Sunday, September 1, 2019

Warm-ups and Getting Started

I don't think I will ever get anything so perfect that I see no need to change it. It just doesn't happen for me.

Case in point - warm-ups/bell-ringers/science starters - whatever you call them. I have done them the same way for a number of year. I wrote about it HERE.

Than last year, a had a group of students that liked to rush ahead. They would look on the agenda an start doing homework at the beginning of class. This seems like a good thing, but it made rush through the journal questions, they were not paying attention to the question discussion, and they were getting behind at the start of class because they were not ready to begin due to working on the homework. It was an issue.

So I changed up my start-of-class agenda. Instead of having everything on on slide like so:




I added a slide and split the first slide into two separate slides. Now when students come in the room they see this:



I have the date, what they need to do to be ready for class, and our Journal Question (warm-up)

At the official start time for class, I start the timer on the next slide:




Students have two minutes to complete any tasks and answer the question. It's plenty of time.

Then I put up an answer for them & we chat about it for a minute. 



THEN... I'm ready to show the students what we are doing during the class period and what is coming for homework or later in the week.



This is working much better for keeping kids focused on the task at hand. 

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Policies & Procedures

The most important thing I have learned in teaching middle schoolers is the importance of procedures. Unfortunately it took me a long time to figure out just how much I needed a clear, complete set of instructions spelling out how to do things in my science lab.

Early on in my career, I made the [totally incorrect] assumption that by the time kids made it to middle school, they knew what to do in a classroom. Nope.
  1. Middle school is brand new to 6th graders. They are moving between classes by themselves. They are not in a line. And, lordy!!!! They are dealing with lockers!!! (If you teach 6th grade, you know what I am talking about.)
  2. Most 6th graders have never had science in a science lab.
  3. Every teacher has her or his own way of doing things. What one teacher doesn't mind, drives another one crazy.
  4. Puberty in 7th and 8th graders makes them forget almost everything.
Bottom line, when you're dealing with a 6th grader in particular, but any middle school student in general, everything is news to them.

After hearing a talk by Harry Wong - a procedures ninja -I set about creating my own. They have to be updated periodically, but the basics stay the same.

I created a handbook of sorts, a set of Important Stuff to Know for my class. Each child gets a copy and it stays in their binders all year long.

  1. I lay out my rules. These are non-negotiable and short and sweet. Be respectful and do not interfere with teaching and learning.
  2. I list my policies. These are often created by my school or department, there are several of these. They explain how I make decisions.
  3. Finally I list my procedures. I have quite a few of these. I try to cover every possible situation that can arise in my classroom. My procedure are simply how we do things in MY classroom. Not the teacher next door, not the teacher from last year, my room. Procedures include things like:
    1. how we begin class.
    2. how we end class.
    3. how we get materials and supplies.
    4. how we turn in assignments.
    5. how and when we sharpen pencils.
    6. what we do during a fire or lock down drill.
I have a LOT. 

I start with procedures the very first day of school. I review and reinforce them repeatedly.

I start with the ones I use most often - how to enter and leave class, how to get supplies, how to work in a team, and so on from day one.
More specific procedures like how to watch a video, or what to do if I am absent, I introduce as I need them.

I go over and over and over procedures. For the first three weeks of school, I provide reminders, oral reviews, whatever, to make make sure my kids know how to keep our classroom running smoothly. After a major holiday, I review again.

It's a lot of up-front work, but it pays off big time during the year.

You can find my procedures HERE.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Holidays

I'm guessing that every teacher deals with certain days of the year when standard instruction is, well, a challenge. Halloween, Valentine's Day, the day before a long break, special days in the school or community.... The days when kids are [more than usual] easily pulled off-task. 

I call these days "days of concession" because I just concede them to the kids and move on. I don't want the day to be a total waste though, so on these days I frequently take a break in what we are doing in class and do something different related to the holiday if appropriate. 

My kids LOVE engineering design projects. Building catapults for "Punkin Chunkin" or space craft to "Protect a Peep" are big hits with my 6th graders. There are so many examples on the interwebs that finding something to do is super easy. A quick modification to make the activity suitable for the holiday or time constraints, and you have something that will engage students AND provide a worthwhile learning experience. Win-Win.

My activities for days of concession can be found HERE.




Monday, July 29, 2019

Collaborative Learning - Team Jobs

Often I see suggestions for assigning students specific roles or tasks during labs; jobs like investigator, materials manager, scribe, and so on. I have never been very good about using these in my classroom. My next-door neighbor, however, is an absolute ninja with them. Her students run like the proverbial well-oiled machine. It's amazing.

Watching her classes has inspired me to give it a shot again. The thing is - I don't want to use the same jobs all of the time. Different activities call for different jobs. Soooo, I created a list of the different things I need students to do at various times. When I want students to have jobs, I randomly pass out cards with the job descriptions to groups. Which cards I use depends on the activity we are doing in class.

I'm going all-in with the the job cards this year.  I will update this post after I see how it works out :) 

You can find my job cards HERE.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Fabulous Resource From NASA

If you have never checked out My NASA Data - do so now!!! Right now!!! It is an AMAZING resource for teachers. Real data & tons of suggestions for using it in your classroom. 

It's incredible. Really.

My most recent find on this are these literacy cubes. OMG! The potential for these is enormous. I can see them used to review data in general, or very specific sets of data from My NASA Data or data students collect in class.





There are cubes to examine graphs, charts, and maps. 

You can find the cubes and questions to go with the cubes on the My NASA Data page HERE.

If you can't get to the page because of something stupid like a government shutdown (yes, I am being snarky, and no, I don't care that I am) you can find the activity on science-class.net.  Scroll down to the Review, Reinforcement, and Assessment Lessons and Activities section.