Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Using Instagram for Class

#IG #imateacher #useit
How to use Instagram:
Step 1: Take picture
Step 2: Use a filter to make your picture look more fun
Step 3: Come up with a clever caption to your picture
Step 4: Use a funny hashtag
Step 5: Send your picture into the world

For the past school year I have been musing over how to better reach my students outside of the classroom. How can I remind them to study? How can I remind them of homework? How could I give extra credit in different ways? Enters Instagram. I set up a "teacher" account towards the beginning of the school year and with have been using it pretty regularly to communicate with my students. This has been a pretty hot topic at my school, so I thought I would share the thought process behind using Instagram as a communication tool.

Middle school students are tech savvy. They have phones, they have tablets, they use social media sites. These are facts. One study done in a middle school in Massachusetts surveyed a little over 500 students and 78% of those students owned a cell phone. Another study from the Pew Research Center showed 73% of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 use social media sites. With numbers like this it makes sense to me to communicate with students using their own means.

I've been a heavy user of Instagram personally and I felt it only natural to extend my usage to my students. I created a student account with the name "Mrs_C" that way my students know its me in teacher mode. I post test review questions, reminders of projects and study time, appropriately funny thoughts and mushy teacher love.

 I feel like this is working for my classroom not only for science but also on relationship building. However, I have been met with some grumblings. Some teachers in my school think that I am opening myself up to too much information. They question my actions when I see inappropriate posts from kids like the booming vaporizer craze as of late. (This probably wouldn't be that big of a deal if I was working with seniors in high school but I'm working with 8th graders). My rebuttal, have a conversation. We are in the business of making students better people so if I see something that is anything less than stellar I see it as an opportunity to talk to the student (if they are willing) about their choices and consequences of their choices.

Where I have not worked out all the kinks to this process and it is only my first semester really in full Instagram swing, I do enjoy the impact it is having on my students and will continue to use it as a way to reach out.

Mrs. C

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Evolution of the BAM

I had gone into this school year with a couple goals in mind. First, I wanted to try my hand at flipping a classroom. Or, at least, students getting their direct learning through videos instead of me lecturing. Second, I wanted to give my students more freedom. Freedom to move around the classroom, freedom to sit where they wanted, freedom to work with whomever them deemed helpful, etc. Lastly, I wanted a classroom that gave my students choices. Gone will be the days that all students tackle the same problems, because let's face it, the are all not at the same place in their learning.

At the beginning of the school year I came up with a progression into giving the students a choice in their assignments. I invented something I lovingly refer to as the BAM or Benchmark Assessment Map. At first, it was just a way from the students to know and visualize what they would be doing throughout the unit. It was self-paced and by the end of the unit the students were trained that once they finished a task they marked it off and moved along.
The student's first BAM over Forces that Shape the Earth.
I duplicated this type of BAM for one more unit over rocks. This BAM was great for developing independence in the classroom as well as organization while trying to convince the students that online learning was the way to go. However, student buy-in for these types of BAMs were pretty low. And the buy-in coupled with trying to ween students off a seating chart led to some pretty low grades the first quarter. I then stumbled upon a choice board of Pinterest that gave me an idea of a Tic-Tac-Toe BAM. The students could pick their assignments after watching their lecture videos. I even made a second version for my SPED and ELL population that focused more on vocabulary building and basic understanding.
Modified BAM for Ocean Unit

These BAMs were decent in terms of student participation but I wanted more. I wanted something to do with students' learning styles. I also wanted a choice sheet that had different levels of difficulty so students could challenge themselves as they saw fit. After doing some more research I had found a couple places that were meshing the two ideas of learning styles and Blooms Taxonomy. I finally found this one (here) that was exactly what I had been after! I fell in love. I gave the students points to achieve by the due date but they got to choose the way the got the points. 

I did have to place some rules down. First, the students had to complete the pre-work (lecture videos and notes) before they could begin any of the assignments. They could work with whoever they wanted as long as they were working. Students were not allowed to come to me first. They had to ask at least three other people before they could ask me. I gave them a deadline for all projects to be turned in, after to deadline there would be a test. I would not accept any assignments after the test. 

Overall, I feel good about how the BAM had turned out this year but I still have some kinks to work out in the system. First, I am still in need of a turn in system. Where I love Schoology and how it has changed my teaching practice, it is so slow when uploading assignments that have been turned in online. Like, to the point I could have graded three paper foldables in the time it took me to open one. Second, I did still have students that chose to sit and cruise with their friends. I had one particular group of gentlemen that took a week to complete a crossword puzzle. Part of me says, "Hey. You can't win them all." and the other part of me is super irritated that they would goof off. In the words of Elsa, "Let it goooooo". Anyways, I think the last thing is alignment of tasks to standards. Where I feel like most assignments covered the basic concepts, I feel like they sometimes didn't go deep enough for what they are tested on. 

Well, the year is not over yet. Maybe I will figure it out before summer! 

Mrs. C

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Reteaching Procedures- Semester 2

Christmas break is now over, and it is now time to welcome back our precious darlings.

When I was in my first year of teaching I was enrolled in a teaching preparation class. I remember going to class right before school was to resume and receiving this message. 
"You must reteach your procedures and expectations or you will be in a living Hades until summer break!!"
Okay, I don't think it was quite that dramatic, but the message was a clear one. After an extended break the students seemed to have forgotten even the basic come in to my room and sit in your assigned seat. It was insane. By the end of the first semester, I had 6th graders, without a sound, coming in, sitting down and getting straight to work. The students had only a small break and they had reverted back to the first day of school.
(If you are unsure about teaching procedures you should start at The Teacher Toolkit.  If you have more time you should get The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher, 4th Edition. This is a great "how to" book by Harry Wong.)
I have tried a couple different methods in my quest to reteach procedures. My first couple of years I was revved up on PowerPoint. Over the past couple of years, however, I have switched gears to Prezi. For this year, I am using the same Prezi I made for the first day of school procedures and just copied over what I needed the students to remember. This years reteaching includes:
  • How to enter the classroom
  • What materials are needed for class- pencil, notebook, ect.
  • How we should treat each other
  • The class reward system
  • What is expected of them
  • How to use class materials

There are many more procedures to be retaught but I always wait so not to overload them. Their brains are already full of stuff as it is. :-)

Mrs. C

Friday, November 7, 2014

Ocean Unit BAM: Differentiation for All

When I started teaching 8th grade science this year I had a vision. That vision included a couple different aspects.

  1. I wanted to not lecture. It bores everyone and in my experience 90% of behaviors come during lecture time because a student is bored and doesn't want/can't focus on what the teacher is saying. 
  2. I wanted the students to be able to collaborate and work with whoever they wanted. By asking questions and teaching each other I feel like they will get more than working independently in rows.
  3. I wanted students to have a choice in how they learn. Not all students are created equal and therefore there is no set way on how ALL students can learn material.
Up until now I have been pretty successful with 1 and 2. All the lectures I pull from online sources (thanks YouTube!) and the students are able to sit in pods and work with whoever they want (as long as they ARE working and all school rules are being followed). 

Disclaimer: I have had to go back to assigned seats for some classes at some point during the school year because either a majority of students did not finish their assignments or they were so awful for subs that a consequence had to be given. My students are not perfect.

I needed to work on #3. All first quarter I was giving students just a list of tasks they had to do. I did add in some Menu Assignments (check that blog entry out if you didn't get a chance) but really the students did what was assigned. So, I did it! I created their first go at picking their own assignments! I even went so far as to create two different versions- one for my low students (SPED, ELLs, Chronic Absentees) and one for the rest. 
This is the accommodated choice sheet. 

This is the regular choice sheet.
The point was the students had to complete three in a row. There are some over-lapping assignments and I attempted to have the board be so their three in a row had different types of activities that encompasses everything they need to know for the standard.

For the most part, I was happy with the outcome. However, there were some rough patches that had to be fixed.

  • It still wasn't giving the students complete freedom of assignments. Towards the end of the unit I was just like "Whatever! Do 3 assignments at this point or you are not going to be finished!" 
  • Students are still having time management issues. I had one student that picked a 3D model and then spent a week working on it. He didn't get the rest of his work finished. :-(
  • Students knew that there was a difference in the two charts. It made for some awkward conversations that I wasn't super fond of.
Even with all of that, the students did do some awesome work!

Menu Assignments in the Science Interactive Notebooks

"Alright, students. Today we are all going to be writing a poem about the rock cycle."
Half the class cheers, a fourth roll their eyes, and a fourth begin to fall asleep.

The more I teach the more I realize, even the most "fun", engaging lesson or activity is still just school work to some students. It is still an assignment, there is no choice in the outcome. You do it you get a grade, you don't do it you get a zero. Very cut and dry. And for some students who lack motivation to begin with, even your fun "Let's make a video!" might not be reaching everyone.

Possible solution time... A menu of assignments.

Now, I did not come up with this. I definitely stole it from a highly creative teacher friend of mine from my first teaching gig. We were an AVID school and since AVID preaches Science interactive notebooks she came up with this menu to give students a choice.

How it works:
Have students take notes over the topic. Every school I've been in I have the students take Cornell Notes. Again, AVID schools. This step will definitely work with whatever note taking process you use.

Students then use their notes to create a synthesizing project. This is meant to have the students look back at their notes and find a way to understand and present them. I have had different sets of menu options throughout the years.

Their menu this year includes:

Tee Shirt Art- Students create the front a tee shirt that represents the topic. Back of the shirt includes a clever 1-2 lines about the topic. They then write telling about the shirt and how it ties into the topic.

Rhyming Poem- Student must create a poem with at least 5 couplets and a picture about the topic.
*Unfortunately, the poem writing is not the kids favorites so I have no good examples of this one.*
Cartoon Project: Students create a single frame cartoon- it doesn't have to be funny- with 2+ lines of captions. Must include an explanation of the topic. 

Song or Rap: Students create a song that includes vocabulary from the concept. It can be a popular song that change the lyrics to. Must include an illustration.

Superhero Assignment: Students design a comic book hero/heroine. Costume has to reflect the name and the name has to reflect the topic. The Superhero also has to have a power that correlates to the topic. Must include an explanation of the name, costume and super power. 

Band Buzz: Create a band logo, name and 3 songs that have to do with the concept. Explanation of how they all connect to the scientific concept.

I am a huge fan of these types of assignments just because it breaks up the "You do because I tell you to" mentality of school.

Mrs. C

Friday, September 26, 2014

Classroom Management: Star Bucks

It's Friday... It's Friday... Do the Friday Dance! 

Since, my last post was about classroom management I thought I would continue down that path. Where my friend is having success using her Three Strike System, I have been using a ticket system that I modified to fit better with my class.


Of course, when I introduced it to my students every single class had someone ask "Are you really going to bring us Starbucks?!" HA... please. I can't afford Starbucks myself. Which is pretty much the beauty of the system. I don't have to buy anything!

I printed out a bunch of these onto green paper and cut them out. I put 21 on a sheet so they come out kind of small. The kids earn Star Bucks and then get to spend them on "prizes". 

The Ways to Earn a Star Buck:
  1. Show excellent behavior/participation- At the beginning of the year I was giving them out like candy for everything- being on time, starting their warm up right away, etc. Now I cut back to only the REALLY good behaviors.
  2. Use Science Vocabulary in class discussions- I walk around during class time and ask questions of students and give away Star Bucks if they use the correct vocabulary.
  3. Ask extraordinary questions (level 3 or 4 DOK or 3 Costas)- This one is my favorite! I give them away for their online discussion board questions as well as if I catch them asking higher level questions of each other. 
Rules on Star Bucks:
  1. Star Bucks are earned, not asked for 
  2. You may not "share" your prizes- if your friend wants it they have to buy it too- I do let them buy things for each other. Hey, if you want to be giving then sure!
  3. Bathroom cannot fall in PrimeTime- We don't let any student go to the bathroom in the first 20 minutes of class.
  4. Do not interrupt Mrs. C to ask to buy something- Oh, is this a life saver. There is nothing worse than having a good light bulb moment with a student and have it ruined by another student asking if they can listen to music. If I am working, you need to wait.
  5. Keep your money safe- I do not replace lost or stolen Star Bucks-I am not a bank, I do not do fraud protection. These kids guard these things more than their lunch badges.
Things Students Can "Buy":

$5.00     Positive phone call home
$5.00     Leave class 3 minutes early
$10.00   Restroom
$15.00   Free WQA
$15.00   Listen to music
$20.00   Snack in class
$20.00   Free 10 minutes computer time
$25.00   Cell phone use
$25.00   Quiz Score 100%
$30.00   Free 100% on INB grade

  • I will call home for something good if you have give me something to work with. I will not call home and lie.
  • They can listen to music but they may not share. Their friend has to buy it too if they want to listen together.
  • Cell phones are okay but no picture taking. 
  • They have to take the quiz first (so I can collect data on their unit mastery level) and then they can pay for the 100%. If they throw it on purpose I won't accept their money (i.e. they can't just click through since they know they are getting a 100%)
If you want to check out the posters I made to go along with this or have the sheets of Star Bucks I have it available on Teachers Pay Teachers for free all you have to do is download it and it is all yours!

Mrs. C

Monday, September 22, 2014

Classroom Management Three Strike Policy

I have a teacher friend who has been having some struggles with student behaviors. You know, calling out, inappropriate language, wandering the room, typical middle school behavior. However, instead of letting the students control the room, she took action and created this ingenious management plan.

Every student has a white piece of paper that has the classroom expectations on it. She said she likes that the students have those reminders right in front of them. If I student breaks one of those expectations she simply, and without a word, moves their paper clip down a notch. "Strike one". She does this until they get to "strike three" and upon that strike the student relocates themselves to the refocus area in the room.

The green card is actually double sided with a green side and a red side. Green side up means the student does not need assistance in the activity. We've noticed that our students just like to yell "Miss" really loudly when they need something and this way the expectation is that they are to flip their card to red to signal help is needed.

Finally, the good kids. Each classes is given a container and at the end of the class period if a student has no strikes they get a piece of macaroni to put into the container. Once the container is filled the students in that class well get a reward. Always remember your all-stars!

Mrs. C