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Holiday Confession

I have to admit that I was a "focused to the last day" teacher in my high school classroom.  I taught, reviewed, and tested to the very last minute, and in my school setting, that was typical.  If anything, my creative and often project-based assessments were a break for the students from the fact and figure assessments they were preparing for in other classes.  

But now that I am getting a bit older, I  realize I made some mistakes.  
First of all, I never taught my students a very important truth:
You must appreciate today as you respect yesterday and prepare for tomorrow.


With that said, I'll be taking some time this holiday season to appreciate my todays!  

My last suggestions this year for your classroom?

Have some fun!  And appreciate the little things!  Talk with your students.  Get to know them more.  And show them that you care.  While I know that I was a good teacher and that I well prepared my students for their futures, I don't know that they all knew how much I cared.  Make it clear, especially during the Holiday Season!  Consider it the greatest gift you can give!

Happy Holidays!

P.S.  See you next year!

Holiday Classroom Traditions


My friends at Secondary Smorgasbord have asked us to share our classroom traditions as we plan for our final weeks before holiday break.  While teaching at the high school level left me little time for activities that strayed from semester reviews or semester assessments, I did try to work in at least one day where my students could stop to think about the season... and what they could do to make it special.

With so many of my students focused on what they will be receiving during the holiday season, I challenged them to think about what they could give.  And more importantly, what could they do to make a difference in the spirit of the season!
Using my FREE Twelve Days of Christmas Acts of Kindness, students rewrite the holiday jingle, pledging to complete an act of kindness for each day leading to their holiday celebrations. It is definitely a great prompt to get students thinking about what the holidays are really all about!

Or if you want to teach your students about the many different holiday traditions from around the world, take a look at my Walking Tour of the Winter Holidays available in my TpT Store.

Now jump over to the Secondary Smorgasbord to find other great ideas or stories of traditions that you may want to start in your own classrooms!



Happy Celebrating!

Checking All the Boxes

As you near the end of the semester, it's time to check off all the boxes on your list of to-dos for each of your classes.  If you are a CCSS school, that means making sure you have addressed every standard.  For most, the challenge will have been addressing nonfiction and primary sources.
  
So, to help you out, I've found a great list of primary sources you can use in any classroom to help you keep your students engaged and learning while meeting the standards.
The analysis part comes next, and that can be as simple or complex as you wish it to be for your students.  Use a simple format requiring checks or lists, or ask students to examine the documents for inferences and significance.
  1. Type of Document
  2. Creator or Author
  3. Date or Time Period
  4. Purpose of Document
  5. Audience of Document
  6. Interesting Features
  7. Key Document Details
  8. Evidence to Support Details
  9. Evidence of Bias or Perspective
  10. Significance in History
And then if you need ready-made primary source analysis materials for your classes, please jump over to my TpT Store to see all the projects I've completed this year including my US Primary Source Analysis Bundle, the Legislative Document Analysis Bundle, the Supreme Court Case Analysis Bundle, my SPRITE series, and more!

No matter what you plan, be sure to include this FREE SPRITE Organizer in your lessons.  It will help your students gather and organize the key details in any Social Studies classroom!

Happy Teaching!

December Teaching: What can you do with the days?

You're full of turkey and stuffing, the shopping for Christmas is all done, and now it's time to get back to reality with 3 more weeks of classes on the schedule.  
Keeping the attention of our students can be such a challenge during this time of year, but there are strategies you can use to help your students stay on track and focused to finish out the semester!

Here are just a few ideas:
  • Play games - Have your student create board games to review semester content, and they play those games in class the days before the semester final exam.  Or, set up your classroom like a human game board for a review quiz that keeps them on their feet!
  • Take them on vacation - Organize scavenger hunts about different places to help them learn as they hunt for clues.  Or travel through topics and locations as you take a Walking Tour through History!
  • Make it interactive - Use lessons that will keep them up and active like an Archeology Dig or a Sunken Ship Exploration.  And don't forget about role playing fun to add creativity and performance to your lessons!
Most importantly, remember that these three weeks are important.  These days are so valuable in helping you reach your teaching goals in this school year, so don't give up now!  Power on and then you will have those two weeks at the Holiday Break for more turkey and, just maybe, a few days of rest!

Happy Teaching!

The Truth about the Internet!

This past week I have seen so many "resources" on the Internet that clearly misrepresented the stories they were trying to tell.  While there can still be value in those resources, it is so important that students understand the truth about those resources, and the truth about the Internet itself.


Here is the first lesson on Internet reliability: Google "Everything I learned about history I learned on the Internet."  Of course, your results will include a number of books you can purchase to enhance your history knowledge, but the first website link is... Are you ready for this?  It's a review of the book about learning everything and anything you need to know from Monty Python.  Sad.  Just sad.

The first actual site about history that comes up in the search is on the third page and is the BBC Learning History website.  So, there are many lessons to be learned from this!

While my search was very general in terms of historical content, search results are just as random for most topis searched by our students.  With this understanding, we must make sure our students are informed about the Internet and the reliability of the information they will find there regarding any topic of study.

To start, have students evaluate each website and its information on the following criterion:
  • Accuracy - first examine details provided that are easy to check.  Basic facts such as dates, significant names, and key events are easy to verify for accuracy, helping to validate other information suggested by the website.
  • Organization - check for the clarity and development of the website.  If the information is presented in a way that does not attempt to persuade you without verification, then there is more chance of reliability.
  • Writing Style - trust information that is written with clarity and accuracy in mind.  If a site is written with poor grammar or organizational structure, it is likely that little time was taken to evaluate accuracy as well.
Or, you can simply teach a lesson that will help students quickly find the discrepancies on their own, helping them to realize that the Internet (or one site on the Internet) is not 100% reliable and should never be considered as the know all, be all!

Here is a Free & Fabulous resource to help you teach that lesson...the Explorers Internet Reliability Research Activity allows students to investigate information on the great explorers from two different websites.  One will provide drastically different information than the other.  How can they know which to trust?
And be sure to jump over to the Secondary Smorgasbord Happy Hour Free & Fabulous Linky for other great freebies that will help you teach with confidence, knowing you have resources that are created and tested by teachers for teachers!


Happy Teaching!

Work Ethic in the Classroom: Can It Be Encouraged?

"If you want to make an impression in the sands of time..."


My 9th grade principal (way back when) woke us up each morning with a quote.  Most of the time, I ignored them, but this one particular morning, I perked up to pay attention. 

"If you want to make an impression in the sands of time..."

It sounded as if something profound and life-changing was coming.  He had the secret to my becoming important in this world.  He had a guide, a key, and manual.

"...wear work boots."

What?  That was it?  Where was the conclusion?  Work boots?  I couldn't make an impression by being a construction worker or a working on a road crew.  I wanted to be a journalist, an author, a teacher.  And then, of course, I wanted to save the world from itself.

"If you want to make an impression in the sands of time, wear work boots."

At 14 years old, I just didn't get it.  I had been raised with a good work ethic, but it never came to my mind that such a concept would help me to reach my goals.  It was simply what you did because you did!

In the classroom, as a teacher, many year later, it became apparent what that quote meant and how important it truly was.  I saw some students who worked incredibly hard just for a taste of success, yet many seldom put forth the effort, even when they were capable of so much more. 

Years later, in the start of the assessment craze, I realized that I could turn this idea back over to my students.  No matter how much I preached to them about the effects of a strong work ethic, they just didn't get it, but when they assessed their own work ethic in relation to assessment data, it suddenly became clear. 

In creating my simple Student Study Survey, I solved many problems with one tool.  It helped me to see where my students were in terms of content understanding versus lack of knowing the content, it helped my students to see the potential given added effort, it served as an RTI data tool, and it helped tremendously to have them on hand during parent conferences. 

John's Mom: "MY little Johnny studies very hard, but your tests are just too much..."

Teacher: "Well, Mrs. Jones, here is John's survey on his study habits.  You see where he admits to only spending 5 minutes in preparation over the last 3 weeks for this unit?  That explains his test grade..."

John's Mom: "Oh."

Find tools that will help your students find their own way.  In the end, if they want to make an impression in the sands of time, they will need some sturdy boots!

Happy Teaching!

Losing History: My Breakdown at the National Mall

As teachers of History, we are constantly devalued.  Students ask why they must take our courses, administrators take our class time for assemblies or testing, states push the teaching of everything but History, and in comparison to requirements in other subject areas, we are left behind.  In some schools, the Social Studies Department does not receive equal funding, do not have access to texts or other up-to-date resources, and are tasked with teaching or reinforcing other content areas at the cost of reducing their own content.  It's a fact across our country.


Just last week, I went to visit one of my most favorite destinations: Washington, D.C.  There is just something about being in our nation's capital and standing in the middle of the mall with all the workings and history of our nation going on all around me.  And each time I visit, I start my day at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.  I enjoy walking through America's past, seeing the changes in transportation, politics, and yes, even the dresses worn by the first ladies!

But this trip had a different outcome than most.  Instead of my leaving rejuvenated and excited about being a teacher of American History, I left disappointed and saddened in the state of affairs.  I felt discouraged.  I felt angry.  And right there outside the museum doors, I had a little breakdown, sharing with my husband all of my fears for the future generations of America.

As we entered the museum and took a turn toward the right side of the museum, I saw that things had changed.  The first evidence was the sign up for "Employees Only" where the Transportation Hall had once been.  So, as we turned to enter the new exhibit area, the evidence only continued to build; every bit supporting the fact that even our own nation's history is no longer valued in this country.  What had once been the greatest holding of America's artifacts was a condensed menagerie of decade highlights.  To subsidize the missing materials were opportunities to investigate further on the provided technology.  And then, at seeing the barren lunch counter, with no explanation, images, or further display materials to support its significance, I turned toward the exit. 

On my way out of the building, I stopped to ask an employee if things were just being renovated.  Sadly, the answer was no!  Then followed what sounded like a rehearsed speech about a lack of funding and a shift toward the use of technology to record our past.  Sad.

Back outside, I turned south, headed to my next destination.  There, maybe the lessons will be remembered... This time.

Lest we forget...


Happy Teaching!

Living the Geography Lesson: Applying the Content

As a Social Studies teacher in the middle and high school grades, you are often asked why your course is important.  In Geography courses, it used to be very easy to explain with skills like map reading and cultural investigations being relevant requirements for anyone that wanted to travel in their lives.  Then came GPS and the Internet.  But, believe it or not, the explanation is still the same... we need these skills, and we use them every day.


We travel full time.  Over the last two years, we have gone from the Northeast to Florida, across the South through Texas to Southern California, up the West Coast to Seattle, through the ocean to Alaska, back into the interior through Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Nevada and the heartland, up to the Great Lakes region back into Canada, to our Nation's Capital, and now we are heading down the East Coast to Florida. And we have applied so many Geography Lessons all along the way!


Traveling with a house on wheels, we must be very careful about where we go.  Roads have weight restrictions, overpasses create height issues, and some passes are just too narrow for us to navigate.  Our GPS will guide us fairly well, but at times, she fails us, and leaves us pulling out the trusty atlas to find our way to our next home.

More importantly, my GPS cannot tell me where I WANT to go!  She does not have the knowledge I do about different locations, things to see, places to visit, people to meet.  She cannot tell me the exact spot where I will see the most awesome of sunsets or sunrises.  And she definitely cannot tell me where to park my big rig for the least cost.  Those are all skills I learned in my Geography lessons that I now apply on a daily basis.

And knowing what I know about U.S. and World Geography, my travel list is a very long one.  It's such a good thing that we started this trip in our 40s... I have a feeling we will be out navigating our country and the world for many, MANY more years (and decades) to come!

Need to learn (or teach) the basics of Geography so you can navigate your way around the world?  Take a look at my Geography Introduction Unit.

Or, if you truly want to investigate what is out there in our world, teach my Complete World Geography Course!  It will help you create that very long list for your next adventure in life!

Happy Teaching!

Recognizing Holidays in the Upper Grades Classroom

As the Holiday Season approaches, and with Veteran's Day on the doorstep, we are often pressured to take time out in our upper grades classrooms to teach to the event.  While this works well with some historic events, as we can clearly tie them to our curriculum, with others it seems bothersome and time-consuming when we have so much other content to cover.  That leaves the question:

How can we address the Holidays in our Upper Level Classrooms?
My quick suggestion is to incorporate the Holiday into a primary source or document analysis activity.  Have students read about the event, evaluate how the event came about, or review the legislation passed to allow for the Holiday.

For Veteran's Day, analyze the congressional act and President Wilson's commendation of our soldiers for their service in war. The activity addresses the event, pleasing those in your administration who demand you pay homage, while it also allows students to practice skills that are vital in your Social Studies classroom!

Need that analysis activity for Veteran's Day?  Find it HERE!
http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Veterans-Day-Document-Analysis-Activity-Homework-1443782

See other Primary Source Analysis Activities in my TpT Store!

And be sure to Link Over to see my friend's great 'Holiday in the Classroom Idea Blog Posts' starting November 1st!



And, do you want to get a head start on THE Holiday Season?  Take a look at this fun and engaging activity: My Walking Tour Through the Winter Holidays!
 Happy Teaching!

It's A Wrap! Beating the Clock to Wrap-Up Lessons

You start off the lesson with a great attention grabber, your interactive lecture had students engaged and excited, your mini-activity successfully reinforced the key ideas of the lesson, and then...Five minutes left until the bell.  In many classes, teachers give students talk time, a chance to update on their cell phones, or a few moments to get started on that challenging Math homework.

What's wrong with this picture?

How can you make your class look different?

Students adapt to their settings.  If they are given free time, they will expect to always have free time.  However, if they are expected to work to the bell, that's what they will do.  And that last few minutes can be so very valuable to your lessons.

Use the time to wrap-up your lesson in a way your students will remember.  Utilize prompts that will bring the lesson home, and always ask students to examine the significance of the day's lesson, while tying it into their starter (bellringer) responses from the beginning of class.  I called these prompts Left Side Assignments (LSAs) because students entered their response on the left page of their interactive notebook.
Today, many refer to these prompts as Exit Slips or Wrap-up Prompts.  All in all, they are the same - a prompts that helps your students compile the information presented in the class lesson and process the information for better understanding of its relevance in history.

More importantly, the LSA, Wrap-up, or Exit Slip can serve another purpose: It can keep your students engaged in your lesson, and even more importantly, thinking critically about your lesson as the bell rings and they move on toward their next class.

See an example of wrap-up prompts with this FREE Holocaust Prompt SetOr find them included with most of the lessons and activities available in My TpT Store!

Happy Teaching!






United Nations Day: Studying Historic Events with Documents and Images

On October 24th, 1945, the required number of nations ratified the United Nations Charter, including the United States of America, making the UN the international organization for peace.  The charter was encouraged by American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as he urged the powers of the world to unite against aggressor nations like those fought during both World Wars.

Teaching to significance of these types of events can be challenging.  While reading the documents can help students to evaluate their importance, using images and guiding questions can help them to take that basic understanding to the next level.

How can you arrange this type of event analysis in your classroom?

Three easy steps will help you to provide the ideal setting in your classroom for the investigation of a historic event such as the signing and ratification of the United Nations Charter.
  1. Access the original documents to allow students to read through the actual words of the text.  Set up your class into pairs or small groups, and provide copies of the document transcripts so students can highlight passages and write comments along the sides as they read.
  2. Provide images of the document meetings and signing.  Use focused websites for authentic images.  The UN Photo Gallery provides many for the UN Charter.  Encourage students to find as many clues as possible through investigating the images.  Utilize a simple image analysis process:
    • What do you see?
    • What symbols are present in the image?
    • What do/could the symbols represent?
    • What interactions can be seen in the image?
    • Are emotions visible?  What are they?
    • Describe the setting and the overall mood of the image.
    • Are there any clues as to the importance of this event?  Describe.
  3. Use Guiding Questions or a Document Analysis Activity to walk students through the document and images for a clearer understanding of the entire historic event and to evaluate its significance, including the importance of the document on our modern world.
The only thing left to do in implementing this wonderful lesson for any Social Studies course is wrapping it up in the end.  Be sure to discuss the significance of the historic event for your course or current unit and then emphasize its importance on our modern world.  Lesson done!

Happy Teaching!

Seeing the Big Picture: Helping Students Visualize Multiple Perspectives

Teaching from a textbook or singular source can often leave the impression on our students that history is one-sided. After years of this indoctrination to history, our students are blind to the truth about history.  It becomes a battle at the secondary level to teach students that there are always multiple perspectives, and that history is relative.

How can you help students visualize the multiple perspectives in history?
First and foremost, stress to your students from the very start of each lesson that there are many sides to every event.  The Cold War was not controlled completely by the US, nor was it controlled by the U.S.S.R..  Even the two superpowers had quite a bit of help in feeding and fueling the fires between democracy and communism.  And if we cannot clearly define events between world powers, how can we begin to touch the surface of interactions between individuals?

One strategy for teaching multiple perspectives is to utilize as many primary sources as possible in every lesson you teach.  Provide students the first hand accounts, and encourage them to analyze the information to come to their own conclusions about the events in question.

Next, practice perspective posting on every assignment by adding comment bubbles.  Have students add in the conversation between key players.  Discuss their comments, and evaluate the plausibility of the comments based on what is known of the historical events.  An additional step to this activity would be including a 3rd bubble and allowing students to include an outside viewpoint.  Teach them to ask about those who are not seen or heard in history.  (These are great Interactive Notebook wrap-up activities!)
Finally, set up and encourage role playing in your classroom.  Remind students that they will never be able to truly walk in another's shoes, but through reenacting historic events or imagining the thoughts and feelings of individuals of that time period, they can get a better idea of the era.

And when students find themselves unable to find multiple perspectives in history, remind them of the Blind Men and the Elephant.  The poem, told in many different versions (how fitting) helps remind us all that nothing is ever what it seems at first encounter!

Happy Teaching!




Building a Positive School Climate: What's Your Role?

Stepping into the teacher's lounge or workroom can be a risky adventure for some teachers.  It is not always the welcoming atmosphere most picture when they think of working in a school setting, and it can sometimes exude a climate similar to what you would find on Antarctica after all the scientists have gone home for winter.  For new teachers, this can be especially daunting, but what can one do about the negative climate in their school?

How can one teacher make a difference?
Once we put on our teacher caps and step into our classrooms that very first year, we are all leaders.  We are the authority figures in our own classrooms, and we have the skills required to lead others.  Furthermore, when it comes to classroom climates, it is highly likely that most of the teachers (especially the newer ones) in the building want change; they just don't know how to work toward the positive climate they crave.

Be the initiator.  Be the spark for change.  Be the one who speaks up to bring to light the elephant in the room, and stand firm that you )and your co-workers) deserve more.  You deserve a school setting where you feel safe to go to work, teach your students, and leave at the end of the day without having been subject to a cumulative bad mood for eight hours of your day.

Here is a great tool to help you find your way through the muck and to greener pastures:
  • What To Do When Your School's In A Bad Mood is filled with incredible information for remedying that school-wide bad mood.  Distribute this to your administration and your faculty, and encourage a reading club or book study to discuss the strategies suggested.  Even the first chapter can get you an a great start!
Need a more detailed step-by-step approach?  Start off with this Problem Solving Model.  The ideas included may give you the light bulb moment you need to find your own solutions!

Good luck on creating that perfect school climate.  I know it's out there.  :)

Happy Teaching!

Analyzing Legislation: A Political or Social Approach?

In my first few years of teaching, I taught with a U.S. History teacher who believed every law was passed simply because Congress saw it as what should be.  He gave no credit to the social movements that encouraged the legislation, and saw no value in teaching about "social issues" in his classes.  I was appalled!  And as a Social Historian myself, I saw every piece of legislation as the result of social action.

Could we both have been right?  Or were we both wrong?
Now that I am much older, and somewhat wiser, I do see that the creation and passing of legislation has to be both political and social.  Our founding fathers had it right when they decided there should be elected officials that could distinguish between emotional appeal and a true need for change. 

Still, in our modern times, we see legislation passed that is often misunderstood.  It does not seem to adhere to the demands of the populous, and often seems in direct conflict with the wants and needs of the people.  Why is this so?

And then the more important question: 
How can we help our students understand this conundrum in our American legislative system?

We can't!  But what we can teach them is the lesson we all learn as we grow older.  Our government is not always serving in our best interest, often because it is seeking to serve in the best interest of others at the time.  And that's truly the way the founding fathers wanted it to be.   And whether legislation is passed through political measures or at the hands of a social movement, it is still a document worthy of investigation for all.  Through the evaluation of our American documents, we can all become better citizens, and in the end, that legislation will be our foundation.
Do you need quality resources for your classroom?  Take a look at my latest Document Analysis Series on TpT!  They will help you save time while providing your students the tools they need for learning and practicing the analysis process.

And be sure to introduce your students to Our Documents, an incredible website where they can see the actual documents and read the transcripts to better evaluate our American government.

Happy Teaching!


Collaboration in Your Building: Is It Worth It?


 Friends or Acquaintances
Helping your own, while avoiding the trouble

In my college graduate program, I spent a full year in a high school with a high number of teachers eligible for retirement.  Many of these educators had been teaching since the 1970s, and were lost in the new teaching strategies and different students than what they’d been accustomed to the last 30 years.  They were ready to go.

These teachers sat around the workroom and the teacher’s lounge each day and complained.  They moaned and they groaned and they went on and on about the deterioration of education in America.  After my semester of classroom observations and my semester of student teaching (with one of those ready to retirees), I was feeling burnt out myself.  It was just a dreary, dead climate.  It was depressing and simply not a place I wanted to get out of my warm bed to go to each and every morning.

When I finally graduated and headed out to the teaching world, I went looking for brightness.  I wanted to teach at a school with a positive climate and with teachers who still taught.  I wanted to be with positive attitudes and teachers who loved walking into their rooms each day. 

Your colleagues in your school building can really make your life easier.  They will be your allies and your leaders and your followers.  They will be the shoulders for you to cry on when your lesson fails terribly and will be the ones ready to throw the high-fives when your students are blazing through the halls bragging about your latest lesson.  You fellow teachers will be the ones that help you make your teaching days less like work and more like what you want to do your entire life.

At my first teaching job, I came in weeks before classes were to begin to get my classroom ready.  Oh, I had no idea what a task that would be.  I had replaced a retired teacher that had taught in that same classroom for almost 30 years.  It quickly became apparent that he had not moved anything in that time period, and as I went to move a bookshelf to another side of the room, part of the tile on the floor moved with it.  The gum and the melted hard candy was everywhere, and papers bled from every shelf and cabinet.  It was a disaster.

I was almost in tears from the overwhelming mess when a friendly face peeked into my room.  She was standing there in her overalls, her hair pulled back, obviously in the building to do the same as I.  But instead of returning to set up her room, she pushed up her sleeves, introduced herself and came into my room to help.  Before we knew it, the assistant principal was also in the room with an assortment of trash cans and the three of us were trashing 30 years of history and laughing through the whole process.  Those two women gave me hope and inspiration.  The teacher in the overalls became my best friend and we often laughed and cried together in the years we worked there.

Many of the other teachers in my building became good friends, and others remained acquaintances for the time I worked there.  I tended to be choosey about my friends in the building, surrounding myself with the positive teachers, the ones who taught with similar methods to myself and held high expectations for their students, as well.  It gave us more in common and we were able to understand each others’ needs for support when times were rough.

Another thing to remember about teaching is that you never do it alone.  I have not been in a school where I am not part of a team.  At the high school level I worked with my other content area teachers to plan, gather resources, and attend trainings.  We collaborated on our units, working to make sure our students would be prepared despite the schedule or teacher they have in the department.  In middle school, I have worked on teams, collaborating with all content area teachers to integrate all areas together for learning. 

Collaborative teaching is a wonderful thing!  Working with other teachers allows you the opportunity to check and develop your ideas before you ever introduce them in a classroom.  Having a sounding board helps you to hear your ideas and to get suggestions or improvements done before implementation.  Sharing resources is another benefit. 

In my two years of middle school teaching on teams, I have been surrounded by incredible teachers.  We have worked together to make activities and to introduce lessons to help reinforce our content from other classes, and the students have a richer learning environment.  While this does require team planning, it makes the learning so much easier to reinforce.  Here are a few simple examples that teachers can adopt and modify to fit their own teams:

  • Write a math open response question using content from the Social Studies lesson.
  • Building Roman houses in the Social Studies classroom using learned math skills.
  • Reading supplemental books in Language Arts to reinforce the Social Studies content.
  • Creating maps that integrate the Social Studies content with the Science content.
  • Take field trips with activities to foster all academic areas.
  • Team teach to introduce varying perspectives on topics.
  • Require students to keep their own grades on a running basis to reinforce math skills.
  • Teach an entire Social Studies unit within a Language Arts class using primary sources.
  • Collaborate on cumulative assignments so they will earn credit in two or more classes for the completion of one project.

All teachers can be great contributors to your classroom.  Experienced teachers know what works, and new teachers have just been introduced to the latest and greatest methods.  Share what you know with others, and work to make your entire team or school successful.  Use each other to get ideas, tweak ideas, and to implement ideas and your students will be the ones to gain.

Another excerpt from my book, A Lesson Plan for Teachers.

Happy Teaching! 

Happy Birthday Hubby! A Lesson On the Value of Teacher Collaboration

In honor of my hubby's 45th Birthday, I am writing this post on Teacher Collaboration!

A few years ago, I was sitting at home talking in an AOL chat group for teachers.  We were discussing the state testing and sharing our frustrations on having to take precious time away from our instruction to administer the tests.  At one point in the conversation, someone asked everyone to share what they taught, their grade level, and their location.  I quickly responded with my information, and just after I hit enter, I saw another contributor's information pop onto the screen, and he was also in Kentucky!  Small world!  "Where are you in KY?" I asked.  Two and a half years later, we were married!

So what is the value in teacher collaboration?

I will not guarantee everyone will find their future spouse through online collaboration, but I do have many other ideas on the benefits of "following" the crowd!

The benefits of online collaboration are many.  In simplest terms, you can share ideas for classroom organization, student management, parent involvement, and of course, classroom resources.  Teachers are also sounding boards for one another, just as we were doing in those early days, helping one another get through the stresses of the teacher workday.

And getting involved in the online world is so much easier now.  Some of the earliest chat rooms were difficult to navigate and were often filled with those not really interested in the posted topic.  But now, thanks to a number of modern resources, finding those who can bring you the greatest information is just a few clicks away.   My suggestions:
  • Search for professionally designed and maintained blogs that discuss your subject area, grade level, or other teaching characteristics.  (You can find wonderful ones on the right side of this blog post!)
  • Find collaborative boards on Pinterest and build up a network with those who contribute ideas that will enhance your classroom. Here are a few to get you started:
  • Investigate Linky Parties and other collaborative events by your favorite bloggers that can lead you to other online sources that will enhance your knowledge base.
  • Participate in contests to help navigate your way though networks of established online presences that can be valuable to you.
  • Friend colleagues or other Facebook posters that share ideas that could help you find the resources or advice you need.
  • And most importantly, find and learn all about TpT!  TeachersPayTeachers started right after I met my hubby, and I joined it right at the start.  It has been a blessing in my life in so many ways.  For you, it can be the time-saving tool you need to help you make through those challenging days when you just don't now what to do.  
 Oh, and one other important piece of advice... Don't just troll the blogs and Facebook pages, but participate.  We are not each islands of information.  All of our classrooms will be so much more incredible if we all share our thoughts and ideas with one another. 

Can you just imagine the relationships you could make!

And who knows?  Maybe you will meet your sweetheart!

Happy Teaching!


Building up Expectations... A Requirement in Every Classroom


Almost a decade ago, I sat on a desk in my classroom talking to my student teacher on her last day.  She was sharing her fears about stepping into her own classroom, and I was trying my best to offer her every piece of advice I could muster.  The result of that conversation was my book, A Lesson Plan for Teachers, and eventually this blog.  My goal in writing both is the same now as it was in the very beginning.  I wanted to help new teachers and those who were struggling in their classrooms.  

And then I sat down to write the book.  While I did include all the topics I felt vital for establishing a highly effective secondary classroom, I also thought it was important to make one thing clear...

It all starts with expectations. And I started my book with that first topic.
Here is a related article I wrote on the topic... one that is still so relevant today!

Expect Excellence:
Teaching without Excuses from the students or from yourself

Why do you teach?  Really think about that question.  Why do YOU teach?  Think about all it means.  Why are you in that classroom?  Why do you get up each morning, put on your working face, and step into that tropical forest that could grow and flourish or wilt and wither all at your hand?  Assuming you are a teacher, and not just one of those among us that took the job for the 3-month vacation (like that really happens), you already know the answer to the question.  You are a teacher because, simply stated, you are. 

I started teaching as soon as I could speak.  Education was important to me, and I wanted everyone to know its importance.  Now, unlike so many of today’s students, I was raised with an appreciation of education, a great and mighty need for learning.  Even before I started reading at age 3, I forced my knowledge on others, even strangers.  It should be understood that I grew up in a time when strangers were not feared as they are today, and often times were welcomed into our homes, especially if they were carrying a Bible or a vacuum.  So, as each traveling salesman or missionary came to the door, I would fling open my book and begin my instruction.  In the beginning, my lessons were the verses I had memorized in Sunday school the week before, and Grandma would lean down to me and tell me the adults already had this knowledge and that I should run on and play.  With a few taps to my head, and laughs from the adults, I would move on to my other victims – an assortment of dolls and stuffed animals arranged neatly in rows across my bedroom floor.

Teaching is in me.  It is a need.  It is gut.  Plain and simple, I must be in a classroom, surrounded by minds that I can instruct.  I must be sharing with them, not just my time or my criticism or my resources, but my knowledge and my love of knowledge.  I am a teacher because I am.

I feel comfortable in my classroom.  Like no other place I have ever been, my classroom is my refuge.  It is the place where I feel like I need to be, as some refer to it – my calling.  Along with that idea, I consider myself a natural.  I don’t say this to be bragging, but it just comes easy to me.  It is what I do.  It is what I am meant to do.  Some will understand this, some will not, and some may someday just “get it,” but it is my firm belief that teaching must be a natural act.  It cannot be taught.  I imagine that any administrator, or college education professor, reading this text is jumping out of their skin right now.  Additionally, any parent reading may be thinking, “What kind of quack is this writer, thinking a teacher could control and teach my child without being taught to teach.”  So, explanation is needed.

A teacher is a teacher at heart.  You have it, or you don’t.  It is not that you should jump in without any schooling or preparation (which is illegal in the U.S. anyway), but your purpose in being there should be in you in the beginning.  My last student teacher comprehended this idea.  She was a natural.  She took the bat, stepped up to the plate, and swung with a free flowing follow-through that was, without a doubt, a homerun.  She felt the mood of the classes, saw the future of each student, and anticipated the rises and falls that may take place in a typical day.  There is no hesitation, no quandary, no question.  She was supposed to be there.  A teacher.  Does she still need to complete her student teaching and her college courses?  Absolutely.  She needs to learn methods and skills to practice with her students.  She needs to hear the ideas of others.  She needs to see the hope and dreams that others also have for the success of the children placed in our care.  She needs to learn.

Now please do not think that I am one of those happy all the time teachers that create a glow through the building as they click through the halls with a bright smile or a pleasant word for everyone, but I do love being at my place.  It’s where I feel most “at home” and where I get my energy.  It is my sanctuary, but also my asylum, which is another reason I want to share my experiences and ideas to help others walk an easier path.  Moreover, I don’t just want to pass on my own ideas, but I will also divulge all the great secrets disclosed to me from all the incredible teachers I have met in my life.  After all, teaching is all about learning, and I like to learn from the best.  It’s like writing a cookbook without considering the input of Julia Child or Emeril or the newest ingredients of the Food Network’s Top Chef.  What works should be shared and passed on to help those that come after us.

So what does all this have to do with expecting excellence?  We must first expect it from ourselves.  Once we've accomplished that, setting high expectations for students will be easy! And the more direct answer was in the subheading...Teach without excuses from the students or from yourself.

Happy Teaching!

Performing in the Classroom: Effective Role-Play for Learning

"Nobody puts Baby in a corner!"
"If you build it, they will come."
"Show me the money!"
"Life is like a box of chocolates..."
"You can't handle the truth!"
"I see dead people!"
"Just keep swimming!"

As we all grew up watching movies, we dreamed of stepping into the roles that filled the screens.  Of course, I wanted to be Baby, dancing with Johnny and defying my parents to have the summer romance of a lifetime.  And no matter how much of an extrovert or introvert we are, we each have a tiny part of us that simply wants to control the stage.  

"I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille."

So how can we allow students the opportunity to star in our classroom?
Interactive lectures can be so much more engaging when the students are acting out the characters from history.  And keep in mind, History is relative.  The truth will never be known, so we can each contribute our theories on life in those times to help us better understand what may have been!

Here are some ideas for reenacting history in your Interactive Classroom:
  • Use Role Cards to have students step into history as you are covering specific topics.  Students can read this provided information to make sure they share the key facts for your course.
  • Utilize Plays or other Performance Scripts to allow students the opportunity to play leading roles in historic events.  These are best for larger topics where greater time can be afforded for preparation and rehearsal.
  • Assign Historic Figures to students, allowing them to research and create their interpretation of that significant person from history.  Be sure to check their information prior to performance.
  • Encourage project topic Presentations where students can perform their content in the manner of their choosing.  You may suggest Skits, Musical Performances, Talk Shows, or other interactive approaches for presenting the content.
  • Allow students to step into history by Projecting Scenes from history and encouraging each student to contribute their ideas on what it would have been like to live in that time.
  • Assign Caricatures and Meet & Greets where students can individually represent famous people and can circulate the classroom to meet others from their time period.
Encouraging activity is a great tool in the classroom, allowing students to live their content rather than simply hearing it presented to them on a daily basis.  What is better for reinforcement than to have actually experienced it for yourself?!

Need some interactive classroom resources to let the actors in your students play the roles of their lifetime?  Take a look at these favorites:
And one of my favorites for remembering the Chinese Dynasties for WHAP: You have to watch this! (These are not my students, but a number of variations can be found on Youtube.  Simply search WHAP Chinese Dynasties!)
Happy Teaching!



Groups in the Interactive Classroom: How to Assign the Groups!

As we try to make our classrooms more and more interactive, the great challenge can often be creating groups that can work well together.  While it is important to have mixed-ability groups, it is also important to keep them guessing and to keep them open to learning with and from every classmate in the room.

How do you create effective groups in the Interactive Classroom?

To create effective groups in your classroom, you have to keep one thing in mind: You are in charge, and what you say goes!  No group assignment is written in stone, and can be quickly and even informally changed at any moment in time.  It's your call. 

Another thing to consider is what type of group you want for each project.  Should they be strictly defined, or can they be randomly assigned?  I am a proponent of random assignment, and I happen to believe that in those random groupings, you will end up with mixed-ability sets.  And again, you can always revert back to rule number 1:  Mix them up after they are formed to get just that right interaction, whether it be for academic success or behavior control.

Random assignments are the easiest to create, and can be fun and engaging in the process:
  • For creating pairs, I love to use "Find Someone Who" or Meet & Match activities.  Students are given matching cards or clues and they must find each other to start the activity.  This gives students some time to stretch their legs, while also encouraging them to think critically as they search for the right partner.
  • For larger groups, use fun matching activities.
    • Hand out markers as students enter the classroom and direct them to sit in matching groups by color.
    • Distribute Vocabulary Cards and have students match themselves by term, definition, and significance.
    • Review Geography as you match up groups by passing out city names and having students group by state.
    • Use Timeline Clues to match groups into categories by year or any other time frame.
    • Match Task Cards providing some students clues and others questions to form groups as they solve the clues or complete the tasks. 
    • Play games or complete Scavenger Hunts, matching students as they find the correct answers for given clues.
  • To keep things moving, use a Jigsaw Activity.  This is great for studying varied topics at once and allowing student groups to research and share the key content.
    • First assign students into groups of 5.  Do this by number, color, alphabet, or any other strategy. 
    • Allow students to work on an assigned task or to gather information on a specific topic within each group.
    • As student groups are finishing up the first task, reassign students through a different strategy.  One of my favorites to use at this point was 5 different stickers that I quietly placed on each student's hand as they worked.  I used to draw different colored smiley faces on their hands, which the high school students LOVED, but had some parents complain, so KNOW your students and parents first!
    • Have students jigsaw to their new groups where they can share out the information from their original groups' investigations and research.  This is great for requiring EVERY student's participation since the others in the groups are dependent on their contribution!
Finally, one of the most valuable group interactions in your class can be with Response Groups.  My rule of thumb is to either allow student choice in forming their groups, or set up groups where you are confident the personalities will match and work cooperatively in discussion.  Response groups allow students to work together in researching tough subjects and in reporting the information they gather out to the class, often sharing a consensus opinion or suggestion on the topic.  In the end, these response group activities can be very effective in building a cooperative classroom climate.
http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Holocaust-Propaganda-Analysis-Activity-Anti-Semitism-in-Nazi-Germany-Genocide-651324
 My three favorite Response Group Activities are on topics that can bring students together to share events that are sometimes seen only in terms of facts, yet should include emotion in their discussion and curricular coverage:
And remember: Groups help students to engage in the content in a more interactive and collaborative way.  IF that is not happening in your assigned groups - Change Them! 

Happy Teaching!