something as simple as an idea that was sparked at a conference led me to make some really big decisions.

The idea. Classroom discussions in the form of "coffee shop" themed classroom. The idea came from a session presented by Hers and History dynamic duo, Ty and Kaitlyn Unrau. (Follow them on Instagram @HersandHistory and on Twitter @KDoubleU13 and @CoachTyUnrau)

So when I was hired at MHS I knew I could put this into motion and add a few things to it as well. Here's what I came up with... 

The Name: I wanted a cool title for the activity that students could associate it with me and my classroom whenever they heard it. I also knew that I wanted this to be more than just a "one and done" activity. I wanted it to be something they looked forward to and possibly even want a hand in helping plan in the future. Once a month sounded good to me...so Final Friday was born. Each Final Friday of the month that we are in school, our coffee shop discussion would occur.

The Menu: I knew that I wouldn't be able to just throw the kids into groups and say "talk about ____".  Even high school kids need a little direction. And this summer, my principal helped put the last bits into place with his "BrewedPD" sessions he would have every Wednesday at local coffee shops. We would come in and he'd hand us a "menu" of topics which he just compiled over the summer as he read interesting things over the summer. Someone would choose something from the menu and we'd discuss it. I loved it! And that's what I did. I created menus which had topic questions or starters for students to know what to talk about. I decided on three different menus, each with a different "theme" for discussion. 1.) Current Unit of Study - - 2.) Current Events and Digital Literacy - - 3.) School culture and climate. This would allow for me, not only to hit standards, but also incorporate student voice in the current world as well. In my classroom I have a seating design that allows me to move students to different teams quickly and easily. This allows me to have kids in three different groups.

Want a copy of my first menu.... Click HERE for the entire Menu I used for August (and will use again next semester). Each month the menus will change.

The Coffee: I can brew coffee. Sure. BUT I wanted to find a way to involve the community in what we are doing. A way to bring the community into our school. So I started with a little local coffee shop, Moxi Junction. I stopped by one Saturday and talked to the owner. I was hoping she would be willing to "sponsor" our August Final Friday by providing some coffee, in exchange for a little "social media advertising." She was all in! And not just for the month of August. She wants to sponsor each month...AND we're working out a way to have our final, Final Friday (in December) on location at her coffee shop. Awesome! BONUS....the kids were super excited to see "Moxi Coffee" in the room when they walked in. :)

The Results. The conversation was AWESOME. Not only do these kids enjoy having the opportunity to talk with each other, but they have great ideas. Seriously great ideas. They also have concerns. Those concerns should be heard and really considered.

What are those concerns? The same things came up in all groups and all classes across multiple age groups.
  • Homework. They have a lot. Too much. It stresses them out. Over and over again I heard kids say that they have too much homework. 
  • Grace. They want to be treated with grace and understanding. They have insanely busy lives. Much busier than I had in high school, let alone teachers who have been teaching for 25 years or more. They want teachers to understand their unique situations and consider that life is more than just school.
  • Kindness. They want kindness from both teachers and peers. 
  • The future. They want to be successful. They want classes to be relevant to their success. 
  • They want active learning, hands on classes. They hate "sit and get." 

As with many new things that I try in the classroom, I wanted the student's opinions on how they felt the day went. What they would like to see in the future and what topics they want to talk about. Again, they make great points. Overwhelmingly they want to talk about difficult topics that are controversial. They WANT to have these conversations, they want to learn how to disagree and how to respectfully argue. And that's something I can, and will do.

My Final Thoughts:
This was, hands down, one of the best days of my teaching career. Administrators came by to have conversations with kids, engagement was 100% on task. Relevancy was easily apparent. And relationships were built. I can't think of another activity that I have done that allowed me to grow in more of an understanding of my students than this Final Friday activity. I could go on and on about all the things the kids learned and how many skills they began to develop today. But I'm going to stop for now and leave you with this thought...

Kids today are going to change the world in one way or another. What can we do to help them develop the skills necessary to make a strong, positive change?

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Teaching Self-Regulation

I feel like my posts of late on falling into a little trend of teaching students skills that aren't content related, but more "working world" skills. Last week was organization, checking emails and to-do lists (click HERE). This week I'm tackling a whole new skill that I've been wanting to write about it for awhile now, and even though I have a million other things I could be doing. I need to get this out there.

Today's topic that keeps going through my mind is... Cell Phones and Self Regulation.

Students having cell phones has never been an issue for me. When I was teaching middle school, most kids kept their phones in their locker (if they even had one). Occasionally one would go off in class and I'd ignore it. No biggie. HS kids weren't allowed to have them at all.

But things are different this year. I have high school kids coming into my classroom in two weeks armed with a cell phone...that they are very comfortable using. I have gone back and forth on what my 'policy" will be. Most teachers classrooms have one of those calculator hanger things for kids to put their phones in at the start of class. And it's a good policy to have...


(You sensed a but coming, right??)

There's a larger reality to kids having their cell phones than just playing Angry Birds during a teacher lecture. (Dated myself there didn't I...does anyone even play Angry Birds anymore?) The truth is...that cell phones will be (and are) a part of the working world. How many of you, reading this blog have your phone within 2 feet from you? How many people working their jobs right now have their phones on them, in their purse, on their desk or even have it connected to their watches?

I bet it's an overwhelming majority.

The REALITY of cell phones, is that they're here to stay. They are part of the lives of our high school kids and will be when they go off to college and start their first job (although they may look/act different).

Just taking away student's phones doesn't help prepare them for the world out there. The world that is going to expect them to be able to complete tasks, attend meetings, and flat out function while having their phones with them.

They need to learn to self-regulate! 

It is a HUGE and NECESSARY skill, and one that we MUST TEACH! As all of this has been running in my head, I came across this Tweet from Glenn Weibe. Which just gave me even more motivation.

So...I'm going to use my cell phone policy to teach kids how to self regulate. I will have one of those calculator pouches to hang phones in...but it will be voluntary (for the most part). Explaining to students that being able to function with a cell phone on them or right next to them is a skill that they must have in order to be successful in today (and tomorrow's?) world. If they have their phone, they are expected to...
  • Focus on the work at hand 
  • Listen respectfully 
  • Participate in class 
  • Be a good person
If they can't do that (at the ages of 14-17) then, THEY need to recognize the problem and regulate it by placing the phone in the pouches. If they can't recognize the problem...that's where I come in and give them a simple nudge in the right direction. 

Here's the next part... This goes for ME TOO. They will see my phone in there too. Sometimes I struggle to stay focused, when I just want to watch the cute video I took of my kids the previous day. What's good for them is good for me too...I will MODEL self-regulation with the cell phone as much as possible. They need to see that it is possible. And a great way for me to show them the same respect I ask of them in return. 

Author's Note: I am fully aware that this will be a BIG learning year for me. I know that I will be doing a lot of reflecting and adjusting as time goes by. This may be a big flop...but when the need for student self regulation is so great...this is the best way for me to teach it from day one. Stay tuned to see how this plays out! 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

New Year...New Goals

I know...I know... It's still July. I shouldn't be posting anything educational for at least another two weeks, right?

You'll get over it. Cause whether your ready or not, the school year is quickly approaching. And for those about to start their first teaching job, or those (like me) starting in a brand new position, that start date is not just approaching, it's comin' at us at warp speed!

I always seem to be thinking about new stuff, changes I can make to my classroom, ways to get better, and ways to make better, easier to accomplish. This comes through reflection. Where are my weaknesses, where are my students' weaknesses, how can I use my classroom to help improve both my own struggles and my students?

This can be overwhelming. Cause we all have weaknesses. We all struggle. And we all have areas that can be improved. I'm going to throw my focus into two things this year. A focus for me and a focus for my students... BUT it's one thing to say I have a goal...the real magic is in the PLAN. How am I going to make it happen?

GOAL 1: My Focus - - Survival.
Seriously. I'm starting a new position, moving from doing the same thing for the last 13 years to something I haven't done in the classroom since student teaching.  All while experiencing a VERY busy time in my personal life. 4 littles at home ages 7 and younger. Yup. FOUR. Yup. They're all mine. Yup. I know how this happens... They were all planned ;o)

The PLAN: I have a certain way I like to do things. But sometimes, in the name of survival, I have to back off from my obsession with creating everything for my classroom myself and lean on those around me. I have an amazing PLN on Twitter, Facebook, and within the state of Kansas. And for the first time in my career I have other teachers in my building who teach the same thing I do. I have colleagues to lean on, discuss ideas with, and steal borrow materials while I keep my head above water. Then make changes in 2nd semester and as time goes on, continue to build on the classroom I love.

GOAL 2: Student Focus - - Organization. 
I'll be honest. This goal is one I had planned for this year, even if I was still planning to be in the middle school. One thing that has been a struggle for my teenage students is organizing and keeping track of what they need to do. It is something that we, as teachers, complain about, but RARELY GIVE TIME OR INSTRUCTION ON HOW TO DO THIS. I have always been a teacher from bell to bell. We pack a ton of stuff into one class period. I never really made time for my students to organize in class. This needs to change. My class is not so important that I can give them 3-5 minutes to help build some organizational habits.

You see... being in a 1:1 district both at my old school and now at my new one, email is a necessity for students. It just is. You can debate whether or not it should be another time. Reality is...kids need to check their email. They also need a way to keep track of their stuff "to-do." Whether that's making a list on Google Keep or using a old-fashioned sticky note...they need a running list of what needs to get done and by when.

The PLAN: In order to help them establish these two habits, I am going to dedicate the first 3-5 minutes of my class period to checking email and updating their to-do lists. Some kids will never actually open their email (because it isn't something they use on a daily basis as 14-17 year olds) or even know where to begin to make a list and prioritize their work. I'm hoping this helps develop that habit.

Also, I'm going to play a song everyday when they come in the room. While the song is playing, they'll have a chance to check their email and update their to-do list. I will show them Google Keep (basically an online "sticky-note) and I'll have a bunch of actual sticky notes available to them if they want to write it down and stick it to their laptops. The point of the song is to be an audio clue for them (and me) to start the class with those tasks. I'm hoping that if I forget, they will remind be because they will miss music at the start of class.

I'm stopping there. Those are my two points of focus for the first semester. Then, before starting in January I can re-evaluate and see what changes I need to make. I'll ask for student input and see what they suggest as well.

Are you a goal setter? What are you looking to improve upon this year? What is your PLAN to make it happen?

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Cieling Tile Project

This is a post long over due. One of my favorite projects that I created a couple years ago, and one that gets a lot of attention anytime someone walks into my classroom. I love this project for so many reasons, but one of those being the flexibilty of it. Different age group, different content, different "canvas" - - No problem!

Here are the details!

Diclaimer... This project involves decorating the ceiling tile in the classroom. I often get asked "how" I was able to get permission for this. Technically it was one of those "permission vs. forgiveness" situations. If you are not in the position to do this with the tiles, I have seen it adapted by using bulletin board paper and hung as posters on the wall instead. (Although it is WAY cool on the ceiling!)

The Original MS Project: Ceiling Tile Dedication Project

Objective: Students would chose an event, person, or document in US history that they believe is "worthy" to be dedicated to the classroom. They would research the topic to create a dedication statement explaining the impact of that event/person/document on American History. Working in teams students will decorate the tile to honor that event/person/document.

Set up: This project was created to be a PBL style project. Students do everything from chose topics, to help design the rubric.

Done by me:
Group Students
Hook Students
Guide the rubric creating session
Assist/Guide the Team Contract Writing
Facilitate learning/working throughout class time.
Provide resources for students to decorate tiles

OK...this project does require an aesthetic piece. It is important that these tiles look "good." I am a firm believer in NOT grading a kid down due to a lack in artistic ability. I have a trick to make this work for everyone. For this project I group based on artistic talent. On the first day of school I have my student do a simple drawing exercise. (I blogged about there HERE). I take these papers and divvy up the groups based on the best illustrators...sort of like the NFL draft, only with drawing skills instead of football skills. The GREAT thing about this, is sometimes your most talented illustrators aren't the most academically strong. This method of grouping gives those kids a chance to shine and really be the anchor for the team. It's a great way to pump up that kid's confidence to their team.... "Wow, did you guys hit the jackpot with Steve on your team. Have you seen how he can draw? You're welcome..."

The Hook:
This intro is by far one of my favorites. I sent out this teaser photo a couple days before the project with the caption "Why is Mrs. Weber on the floor? Find out on Monday!" This got their curiosity flowing before the day actually go here.

On Monday, I got on the floor just like that as the kids came into the classroom. I didn't move a muscle. As they finally noticed what I was doing, I had them HOOKED. Without saying a word, and continuing to look up at the ceiling, I climbed on a desk and took down a ceiling tile. I then complained that these were too bland, boring, and white and needed to change. I asked the kids if they would like to decorate the tiles for me...of course YES! BUT...we needed to figure out what to decorate. What should a social studies classroom have? The kids then started shouting out different topics. As a class they decided that it needed to be people, events, or documents that impacted our history. (See what I did there...That's what I wanted all along but the students THINK THEY CAME UP WITH THE CRITERIA...Genius!)

The Rubric: As with most PBL, the students were included in the rubric guidelines. Don't be afraid to try this...they are better at it than you think. I just had three categories (Content - Tile Design - Presentation) and they helped give ideas of what to include in each one. I then took all their ideas from all of my classes and created a more "polished" rubric took. Click here for the final RUBRIC.

Contract writing: In order to try and keep this project from falling into the group project pit of "some do all and some do none" I have my kids create team contract. Similar in idea to a job contract that adults sign when starting a new job. To keep it short... students come up with a list of things they will do and won't do in order to be successful, make an "absent policy" and come up with a strike system. This SAVES me a lot of grief during the work days of the project and it is a HUGE learning opportunity for students. For more information on contracts, read this blog post.

The Presentation:
When groups are finished and the tiles are all done, it's time for the presentation. I set this up sort of like a "living art gallery." I have the groups line up with their tiles. I go LIVE on social media for these presentations and just move from on team to the next as they give their short "impact" statement. This gives the kids a "real" audience. They are always nervous and act all worried about it being on social media, but in the end want reports on how many "views" and "comments" they got. Then the tiles go on display in the classroom. Kids pick their spots and we put the back.

I totally had to let go of control with the display. Oh how I wanted to evenly distribute where the tiles went and what colors went where, but this is THEIR project, this helps the room become THEIRS. And in the end they are always a conversation piece when people enter my classroom.

Other Ideas:
I LOVE this project, but one thing I love about it is the flexibility of it. Content areas? Any. Higher/More requirements? Sure. I am planning on having my high school kids do this, but I'm going to add more specifics to it such as...
A Primary Source
Pictures with captions
A Poem
Cited sources and explanations.
A longer "speech"... for high school students I'm thinking about the Hollywood Star Ceremonies when there's an entire speech delivered on why this actor/actress deserves a star. I think my kids can deliver an entire speech why they think Carry Nation deserves to be on the ceiling. So many possibilities!!!

So much fun! The kids absolutely LOVE this! Give it a try and then give me a shout out on Twitter so I can see it! (@JillWebs).

Monday, June 3, 2019

The "Season" of Professional Development

I have said it before. Professional Development is one of the key factors in becoming a better teacher. Period.

In the first few years of my teaching career, I struggled to be willing to go to conferences and workshops. It was so much work to be gone during the school year, and summer was my time.  Then I was lucky enough to be invited in to join a Teaching American History grant which would include 40 middle school social studies teachers who would all work to get better. Long story short, I went in grudgingly and left advocating for all teachers to have a group like that. (Want to read more about our group...click HERE).

That experience was all it took for me to become full-on PD focused! I LOVE connecting with other teachers, learning, stealing ideas, and just being around other educators. There is something so powerful and uplifting when teacher get together with the desire to all get smarter!

Here's the thing.

It's summer again. And I am coming across conference after conference that I want to be a part of. I want to present and attend as many sessions as I can.


(Did you sense a "but" coming...)

My "season of life" makes it a little difficult to do those things right now.

By "season of life" I mean the family side... During the summer my husband and I enjoy 2 months of no daycare cost. And...we just added our 4th child in February. So... anyone out there want to take a stab at the cost of daycare for 4 kiddos? The savings is pretty substantial.

My point is... all those conferences and workshops I would love to go to just aren't going to happen this summer (or probably for the next few summers...). Summer is the time I try to make sure my kids don't have to compete with my job for my attention.

So...how do I continue to get PD during the summer?

I literally get it at my fingertips when I can. Facebook groups, Twitter, blogs. I read them during nap time when I'm laying on the recliner with the baby. I pin cool articles to read, lessons to check up on, and activities to try out while I'm binge watching Santa Clarita Diet before bed. I try to get what I can, when I can.

Seasons change and I know there will be a day when I can attend a Gilder Lehrman Seminar and put in a proposal to present at summer conferences. But for this season in my life I'll continue to make online connections and write down ideas I come across right at my fingertips!

How are you getting your PD in this summer?

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Taking Risks, the Word Never, and New Adventures

That word "never."

Pesky little devil.

I've said it a handful of times. And she has proven me wrong every. single. time.

I was NEVER going to go to a JUCO. I went, loved it, and am now am an advocate for students to start out there if they can. Its a great way to reduce cost of college and mark off some of those gen-eds.

I was NEVER going to go to Emporia State. The university closet to home, I wanted to get AWAY. I'm now a proud graduate of their excellent teaching program.

I was NEVER going to move back in with my parents. I did. While student teaching. I don't regret it.

I was NEVER going to teach West of Wichita. 13 years in Cheney KS. You guessed it. West of Wichita.

I was NEVER going to leave Cheney. I was NEVER going to leave my middle schoolers for High School.

Wanna take bets on what comes next...

After 13 years at an amazing school working an amazing job, I"m changing things up. I have taken a new position teaching High School Social Studies at Maize HS. I am beyond excited for this new chapter in my life.

Sometimes I still can't believe that it's happening. What am I thinking? Leaving something I'm comfortable with, something I'm good at for something brand new. Something I haven't done since student teaching. (While having 4 kids ages 7 and under...) Cheney has been SO GOOD TO ME, and I've had the opportunity to be a part of many "ripples" of inspiration. (Read about Teacher Ripples here).  But I strive on challenges. I love to take risks. And after 13 years in the same position I found myself starting to want more than my beloved little school could offer. I was starting to get "too comfortable."

It's time for me to take a big step outside my comfort zone and discover new strengths, new challenges, and grow both professionally and personally.

It's time for me to make ripples in a new pond.

And to find a new "never" to try to avoid...

Friday, February 8, 2019

FAKE News of the Past: Historical Thinking Skills in Action!

I started my day today (after two snow days) with this task focused on the question... "Which source is more accurate or reliable a PRIMARY source or a SECONDARY source?

Now...this is not the first time I have asked my 7th graders this question. But we've been full force into some really cool primary sources lately...and I had a feeling they were forgetting their Historical Training from the first of the year and how IMPORTANT it is to really look at the sourcing information and WHY the document was created. What PURPOSE was it serving?

This lesson today was created to remind them of that...AND show them that "Fake News" isn't something that President Trump started talking about a few years ago. It's been around a LONG time.

So... our bell work had them answering the question, and 95% of my 7th graders said "primary sources are more accurate because they come directly from that time period." 

THEN... I pass out four documents. Their task is to work together with their teams to place these in order from MOST accurate to LEAST accurate based on what they see. teams are also instructed to make sure everyone in the group understands how and why they ranked their documents.

Next... I instruct them to very quickly decide if each one is a primary or secondary source. This takes less than 30 seconds.

Now... I ask for a "spokesperson" in each group to stand. This person rotates to a new group as the "guest." Each team then explains how and why they ranked their sources to their "guest." The guest is encouraged to question their judgement. (Often times groups are very similar in ranking, but it does lead to some great conversations. After the guests thank their "hosts" for a lovely visit, they return home and we begin our class discussion.  - - Side note: did you catch all the ways for social learning and interaction with this one activity? Get your kids up and moving!

First I direct the class to our bell work question. Which source is more accurate. Usually through this discussion kids start to remember that this is a "trick" question. The answer is "it depends..." we discuss this and they all start to remember how important it is to look at the source and the purpose of the document.

Then I shock them with the news...that ALL FOUR of these documents are primary sources. We talk about how important it is to look at the purpose and how they're going to spend some time analyzing the advertisement poster.

The worksheet guides them through the poster looking at the audience, pulling out important information, and realizing some misleading information. At the end, 7th graders have to rank the accuracy of the poster from 1-10 and back up their reasoning with evidence that they encountered.

I love this lesson for many reasons. One is just the timing of it. I'm able to review the importance of sourcing a document, historical thinking skills, primary and secondary sources, and touch on how these skills were just as important in the late 1800s as they are now.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Group Grading Conundrum: Contracts May Be the Answer!

"How do you guys grade for group projects?"

Have ran into that question probably 3 times within my PLN just this week alone. I totally get it. This is hard. How do you make it fair,  how do you teach kids valuable skills, how do you justify it with parents?

As someone who does a lot of projects in class, both individual and group, I have played with many different options. My recent favorite is to have my students create a Team Contract.

This is not a new topic. I got the idea while dipping my toes in the PBL world and reading Ginger Lewman's book; Lessons for LifePractice Learning. That book is a MUST for anyone who does projects in class. Even if you don't go "full-on" PBL there are tips in that book that will make you a better educator period. Read it. You'll be glad you did.

Click HERE for a link to purchase the book.
Anyway... Here's how I set up a group project. The more time and effort you put into the set up of this, the better results you'll get out of your kids.

I always start by explaining that in team projects there is always more to learn than just the content or topic. We learn life lessons and skills that will be used in our work life in the future. One of those is contracts. Most places require employees to sign a contract agreeing to things like salary, benefits, work schedule, among other things. Why would we not want to incorporate that into our work in the classroom?

I take this suggestion straight from Ginger's book... Do's and Don'ts. What do we like about group work? What don't we like? Why? How can we solve those "problems" that tend to come up in group work? My teams in class brainstorm answers to the questions.

Next, I ask more questions... What is our goal? What do we want to accomplish? How are we going to be successful? Do we have specific talents that can help the group? Where do I struggle and need help? How can my group help me in my weak areas? How can I help my team members?

Now... I have my teams open up a Google Document and share it with everyone in the team AND ME! They spend some time talking about these questions...specifically outlining what they need to do to be successful, what do they need to avoid to be successful?

Once they have their lists... I have them start to tackle the difficult topics.

How do we want to be graded?
What is fair?
How do we handle absent team members?
How do we handle team members who aren't pulling their weight?
How do we handle team members who are controlling and won't allow for others to have a voice?

I do stop and talk a little about contracts in the workforce and how employees are expected to "hold up" their end of the deal. I explain...if I don't show up to work, I don't get paid. (This is a great example to show this year as I'll be going on maternity leave and can explain how that works... and that after I exceed my allowed "sick days" I'll start receiving a smaller pay check.)

As a team...THEY need to decide how they're going to handle teammates absences. Are you all going to get the same grade regardless of attendance? If you miss class, do you have to make it up? How? Who communicates what needs to be done?

Teams discuss and write in their contracts how they want absences to be handled "grade wise."

This takes it completely out of my hands and puts it in theirs.

Talk about taking ownership over their learning.

Here is an example of an absence policy created in a contract for my 8th grade class. This was for a project that would take a total of 5 work days (I'm on a block schedule, so each work day is 75 minutes over a two-week period)
10% of the grade will be taken off if a person misses school for each day they miss. Unless they make up the work missed outside of class. It will be the job of the team members at school to email the person what they need to do. If they don't do it, they lose 10%. 
See...pretty cool right! I do suggest that all teams have an "unless" option. Because kids get it. They're not always in control of their attendance at school. Everyone needs the chance to "make up" for being gone. Most groups are good with this.

The next topic the kids tackle in their contract is "strikes." Strikes can be given out for specific things team members do (or in this case, don't do). Usually so many "strikes" is equal to a % loss in points on the final grade. All reasons for strikes and the penalties are detailed and documented in the team contract. An example...

Strikes will be given for the following reasons:

  • Off-task for more than 5 minutes
  • Going to the bathroom more than one time during class
  • Goofing off with other teams
  • Playing games instead of researching
  • Not listening to other opinions. 
1 strike = -5% of the grade
3 strikes and a person can be fired.

Yep. You read that right. A team member can be fired. This is real life. If you repeatedly don't do your work, you won't last long at a job. The same can happen for this project.

Now...I have only had to "fire" a person one time, and the team really did try everything they could to get this person to work. This was a unique case in which the student ended up doing a completely alternate project and other factors were involved. It is my job as the teacher to try to make sure things don't escalate to the need to fire anyone. BUT just having the option there, tends to put a "spark" in some of those lesser-motivated team members.

Lastly...this is the really important part of the contract. I meet personally with each team and go through their contract. We did this for two reasons. 1...so I know what MY expectations are as the teacher and grading. Some teams are really strict with their policies and some are more lax... it's my job to understand what they mean. 2...this allows me to add in helpful tips to make their wording more clear. By the time the meeting is all done everyone in the team, including me, understands the "terms" of the agreement.

I am also able to remind them that THEY are responsible for DOCUMENTING what happens with absences and strikes on the contract. I know who has missed class, there is a record of that, but I don't know if the person has "made up" their part. That has to be documented. Teams are not allowed to say "Billy = 2 strikes" without detailing WHY and HOW Billy received the strikes. Billy also must be aware...we're not here to purposely sabotage anyone.

In the end the contracts are SO HELPFUL to me throughout the project process. I can pull up a teams contract at any time and see how things are going. When it's time to grade, I just open up the document and make adjustments to the grades as specified in the contract.

A couple things to note...

This is a LEARNING process. It takes time for kids to learn how to do this, and even longer for them to actually hold their peers accountable to the contract. For example... I had a two 8th grade girls come up to me the day a project was due and tell me about how their third teammate ended up not doing much of the work.

I simply said...Ok, that's fine. As long as you've documented the strikes in the contract, I'll make sure the grade is taken care of. - - They looked at me sheepishly and then said that really they never said anything to her and there aren't strikes. They didn't realize that she wasn't working.

Ohhh. Now, there's more of a problem. I cannot and will not just lower this team member's grade without documentation. That's not right. I explained that this is a good learning moment for them to hold their teammates accountable throughout the project and not on the last day at the last minute. Hopefully next time they would do a better job... without documentation I won't lower the grade.

One of the hardest things for kids to learn is to hold their peers accountable to the work. Contracts in group projects make for so many GREAT learning moments, and by the end of the year, these middle school kids have learned some very valuable lessons that have nothing to do with content.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

When Less is More

Sometimes we have a tendency to forget. We forget how things really and truly are. We forget our audience and end up being disappointed with the results. When in reality, it's our fault.

I want to share with you today a moment where I realize how far I have come. How much I have improved over the years as a teacher. This week, I decided to resurrect an old assignment. It's probably been 6-8 years since I did it last (I know this because the last modified date was 2013). I'm surprised it even opened up on my computer.

I was reading it, cringing the entire time.

Good idea.

Poor execution.

I had a HUGE paragraph as the instructions on the page. How stupid of me. For a two main reasons...

First. I forgot who I was teaching. 13-14 year old kids. They don't want to read paragraphs. In reality, non of us want to fuddle through an entire paragraph filled with detailed instructions. I'm sure the kids NEVER actually read it.

And I'm sure I was frustrated when they would ask me questions that were "hidden" in that paragraph. I'm sure I responded with... "Didn't you read the instructions?"

Second. It wasn't CLEAR. Yes, I had included all that they needed to do, but it read more like a blog post instead of getting right to the point. Kids need clear expectations on what to do. They are capable of doing great things, following directions, and being independent... if we, the adults, are crystal clear on what we are asking.

In the case of teaching middle school students... LESS IS MORE.

The last few years, I have almost lived by that phrase... I try to see how much can I tell my students in the fewest words possible. My directions on worksheets now consist of one sentence if that and bullets or steps if a larger project requires multiple steps.

And when you really sit down and think about it... we are the same way.

No adult wants to read three paragraphs of information to be told to do one thing. Why would we think kids want to? We are who we teach.

Less is more people.

Try it out. Cut your directions down to the exact NEED TO KNOWS and I bet you get just as good or better results.

Be clear. Be short. Don't ramble.