Posted in classroom, reflection, teaching practice

Sweet Summer Time – A Year in Review

It’s officially summer break, and this teacher is so happy. I just finished (read survived) my second year teaching – yay! While this year was easier having the experience, it certainly had its challenges. Our district opened a new school, and I was part of the inaugural team. This not only meant a new team, but a new building, new admins, new curriculum opportunities, hundreds of new families, and kiddos that have never been in our district, following our rules and procedures. Next year (my third year), will certainly be easier since we will have indoctrinated the students and families to our ways.

Reflecting on my year, though, the newness of the school is not what stands out in my mind. Yes, I think the newness made us all feel more like a family, creating something together. And the kids sure got a kick out of all of “the firsts.” They got to be the first to play on the playground, the first to sit in their desks, many were the first to use their textbooks and classroom novels, the first to sit in the classrooms, scuff up the floors, sticker up the lockers, and bring laughter to the halls. But what really stands out to me are all of the experiences that I got to share with my students. Having finished my masters in December, I had buckets full of newfound time that I could dedicate to creating more engaging lessons. I discovered that creating a fun name for an activity is sometimes all it takes to turn a boring, run of the mill worksheet into the most anticipated day of the week, month, or even semester. We did two big activity days that the kids were talking about up to the last day of school: Review Olympics and Escape Room.

The first, “Review Olympics,” was a day of games meant to review concepts before our unit test. I stole activities and worksheets from other days, things I knew the kids had enjoyed and learned from, modified them for the current content, and told the kiddos we would be competing for The Olympics. They got together in teams of 4 and picked a team name, and then it was off to the games. The key to making every student participate, I found, was telling them that their team would be disqualified if not every student participated. I would not disqualify the team from every game, just the game they were lacking participation. While this sounds extremely harsh, I found that students were more likely to pull their lagging teammates along with the added incentive. Oh, and I also had real prizes that I picked up from the Target Dollar Spot (slime, fun erasers, notebooks, locker mirrors).

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Four students completing the vocabulary sort. These ladies worked so well as a team!

The activities, while involving a TON of prep (thank you to my kind, eager, helpful students for cutting and sorting many sentences and game pieces), were an easy and fun way to check for student understanding. They also allowed me to help students/groups one on one who were struggling with the content. The main activities I used were:

  1. Definition sort (seen above) – give students definitions of literary terms and words; they must then sort the words with the correct definition
  2. Part of Speech People Hunt (Kagan Strategy) – Part of Speech Search Sample
  3. Figurative Language Four (8) Corners – Due to the large number of “corners” and the congested room, each team sent a representative to the front. The representatives stood with their backs to the wall, could not run, shove, or otherwise impede the travel of the other participants. I read an example of figurative language and they went to the appropriate label. This was really fun to watch their brains work, especially on the idiom/hyperbole examples.
  4. Quizizz – This was an independent game. Each person must complete the quizizz (and then I could see their data for later remediation/support), but the team with the single highest score won the points. This helped to give the early finishers something to do. Since it was still essentially a team competition, they wanted to make sure that all players do well. If you haven’t created quizizz before, you need to. They are super easy, and the kids like them more than kahoot. (and they have fun memes!)
  5. Narrative Writing Grading – Because 6th graders get tested on narrative writing, I wanted to incorporate a narrative writing activity into the ACT Aspire Games. I gave students a writing sample and asked them to give it a grade. They used a rubric and collectively came up with a grade. The key for judging this activity was to give students a clear guideline to follow. I asked my students to, following the rubric, give the author 3 things he/she did well and 4 things he/she needs to improve upon.

I definitely plan on hosting the Review Olympics again next year. I need to be better at saving my supplies so that I don’t have to recreate them every games. But I honestly cannot think of a more engaging activity in my classroom.

What do you do in your classroom to review? What is the most engaging activity you lead this past year?

Posted in books

Hidden Figures

This month, in honor of Women’s History Month, book club decided read Hidden Figures along with everyone else and their mom. I had seen the movie when it first came out and immediately fell in love with the stories of Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy. I admired their strength and determination, working for NASA at a time when person’s race and gender either propelled them forward or held them back. When deciding on our February book, I gravitated toward the book off of which the movie was based, and could not have been more happy.

The book Hidden Figures differs from the movie in several ways. I enjoyed the personal stories and character development in the film, but what was lost in adaptation was just how long the struggle for equality went on. The movie focuses mainly on the space race. What it leaves off is the fascinating inception of the West Area Computers, beginning during WWII when much of the nation’s workforce was over seas.

I do not typically enjoy historical literature, however the writing of Margot Lee Shetterly paints a picture of the time such that I could not put this book down. One thing I noticed after reading nearly half of Hidden Figures was that the book is void of any dialogue, a feature that makes most characters more developed. This omission, however, was made up for by the detailed story telling of Shetterly. What she misses in dialogue, she makes up for in detailed background and explanation of character. After reading the book, I feel as though Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy had been in my living room discussing their time at Langley with me.

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in space travel, women’s rights, racial equality, and history. While my knowledge of math and science did help me to understand the concepts better, a strong background in these topics is not necessary. I hope you enjoy Hidden Figures as much as I have. Happy reading!

Posted in classroom, reflection

100 Days Smarter

Last week we celebrated the 100th Day of School. It seems crazy that I have already spent 100 days with these precious kiddos. Last year, a new teacher, every day seemed to be a struggle. I was still in school myself and was constantly overwhelmed by the demands that every teacher faces – lesson planning, grading, parent contact, after school duties, IEP/504 meetings, and the incredible amount of paperwork on top of the class time with my 6th and 8th graders. This year, I have figured out my system. I am no longer in school (yay!) and I have a plethora of plans and methods at my finger tips. Yes, I still have the endless planning, grading, and (groan) paperwork, but I look at it all through new eyes. “I have done this before,” I tell myself. “I know the material,” I tell myself. “I know these kids,” I tell myself. And now, reflecting on the 100 days that have passed, I am no longer giving myself a pep talk, I actually do know what I am doing.

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To celebrate the 100 Days of School, my students and I wrote limericks. We are neck deep in our poetry unit, finishing up this coming week actually, and my students have been creating their own poetry portfolios. The week of the 100 Days of School fell on our limerick week, and so what better way to share our memories than to write about them. This lesson was not very well planned. Honestly, I just told the kiddos to pick a memory and go. There was no modeling, no strict instructions. (“Write about the first week!” “Cut your paper in half!” “You can only draw one picture!” “You must use colors!”) I have a strong belief in student led learning, and so this activity was completely student driven. Some drew beautiful illustrations, while others wrote in pencil on their construction paper. The only 3 requirements I gave – it must be a limerick, it must be about school, and it must be on construction paper. My students even created the bulletin board. I was a bit upset that not every one of the 80 poems fit, but look at how beautiful our 100 days of memories turned out!20170202_171139

 

Posted in books

Goals: Reading Edition

I figure since it is still January, I can still write about my goals for 2017. This year I aim to read one book every two weeks, for a grand total of 26 by 2018. I am already crushing this goal, though, so we shall see how the rest of 2017 fairs. So far the books I have read this year all include similar themes: education, oppression, strong female characters. I did not set out to focus on these topics this year, but I find it nice to read the same topic from so many perspectives.

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The first book I finished this year was I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. I had a hard time getting into this book at first because of the large focus on the political and historical influences in modern day Pakistan. As Malala began to tell her own story, however, I found myself enthralled with her every word. I found myself reflecting on our own education system. How privileged we are to be able to go to school through high school and beyond. How privileged we are to have choices in our schooling, both in projects, books, and activities as well as in the actual school itself. If you have not yet read I Am Malala, go pick it up now. I promise you will leave with a newfound respect for your own education and ability to think for yourself.

img_20170115_194917Next I picked up The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I have to say that this was probably one of the best books I have ever read. I could not put it down from the very first introduction to death on the first page. If you have not yet read The Book Thief, I should tell you that death is the narrator. This choice is fitting since the story takes place during Hitler’s reign. Liesel, the main character, made me realize how lucky I am to have books readily available. At the start of the book she is unable to read, however by the end she is gobbling up stories, although their access is not as easy as she would like. Do not read this book, though, if you are not ready for a good cry. The connection to Liesel and her family made for a long, albeit predictable, sobfest.

And that brings me to today. I have just started reading The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. I am excited to see Marjane’s view on her upbringing during the Islamic Revolution in Tehran. So far the artwork has been mesmerizing – The Complete Persepolis is a graphic novel – and the story has been fast paced.

I am not sure what is on the docket next, but I have started a list for this year.

  1. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  2. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (reread)
  3. SmileSisters, and Drama by Raina Telgemeier (recommended by my students)
  4. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  5. The Shining by Stephen King
  6. Room by Emma Donoghue

Do you have any suggestions? What are your goals for 2017?

Posted in books

Land of Stories: Wishing Spell

Last night I finished reading Land of Stories: Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer. It took me about a full month to complete because of work, grad school, and house things, but I am so glad that I persevered through this one. It was so magical, transporting me into another world, something that I’ve needed what with the current state of affairs. Although the book is 438 pages, it flew by (I ultimately read 1/2 of the book this past weekend). It wasn’t that involved, although the book magically intertwines nearly every fairy tale. Although I wouldn’t say Land of Stories is particularly challenging, it is just what this teacher needed to kick start her Thanksgiving Break.

I would strongly recommend Land of Stories: Wishing Spell to any lover of fairy tales or fantasy. If you enjoy a good adventure, complete with romance, friendship, and sibling rivalry, this is the book for you. I cannot wait to share this book with my 6th graders. They will love it!

Next on my list: The Secret Life of Bees. Happy reading!

Posted in teaching practice

Engagement

One of my goals for the current school year is increasing classroom engagement. Last year being my first year, I was happy to just have covered all of the material. But, now that I more fully understand the curriculum, I can better prepare engaging lessons. To be honest, during my first few months of teaching, I was just happy if students were taking notes quietly in their seats. I now know that quiet note taking does not always equal engaged students who are grasping content.

Last week, my 43 week of teaching, I believe I finally  achieved full student engagement. On multiple lessons. Teacher win!
20160920_162848The first lesson focused on setting. After it became evident that many of my students did not fully understand setting, I decided to break out the art supplies. We read “The King of Mazy May,” a short story about the Klondike Gold Rush, and then students drew a picture of Walt’s home. They not only had to draw a picture, they also had to write to explain why they included each element. The students loved this activity, and it was great to see their creativity as they included various elements. One of my students even water colored his picture at home! And on top of it all, we now have new wallpaper for our classroom!

Next, we began using Quizlet Live. Let me tell you, if you have not yet used Quizlet Live in your class, you are missing out! I have never seen my students so excited about their vocabulary words. The gist of the program is students work together on teams to compete with others. This competition is based on your quizlet deck (online flashcards), and the students race to answer the most correct. Every single one of my students participated, helped each other, and cheered each other on. Yes, it was extremely loud, but the good kind of loud.

The final lesson came about when nearly all of my students were struggling with the difference between direct and indirect characterization. We had taken notes and read examples, but it was still not clicking. So again, to the art supplies I went! Students sorted examples into direct and indirect characterization by cutting out examples from “The King of Mazy May” and gluing them into a graphic organizer. Because this was an in class activity, I was able to float around the room as students practiced identifying the quotes.

The moral of my most successful week to date is to:

  • not be afraid of noise
  • never underestimate the power of art supplies
  • reteach when needed, sometimes starting over from square one
Posted in reflection

9/11/2001: Never Forget

We all remember where we were on this day 15 years ago. I myself was on my way to 7th grade. I remember distinctively hearing the news of the first plane crash before hopping in the van. When we arrived at school, every classroom was projecting the news. We sat there in English and then Social Studies watching as the horrific events unfolded. I remember watching as the second plane hit. I remember watching as people jumped from the buildings. I remember watching as the towers collapsed. Only after all of these events did the principal mandate all tvs turned off. Part of me wishes this had been sooner as these horrific images provided nightmares and have remained with me. Still, too, part of me is thankful that I was able to witness this historic day; it allowed the events to hold significance and create a connection.

Now as a teacher, I relive these events with my students. Last year was my first year teaching, and I was able to share with my 6th graders the events of September 11, 2001. Not only was I able to share the events from a historical perspective, but I was also able to share a firsthand account. None of my students were alive in 2001, and most had not yet fully understood this day’s significance.

I have come to realize that there are certain moments, both in life and in teaching, that stand out with great significance. This day is one of those days. My 7th grade memories hold personal meaning, while reliving the events through my students holds a new kind of meaning that only teachers understand. It is fascinating to see students’ responses. They have not experienced firsthand, and so rely on their teachers to give these events personal significance.

I now have a new memory of this day. I remember my students’ horrified faces as they watched the newscast I had seen 14 years prior. I remember their curiosity as they asked me questions about the day, about the war, about the terrorists. I remember reading their writings, infusing new personal connections to make this history come alive for them.

As teachers, it is important to bring history alive for our students. While this day is one of the most horrific days many of us have experience, our students have not and they will not understand its significance until we infuse our own connections, the impact the day had, and the overall significance.