Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Lesson #1 Sophomores

Tomorrow is our first day of school.  We're on a short schedule, but there is just enough time for one quick lesson.

Lesson # 1-

The word sophomore comes from the Greek: sophos which means wise and moros which means????   Someone always answers with moron.  I accept that answer.  (Actually, it is foolish, but close enough!)  

So, I teach wise morons?  Why yes, yes I do.  

Three definitions of the word sophomore:
1.  a person in their 2nd year
2.  a know-it-all whose thinking is really immature or foolish 
3.  a wise foolish person

We extend this to include sophomoric:  marked by shallow or immature thinking.

If you teach sophomores, you know these definitions fit.

I will spend the rest of the year struggling to pull mature answers and wise reflections from my classes.  And with any luck, by next spring I'll see more wisdom than foolishness.

Wish me luck with that!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Welcome Back

Who needs a back to school nightmare when I'm living it??

First of all, I found this on the floor of my classroom, just waiting to be discovered.
I thought maybe my IT guy had left a rubber lizard as a joke.  Then I smelled it.  This was no joke.  Just lovely.

Lizard disposed of.  (Well, after pictures of course!)  The custodian promised to spot shampoo the carpet and use some room deodorizer.

Then, I rearrange the desks in my room, clean through my desk, and begin to put up my Word Wall.  (Mind you, that means putting my magnetic letters back on one corner of my whiteboard.)

While placing the first W, a pain shoots from neck into my scalp.  I almost went to my knees.  Tears sprang to my eyes.  About five seconds later (it seemed like an eternity), it was gone.  From then on, any movement brought on that shooting pain.  It was all I could do to lock my door and exit the building.

Frozen mixed vegetables (ice pack), a heating pad, and Ibuprofen gave me some relief.  My neck is stiff a day later, but no more shooting pains!

Good grief.  Is this any way to start a school year?

You might think this is related to moving classroom furniture, but I doubt it.  My daughter said she had this a few weeks ago, so I'm wondering if I have something viral.  CraZy!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Arranging Student Desks

I keep student desks in rows quite a bit, and I hate it.  Yes, it is organized and maintains classroom discipline.  And it is easy to make seating charts for a substitute.

The Core Standards are revising my lessons plans and teaching, so it was time to arrange the desks for a different learning environment.  I have been trying to figure out how to put the desks in groups without having half the students facing the back of the room.  (Collaborative learning, project work, and peer editing will all benefit from a group arrangement.)

Today, one of my favorite math colleagues (also a former student) showed me her solution.  She is a genius.  (Though she says she read it on another teaching blog.  Yea for teaching blogs!)  I swiped her idea, and it is too good not to share!

I have six pods of four desks each.  The back two in each pod face the front.  The front two desks are turned toward each other and butt up against the back two.  They are sitting sideways to the front of the room.  Voila!  All attention can be on the front of the room when needed, but it will also be easy to work with their group.

Not only does this arrangement work well for group work, but it makes my room look so much larger.  There is plenty of space to walk between the pods of desks.

I love this new arrangement.  Will it work?  Time will tell.  Stay tuned.

Now, I'm off to figure out how to make seating charts for the pods.  (Do you suppose smart young math colleague has figured that out for me, too?!)  Yes, she did.  See here.

By the way, smart young colleagues blog is over there on my blog list or you can access it here. There are tips on this math blog that would work in any classroom.  You won't be sorry you visited.  

Want more seating arrangement ideas-- click on the seating arrangements label in the sidebar.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Back-To-School Nightmares

Every year I have a Back-To-School nightmare.  I wake in a panic, and then am relieved I've got a bit of summer left.  (Those darn nightmares can start in July!)

I have to share a couple of funny ones from the past.

1.  One year, I dreamed I lost the class rosters.  It was a year we were low on paper and challenged to make fewer copies.  In my dream, the principal had given us the rosters, and I didn't dare ask for another copy of all my classes.  Soooo....I took out a piece of notebook paper and told the students that I was taking roll by having them write their names on the paper.  I did this every hour, and they created my new rosters.  Genius!

The other part of this dream is that my room was a wreck and no bulletin boards were done.  Lesson plans for the 1st day:  I had my students create my bulletin boards and put up my posters!
(True teacher-- fly by the seat of your pants and wing it!)

2.  I teach English.  My math skills are lousy.  Another year, I dreamed I was teaching math to sophomores. (Some cross-curricular thing.)  If that wasn't enough of a nightmare (math!), my lesson plan was teaching them to measure and figure bra sizes and cup sizes.  I had measuring tapes and teams of students working together.  No shocker that all my sophomore boys were completely engaged and on task.

In my dream, the principals showed up, knocked on the door (good news travels fast), and in typical administrative tact asked, "Mrs. E, do you think there is any other way you could teach this skill?  Maybe something a little more school appropriate?"  Darn it. Even in my dream, they kill all my fantastic ideas!!  (I did notice the Assistant Principal stifling his giggles.)

Now if I had been the principal, I probably would have asked, "What the hell do you think you're doing?!"  (And that's why they are the principals...even in my dreams I'd be a terrible principal!)

I woke up from this dream laughing out loud.

Nothing like being a teacher!  No nightmare yet this year. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Back-To-School Supplies

Our district puts out a flyer for enrollment.  They include lists for classroom supplies needed at the elementary level.

High School is pretty much left out of this picture.  We tell the students on the first day, and then it takes a week or so for them to purchase what they need.

I'm using my classroom blog to cover the supplies they need this year.  I linked it to Facebook, and hopefully parents and students will be able to get the word out.

Click here to see the supply list on my classroom blog.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Changes Ahead

I went to a conference on Implementing the Core Standards.  I gave up three days of my summer, because I know that implementing the standards will be the emphasis of this year.  I wasn't thrilled by the quality of what we accomplished or what I learned.  In fact, it seemed like the presenter was spreading one day of material over three.

(Who am I kidding? Some of the infantile cheers and activities annoyed the snot right out of me.  "Ra Ra Re--We can read independently..."!  Argh!! I will never use that.  Ever.  Mark my words.)

In spite of limited learning, there are some things I know for sure.

Changes are coming to Room 304.  Some things I give up willingly; others--not so much.

1.  I have to be less helpful to my students and let them struggle it out.  (Fewer answers and more questions will be the new norm.)  While my gut instinct might be to jump in and save them, they have to figure things out for themselves.  This is where my self-control (or lack thereof) is going to come into play.

2.  Desks in rows will be a rarity.  Yes, it simplifies taking roll, but it does not encourage working together to struggle it out.  *sigh! (My subs and custodians are going to hate me!)

3.  Reading and writing will have to be more rigorous, show more thoughtfulness, and require more effort and research.  (All things that sophomores resist.  Well, all but a few.)

4. I am going to be finding new ways to keep track of student involvement in discussion and group work.  (I can't let a few students dominate, and others slide by doing nothing.)

5.  Assignments will be more project based.  The end result will not just be a summative test, but a project that indicates a working knowledge.

If my conference had been more helpful, I know I would have a clearer view of what my classroom and English II will look like by the end of the year.  Since it didn't do that, my research is key.

Where will I end up?  Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A School of Readers

When I first came to Tiny Town High, students didn't read.  They tried to fake every book report I ever assigned.  There was no common language of books that "everyone" seemed to be reading.  It was frustrating.

Now when students finish their work, they pull out a book and read.  I frequently find myself saying, "Could you please put your book away and get ready for class?"  (And I hate myself!)  Books like Hunger Games or City of Glass or Columbine have been in high demand.  It is awesome!

Why the change?  I think there are several reasons.

1.  Authors like J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, Christopher Paolini, and Suzanne Collins have created high interest reading materials for a whole generation of kids. They get sucked in, find out how much fun reading can be, and continue the quest for books to read and love.

2. Our school created a reading community, by adding a daily "advisory" time into our schedule.  Four days a week, students and teachers are to be reading.  (The 5th day is set aside for meetings, unless a kid doesn't have meetings-- and then they are reading.)

3.  We adopted the Accelerated Reader program.  (I know this is controversial.  Some schools hate it.)  Students must read books, take quizzes over those books, and earn 25 AR points per nine weeks.  It counts as a grade in their English classes, so that gives the use of the program some weight.  We don't require that they read at a certain level of difficulty, just that they read.  With over 10,000 titles to choose from, there is little chance that they "can't find anything to read."

4.  Our librarian is immersed in young adult literature.  She is great at suggesting books that will interest the kids.  (She has them tell her the hobbies, activities, movies they love, television shows they watch, and other books they have loved.  She can always find a book to match their interest and reading levels.)  She gives book talks about current books.  The books fly off the shelves.

5. I've created a classroom library.  (And I'm not the only one.)  I find out what books the librarian can't keep on the shelf, purchase them, and add them to my library. Students frequently wander into my room and ask for a particular title.  Last spring, a student donated some current favorites because her family was moving, and she didn't want to pack them.

6.  Reading is contagious.  Teachers discuss books they are reading.  (Not just English teachers!  Our chemistry teachers is one of the most avid readers in our school.)  If a student has read one book a teacher recommends, they frequently go back for another recommendation.  We can discuss current books that are making their way around our school.  (Students encouraging students to read!  Who knew?!)

7.  Signs are posted on classroom doors about a teacher's current reading or favorite book.  Contests are sponsored through the library.  Tickets for treats are hidden in books.  Online trivia contests over popular books might result in a dozen homemade chocolate chip cookies or tickets to the movies.

No, not every student loves reading; however, the majority of our students read willingly and will gladly share a book they love.  Our reading test scores have soared.

I love Tiny Town High.  Most of the kids speak my language:  books!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Today's Meet Technology

Originally made for business purposes, this is one of the best technology tools I have put to use in my classroom in the last few years.
This site is an easy one to use on the spur of the moment.  There is no creating an account, signing in, or remembering a password.  In fact, the screenshot shows you what you see when you type in the website.

Step One is to name your room.
I typed in "trial" and had a red X, meaning it was already in use.  I just added in trialanderror.  You can name your room anything that isn't already in use.  The green checkmark tells me that room is available. The rooms can last from two hours to one year; the choice is up to you.  This room will be deleted in one week.  If I want shorter or longer, I just click on the arrow for the pull down menu.  (Shorter is better, in my opinion.  Students like to get in and cause havoc, so it is best if the room disappears as soon as possible.)  Now all I have to do is click on the the "Create your Room" button.  That's it.  You are ready to go!

I am always the first one to post in my room.  I put my name, and I insist on students using their own name or they don't participate.  Anyone can join the conversation.  You are always "talking" (typing) on the right side and listening (reading what others are saying) on the left side.

I post the link to my room.  (It is always like this: todaysmeet.com/+the name of your room  So my link would be:  http://todaysmeet.com/trialanderror)  Students go to the link on their computers and then they join the room and can comment on the day's class.  (Particularly useful in discussing videos in class without interrupting the video. Everyone will need a computer to be able to comment/question and to follow the thread of discussion.)  It works like Twitter.  They have 140 characters and can comment as often as they like.

Notice the word "transcript" at the bottom of the screenshot.  At the end of the class period, I can print out the transcript of what was written in class.  (Handy for students who are absent, but also to have a record for a daily grade.)  One word of caution, I usually change the font to 11 point.  If a discussion is lengthy, the transcript can use a lot of paper when you print it out.

Besides using this during films, I love using this when the students are listening to a reading.  I project the "Today's Meet" room on the white board.  Everyone in the room has the opportunity to use the discussion thread if they need it.

To get a picture of the room: the students have the book, an audio tape of the book is running, Today's Meet is projected on the whiteboard, and (some) students have a computer and are on the Today's Meet link. You might think it is too much for the students, but this is a generation of multi-taskers.  

There are two ways I can work this:
1.  The students can use the link to ask questions about things they don't understand or confusing vocabulary.  I can respond to questions on the link as quickly as they crop up.  There is no interrupting of the story to do this.

2.  I can be the only person on the Today's Meet room, and I can guide their reading by typing things I want them to notice or think about as the story progresses. They can refer to the whiteboard projection of the Today's Meet conversation or not.  It is their choice.

To be honest, a combination of these two ways works the best for me.  Guiding them, but answering questions that crop up makes it a great tool for everyone.  It reaches the students who need the most help, guides the students who let their attention drift, and gives the great students a chance to share their thoughts.

If you haven't tried it yet, I highly recommend http://todaysmeet.com  I don't think you'll be sorry that you tried it!

The Sun Goes Down On Summer

For the past fifteen years or so, I have been sharing this poem with the sophomores on the first day of school. I think the author was a junior in high school when he wrote it.

The Sun Goes Down on Summer
 by Steve Lawhead

I come to the water one last time as the sun goes down on summer.
It's going; I can feel it slip away, and it leaves a cold empty spot
a hole in my warm memories of endless golden days
and dreams as ripe as watermelons.
I'd give the world to make the summer stay.

The water is calm around me.
It's a warm, silent sea of thought dyed in the rich blues of night and memory.
Why can't things just stay the way they are?

Instead, the days rush headlong into change
and I feel like nothing's ever going to be the same.
Soon school will start again.
And all the things I thought I'd left behind will come back,
and it won't be gentle water I'll be swimming in---

It'll be noise and people and schedules and passes
 and teachers telling everyone what to do.
One more year of homework, tests and grades.
Of daily popularity contests and pressure-cooker competition
 and heaps of frustration.

The first day is the worst.
Not knowing who your friends are,
or what's changed since last year.
Trying to pick it up where you left off.
I'll look real hard for a last-year's friend
to get me from one scrambled class to another,
through halls crawling with people.
I wonder if I'll fit in.

Football practice started last week. It started without me.
I had to make a choice and football lost.
Two years on the team and it struck me--who am I doing this for?
It's just another thing people expect you to do, so you do it.
School is full of these kinds of things---
things that sap your freedom, and keep you from being yourself.

That's what I want most, to be myself. But that's hard.
Here's what I dread most: when summer goes, I go with it.
I go back to school and I change as soon as I walk through those doors.
I have to be someone everyone will like--that's a law of survival.

What would happen if I just stayed the real me?
Would they turn me off? Label me "weird"?
Would I ever get another date?
It seems like so much to risk.
But growing is a risk. Change is a risk.
And who knows, I might discover something of myself
in the coming year.
I might get closer to the person I am---what a discovery that would be!

When the doors open on Monday morning, I’ll have a fresh start,
a fresh opportunity to find myself.
I want to be ready.
The first homework assignment of the year is for students to write about lines that resonate with them.  They agree or disagree with the author.  Some students can't wait for school to start.  They get to see their friends and have a social life again.  (That would have been me at their age.)  Others totally understand exactly what the author is saying. 
I am never really sure whether what we do in class stays with them or not, but I can't tell you how many students mention this poem in their end of the year writings.  I like that. 
No, this poem will never be considered a great poem or even a classic, but it is a great opener for the first day of school.  I'll soon find out what the class of 2015 thinks of the sun going down on their summer and how they really feel about the first days of school.

Textbook Treasure Hunt

Want a great way to make sure your student knows how to use their textbook?  (Good readers probably don't need this, but your kids who are poor readers have no idea!) 

Create a treasure hunt.  Give them 10-20 questions, asking them to search for a variety of information in their textbooks. Questions should make it so students have to use the Table of Contents, Index, Glossary, and any other additional information your textbook might include.  

Here is a sample of some questions you could ask.

1.  What is the title of Chapter 9?

2.  On what page does Chapter 6 begin?

3.  How does the glossary define abolition?

4.  List all the pages in our text where abolition is mentioned.  

5. What is the graph on page 536 showing?

6. On page 23, what word is in italics?  Why is it in italics?


Let the students work in pairs.  They fly through the textbooks, trying to find the information.  They are learning the shortcuts to use when they seek answers or information. This is especially helpful for your poorer readers. BUT... all students are familiarizing themselves with the material the course will cover.  (You might pick out some things from your text that are high interest for students and make sure that is part of the treasure hunt.)

Have some gum or a mint for the first pair to finish.  (Sometimes, I give a little bigger prize to the first pair to finish and something smaller for everyone who finishes.  The goal is, after all, to have everyone familiarize themselves with the textbook.)

This is a great activity for the first days of school.  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Classroom Organization: Make-Up Work

I used to have the worst time getting students caught up after they had been gone.

*I'd be so busy teaching, I couldn't interrupt class to find the handouts they missed.
*I'd forget to tell them something, and then they'd be behind--by no fault of their own.
*When a lot of students were absent, I'd be overwhelmed trying to remember who had what handouts or information.

I was a nightmare!  Two things have made make-up work for absent students smooth sailing.
1. These individual student files that I discussed here, and...

2....this template.
Every day I pull up this template.  I put in the day's date and activities for that day and save the template as a different file (always titled by the date!) in a folder I call Make-Up Work.

I keep the new file open all day, and just minimize it.

At the beginning of each hour, I type in students who are absent, adding to the list as the day goes on.  I can also make changes to work if I need to alter what was accomplished during the hour.  By the end of the day, I have the list of all students who missed class.

After school, I copy and fit as many copies of this form as I can on a single page. (Usually 2 or 3)  I print it out and make enough copies so that after I cut the forms apart--every absent student has a copy.

I file the make-up work copy in their classroom folder.  (The handouts from the day should already be in there, so they are good to go!)  They are to pick up this work the next day when they enter class, but many students will run down before school and grab their make-up work assignments. If I have a sub, the student will still have their make-up work.  They don't have to wait for me to return.

Since I save the file by the date in a word file, it is easy for me to go back and check if a student was absent from class on a particular date.

Funding issues have meant trying to conserve paper.  For the last few years, my make-up work slips look like this:

I don't like it as well, but I can get 7-8 on a page.  It does save paper when huge numbers of students are missing.  

Again, all make-up work can be found in their individual classroom folder.  They take the paper and check off what they have completed. When they have finished all tasks, they can throw the paper away.  I rarely remind them what they are missing, as the responsibility is now theirs.

I have found this to be a win-win situation.  I don't feel as disorganized, and my students always know their make-up work is at their fingertips.

Classroom Organization Tip #1

Classroom folders.  I couldn't exist without them.

I have three plastic crates for hanging folders.  Each crate is a different color.

At the beginning of every year, I copy my roster into a word file and enlarge the font to a 16 point bold font. I print the student names out on card stock, and then cut them to fit the plastic tab so that each student has their own hanging file for my class. (These files are never to be removed from the crate.)

I organize the files by hour and alphabetize the students by last names.  Each crate can hold two different hours of student files.  (I usually try to figure out some way to create a middle divider, to separate two class hours.)

These plastic crates are located on a table close to the door, so the students can check them on the way to their seats or deposit a paper in there on their way out at the end of the hour.  This is a habit that I establish the first week of class.

These files are my lifeline to my students!  

So what goes in the files?

*A handout needed for class that day
*Graded papers, homework, and quizzes (but never tests!)
*Papers, agendas, or books that are left in the room
*Birthday notes
*Make-up work for what they missed when they were absent
*Work that isn't finished
*All team project work, so if they are absent--their team can still work
*Finished assignments to be turned in the next day so they don't lose them overnight

I began this storage system to stay on top of students who were absent, but have found so many uses for the files.  This is such a quick way to return papers or distribute handouts.

It not only organizes me, but it organizes them, too.

The challenge is removing files when students leave our district and making files for new students who arrive after the school year has begun.  (My TA usually takes on this responsibility.)  The other big challenge is making sure students empty their file folder and not use it for a storage wasteland.  (When they do that, they don't find makeup work or new handouts.)

The best tip to get them in the habit of checking their files regularly is something that I do on the 2nd or 3rd day of school.  I put this note on colored paper and place one in each folder.
After the first bell, I walk around the room and trade a sucker or a roll of candies for the slips of paper. If a student didn't check their folder, they don't get the reward--but they are sure to remember the next day.  Several days later, I repeat this reminder and usually everyone has remembered this time.  That is usually all it takes to establish the habit. (Though they look for slips regularly and nag me to "do it again."  It's all about the candy!)

Next organization tip: how I handle make-up work slips and what students find in their folder when they return from being absent.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Paperless Papers

I'm not exactly sure where this blog is going, but for right now I will share some of the ups and downs I experience in the classroom.

My students submitted their research papers by sharing them with me on Google Documents.  It was an ambitious project.  The learning curve has been...overwhelming interesting.

First of all, it has taken me about 30 minutes a paper to grade and correct their work.  I didn't post their grade on their paper, but they can see all the errors as soon as I finish grading their paper.  I'm turning back grades on a handout this week.

What have I learned?  It would be best to start this on a small project.  "The Perfect Paragraph" would be an excellent 1st attempt. 

To be honest, if the students had done some proofreading and peer editing, this assignment would have been much easier to grade.  (I finally decided that many of them had to believe that the word underlined in red meant that Google was complimenting them on word choice.  They obviously didn't think to check the spelling.)

I will use Google docs for paperless papers again, and I will be smarter next time in what I require of them.