How Was Your Break?

pexels-photo-551590.jpegThis is one question I try not to ask. This and “Did you have a good break?” When dealing with many students from differing backgrounds, it’s easy to forget that not everyone has a ‘good break’. It’s a natural question for many of us to ask. We come back not really ready to be back. I mean, we all love to sleep in and get things done around the house or hang with family/friends or go on trips. But for many students coming back to school is a welcome break from their home lives.  And for that reason, I no longer ask students these questions.

I write this because I was reminded over my break that not all our students have ideal home lives. Some are dealing with the threat of a parent being deported or being evicted from their homes. Others are visiting a parent in jail over the holidays. Some don’t have money for presents. And yet others have had to deal with trauma and situations we can’t imagine. For these students, school IS their safe place; school is a welcome break from their everyday lives.

So what do I do? What do I say to my students when they come back? I’ve found that questions and statements such as: “I’m so happy to see you,” or “Are you glad to be back?” work well. “Are you glad to be back?” allows students to tell me about their trips to Mexico, all the toys they received, or the family they spent time with.  While allowing those in less than ideal situations to feel safe to say, “Yes, I’m happy to be back.” Many times they follow that statement with, “It was so boring.” Knowing their lives, I know this isn’t really the case, but rather they are happy to feel safe for 7 hours out of their day.

And it’s not just our students who don’t always have ‘good breaks’. Some of our colleagues have had to deal with situations that were less than an ideal Holiday. Remember: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle,” – Ian Maclaren.

First Graders Breakout!

First Grade WorkWhen a first-grade teacher expressed interest in doing a Breakout, I was thrilled to help. As she had never seen one in action she asked if I could lead. Of course, I said yes!

We worked together to find a Breakout that would work for her and her class. We settled on ‘Number Ninjas’. It’s all about numbers to 100: great for first-trimester first-graders.

There was LOTS of excitement and enthusiasm during the game. The students worked well together after they got the hang of it.

In the end, all the groups broke out.

So, to all those naysayers who think that first grade is too young to do a Breakout, we proved you wrong. This will hopefully be the first of many Breakouts in this classroom. And this will hopefully inspire other early elementary grades to give it a try!

Google Classroom & Your Phone

Google Classroom

During class today, I assigned a quick summary of what we read together. It was at that point that I pulled a small group aside so that they would be successful and get small group instruction on specific skills.

While working with the small group, I noticed a few students who seemed to not be working. So I pulled out my phone! I quickly pulled up the Classroom App and went into select students’ work to monitor their progress. Needless to say, my observations proved correct. This allowed me to have a quick correction with those students and at the same time putting the rest of the class on notice. Just because I am working with a small group doesn’t mean I don’t know what you’re doing!

Ah, the wonders of modern technology. Used correctly, it can be a powerful tool.

50 States Mystery Hangout

Over the summer, I had the idea that I wanted my students to participate in a Mystery Hangout with a classroom from each of the 50 states.  I’m glad I started this journey.

So far we have connected with 3 states. In addition to the Mystery Hangouts, I wanted my students to start sketch noting the information we collected. I’m so glad I included this aspect. It wasn’t easy for them at first. In fact, I still have a few that write lists. But overall I’m pleased with how they are experimenting with becoming more and more creative.

I’ve Got #FlipgridFever

Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 5.16.50 PMYup, I’ve got #FlipgridFever along with my students. Over the summer I learned about Flipgrid. I was intrigued by the idea that students could respond using video and their videos would be organized! No messing around with creating and uploading. The whole thing is wrapped up in one neat package.

So the first week of school was the perfect chance to play around with the tool with my students. After listening to a speaker, Steve Ventura, I was inspired to ask my students “What does a good learner look like?” He asked students in a school and the answers were of passive students – “Doesn’t disrupt the class,” “Listens,” and so on. Based on his experience, I wondered what my students had to say. Sadly, much of the same: “Someone who does well on tests,” “Someone who reads a lot,” etc. I plan to ask them again later in the year in hopes that they realize that a good learner collaborates, questions, defends, disrupts (respectfully), etc.

Stickers

They LOVED the stickers!

Now I’ll be honest, I had no idea how to use Flipgrid. And I told my students that! They were eager to explore the tool. They had no problem jumping in and figuring it out. And then…they discovered the stickers they could put on their pictures. Some enjoyed the experience so much they asked to create another video. Yes, I allowed them to. I wanted them to play with the tool now so that when we use it for learning they can focus on the learning and not the stickers!

And they couldn’t get enough of watching each others’ answers. They loved that they could ‘like’ or ‘love’ a particular video. In fact, they had so much fun they came in the next day asking if they were going to do it again!

I plan on using Flipgrid for responses in literature, defending a math problem, and self-reflections on projects and work. The possibilities are endless. I know that we will read Bud, Not Buddy this year. It might be fun to have students use Flipgrid to respond as if they were a character. I am so excited to use this throughout the year!

How do you plan to use it?

Back To School Night

Last night was Back to School Night. We have it the night before school starts. I like it this way. It helps to alleviate a lot of anxiety for both teachers and students – and I’d suspect some parents too.

Facetime Back to SchoolI’m no stranger to Back to School Night. I’ve done them for over 20 years. However, last night I had a first. And the nerd in me was so excited! A mom came to me with her phone explaining that the father couldn’t be there but wanted to participate. She had him on Facetime! We were able to introduce ourselves, talk for a bit, and have a ‘regular’ Back to School Night!

It’s the little things that make us happy. Being able to stay connected to parents is so important. I’m glad dad was able to ‘attend’. It make everyone’s night!

Create Your Own Workbooks?

Print Workbooks

Don’t make copies, print workbooks.

While scrolling through my Facebook feed, this image caught my attention. Yes, you read that right, “Don’t make copies, make workbooks. Get your curriculum professionally printed for less” This made me sad, depressed, and horrified.

Disclaimer: This is a local business and they do great, quality work. This is NOT against the printing company. They are doing what businesses do. They are not ‘in the business’ of education; that’s you and me.

So what’s wrong with this? Well for starters, a worksheet is a worksheet whether in a booklet form or not. Secondly, worksheets are boring and nicknames ‘shut up sheets’ for a reason. And since this whole thing called education is up to you and me, let’s make it better! Do you enjoy filling out paperwork? Yeah, me neither! So imagine how students feel. I know, your thinking, “But they need practice!” And I agree. But how about making it more engaging and interesting. For example, in 5th Grade, students need to find equivalent fractions. Now, I can either have them do DOK level 1 work via a worksheet – 3/6 = ?/2 OR have them manipulate fraction tiles to discover, and record, all the fractions that equal 1/2. Which would you rather do? Okay, so you might not have fraction tiles, right? But what if instead of printing worksheets, your district took that money and bought manipulatives? It’s all about where the district chooses to spend its money.

So while if I want something printed, I prefer going locally and will use this company. However, I implore schools to think differently. Let’s get away from worksheets and workbooks!