Time to mix it up: cross-collaborate with shared classes!

As a science teacher, I am always trying to find ways to cross-collaborate with other teachers  to make my curriculum more meaningful. During my physiology unit I tend to pair up with the P.E. teacher for a project. During physics I team up with the math teacher. Cross-collaboration allows students to see connections between subjects, making content richer and more relevant to their lives. However, it can be difficult to assess cross-collaborative projects when you don’t necessarily see how students are making use of their time in the other classes. The solution? ClassDojo Shared Classes!

Sharing classes on ClassDojo is very simple. On your home screen you will see each of your classes. In the top corner of each class you will want to click on a small triangle, which will open up a drop-down menu. Click “Share!” You’ve got it from there. Shared Classes allows multiple teachers to have access to one class, both contributing points to students and messaging with parents. You might implement shared classes year-round or if you are more hesitant, a cross-collaboration project is a great way to try it out for a shorter period of time.

When starting a project I like to make sure all points have been cleared, then I share the class with collaborating teacher. Customize feedback points depending on the type of project. I tend to give students points every day for “productivity” and “teamwork”, which are a certain percentage of their final project grade. Once the project comes to an end, points given in-class can be used as part of students’ final assessment. Sharing classes holds students accountable for their behavior and work ethic in all classes involved. Cross-collaborative projects are the perfect opportunity to take Shared Classes for a spin, and hopefully will lead to better teaching and learning!

Happy sharing! 🙂

Having trouble motivating your students? Get to know them!

When I think about teachers who truly influenced me, they all had one thing in common: they knew me. They understood my strengths, weaknesses, sense of humor, encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone, and took interest in my life outside of school. They cheered from the stands at my championship soccer game, held high expectations for me academically, and would never hold back from calling me out when I was slacking off.

Of course I also had many teachers who weren’t as influential – they didn’t know me. I remember sitting in their classes, staring at the clock waiting for the bell to ring so I could run off to my next class where I would get a friendly ‘Hello’, was asked how my SAT prep was going, and received a well thought-out lesson that was both engaging and challenging. I had an immense amount of respect for these teachers. They clearly worked hard to master their content, develop creative and effective lessons, and went above and beyond to form real connections with us. That is the type of teacher I want to be.

Knowing your students doesn’t mean you have to be the basketball coach or start a robotics club (although that would be fantastic). Knowing your students means understanding students’ strengths and weaknesses. Knowing what engages them most. Knowing how to push them to be the best they can be. Providing opportunities for students to think outside of the box and show their creative side. Challenging them. Treating them with respect. And of course giving the occasional high-five 🙂 You get the idea.

Remember, school isn’t everyone’s ‘thing’. Some teachers forget that the reason we are here isn’t just to teach students about DNA or the quadratic formula. Although academics might be the reason our profession exists, we must remember that we are also teaching students how to be be hard working, persistent, self-motivated, and respectful individuals – which in turn will lead students to success in life, whatever that might look like.

It’s that time of year again… back-to-school night!

It’s that time of year again, back-to-school night is right around the corner! I know that parent involvement leads to student success, so how should I maximize the 20 minutes I have with parents to start the year off right? In the past, I’ve planned too much for back-to-school night. I always seemed to run out of time. Parents would be out the door before I even had a chance to go over my behavior management plan! This year is going to be different. I’m going to keep it short, sweet, and attempt to make better use of my time time.

Here’s my plan of attack:

1. Introduction! 1 minute

I plan to introduce myself and share a little background about myself. My hope is to come across approachable and passionate about helping their children succeed. My goal is to get parents on my side.

2. Give a BRIEF overview of what I have planned for the school year 3 minutes

I will inform parents of the general topics that will be covered in my class this year and any big projects I may need their help with down the line. However, parents get bored too — I will make sure to not go over every detail of my curriculum, that’s what a syllabus is for!

4. Go over behavior management plan: ClassDojo 5 minutes

Explain what ClassDojo is and how it will help develop positive behaviors in the classroom. Show parents what students’ avatars look like and what happens when students receive a positive or negative point. Explain how ClassDojo behaviors align with our school’s code of conduct.

5. Get parents on board! 5 minutes

We all know that parent involvement is directly correlated with student success. I plan on keeping parents in the know as much as possible through ClassDojo. At back-to-school night I will hand out parent codes so they can create a ClassDojo parent account. Here they can view behavior reports and communicate with me through ClassDojo Messenger.

6. Class “Wish List” 1 minute

Let’s be honest — teacher’s aren’t given much money to spend on school supplies. This is why I always show parents my “Wish List” at back-to-school night. This can include everything from glue sticks to construction paper. Anything you think you might need goes on the wish list!

7. Questions? 5 minutes

Leaving time at the end for questions is crucial. I want to make sure parents feel comfortable and excited about the year ahead. I’m hopeful that back-to-school night will give parents the information and tools necessary to stay as involved as possible in my class this year.

Fingers crossed! Here goes nothin’ 🙂

15 tips on establishing a positive classroom environment [starting on day one]

1. Greet students: Always stand at the the door when students enter the room. Say “hi”, say their names, ask how their soccer game went, give high-fives, etc. Make them feel welcome!

2. Establish classroom norms: Norms should be posted on the wall for all students to see. Norms should be short and sweet – perhaps keep the list to 3! Two examples of “norms” in my classroom:

  • “One Mic”: When a classmate raises his or her hand and are called on, they have the mic. Everyone else should be respectful, quiet, and listening.
  • “Don’t Yuck My Yum”: When a classmate shares an answer or an idea that might be wrong or that you may disagree with, keep any rude thoughts to yourself. Don’t make others feel bad for sharing their ideas with the class.

3. Organization: Keep your classroom organized! Color coding and labels are great ways to keep materials in their designated locations. Make sure all students know where all supplies are located, where to turn papers in, etc.

4. Positive reinforcement: When students are working hard, demonstrating teamwork, or any other positive behavior, recognize it! Let them know that you notice. I use ClassDojo to award students for great behavior. I also use ClassDojo to communicate with parents. I can quickly and easily send parents messages to share awesome moments in the classroom.

5. Post student work: Any chance you have to put student work up on your walls, do it! Students love looking at each others’ work. They also feel a sense of pride when their work gets posted. Additionally, if students know you might put their work on the walls they will put much more effort into the project because they will want to impress their peers.

6. Always keep your cool: If students are frustrating you or being disrespectful, take a moment to collect yourself and take a deep breath before responding to their behavior. Remember, you’re the adult in this situation.

7. Keep moving: Always be moving around the classroom. Even if students should be looking at the front of the room, you do not have to be standing up there. Walk while you talk. Students might need help but are too shy to ask for it. If you continue to circulate the room you can spot which students might need a little more guidance.

8. Be a role model: Practice patience and kindness. You might be one of the few positive role models in your students’ lives.

9. Relate to students: Allow your students to get to know you. When they share experiences with you, share back. When they feel like they can relate to you they feel more comfortable in your classroom.

10. Take time to laugh: You don’t have to be on topic 100% of the time. Make time to tell funny stories, jokes, and take school a little less seriously every once in a while.  😀

11. Be consistent with consequences: Students should be aware of the consequences for certain behaviors at the beginning of the school year. Be consistent. Although no one likes to be punished, students will feel safer in your classroom if they know you will always give consequences for certain behaviors.

12. Bring it down to eye level: When students are hard at work and you would like to have a chat with them, kneel down to eye-level. Don’t ask them questions from 4 feet above them. Have a real conversation. Students will feel more important!

13. Creative opportunities: No matter what subject you teach, you need to provide opportunities for students to be creative, whether that be through music, drawing, technology, etc. This will allow you to get to know them more and for them to show off their talents!

14. Admit when you’re unsure: No one knows everything, so be honest about it! If your students ask you a question that you’re unsure of, tell them! After I say “I’m not sure”, I always pull out my phone and ask Siri for the answer — students LOVE it.

15. Smile:   🙂

 

Finding the balance

Teaching is like no other profession. While some jobs might require you to give a presentation once a month, teachers present every day. While some jobs might give you a week or so to prepare your presentations, teachers only have the time that is left after school — which isn’t much after attempting to make a dent in the forever-increasing pile of papers that need to be graded.

How are teachers supposed to have any time for themselves? Everyone says the key to teaching is “finding the balance”, but how? When? “Finding the balance” won’t come easy, but I have a few tips and tricks to aid you in your attempt to reach teacher homeostasis.

1. Don’t be afraid to say no.

If you want to sustain your enthusiasm for teaching, don’t be afraid to say no. Try to avoid diving head first into five other roles that could potentially stress you out and take energy away from teaching. Although taking on the soccer team and chess club is certainly admirable, try to remember that it is okay to say no.

2. Turn it off.

Set a time every day to turn it off. Let’s say you finish class at 3:30pm — make a rule for yourself that you will always leave school by 5:00pm. Try your hardest to avoid bringing your work home. Leave school, turn it off, and do something for yourself!

3. Sign up for yoga classes

…or any sort of class/activity that interests and relaxes you. I also recommend paying ahead of time! You are more likely to actually show up if you do this. Believe it or not, pursuing your interests other than teaching is likely to improve your teaching.

4. Sleep!

Sleep is far from overrated. You need sleep to stay energized, and we all know how much energy you need as a teacher. The purpose of sleep is to rejuvenate you! So grab a good book, get in bed, and start logging those ZZz’s.

“Finding the balance” isn’t something that will just happen, you have to make it happen. So go find it. 🙂

 

New Teacher 101: Surviving your first year in the classroom

Year one is exciting! However, enthusiasm can only get your so far. My advice? Be consistent. Whether you have a few weeks or a few days before school starts, it’s time to make some decisions that will allow you to establish a consistent classroom environment.

7 Questions to ask yourself when planning routines and procedures — and advice from a middle school science teacher…

1. How will students enter the classroom?

Always have students line up outside of class. This might sound elementary, but it allows for separation between hallway behavior and classroom behavior. As they enter greet each student and say their names! This might be the only “hello” they receive today.

2. How will I get students’ attention?

A bell, a countdown, or a clap is typical — try to change it up! Perhaps you can ask the students for ideas and have a competition for the best attention grabber. How about this… TD4Wbutton 🙂

3. How will I begin each day?

Students should be able to enter class and get started on whatever routine you have in place without any reminders. Always have the assignment up on the projector for students to see. I do a quick-write at the beginning of each class. Three minutes to write, one minute to share with their partner/group, then students are randomly called on to share with the class.

4. How will I be calling on students?

I love using ClassDojo’s randomize feature to call on students. This keeps the students who raise their hand too much at bay and the shy students participating. Teachers sometimes use popsicle sticks to call on students at random, but ClassDojo is much more engaging and interactive for the students.

5. How will I reward excellent behavior?

ClassDojo! Personalize positive behavior awards based on characteristics you want students to strive for. However, make sure you have an incentive program in place to keep students working for ClassDojo points. For example, the first 5 students to reach 20 points gets _________.

6. What is my discipline policy?

Most schools will have a discipline policy in place that you must follow in terms of detention, etc. For my own classroom I give a warning using ClassDojo. If the behavior continues after the warning, communicate with the parent. Send them a ClassDojo message! Or give an old-school phone call. Parent-teacher relationships are key for student success.

7. How will I end class every day?

Exit tickets! Put a prompt up on the projector and give each student/pair/group a piece of paper. Students must turn in “exit tickets” on their way out the door.

“Moment of Zen” (cred. Jon Stewart) — I end each class with an inspirational quote. I turn off all of the lights and put the quote up on the projector. Students must be silent for 20 seconds before they can leave. Namaste. 🙂

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Whatever routines and procedures you put in place, stay consistent. Your stress-level will thank you for it.

Good luck!

Teaching organization through Interactive Notebooks!

Many students are cursed with what I like to call “Black Hole Syndrome.“ If you’ve dared to look into a middle schooler’s backpack you know just what I’m talking about. Incomplete homework from 6 months ago, notes passed in math class, remnants of what should have been used for their science project, and a few stale Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. I think we can all agree that the majority of students need a bit of guidance as far as organization goes. Enter the “Interactive Science Notebook”! (this can also work for other subjects, of course)

Important details for implementing a successful Interactive Science Notebook:

  • Notebook size: 8 ½ x 11” spiral notebook. This will allow you to paste worksheets in the notebook perfectly. If notebooks are any smaller students will need to cut the edges off worksheets – total nightmare. Trust me on this.
  • Cover: Students decorate the cover of their notebook to make it “special” — something creative and unique to who they are! I encourage students to go over their cover with packaging tape to ensure it won’t fall apart after 2 months.
  • Title Page: Name of class, teacher’s name, name of student, period number, and school year.
  • Table of Contents: You will probably need two full pages worth of Table of Contents. Set-up should look like this:

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It is imperative that you update the table of contents together as a class before you paste anything in the notebook (updating might occur every day).

  • Numbering Pages: Page 1 should be your first blank left-hand page, page 2 will be your first right-hand page. This keeps all odd pages on the left and all even pages on the right, just like the table of contents lay-out.
  • Right-Hand Page Activities: Right-hand page activities are always done first. These activities generally involve students learning new information, taking notes, etc.
  • Left-Hand Page Activities: Left-hand page activities are for reinforcement activities, such as labs, projects, thinking maps, etc. This is where you can get creative and make your notebook as ‘interactive’ as you wish! I’ve done everything from simple foldables to paper pockets, where students can place their CD recordings of the “Photosynthesis Rap” they created.
  • Color: I ask students to “color” their notes on the right-hand page. After taking notes they grab a highlighter or colored pencil and color any words they think are important or could possibly be on the test. For left-hand page activities students are required to have at least 5 colors on the page (could be as minimal as underlining or as extensive as drawing in the margins). This may sound elementary, but coloring your work requires students to look at what they have done for a longer period of time, essentially studying their own work.
  • Grading: When students enter class and work on their warm-up activity, students should open their notebooks to look at their work from the prior day . Give students a stamp if work is complete. At the end of the unit you can collect all of the student notebooks and give them 10/10 for a page with a stamp, 5/10 for a page that is complete but has no stamp, and 0/10 for an empty page. This can be adjusted based on your own grading system.
  • Parent communication: At the end of each unit leave a page for parent communication. This is where you write the grade the student received. Parents can then comment underneath on the students work and write any questions or concerns they might have.

There are far too many benefits to Interactive Science Notebooks, it would be silly not to try it out this school year. Students lacking organizational skills master a tool that will be useful for years to come. Students will no longer lose their assignments in their black hole backpacks. You will have more interaction with parents, which is imperative to student success. The best part is, you will save so much time grading you might even start having some time for yourself! 😀

Happy notebooking!

From Chaos to Calm: improving middle school behavior

When people find out I teach middle school I get the same reaction, “Wow, that’s a tough age!” It absolutely is. Middle schoolers tend to be highly energetic, socially awkward, and emotionally unpredictable — but that’s what I love about it. This “tough” age group is also quite malleable. By implementing the following behavior management strategies my “tough” middle schoolers have transformed into a group of students who successfully manage one another, with a little help from me.

In attempt to control the chaos, consistent routines and procedures must be in place: entering class, warm-up activity, organization of materials, handing out materials, clean-up procedure, closing activity, etc. Keep these routines consistent. When students know what they are expected to do, they begin to monitor each other. Instead of you managing the class, students will manage themselves.

We often hear educators talk about “wait time,” a powerful tool used to give students a moment to gather their thoughts after being called on. Teachers also need “wait time,” used after an attention grabber to give students a few seconds to quiet down before the teacher speaks. If your students don’t quiet down when you ask them to, don’t raise your voice, give wait time. If you are consistent students will start to “shush” each other because they want to hear what you have to say.

Middle schoolers crave compliments and are extremely competitive. Give them what they want! When students are on task, being respectful, helping each other, etc., students receive a positive ClassDojo point. However, when students are late to class, disrespectful, bullying, etc., they receive a negative ClassDojo point. The first 5 students in that particular class to receive 20 ClassDojo points are rewarded. This gives students the pat on the back they are looking for.

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To reinforce the importance of teamwork I have a large “ClassDojo Points Board”. If you click on “reports” in the ClassDojo app you will see the percentage of positive points the class received that day. I teach four periods, each class receiving 0-100 points each day. At the end of two weeks, the class with the highest cumulative amount of points will receive a reward. Having periods compete with each other keeps them behaved as a group, craving bragging rights for being the winners of the “ClassDojo Points Board.”

Go ahead, let your middle schoolers manage themselves. You can then start to enjoy what makes teaching highly energetic, socially awkward, and emotionally unpredictable middle schoolers so much fun!