End of Year Gifts

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It’s nearing the end of the year and many of us are thinking about giving gifts to our students. Years ago I began creating word clouds for my students.
Screen Shot 2019-05-19 at 2.36.17 PMI use Google Forms to collect adjectives from students. The students don’t know why I’m doing it. I ask for three adjectives to describe their classmates. We brainstorm a list of positive qualities that could be used to describe someone. I do 3 students at a time. Any more than that and the students start to repeat themselves and it’s less personal. I take the adjectives, check spelling, and place them in a word cloud generator. I use Wordart. I try to pick images that match each student’s interest, passion, or personality. The secretary at my school is kind enough to print them out for me. I cut them to size and place their school picture on it and put it all in a frame that I purchase from the Dollar Store. Adding a short message on the back of the frame is also a nice touch. It’s a personal gift and easy on the wallet.

I love this gift so much!

Check-In with Flipgrid

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Last week I went back to Michigan due to a family emergency. I didn’t think I was going to be out of the classroom, but as it turned out I was. I was out for an entire week. The week AFTER Spring Break. Not great timing especially since I was out the two days before Spring Break. I knew I had to tone set with my students. Some would be thrown off by my absence.

Ms. N's Message on FlipgridThe question became: How am I going to communicate with my students? At first, I thought about doing videos on YouTube. Easy enough. I could record on my phone and upload. Then, after talking to a friend, I decided that Flipgrid was a better option. I could keep it private AND use the students’ names. I wanted to remind O to clean up, remind A to do work and not surf the web, and give shout outs to those who I was sure were doing the right thing. This worked out well. I was in contact with the sub and could customize my message each day. The kids really enjoyed it and LOVED hearing their names in the morning.

How fortunate that we live in this time where we can connect with our students from thousands of miles away.

Kindness Coin

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Ben's Bells Kindness CoinAt some point last year at a Google Innovator event I was given one of these. I liked the idea of passing along a note to recognize kindness in others.

I recently ran across it again and incorporated it into my classroom. I introduced the idea to my students telling them that when they saw someone being kind, it could be passed along to that person.

Fortunately, my students have really taken to the idea. Each day I see this being placed on someone’s desk. I love that my students do it without making a big deal about it. At one point it was missing for a few days. One of the students asked where it was and what happened to it. I reminded them to keep it going and it showed back up later that day.

A little kindness going a long way!

Size Matters

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Yesterday, Friday, I had 5 students absent. When everyone is present, we have 26 students in our class. They are an awesome group of kiddos. I’m really enjoying them, but when I had 21 yesterday in class, it was so nice!

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Let me explain. First of all, it had nothing to do with which students were absent. It had everything to do with the number of students physically present. I know 26 isn’t a bad number to have (last year I had 31 – THAT was too many). However, 21 students made it so much easier to squash undesired behaviors before the student had a chance to fully commit to the behavior. It allowed me to target individual needs more effectively. Don’t get me wrong, we had some name calling and general playing around but it was easier to manage.

So when school officials, politicians, or policymakers say that handling 31 is the same as handling 21, they clearly have either never been in the classroom (as a teacher) or have been out of it for far too long. There is a difference. I felt so much more productive and impactful than I have in a long time. I felt as if I really was making a difference and reaching all students.

If you are in a position to make a difference in your community, I urge you to do so. Go to school board meetings or talk to teachers. Because in the end, size really does matter!

And yes, I will be happy to see all 26 of them Monday morning!

Classroom Podcast

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I have decided that we should start a classroom podcast. I’m always looking for new and exciting ways to bring the real world to my classroom. Each year, my students become more and more consumed by their devices and apps. Most of what they do is consume, text, or snap; very little creation occurs. I want to help change this and show my students that you can produce more than just YouTube videos. They all want to be YouTubers…

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So why Podcasting? Well, it’s not something most, or any, of my students are familiar with. They all know about YouTube, but there is so much more to the creative world than becoming a YouTuber. I began by having my students listen to a podcast: The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. Warning, this is addictive! This is a well-done podcast that the kids, and I, really got in to. I only had my kiddos listen to Season 1 – and bonus, we Sketchnoted each episode. However, I wanted to hear the rest and listened to it on my own. I was not disappointed!

After listening to Season 1 of Mars Patel, I proposed the idea to my class. They seemed up for it. We talked about what we could do. At first, they wanted to do one like that of Mars Patel, but I felt that might be too ambitious for our first go at it. I encouraged them to do stand-alone episodes. They came up with the idea of focusing on the history of our school and town. I was in!

As a class, we posed questions about our town and school that we could research and report out on. Now, I have a group of students who are taking one question at a time and doing the research. We have reached out to school and community leaders to interview. They will begin interviewing leaders soon. They already have questions ready for our school leaders for one episode.

I’m not sure how it’s all going to turn out. I honestly don’t know what I’m doing and am learning right along with my students. Once we publish an episode, I’ll share far and wide!

Hands-On Science

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Let me begin by saying that it has been several years since I have taught Science in my classroom; this is because I have ‘team taught’ in this time period. I took care of Social Studies/History while my teaching partner taught Science. This year, due to scheduling conflicts we weren’t able to continue. However, when I did teach Science all those years ago, it was rarely hands-on. And this was a HUGE disservice to students.

This year my school site is trying to focus on NGSS and really having kids EXPERIENCE Science. I love this focus. However, I have found that this shift is proving difficult for both my students and myself. Why? They have rarely done continuous (almost weekly) hands-on work. This is not a slight against my colleagues, I’m right there with them.

The push for all things testing (looking at you standardized tests and those that love them) has left us choosing to teach the testing subjects (mainly Math and ELA) or teach it all. Yes, CCSS has us shifting to more inclusive lessons, but as many districts purchasing curriculums for all subjects it’s not as easy as one would think. However, I digress.

Chemicals Reacting to White SubstancesChaos. That is the only word that accurately describes my classroom during Science. The kids lose their minds when given the opportunity to explore. For example, last week we were exploring different ‘white substances’ (insert El Chapo joke here) and their reactions to chemicals (water, iodine, and vinegar). Before we began we reviewed classroom norms: safety goggles on, observe, take notes, etc. I should have included ‘NO eating anything!’ Yeah, one of the substances was sugar and a few students decided it would be a good idea to taste test the ‘white substances’. Don’t get me wrong, they had a great time! They loved dropping the chemicals on the substances to observe the reactions. They were excited and engaged. That’s what we want, but they weren’t being very scientific. They were so ‘excited’ they observed all the reactions without taking a single note! #FrustratedTeacher Then, they started to ‘play’ with some of the mixtures. In their defense, they were observing what happened when the chemical and substance was thoroughly mixed. They did make some good observations, but still NO notes.

In the end, the lessons was a moderate (that’s being generous) success. And last week at our staff meeting we were talking NGSS. I brought up what I’d noticed. Another 5th-grade teacher noted that some of her students also ate the sugar. A 2nd-grade teacher noticed that her students lose their minds, too. It felt good not to be alone in this. After having a few giggles about our experience, it was nice to hear that everyone is still on board with the hands-on explorations. We know that this year might be tough, but the more we do it the easier it will become. The bottom line is that our students deserve the BEST education we can give them. Experiencing Science is part of that.