Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Who Have You Asked Today?

Dear Senior of 2020, (Or Junior, Sophomore, or Freshman...)

I hope you don't mind me inserting myself right in your business....BUT. 

Have you ever thought of becoming a teacher???

Cause you'd be great. 


And I've found that if I don't reach out to people who have the characteristics to be amazing teachers we (the world) may miss out on some phenomenal people in our profession. So... 

If you haven't given it a thought, think about it. I'd love to answer any questions you have. Because it is definitely a job where you get the opportunity to make people happy and have FUN everyday. There is no better feeling than going to work each day knowing that its where you belong.  

(Don't ask about 2020...but even through this crazy COVID year I still wouldn't want to do anything else) 

Have a safe and happy break. Take some time to relax. You've earned it!  


Teachers...if we don't promote our profession, who will? If we don't reach out to those kids who would make amazing colleagues, friends, and teachers of our children and grandchildren, who's going to? Who are we missing? 

Some kids haven't even given it a thought. 

What if they did? 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Stressed? Tips and Tricks I Learned in the Most Stressful Year of My Career

Don't hate me for what I'm about to say. 

So far this crazy COVID-school year isn't killing me. I'm not overly stressed. I'm not feeling burnt-out. I'm doing ok. 

I know, I know what you're thinking... Waaaeeellll laaa de frickin' da! Isn't that good for her. 

Keep Reading! 

I didn't say it wasn't hard. 

I didn't say I liked it. 

I didn't say I wasn't working my ass off (because I am). 

But here's the thing. Because of the job change last year, which saw me teaching in a brand new school, a new age group, and new content all while having a 4 kids (at the time) ages 7 to 5 months at home. This COVID teaching isn't much different when it comes to work load than what I saw last year. 

So yes, I'm stressed, I have more to do than I can possibly get done in a day, and my responsibilities somehow keep increasing. But I'm used to it. I "conditioned" the entire year last year in a type of environment where I was essentially a brand new teacher creating content, raiding TPT at the last minute, and trying to squeeze in grading whenever I can. Guess what...I entered more "completion" grades into the gradebook last year than I ever had before. It was survival. I worked all the time, whether it was working on school or working on my other full-time role as wife and mommy. And it was hard.  

And it broke me. I lost it. Come Thanksgiving I called and made my family cancel pictures because I had a complete melt-down over the thought of having to do one load of laundry. I wish I was kidding... 

But in the struggle I also learned a lot. I became someone who really attempted to master time-management. Because I had to. I had to be a master of the time I had.

I was just hoping that this school year the pressure and work-load would ease up. It hasn't. But I'm stronger than I was last year...so I'm able to carry it better this year.

So what did I learn? What skills did I walk away with? What do I have to offer you today? 3 Things. Just 3 things that can help you manage and budget your time so that you can start to breath a little. And these things work whether you're a parent, teacher, or student. Every single one of those groups are being thrown into the fire of school during a pandemic and all of us agree that it sucks. But we can emerge stronger... 

First Thing: Pick 6 

Chances are if you were to write out an entire list of all the things you need to do, you'd be completely and totally overwhelmed. Everyone has more to do and less time to do it. And that gigantic list doesn't do you any good. If you feel you need to get it out of your brain and on paper fine. But don't make that your actually running to-do list. Shove it in a drawer for now. 

And pick 6. Choose 6 things that you want to focus on today. Prioritize them by time and task and then set to work. But only work on those six items until they are done. Cross them off with a bright pink marker and celebrate with an iced latte from Starbucks. 

Then choose another 6. 

Sticking to only 6 things helps keep us from getting overwhelmed with too much information. Our brain gets bogged down in the amount instead of seeing in chunked portions. 

But Jill...I have more than 6 things to do. 

Yup. And you always will. Pick 6.

Next Thing: Be Goggle Focused 

I learned this term outside of a school setting and it has stuck with me more than anything else. It is my favorite time management hack. Multitasking is a lie. You can't effectively do two things at one time. (Unless you are a breastfeeding mama, then yes, darlin you can nurse that baby while doing another task) What I mean is, you can allow your brain to focus on two things or many things at once. 

Teachers are the worst at this. We will start 12 different things and then leave at the end of the day with 12 things started and nothing actually done. 

Stop it. Be "goggle focused". A swimmer uses their goggles to effectively swim the 200 Freestyle race, they wouldn't have a chance to win the race without those goggles. The goggles allow the swimmer to focus on the destination. The end. The goal. 

When you're working, whether it is planning a lesson for Tuesday, trying to complete your science worksheet, or attempting to fold a load of laundry...focus on the destination. The end. The goal. And don't stop until you do. Work until that one task is finished and then move on to the next. Before you know it you'll have all 6 items on your list crossed off. 

And even if you don't get to all 6, at least you have 2 or 3 done. Completely finished. Not 6 different things started and nothing done, causing you more stress and anxiety because a new day just brings more things to do. 

Last Thing: Get Dressed to Your Shoes

This one is really meant for those who are on some sort of flexible schedule and working from home. (Yes...if you're a student and you've made it this far into the blog post this one is really dedicated to you). You see...when I talk to my students about employability skills the one constant thing that they tell me they wish they could do better is time management. Every class, every year, time management. Well...you know what? I can't teach you how to manage time if I don't give you time to have to manage. Well now, many students, are finding themselves with tons of time they have to manage without the skills to handle it. This one is for you. 

Get up. (Yes, that means out of bed) And get fully dressed, all the way to your shoes. When we are dressed and shoes are on our feet it tells our brain we are ready to work. Seriously. We are in the right mindset to be productive. 

I know there is debate out there on whether or not shoes should be worn in the house. This is not the place for that debate. I won't tell you my opinion. But I will tell you what I know. If my shoes are off then I am sitting, lounging around and not knocking out that 6 item to-do list. It's hard to be productive when I'm in PJ's all day. 

Get dressed. All the way to your shoes and get to work. Take them off when you're done. Treat the day as if you would a normal school day and get up, get dressed, and get to work. I know it's hard. You're tired. I'm not saying you have to get up at 6:00...but you shouldn't sleep until noon, and then eventually decide to get out of bed at 1:00 only to just get started (while getting back in bed) at 2:00 and then wonder why it took your all afternoon to do that one vocab assignment. Get up. Get dressed. Shoes on. 

There you have it. 3 things that can help. Try one or try them all. See if it helps. I have more strategies but in attempt to keep this short (ha) and you from getting overwhelmed, I went with these three strategies. None of them are strategies that I fully created myself. I learned them along the way. Picked them up from different areas of life. It just seems that everyone could use a little tip on how to manage time. 

And remember to be kind to yourself. Things are going to go unfinished and get done late. You'll have to rewash the same load of laundry 3 times before you finally move it to the washer. You're going to assign a "movie day" so you can plan for the next class period. And you may have to email your teacher and ask for an extension. It's ok. You will make it through this. With a whole new appreciation for school, work, and home. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

A Structured Class During and Unstructured Year

You all know how we got here. You don't need the back story. I'm not going to spend time debating or discussing my position on whether or not schools should or shouldn't open. To be honest, I don't have time for that shit. I gotta keep moving forward with what I know and what I can do. When I sit down to start looking at what this year is gonna look like, there are all sorts of unknowns. But here is what I do know.
  1. My high school is starting off in a hybrid model. Half of my students Monday and Thursday, the other half Tuesday and Friday. Wednesdays and days when kids aren't in class are considered remote learning and students have to log 6 hours of school work (between all of their classes) every remote day. 
  2. It is my job to provide material and lessons for students who are enrolled in my class on both F2F (face to face) days and remote days. 
  3. It is silly for me to go into this year thinking that I won't miss due to catching COVID or being quarantined at some point due to my exposure to others with COVID. There is also the chance I could get really sick and not be able to get to my computer to "push" work to my students.
  4. It is also silly for me to plan on having all my students who should be in class on F2F days when they're scheduled to be there. Kids will be quarantined too. Some due to sickness, some due to exposure. It's gonna happen. 
  5. I am still responsible for the learning of my students, whether or not I or the students are physically present.
  6. At some point I need to assume it is possible for us to "out of the blue" go completely remote

Now. I have to design a class that promotes rigorous learning keeping all of those things in mind. Yeah. Not an easy task. And one that I have spend a good amount of my time obsessing about in my head for the last three months...and that has started to spill out of my brain to anyone who would listen in the last three weeks. (My poor husband...) 

And now...for now anyway...I think I have a plan. I'm going to share that plan with you today. Not because I think it is perfect. Not that I think it's the best way. But because I see teachers out there STRUGGLING to even imagine what this kind of learning looks like. This isn't just a pivot for some teachers...it's a complete jump away from what they have been doing their entire careers. It's overwhelming and stressful. I am hoping this helps with some of that. 

My Plan: My US History class will be almost 90% asynchronous and virtual, even when we are F2F. As we start the year, hopefully my students will see these three factors about our learning environment. 

It's not just teachers who are going to be teaching a whole new way, it's students who are going to have to navigate this with very little prep. On top of the loss of 5 months of school. If I can do one thing to ease that transition it's to make things consistent. Each of my units will have four major components. 
  1. Historical Context
  2. Vocabulary Work 
  3. Document Analysis 
  4. Assessment (usually project based) 
This will hopefully help them know what to expect with each of our units. And while the activities and lessons that will be assigned will be different, and each unit may do more of one than the other, those 4 components will remain. 

Most of what I will be giving my students is going to be virtual and paperless. That's not ideal, I get that. But none of this is ideal. I have to figure out a way to help them keep track of their assignments and know what, where, and when to turn things in. This is my biggest hurdle still to figure out. I can come up with a method, but in reality it may not work. I know will use a combination of my class website, Google Classroom, and one-on-one student check-in meetings (socially distant of course). 

This is the biggie. All of those "knowns" above made flexibility my number one priority and the number one reasoning for the asynchronous/virtual environment. I need to easily be able to provide material no matter what "pivot" is sent my way. And I don't want to be scrambling at the last minute to come up with a different virtual plan when we were supposed to be F2F. In order to be flexible I'm going to have to work "smarter not harder". (PS...what is "smarter" and "harder" to me doesn't mean it is the same for every teacher...please don't take this as "your way" is not right. You do you, bruh) 

So...how does my asynchronous/virtual class look? 

Each Friday, I will "push out" the next week's schedule to the students. It will look like the picture below. (Please see the bottom of this post for a note about the resources in this blog post). You will notice that each day gives an outline of the assignment. The students know what to expect and have all the resources to work on no matter the environment in which they are working.

Everything that I would "present" or "teach" in the live classroom will also be pre-recorded. This way if we are in person I can do the presentation live, but if I'm gone, students are gone, or we all get sent home I still have that material already created. All assignments are provided ahead of time so when students are "remote learning" they have their materials with them.

F2F days are saved for teaching technology programs, organization, one-on-one check ins, and for me to elaborate on and explain the content they are working on. Also, if I desire a quiz or test, F2F days will be used for that. For the most part "in class" time will be work time on their weekly assignments. 

This helps me in two major ways. 
  1. If students or I are gone, they know what they're doing. 
  2. If I were to become so ill that I cannot get to my computer I have the buffer of at least a week to get better. And if I don't, there will be a backup "emergency plan" with my department and administration to help. (I don't have that ready yet).
In order for my plan to work I am relying on at least a few F2F days to train my students and have them prep and practice what they will be doing. If we don't end up with that, I can make it virtual training, but that will be much more difficult. Not impossible. Just more difficult. 

The big downfall. My "F2F" classroom is not in anyway going to resemble what is really good teaching or what the kids are begging for. They WANT normal. They WANT interaction. They WANT active learning. And that is minimal with this plan. We will discuss, interact as much as we can, but none of this year is going to be what we really want it to be. I am doing what every single teacher out there is doing. Trying to do what is best at this moment, knowing (painfully knowing) that it's not good enough. 

As the year progresses, maybe...just maybe we'll be able to get some consistency in our world. Numbers of COVID spread will stabilize and we'll be able to add in some more "live" lessons, activities, and projects. I am, and will always be, hope for that. 

***A note about resources***
You are welcome to look at and use the lesson I created for our first unit, the 1920's as detailed in the above picture of the weekly plan. Please understand a few things. I am not completely finished with it and I do not plan on going back into this shared folder and adding/changing anything. Please don't contact me and ask if I finished it...you will have to take it from there. Also...some of this is created by me, but a lot of it is pieced together from a variety of resources. None of this should show up on TPT. Thanks for that consideration. 

Link for 1920's Asynchronous Folder: CLICK HERE 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Teaching and Cycling: An Analogy

I recently took up cycling. My husband has been riding for the last 5 years and is a pretty serious riding 30-70 miles on a regular basis. Over the years I have developed a desire to try riding a bike for exercise. I have bad knees and limited amounts of time being a teacher and a mother of four young children. This was something I figured I could squeeze in that wouldn't make my knees swell up like cantaloupes.  So he got me a bike for Mother's Day, and I've been riding all spring and summer. I've come to realize that how good you feel on a bike can completely depend on the wind. And here in Kansas we have a lot of wind. Basically you will encounter one or a combination of the following three scenarios.

A tailwind, giving you a nice push and making your ride seem easy.

A head wind, making the ride 10 times harder and usually involving a few choice words as I push through.

And a crosswind, which isn't as hard as a headwind, but is tricky because sometimes you THINK it's a headwind until you turn and realize that the wind is blowing much harder this direction.

Of course any of those scenarios can come with the route that you ride. Could be uphill, could be downhill, could be flat land. How you feel about your ride totally depends upon the combination of all of these things.

And one morning as I was pushing up a hill (and probably swearing) I was started to think that cycling is an excellent metaphor for teaching. 

Allow me to explain.

For 13 years I worked at a middle school in a small town. And while there were moments where it may have been a little bit difficult for the most part it was easy. And it was fun! Essentially this was a bike ride with a tailwind. And while there might have been a few hills along the way (maternity leaves, new admin, student teachers, new standards, new technology...) I still had the wind pushing me in the back allowing me to remain, mostly, comfortable. Easy.

Eventually that got too easy. There was no challenge left in that road I was taking. It was flat land with a huge tailwind. I couldn't push myself anymore where I was. So I changed directions.

All of a sudden I found myself riding uphill with wind in my face. I had made a huge shift in the direction I was going. Now I was teaching a brand new content, and a brand new school, to a brand new age group. All while having four kids under the age of seven. It was a crazy ride! As I kept going and as I pushed through it started to get a little easier. The hill started to flatten out a little bit the wind started to die down. In January I felt like finally I was feeling more confident and I was growing stronger. It was exciting! I could just tell that come next August that wind was going to shift back into a tailwind helping push me through the hills that would come.

Nope.  As often it does, unexpectedly the wind changed. Instead of shifting into a tailwind. We were all forced to ride straight into a headwind. A strong headwind. Uphill. 

Now as I approach the teaching year in August of 2020 I find myself looking at a very long and windy uphill ride. And there's no clear view in the forecast of when that might change.

But I know all I have to do is keep going. Keep pedaling. There's no reward for finishing first. And while some of us have been riding for a while and have tools and tricks and muscle built up to push us through. We have some that will stop, they are tired of the ride and won't do it anymore. And that's okay.  We also have brand new cyclists. Who are not starting out on a flat road with wind behind them, they're starting out with a huge hill and a strong head wind. They're going to need coaches that cheer them on and ride next to them as they struggle.  We may need to find new tools and equipment that can help us push through. We'll have to just keep moving forward, even if it is slow. 

So what can we take away from this analogy?
1. Slow progress is still progress. Even thought it may not seem that way and it will be hard...and probably consist of a few muttered "choice" words. It's still progress.

2. There is no room for comparison. I ride at an average sustained 13.5 mph on a good day for 8-12 miles. My husband rides at an average of 20 mph and goes on 50 miles rides. For fun... (WTH??). It does me no good to compare myself to him. He has different goals and is in a completely different kind of shape than I am. Same goes for teaching. Look to learn from those who are better...not feel defeated because you don't know or do as much. It's ok to be where you are as long as you're working on progress. 

3. We're gonna need to rest and take care of ourselves along the way. Long rides don't happen without some self-care along the way. Otherwise you put yourself in danger. Take your personal days. Leave your computer closed and find ways to regenerate! 


4. Eventually the wind will die down and the land will level out. And when it does we will emerge from that ride amazed at how much stronger and confident we are.

Friday, July 10, 2020

What CAN I Do?

 I feel as though I am mourning the loss of my classroom and the way it was.

And it was good. I worked SO DAMN HARD for it. And I had so many cool plans to make it even better.

All gone.

I feel like I am going through the different stages of grief (in no way do I mean to compare this to grieving of an actual human being, but the emotions I am experiencing tend to fall under the umbrella of grief.) I have been in denial. We'll be fine by August. School can be normal next year. Anger: I cannot believe this is happening...this is all so stupid. I hate everything and I am just mad. Bargaining: If you please just wear a mask, then maybe we can go to school in August. Depression: I'm stuck in this funk and nothing can get me out of it. I just want to lay in bed and zone out looking at my phone. Numbing the pain. 

And now acceptance.

This sucks.

But I'm done. I cannot live in "this place" forever. I can't keep watching people argue. I cannot stay here. So now I move on. Pull myself up and start taking action. Actions that help produce those "feel-good" messages to my brain.

But what can I do?

I can... start (slowly and safely) going up to the school to work on my classroom. Setting up a "normal" looking space. Organizing my desk and filling out a school calendar.

I can... email my principal and let him know that I am available to help if he needs anything as decisions begin to be made. I am here to support and help make this a success... because you know as soon as plans roll out our leaders won't get many kind emails.

I can... send little note of encouragement to my colleagues. Especially those who I know are struggling.

I can... Start to prepare online hyperslides and projects that can be used in both an in-person and digital scenario. This way I start to feel good about what I have put together, but will need minimal (if any) changes depending on how school starts. (I promise to create a blog post detailing my plan for asynchronous learning throughout this year, complete with an example...I'm just don't have it done yet)

I can... buy some "back to school" clothes. I plan on wearing them in any scenario in order to have my mind and attitude in the right place.

I can... start a campaign of positivity on my social media accounts that students follow. A count down to when I get to see them. Letting them know just how excited I am and how much I miss them.

I can... open my gradebook and look at my roster. Then...without paying attention to numbers (that will change anyway as things move forward) I can look at the pictures of my students. Just seeing their faces makes me happy!

I can... go to dinner (safely in our masks) with my "teaching wife" - - we can brainstorm and enjoy each other's company.

I can... get my "back to school" haircut and manicure with my nail color sporting our school colors.

I can... start to dive down the rabbit hole of amazing ideas for project based learning and digital lessons. There are some amazing teachers out there who have created some great things. I can start brainstorming. (I do have to make sure I am completely ready for this one though...once I open the brainstorming/lesson planning part of my mind, it gets very hard to shut it off).

I can... continue to make sure I do everything I can to build up my immune system. Lots of fruits and veggies and clean eating, exercise, and plenty of sunshine.

I can... be a source of positivity for my family, school, and community!


Because, let's be honest. There is A LOT I cannot control. I know that when plans for reopening finally come out there will be things I agree with and disagree with. I know that those individuals are working SO VERY HARD to try and combat an impossible situation. But if I focus my energy on the things I CAN do... suddenly options start to appear and I am less fearful of the unknown.

Monday, May 11, 2020

The Power of Text Annotation and Collaboration

If you frequent this blog often, you'll know that I talk A LOT about teacher collaboration and the PLN I've surrounded myself with online. They are rock stars! But this lesson is a result of the collaboration with some awesome teachers in my own building. I am so happy with the way it turned out...and proud of the work we did to make it happen. 

The lesson came about through working and talking with two teachers who just happen to have classrooms in the same hallway as I do. These two women do amazing things for students and I am so thankful to have them around! US and World History teacher, Becca Hawthorne (@MsHawthorne266) and English teacher, Cady Jackson (@cadyelizabeth1) are two people you should know! 

My classroom neighbor, Ms. Hawthorne, brought out this box of WWII "stuff" that she was gifted one year for Christmas. Inside was TONS of replica WWII sources. Letters, battle plans, maps, photos, speeches...TONS. And while we were going through the box we came across the speech for FDR's response to Pearl Harbor. You know the, "date that will live in infamy" speech.

What was COOL about this copy of the speech, is that it was the original with his handwritten notes all over it. You can do a simple Google search and find copies of it. But Becca and I knew we had to use it in class. I created an analysis worksheet using the templates provided from the National Archives found HERE. While Becca and Cady worked together to create an awesome lesson on annotating the speech drawing connections to the lessons students did on connotation and word choice during Engligh class this year. These two really did the heavy lifting for this lesson and I am so thankful for their willingness to share!

The original idea had students moving from station to station interacting with the words on the page in different ways. And that's what I had planned on doing... but then (in my typical fashion) changed it up at the last minute. I decided to do this activity and each station as a class.  A combination of teacher instruction, group work/discussion, and individual analysis. 

I made that choice for two real reasons. 

1. This is the first time I have ever annotated this specific speech. I've heard it, of course, and I've had students look at parts of it, but this is my first time really teaching this speech. Remember...this is my first year teaching high school curriculum. I haven't taught a unit on WWII in 14 years, when I was doing my student teaching. There is no better way to truly learn your content than to teach it. I wanted to scaffold this lesson as much for me to learn the material as for the students. Teachers don't always know ALL of the answers. Allowing for a class discussion of the speech would allow for me to learn different possible correct responses to various questions.

2. I love to use stations...but I use them in order to help me work "smarter not harder". When I pictured this lesson, I just pictured myself running from group to group, station to station trying to guide them through this process. I was exhausted just thinking about it. I like stations that require students to interact with content independently and reach out to me for feedback. I just couldn't picture this activity running smoothly in station format. 

Turns out the scaffolded class lesson was definitely the way to go. It was awesome! Great conversations, great analysis, and even better...when I asked a question on the test (weeks later) about word choice and connotation these kids KNOCKED IT OUT OF THE PARK! I felt like they really truly understood what FDR was trying to say in his message. 

Here are some images of the lesson.

Final thoughts and a disclosure...

This lesson was probably one of my favorites from this semester. It doesn't have any fancy bells and whistles. But for a teacher getting to witness the LEARNING is so rewarding. I saw students interactiving with text and each other in a collaborative way, and I probably had 100% participation throughout the activity. 

But that doesn't mean the day was perfect. 

I have said this before. There are NO perfect teachers. On this exact day I had planned on doing this lesson twice. For my first block and fourth block US History classes. BUT that didn't happen. During my planning period a situation occurred that required quite a bit of my emotional energy. By the time I was suppose to be preparing for my 4th block class...I found myself exhausted, both mentally and physically. So... I put in a movie. Not a great teaching move. Not something that happens often. But it happened that day. 

You know what? My 4th block class did NOT "rock it" on the assessment question over this speech and the connotation of the language used by FDR.  It wasn't their fault that I didn't do this lesson with them. I hadn't prepared them for that portion of the test, so I didn't penalize them for it and threw out that question.  I realized just how important it is for me to continue with the text annotation in the future...and more like it! Having students interact with the words and the connotation that comes from the types of words chosen is vital to understanding the meaning behind the historical phrases.

Want the lesson resources??? CLICK HERE 

I am so grateful that Becca and Cady worked together to create this amazing activity and were willing to share it with me. I am so thankful to be in a place and a profession and values collaboration. When we work together we all get better...and our students get smarter! 

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Good Things

OK... I'm not going to dwell on all the ways in which the current situation we are in sucks. It does. For everyone. For a multitude of reasons. I can't stay in "that place." I start to get even more stressed, overwhelmed, and angry.

I can't be there.

Instead I need to wrap myself around the good things. The positive things. The ways in which I'm going to take this experience and use it to PUSH myself to be a better teacher when we are back in our classrooms.

Because there are some great things that are coming out of this. My students are learning some VALUABLE life skills through this process...and I am learning more about how to help them gain those skills. I'm going to find a way to take that goodness back into my classroom in August. (Yes...I am aware that there is already conversation of how August may not look the way we want it to...but I already told you. I'm not going to "that place" right now). So if you need to, just read "August" as our return to the physical classroom.

1. Student Choice
I LOVE the way my brain is trying to figure out how to get the "essential content" to my students in a way that allows them to choose what they do with it. A variety of vocabulary assignments, choices on extended content they WANT to learn more about, and ways to express their knowledge other than a traditional test. My classroom had SOME of this...I wanted more, but was waiting for this first year of high school to figure out where and when I would put it in. This situation has forced me into it. And I love it. I am really excited to see how this transforms my physical classroom.

2. Independence 
One thing that is both equally frustrating, but important is that my students HAVE to read the instructions. There is no getting around it. I am not there to quickly restate what I previously said or walk them through every step. They have to read. And if they don't?  They are instructed to copy and paste my instructions into an email and then highlight the parts that are confusing. This FORCES them to read the instructions...and in the event that my directions aren't clear, I can fix it! The is forcing students to really take ownership of their learning and advocate for themselves when they need help. They have to seek it out. They are responsible for their understanding of the content. While I can deliver some of it, they have to do more reading, researching, and inquiry that before.  Then ask for clarification if they don't understand.  I love it! Such LIFE SKILLS being applied here.

3. Feedback
I'll be honest. Providing timely feedback to my students isn't one of my strong points. I'm decent at providing feedback "in the moment" while they're working on a project...but after it's all done and turned in? Sometimes my evaluation and feedback takes awhile. This has forced me to provide them very quick feedback. I am getting better and more efficient. ANOTHER COOL FEATURE with this is more regular feedback from my students. I have always had them "check in" at certain points in the year and let me know how things were going, but now I'm getting weekly feedback. Are my instructions detailed enough? Clear enough? What do you need from me to be successful? I am getting better though this process and my high school kids are helping me get there!

4. Collaboration
I've talked many times about how teacher collaboration is the key to shifting and moving forward. New ideas, new methods, and comradery has helped me surround myself with a network of positive educators who are doing awesome things across the country. This situation has provided me the motivation (and time) to actually have a conference call with some of these awesome people. Meeting as "face to face" as we can so we can talk about success and errors that we have had in our emergency online delivery of content. This helps keep me motivated and inspired. A great way to lift my spirits as the year continues. I hope to find regular times to continue this as things move into our new normal. I hope to see more teachers involved in this process.

I am sure this list will continue to grow as I stretch my mind to what is possible. What is on your list of good things you're taking back to the classroom?

Friday, January 24, 2020

Applied Vocabulary: A Couple Strategies

This wasn't a planned blog post, but today I created a tweet that showed an activity my Juniors did in class that required them to apply some vocabulary knowledge. I had some requests for the activity. I figured I could write a quick post about it AND throw in one I did a few weeks ago with my World History Sophomores that I was very pleased with.

Because teaching vocabulary is so important. And not always exciting. Copy the definition. Draw a picture. Blah.

BUT I love good activities for vocabulary that help kids either understand the concept in CONTEXT of our historical time period OR that "spice it up" a little.

So here ya go. Two simple, but effective vocabulary strategies that I have used in January.

Picture Matching Vocabulary: The activity I posted on Twitter today. This was done at the beginning of our Great Depression unit (days 1-2).
  1.  Day 1 is not super exciting. I prep the kids with this unit, explaining that there is some heavy vocab. So we start with a simple KIM Vocab worksheet. (Yep. Worksheet. Sometimes they're necessary for basic knowledge level assignments). This is really to help set up the activity for day 2. There are 16 terms, difficult words. They fill out the simple worksheet during class. I allow them to work with teams, it's really relaxed type of day, but they're busy. 
  2. I make sure they know that the worksheet needs to be done tomorrow for our vocab competition. 
  3. Day 2: I created a slide presentation with pictures/images that represent each word. I give each image a number 1-16. Sometimes I prefer to make things in slides, even if I'm going to print. Easier to manipulate the images. 
  4. Print off the pictures and tape them up to the wall (I did this in the hallway so there was more room to move around.) 
  5. Students each get a 1/2 sheet of paper with the terms only and a space next to it. Their task is to wonder around looking at the images and attempt to match the term with the correct one. They may use their vocab sheets from Day 1, but this is INDIVIDUAL and a competition. The student with the most correct gets a prize. 

  • Kids find this hard (for the most part). They're not just regurgitating what they did the day before. They're studying HARD their own copied definitions and illustrations and attempting to figure out how they connect to each image. 
  • Often times I have to remind them during the activity, that it is supposed to be challenging. It is supposed to make them think and APPLY what they learned yesterday.
  • I have always had at least one student get them all right. Most kids are impressed with themselves and how many they were able to figure out, even though it is hard. 
  • I try to make the prizes "worth it." A cool pen or a package of microwave popcorn. Cheap prizes that kids get excited about. 
Want that lesson? Click HERE >>> Great Depression Vocab Matching

Frequently Asked Question: What do I grade with this? Answer: Nothing. Of course the kids don't know that. :) 

Image Introduction Activity: This was done as the very first activity of the year. Our World History scope and sequence has us starting with Renaissance. There is a little need for comparison to Middle Ages to Renaissance. I used this as a way to get students talking about differences before giving them ANY content knowledge. 
  1. I found 8 examples of Renaissance art, architecture, and science. I found 8 examples of Middle Age art, architecture, and science. I attempted to find similar images creating "buddy images". (Last Supper Renaissance and Last Supper Mid Ages). 
  2. I taped them up around the room next to their "buddy image" 
  3. Students were given a simple record form that aske them the station # they were at and what the similarities and differences were between the two pictures. 
  4. Kids paired up, walked around, analyzed images and had conversations. 

How is this vocabulary? 
Because these kids, through just simple conversations, were already USING the vocabulary I was going to be teaching them in our Renaissance unit...and they didn't even know it! They were pointing out characteristics of Renaissance art (realism, perspective, light and shade). They were applying knowledge they didn't even know they had! I love it! 

Plus this made a simple activity that I could refer back to when I was explaining in more detail some of the changes that occurred during the Renaissance. 

Want those pictures? Click HERE >>> Renaissance Image Introduction

Cool right!?!

Both of these activities require students to DO things. Requires them to apply information and think at a higher level. Both of these are engaging and I rarely have to redirect someone back on task. (Though, it does happen. There are no perfect teachers). Both of these allow me to sit back and watch them learn...I facilitate the learning, I don't just tell them what they need to know. 

Don't be afraid to allow kids to try things on their own. Will they fail? Sure, sometimes. But they will also have moments of success. They may just surprise more than themselves with how much they're capable of.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Small Changes = Big Impacts

One of the huge advantages to a "Four Block" schedule and teaching an entire year's worth of material in a semester is the second semester. I get to start over and try new things, tackle those sticky-notes of changes I stuck all over my unit notebooks.

Over Christmas break I had a list full of big ideas.

And then I crumbled it up and tossed it into the trash.

Reality check. I spent more time at school the first semester than I had in 13 years. My first year teaching. Makes since, since I'm basically a first year teacher in her 14th year with new content and age level. BUT this time around I have so much more going on outside of school. That time at the school, while necessary and valuable to the classroom, was a sacrifice somewhere else.

So I need to slow down. Give myself grace. And time.

I have time to tackle those big ideas. Over the summer.

Now I can change my focus. To the little things. Little changes that, in turn, have made a big impact on the start of this semester. What are those little changes?

I'm glad you asked.

1. Bell Work
I always used bell work at the middle school level. It took about a week to get the 7th and 8th graders trained to come in and get started with the intro task. When I moved to high school, I figured I wouldn't need it. We'd have our "good things" talk and move right into the lesson of the day. Turns out, the structure of starting class with a simple expectation everyday is good for Sophomores and Juniors too.

2. Phones in the wall pockets. 
Ok...so I wrote a blog post before the first day of school about self-regulation and how it is important to allow kids to develop this skill. (read that post here) While I still believe that we need to teach kids the skills of self-regulation, I decided to use this semester as a little experiment. You see, for the most part my Juniors would put their phones away or upside down when I asked, but when it comes to self-regulation these kids THINK THEY'VE GOT IT. They think they are on task and working. They think the phones aren't a distraction. For the most part, they're wrong. They just don't realize how often and long they spend on the phone during a class period. Causing lessons and projects to take longer than necessary, and I don't have that kind of time. Plus...I didn't want to have to start class everyday with... "Ok, let's put your phones away or upside down and take your ear-buds out." And thanks to my bell work class starts with them beginning on their own (for the most part...some need a little nudge). For the record. I haven't given up on the idea of using phones to teach kids self-regulation. For now, starting the semester, this is working.

3. Note Prep
I don't lecture a ton, but I still do some. I make it a point to keep my lectures at 20 minutes or less. If it goes over that time, I want it to be due to a great conversation and awesome questions from the audience, not because I have to pause and wait for them to write things down. I got frustrated with my classes last semester. Even though we practiced note-taking skills and I repeatedly told them they didn't need to write everything down. They still did. Every word. Ugh! Made things take twice as long. So this semester I changed it up. On a day I have a lecture, I try to set the bell work as note prep time. I place my slide show in Google Classroom and let the kids have 10-15 minutes to prep. This allows for them to get a head start...or copy it all down if they feel like they need to. While I lecture and discuss the information they can either add to, highlight, or just close the notebook and listen. This allows me to get the material covered at a reasonable pace, they ask better questions, and if they miss anything, they always have the presentation available in Google Classroom.

4. Scaffolding and Expectations
High school kids are quicker and smarter than middle school. But they still need guidance. They need clear expectations and they need to know the process for thinking historically. It was pretty easy to just assume, last semester, that these kids can get it because they are older and wiser. This time around I'm taking the time early in the semester to teach HOW to analyze documents, how to recognize perspective, and how to place it all in the context of the time period. As we finish up our first unit this week, I feel like this group of kids are already more critical thinkers with primary and secondary sources.  Just because they are turning 17 this year, doesn't mean they're too old for "I do - we do - you do" type of activities. I will be writing a blog post on how I use scaffolding at the HS level to teach historical thinking skills. So be watching for that!

Sometimes you don't have to do big things to make a big difference. Try something small.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Continuous Acrostic

Good morning to you all. School sleep schedule has my internal clock waking up by 5:00 AM. This morning I forced myself to stay in bed until 5:45. Now I've got a pot of coffee brewing and I decided to start your week off with a quick strategy that I have fallen in love with.

The Continuous Acrostic Poem.

I don't know if that's the actual name or if I just made it up. I know from my elementary school days that an Acrostic poem is where you come up with a word for each letter of the "primary word". I always remember doing them with my name in elementary schoool. J I L L = Jolly Intelligent Lovable Loud.

I love using poetry in social studies. It is a great way for students to make a deeper connection with the content as well as stretch their vocabulary. And when done in collaboration with your ELA teachers, kids can create some pretty awesome poetry. Two of my favorites that I've blogged about before are the Haiku and Blackout Poetry. Check those posts out, cool stuff.

Sometimes I don't want the activity to be a long project. Sometimes I just want it to be something quick and easy. That's where the continuous acrostic comes in. I give my students one of the main vocabulary words for our unit of study and they are required to write a poem that continues through the letters of the word. Instead of using one word (like elementary "JILL") or even stand alone statements, this challenges kids to write something continuously through the letters. It should all read as on long statement, or group of statements about the topic.

I LOVE this strategy because in order for the kids to be successful at it, they HAVE to include details and examples about the word that they have learned in class. Some students' poems read just like a paragraph, while others really dive into the creativity of the poetry and make a truly moving poem. I have used these in conjunction with a larger project, as an assignment at the end of a lesson, as a review activity, part of a choice board, and as a station rotation task. It can even be used to summarize an analysis of a primary source. So versatile!

Here are a few examples from my high school students this year. I have also done this in the past with middle school.
By: Keton
By: Nina

By: Sam
Enjoy! Have a great week :)

Saturday, January 4, 2020

The Amazon Review of the New Deal

Ok...so it's been a little while since my last blog post. I've been a bit busy. But that doesn't mean that I haven't had ideas of posts ready to type. Time has been on the short side this last semester.

I want to start out the new year with an activity idea that I got from a conversation with one of the best in our state, T.J. Warsnak. Who in turn got the idea from talking with one of our former KS Teacher of the Year, Sam Neill. (See how the magic of a PLN works?)
Follow them on twitter @thewarsnak and @SJNeill13

The idea is to have students give an "Amazon Review" of a moment, event, or policy in history. I think the original idea was one for teachers to use to reflect on our school year. Give yourself a 5-Star Amazon Review, then give yourself a 1-Star. What did you do well? What do you need to do to improve? TJ thought this would work for content.

And it does.

The conversation was perfect timing. We were just about to start our unit on the Great Depression and I figured I could use this for having kids give BOTH a 5-Star and 1-Star review of FDR's New Deal Programs. After some sharing and emailing back and forth with TJ and @coachschutte (another teacher rockstar in my PLN) this is what I ended up giving to the students.

1. I created this Google Slide template to push to the kids in classroom giving each student his/her own copy. >>>CLICK HERE FOR TEMPLATE

2. At the suggestion of Derek Schutte, I included review examples of the Rumba, so kids could see how something could have both a 1-star and 5-star review. Plus both reviews were great to show students how specific examples and reasons for the review...which would, of course, be required in their assignment.

3. We talked about how reviews can be very helpful to potential buyers, but that not all reviews are helpful. The more specific details someone gives for the reason behind the star ranking the more "useful" the review is to the reader. Their task is to create a very helpful review.

4. This was done after we had completed a SHEG activity on the New Deal and looked at both positive and negative outcomes. (Find that lesson here)

5. Each student was required to create BOTH a 5-Star and 1-Star review. Explaining both the good things and not-so-good things about this program. They had to list specific details to support their reasoning from the evidence they studied in the SHEG activity and learned in class discussions, assignments, and lectures.
  • Great activity! I love that it gets kids writing, but in a different format. So much of the time in school their writing assignments are more formal. This is more of a casual writing assignment that is relevant to kids in their everyday lives. They will, or have, written reviews online about a product or service. This assignment can give kids the chance to practice a different form of writing, but writing that still requires you to support your claim. 
  • I love the flexibility of this. I can use this for programs, events, people...all kinds of topics that come up in social studies. 
  • I also love that I can use this for non-history type things as well. Reflection for the students on themselves at the end of the semester...what they did well and what needed work. This could even be the end of the semester evaluation for me, the teacher. What did I do that would earn me a 5 star Amazon review? What would cause me to get a 1? Just a different spin on ways to provide feedback. 
  • Finally, if you didn't pick up on it through the post, this activity was a combination of conversations and sharing ideas and feedback between teachers around our state. We don't work in the same building, but because of the connections made both online and at conferences we are able to collaborate on activities in the classroom. Surround yourself with those who make you better! 

Give it a try! Let me know how it goes!

And chat up that PLN...ideas are everywhere!