Sunday, April 8, 2018

Hype Training 101: How to hype students up for any lesson

We all know the classroom can be a place some students dread. Why? I have asked students and always get the same answer: "It's sooooooo boring!" How do we change their mindset that learning is boring? We make learning an experience.  Something students truly look forward to and it starts with us!



After having many different students over the years I have worked on creating lessons that are challenging, but creative and engaging. I want students to see learning as an experience, a journey that can be frustrating, challenging, fun, and exciting. I realized quickly with 5th graders it's all about how you sell it. Have you ever been a party with a DJ? If you have you know that the DJ makes the party great. They are the ones who decide which songs to play and hypes up the crowd making them excited to be there and dance the night away. You have to be that DJ. That hype-woman(man) that makes your classroom the place to be. We have to know which assignments to give and when. We also have to make those assignments applicable or exciting to the students to have them tune in. There are some simple and more elaborate things I use to engage my students. I like to change it up because just like a DJ, you can't play the same song 3 times in a row. The crowd or in this case the students are going to get bored of it. Here are a few ideas that you can use to hype up any lesson to get students excited about what they are learning.

Add Drums
Recently I have started to add drums to my math lessons. I had the idea from something I saw when I went to the Ron Clark Academy (RCA) a few years ago. While I was there I observed the use of drums in classrooms to keep students on track. They would choose students, especially those who needed help focusing and give them the honor of using the drums during class. They would play them when students gave correct answers, gave good points, or in celebratory moments. I thought it was cool at the time, but I didn't know when or how to use it in my own classroom. I went to Marshalls several months later and came upon a drum that I just had to buy for my room. I realized if I was going to ever use it I might need more than one drum...so what did I do? I bought 20, just kidding. I ended up asking my community for empty oatmeal containers. I covered them with fun painted paper and they became my "drums". I never really took them out until one math lesson. We were working on multi-step fraction problems and I could tell I was losing student interest. Inspired by RCA, I took out my original drum and hit it every time my students chimed in with the next correct step. The students woke up and wanted to participate. After one problem, I started a band and they have been excited ever since.




Cheer It Up
I have never been a cheerleader, but I love music and dance. I try to include both in my classroom the best I can. Over the past few years, I have personally developed some cheers to promote learning in my class and create a team atmosphere. If you love music or are just a spirited cheerleader in your own right consider creating some cheers. Cheers to help your students or have them make some on their own. I have had students create group cheers, class cheers, and even academic cheers using important vocabulary or concepts to help them remember crucial information.



Go Somewhere
Anytime you make learning real to students and take them somewhere it can truly excite and connect students with the material. I grew up in the Chicago Suburbs so I had the privilege of attending all the Chicago area museums and zoos to really connect to the material. When I moved to a rural area I realized quickly that these experiences would be a little more challenging to obtain but not impossible. I get to take my students yearly to Heritage Days, a historical based weekend event that happens in our time. This event has many artisans and replicates a rendezvous of traders from a period of time. These traders represent various time periods that are taught in our 5th grade curriculum. It is an experience that student can't get in a classroom. They step back in time and we reflect it on it all year. I have seen teachers take their students to the courthouse for fairy tale trials, to a nearby college to learn about a particular subject or work with amazing tools. A teacher could take to a local store or a mall to practice math skills. The possibilities are endless! You can make learning tangible, but also make those community connections. Now with digital media expanding places are closer than ever. They are only a phone/tablet/computer away. I have used Virtual Reality apps to take my students places and give them experiences I physically can't. This year alone I used the NBC app to allow my students to experience what it is like to ski during the Winter Olympics. All this took was my iPhone and a $10 VR Headset from Walmart.

Heritage Days: Showing off my archery skills


Give them a Job
Students love experiences and putting them in a role. By giving them a job they will definitely play the part and the learning will become important to their reality. I try to make the material we are learning applicable to the lives of my students. That is why during our ancient Greek lessons I "take my students to a Greek restaurant." I flip my room into a restaurant! Complete with tablecloths, menus, music and I play the waiter. They are given the job of spending so much money and making sure everyone in their family gets something to eat. My students practice adding and subtracting decimals while putting them in a scenario that many of them have been a part of before. We practice figuring out the tip and writing checks as well. I have also put my students in the role of an editor and chief of a magazine where they have to make corrections to articles. Students have also been detectives looking for the stolen Constitution or trying to track down Carmen Sandiego and the Main-I-Deer Statue. We have even been crazy bakers who have to figure out the Author's Purpose and double recipes for catering requests.  I am constantly trying to find ways to integrate real-world jobs or applications in our curriculum. If students have a goal or feel as though they have a job during a lesson they are more invested and excited to play their part. The same goes for readers theater and literature circles. When given a role of value many students will rise to the occasion.



Connect Them With the World
Along with making real-world experiences for my students, I have been using technology in my class to connect them with the world. When we are researching people, learning about an event, or just excited to share certain skills, I have my students tweet different people, groups, or companies and see if we get a response. It was amazing to get responses from Team Canada during our whole school Olympics and to hear from Mr.Owl during our science lab. It is not guaranteed, but it can be a great way for your students to get excited about a lesson. You can also partner with another classroom and share what you are learning or discuss via twitter or Flipgrid.  I have seen classroom connections with other classrooms and connections with experts on Skype (something I am still working on). If your school has access to technology why not use it to connect your students with the world around them. Connect them to what they are learning or pose a question to the world and see what they get in return. It's a great way to have students get excited about what their learning and share it with others. Technology isn't the only way to connect students with the world, consider connecting with local experts, classrooms, or businesses. This helps not only the community but allows students to feel more connected to what is local to them.



With all of these ideas, the main thing to take away is to be excited! As the teacher, it is all about how you sell it. If you apologize and say it is going to be a boring day today they will never buy into it. Instead, you have to believe in your lessons, if you don't love the lesson consider adding something to it to make it something you are proud of. Smile and be excited! If you are excited and play your role the students will get into it and be excited to learn. It starts with us! We have to believe in the magic and make our lessons joyful for our students to get excited about learning. Bring your all and hype up the crowd. I promise you will grab their attention.

How do you hype up your students? How do you engage them in your lessons? Have you used some of the techniques I listed or do you have some different ones?
Share your thoughts with me on Twitter! #teachingpower        @teaching_power



Sunday, April 1, 2018

Plate Spinning by the Ringmaster

I remember my first year teaching 5th grade feeling completely lost. It was scary moving from 3rd to 5th grade. I did not what I was teaching or even how to deal with 5th-grade students. I was making it up as I went. I recall looking through the material and wondering how am I gonna get through all of this, keep my class together, help the students who are struggling, push the students who need the challenge, make everyone happy, and keep myself from losing it.

Some people say teaching is an art. Other people think it is one of the easiest professions know to man. "You're a teacher? That must be nice. Summers off and all you have to do is read out of books to kids." I wish people could truly understand the struggle that teachers face daily. I remember my first year correlating it to being a plate spinner. The goal is to spin each plate and keep them spinning so that none of them fall. You are always on your toes and constantly looking for the plate that might fall so you can prevent it from doing just that. It's exhausting mentally, physically, and at times emotionally because when that plate falls we take it to heart.

My first year, don't let the smile fool you I was exhausted


A teacher's job is this and so much more because our plates have names, faces, backgrounds, and dreams. We have to keep everything in our classroom moving in a rhythm that is beneficial for our students and for the expectations set upon us. If you ask a teacher what our true job, many would say to teach our kids. Notice how I stated that "teach OUR KIDS." Yes, standards are important and I do believe that students need to know or at least be exposed to some things before they progress to the next grade. However, I'm not just teaching subjects. I am teaching the whole student. I am teaching a student that they can do things and be successful or that it is ok to make mistakes. I am allowing students the chance to share whats on their mind and leading discussions on how to deal with friendship drama. I am going to student games and events to show that I care about who they are and their true interests inside and outside of the classroom. I always say to my students it's about trying your hardest, making mistakes, and learning from them. You won't get things right 100% of the time but it's important to grow, learn, and be better than when you first arrived. That is what teachers take pride in. The moment at the end of the year when your exhausted from spinning all the plates and you look at your class and reflect on how much they have grown. At that moment it is all worth it.

I say all this for all the teachers reading this.... you are not alone. It is okay to feel exhausted and drained. You are human, we all are. Sometimes it feels like our job is never ending like we are Stretch Armstrong being pulled in so many different directions. It is okay to breathe and takes those moments for yourself and for your students. Go out and do a lesson outside for no other reason than it is nice out. It is okay to spend a little time playing a game with your students if for no other reason then to bring a little laughter to their day. I get it trust me I do. I know how much time we put into our lesson plans, how much effort we put forth to teach students. We also know our students. We know when they need a break or they need a smile. Our students are dealing with so much and are aware of everything in their bubble. They might forget that lesson on adding fractions (we hope not), but they won't forget that time you took a moment to talk to them about their parents' divorce or any other issue that they may have.

The key is to remember that we need to pace ourselves and take the time we need too. Our job can feel overwhelming and almost selfish in a way. It takes so much from us and we can feel as though we are supposed to take it all on our own. Things I have learned from my years teaching:

1. It's ok to say NO!

Don't feel like you have to take everything on. For the first few years, I felt like if I wanted people to take me seriously and know who I am I had to volunteer for everything. Volunteer for every after-school activity, event, and be apart of every decision-making group. I never felt like I could say no especially if I felt I was letting down my students. It took a few years of being exhausted and an amazing classroom aide looking at me and telling me "Say No!" I got the message. It is okay to say no. I can't do this event or I'm unavailable at that time. I still love taking on tasks and events for students, but I realized for my own health I can't do it all. Everyone has to pitch in to make the school work and it is not up to just one person. It's okay to do this and not feel bad about it especially if your health is involved.


When your exhausted its ok to nap too!


2. Don't be afraid to have fun.

Fun seems like such a crazy concept to me now after 5 years of teaching. I got into this profession to help students learn and make a difference. I wanted students to enjoy learning as much as I did and find their voice. Yet after being in the field, I have seen teachers lose sight of the fun. I can't blame those who have lost that light and passion. I had some doubts this past year. Our jobs have become overwhelming with standards (though important are mounding), expectations (often unrealistic it feels), and immense pressure to complete everything in one school year. That along with growing class sizes and dwindling budgets it can be tough to enjoy moments with your class. However, we must. You must enjoy what you do. Do things you enjoy! That is what keeps you from burning out, but more importantly, that is when students learn the most. If you are enjoying yourself and excited about the material then your students will too. I remember being overwhelmed with everything my first year of teaching 5th grade. There were so many standards and content I didn't know yet as a 2nd-year teacher. Frustration and fear at an all-time high I decided to teach something I enjoy, Greek Mythology, and connect it to the standards. It was the best decision I ever made! I got to do something I loved and inspire my students to love it too. Every year I add to that lesson and make it bigger, better, and more fun!

3. Think outside the box.

Don't be afraid to be different. Try a new lesson! Get messy! Wear a costume and decorate your classroom! Try a new tech tool! Go out on a limb and try something new! I know that change can be hard. One thing is true, change teaches you something. It forces us to evolve and grow and what better way to teach our students this than to model it for them. Thinking outside the box is both challenging and worth it. When we choose to try something new or push ourselves outside the norm we are evolving as teachers. As students change we have to keep up. We have to find something we want to learn, be good at or try. Things are constantly changing in our field and we have to be open to it. Creativity and development is key. The more we push ourselves the better our lessons and ultimately our students will be. Reflecting on my classroom I will always remember looking at those around me during my earlier years of teaching. No one was doing what I wanted to do. I felt like I had to fit the mold and I shouldn't shake things up. After meeting teachers similar teachers with the same outlook as me and attending RCA (Ron Clark Academy) I felt more confident in my "unorthodox methods." I felt a freedom to be creative and try some different things such as a math labyrinth, transforming my classroom into a crazy bakery, or even taking my students on a quest to find Carmen Sandiego. I felt pride in my teaching. Also, my students gained so much from these experiences and loved going along for the ride.

Trying a new lesson involving a Crazy Bakery


4....but also don't be afraid to keep it simple.

With all that being said, don't overdo it. It is important to change, innovate, and be creative but you can only do so much. In the words of an amazing friend, "Pick one thing!" Choose one thing you want to do or try and do it. Don't feel like you have to do it all or be pressured to do it all. There are so many different education tools, techniques, and programs it is ok to try just one. Find something you want to grow in and do something about it. Find something that might help you grow. If it works for you use it, try it some more in some different lessons. If it doesn't try something else. Also, don't feel like you have to reinvent the wheel. We have lives and it is okay to not want to spend an entire day at school. Look for a variety of materials, use things you already have, or borrow from those around you. I constantly use books and Teachers Pay Teachers resources to make the lesson I intend to teach. I look at my lessons as "semi-homemade". I can't see doing it any other way. I make those lessons my own and tweak them to fit my lesson, my students, and my teaching style. I choose what would be best for my students and supplement as needed. We have to prioritize our time so it is okay to keep it simple.

5. Be yourself and reflect on your why.

You have to be the teacher you wanted to be when you started. These years go by and we forget why we are here. It makes sense. I stated earlier we have so much going on and so many pressures that we get bogged down. We need to be true to ourselves and remember our why. Why did we get into this profession? Why have we remained? We have to remind ourselves from time to time why we are here. I post pictures of my students around my desk and call it my Hall of Fame. I try to update it when I see students years later. My why is that I want to shape the future.Sometimes, I don't always see that happening in my classroom, but just looking at those photos, renews my enthusiasm. I love seeing my kids grow, and reading their emails reminds me I have made an impact. In the bleakest moments or most frustrating, we have to recall our why and who we are. Not everyone could do what we do day after day. We work with students from all over with a variety of attitudes.bad We try to give them hope. We are teaching the future and trying to help them uncover their potential. It starts with believing in them.

My Why

Let me know if you have any tips for a plate spinning teacher.
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Sunday, March 25, 2018

Promoting Reading School Wide!

Reading is fundamental to learning. This year I decided to push my students to have FUN with reading and develop a love of different authors and texts. This came after I read two amazing books this past summer: Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and Kids Deserve It by Todd Nelsoney and Adam Welcome.

These books have really opened my eyes to a number of possibilities when it comes to student growth in reading. Something that I personally wanted to improve in this summer. After spending part of my summer running my father to his knee surgery and then to all of his physical therapy appointments, I had a lot of time to read. I dived into these two books and just marked them up. I found so many ideas that I wanted to tweak and make my own. I got so excited in fact that I was sending my colleagues screenshots of ideas and notes of all the thoughts that had my head spinning. I even started typing plans for my first few weeks to promote reading in my classroom.

My notes from Reading in the Wild


I'm not gonna lie, every year I finish teaching there is a moment of true tiredness. I feel burnt out and wonder if I will feel that spark again, but within a few weeks of break, I spring back. I dive into a book for inspiration or do something that makes me truly happy and allows me to get the energy to start again. It's all about finding moments of rejuvenation and places of inspiration.

Reading those books inspired me not only to ramp up reading in my classroom but to create something to inspire reading school-wide. So with big dreams and crazy ideas, I began sketching out a school-wide reading challenge. I decided to create a challenge that was different than previous years. Prior to this year, we had a district-wide challenge that required 4th and 5th-grade students to pick 12 books off a list of 24 books and read them in order to attend a fun activity at the high school.  The books for the 5th-grade list were great books, but most of them were too high for my students to read and understand independently. I wanted the reading challenge to expose students to more books, but not restrict them so much that they feel they can never complete the challenge.



I decided to set a basic goal of 20 books to be read by April for all students. I wanted to create rewards for students when they met the goals of 5, 10, 15, and finally 20 books. This was to let them experience success and encourage them to keep going. After meeting with my colleagues we came up with some simple rewards to encourage students and that didn't break the bank.

  • For 5 books students got a piece of candy and a bookmark. 
  • For  10 books students had to reach this by a certain date in order to attend a hot cocoa party. After that date, they got a Pizza Hut coupon (Book-It)
  • For 15 books students once again had to reach a certain date to receive the opportunity to eat school breakfast in the cafeteria while listening to music. After that date, they got a rice crispy treat.
  • For 20 books they got to meet the Wizards basketball team when they came to our school to promote our district fundraiser game. They also got an outdoor lunch and extra recess time.
I can't express enough how important it was to have everyone involved.  This idea was a great starting point, but after hearing from my K-1 colleagues I knew that it would have to be tweaked to work for the younger grades. We ended up doubling the number of books that needed to be read for those students. This was due to their books being shorter. Later on, we also created a raffle for the students who read beyond the end goal of 20 or 40 books to keep the strong readers still amped up and encouraged to read. 

My colleagues came up with so many ideas and promoted the challenge in their classrooms in different ways to make it a true success. Some teachers created classroom charts, fun bulletin boards, or even celebrated the readers in their class in special ways. We also decided to create a school-wide bulletin board that took up a large chunk of the hallway. Student's names were added to the board after they completed each goal. They were also announced on the morning announcements to congratulate them school-wide.

Our School Wide Bulletin Board


As I started to develop this reading challenge I wanted to make sure the 4th and 5th grade students were able to read their choice of literature, but also encourage them to try different series and authors that they may not try otherwise. I thought about books that were available in our library, that had a variety of levels for our students and that helped them improve their reading. So with all of that in mind, I created a list of authors and series with the help from some 4th grade teachers. I wanted to use authors and series instead of books because it gave students more flexibility and choice. I choose 13 different authors and 4 series :

4th & 5th Grade Student Book List


In the end, I chose to encourage the older students to read 10 books of their choice and read 10 from our list. My hope was for students to try some books from different authors and series that might get them hooked on reading. This worked GREAT! Students would tell me how much they loved certain books and even encouraged their classmates to read them. I loved seeing my students try new books and enjoy them fully. It brought so much joy when they would proudly tell me that they passed the AR test and how much they loved reading the book.

My classroom bulletin board to promote reading


I know AR is one of those polarizing things. Some people love it and others hate it. In case you didn't know AR stands for Accelerated Reader. It is an online book testing site. It has a number of books that students can take multiple choice comprehension tests on. We use it at our school to test students understanding of the books they read.

  • The cons of using this tool are that it costs money, some of the questions are difficult or tricky, and students can guess because of the multiple choice aspect. 
  • Some pros of using this are that the students can do it at any time, its quick, it grades itself, and teachers can access it to keep track of information in regards to how the students are doing on the tests. 
I went to an elementary school that used AR. As a student, I didn't like it because when my school used it I  could not take tests on the books I was reading. I didn't want students to feel as discouraged as I did. So if a student wanted to read a book that wasn't found on AR they could write a Fab 5 Summary of the book or do a FlipGrid explaining their book and how they would rate it. There are so many ways one could check student understanding. What I think is important is that in some way we are checking for student understanding to better help students in the classroom. One way of helping them is showing them how to choose books that are a good fit. 

Long story short (too late...whoops lol) I have really enjoyed taking this once crazy idea and bringing it to life this year. Things lined up great to really allow my big dream to take flight and I truly feel like it has made a difference in our school. When you hear students say things like, "I have read so much more this year!" Or, "I loved these books and I can't wait to read more after the challenge." You can't help but smile. The ultimate goal was to promote reading and allow students to foster the love of reading. I would say it was a success! My hope is to continue this challenge and to adapt it, change it, and make it something our school is proud of!

Let me know what you do to encourage readers of all ages?
Tweet me at @teaching_power



Sunday, February 25, 2018

Twitter: Changing the Narrative

Twitter is an amazing tool that can really be overlooked by educators.



When I think of Twitter I think about celebrities, horrible grammar, and now Donald Trump. I remember when it came out how trendy it was, but as I got older I felt like there was little or no reason for it. I had a Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat to communicate with my family and friends so I just never felt drawn to Twitter...that was until last year. Last year is when I started my blog and I felt like I needed ways to promote my posts and just get my voice out there. I found very quickly there is such a large community on Twitter. As a teacher blogger, I created an account to follow all the different communities, teaching resources, educators and education authors to learn from. I found out so much just by following others and reading their posts on different subjects. By way of Twitter, I stumbled upon education chats, Voxer groups, and communities I didn't know existed. There is a whole world of educators, administrators, and tech gurus just out in full force discussing ideas and issues. It's a whole world at our fingertips if we just take to leap.

Professional Development Social Media
I had a discussion at WITcon17 about the power of Twitter and why there is pushback from teachers. I think the truth is that the teachers who don't choose to use it, just do not understand it. They haven't  used social media or Twitter in general and there is a fear of it being just "one more thing". When you look at it that way you are not recognizing the value it can truly have in the classroom and your teaching. Like I stated before there is a whole world out there through Twitter, a not so secret world of teachers sharing ideas, experiences, and support. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that? I have learned more from Twitter and the amazing people I follow on there than in any staff development. It is also nice to be able to truly personalize the PD to things I am interested and want to implement.

Beyond finding resources and ideas you meet so many people. There are so many people who you can connect to from different states or countries. It will open your eyes in so many ways and allow you to vent, share, and learn from one another. When I started my professional twitter and my blog I put myself out there to this amazing world. I  opened myself up to growing my PLN (Professional Learning Network) unsure of what might happen. What if no one liked my ideas? What if no one cared? What is no one accepted me? What if I do not have anything to say? What if I do not have anyone who I connect to? What if? Well, all those "What ifs" went out the window once I got started. I had the luxury of not having to worry at all. In this world of Twitter, there are so many lovely, kind, caring teachers that took me in and even championed my thoughts. I realize that in this profession life can be difficult, and we drive ourselves crazy over helping our students. We need to support one another. The communities that I have found on Twitter provide that support and give so many great ideas!

Power of School Social Media
Another benefit to social media is the ability to change the narrative. I have the luxury of working with an amazing staff and help growing students learn more than they could ever imagine every year. Sounds great right? Well sadly in the community I live in the school I work at is considered to be one of the roughest/ lowest in the district.  Twitter, Facebook, and Class Dojo have allowed me to work to change that narrative. I get to show the amazing school I see and allow the community to get a better view of what truly takes place day in and day out. I get to show the am awesome events and celebrate students all across our school. Thereby changing the view of us. People fear what they don't know and make decisions off rumors and assumptions. So why not give them the information they desire and share with them what really makes your school special?

Team Canada tweeted us back during our school-wide Olympics.


I have made my own Twitter page and used that to share all the different events and lessons that go on through my classroom and school. What I love is how much schools in my area are jumping on this idea and creating their own classroom pages and school pages. It is great to see teachers supporting teachers and retweeting other activities going on in the district. Schools have hashtags and students creating pages so they can follow their teachers. I even look through posts from the Jr Highs in order to retweet pictures with the hashtag #C2Alums, just to show my past students I still support them in their learning. We are creating our own community and allowing students to help write our stories. I know of teachers who have the classroom job of PR (Public Relations) and are the ones to take pictures, tweet out, and share the important things going on in class with the world. My class has recently studied the Winter Olympics. We represented Team Canada in our school Olympics so we decided to tweet to the real Team Canada. They actually tweeted us back!!!! When I showed my class they freaked out. They couldn't believe that they had the power of connecting with celebrities. After that, students asked to tweet out anyone we learned about with questions or comments. We didn't always get a response but if you don't try you will never know. This also opens up the possibility of taking the material we learn about in the classroom and connecting it to the world around us.

So what do you or your school do to put your story out there?
How do you share or change the narrative? Let me know!
Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @teaching_power or on Facebook