YouTube Channels and Podcasts – for Teachers!

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With the newly implemented Common Core State Standards and the highly controversial state tests created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, listening and speaking skills have become significantly more valued in education.  Up until now, teachers have not been held too closely responsible for the speaking and listening skills of students.  Some of you may be outraged.  When, between September and June, do we have the time? Where in our already bursting curriculum can we fit these standards? Though clearly, with technological advancements and the increased usage of television and social media, it is clear that these standards are necessary for our students to master. Read on for a compiled list of YouTube channels and podcasts that can sharpen your students’ listening skills and generate hours of discussion. Continue reading

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Calm Down: How NOT to Freak Out About Standards and State Testing*


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By nature, I have always been a hesitant person.  When I was a kid, I was unsure of everything.  Especially food.  If it didn’t look or smell like chicken or pasta or cheese or bread, I’d pass.  I didn’t learn to ride my bike until I was about 11 years old.  And I still have never been on a roller coaster.  While my cautious personality has sometimes delayed my experiences regarding some amazing foods and adventures, it has also saved me from diving too quickly into situations I’d soon regret.

As a teacher, I am skeptical of new trends, especially those that are extremes.  I love the idea of a full on reading/writing workshop, but I also know the reality that my students’ abilities and interests are not quite there yet.  I hate the idea of high-stakes standardized testing, but I also know the reality that my students will have to tackle these tests without me.  So as a teacher, I need to find a balance between these worlds and not jump on the bandwagon of every new curriculum reform and tech tool out there.  I need to find what works for me and my students.

When I heard of Kelly Gallagher’s latest book of wisdom, In the Best Interest of Students: Staying True to What Works in the ELA Classroom, I let out a sigh of relief.  A) Because Kelly Gallagher published another book that I could add to my collection and B) because I could tell by the title that this book would be a voice of reason amidst the cacophony of panic.  I loved this book before I even opened it.  The title says it all.

Students.  It’s the buzzword we all seemed to have forgotten about.  We’re so worried and hyped up over new teacher evaluation methods, the latest technology tools, the next wave of standards, and the avalanche of state testing, that we’ve forgotten about the students and whether or not they’re even learning. Continue reading

Dangler Days or What to do when half your students are out?

With the holiday season just around the corner, and PARCC testing looming in the distance, my colleagues and I have had much discussion recently on –  what I have affectionately come to call – dangler days.  Days that you’re not to sure how to handle – they just dangle there, and you’re left to figure out whether to attach them to a lesson or a unit, or just hit play on the newest Pixar blockbuster.

This includes those last-minute delayed-opening/early-dismissal/snow days, those days when half of your students are out on a band field trip, those freakishly odd weeks when you only see your students for two days, and the dreaded testing days when your students are mentally exhausted and daydreaming of a utopian world without multiple-choice questions. You can’t possibly move on with instruction because then you’d have to catch up the other half of your students before school, after school, or during recess – which would be a ridiculously inefficient waste of time for everyone. So what are you to do?

Fear not fellow educomrades! I’ve compiled a list of activities you can utilize that will allow the students who are present to simply have more practice with concepts and skills they are already familiar with (and quite possibly have some fun while doing it).

Reader’s Theater

My students absolutely LOVE having the chance to shine in the spotlight and having a role to play.  Unfortunately, I rarely have time for reader’s theater in my 6th grade ELA classroom.  There is just too much “stuff” we have to get through in time for state testing and my students need all the practice and feedback they can get.  So, when we do have a random dangler day or two, I love slowing down to perform some reader’s theater.  This can work for ELA as well as History/Social Studies classes. Below, you’ll find a list of links with resources for reader’s theater scripts.  They range from short 3 minute scenes from movies (A Christmas Story) to full-length plays (A Christmas Carol) and even historical fiction/historical reenactments.  Reader’s theater can help students with skills such as fluency, intonation, visualizing, identifying character traits, and can lead to a deeper understanding and connection with a text.

Resources:

1. ReadWriteThink 

2. Reader’s Theater Scripts 

3. Busy Teacher’s Cafe: Reader’s Theater 

4. Aaron Shepard’s Reader’s Theater Editions

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Breakfast on Mars: Kid Tested, Teacher Approved!

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At the beginning of this school year, it was my goal to help my students become stronger writers in the art of the monstrous, tiresome, hideous, boring essay.  One way I wanted them to improve was by feeling passionately (or at least feeling something) for the topics they were writing about.  But aside from that, I wanted them to understand that there is no set structure in writing an essay – five paragraphs might cut it, but so might three, or four, or seven, or ten.  Some topics shine clearest amidst story telling and anecdotes.  Some topics call for humor.  Some topics need to be more of a conversation.  Not all of my writers have mastered this more meaningful type of essay-writing, but I have seen immense progress.  I owe it all to the book, Breakfast on Mars and 37 Other Delectable Essays.

When I first bought the book, I immediately flipped through to find essays related to literary analysis, since that is what I was focusing on improving this year.  What I found was even more amazing! The index of Breakfast on Mars is neatly organized into several categories (my type-A heart was about to explode out of my chest): Personal Essays, Literary Analysis Essays, Informative/How-To Essays, Persuasive Essays, and Graphic Essays.  But wait, there’s more! Because the editors are geniuses, there is an additional index of the possible writing prompts you can use with your students that have been inspired by each essay.

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What I’m Thankful For

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As Thanksgiving approaches, I continuously reflect on what I am thankful for.  While being a teacher sure can be frustrating (Who can tell Tommy what page we should be on?), and at times aggravating (How many SGO’s do we have to do?), it is important to remember how rewarding and enjoyable it is.  There are a few things this year that I am particularly thankful for.

1. Students who are eager to learn

Clearly, there are those few students who are not eager to learn (or who may not be eager to learn the subject or lesson you are teaching).  Those students can be a challenge, but I try not to let them discourage me. I know I won’t be able to reach every kid. However, I feel refueled and rejuvenated by students who simply try, ask questions, make mistakes, and try again.  It is that simple.  And when a student is able to forget about the grade and focus on the skills and the fun of learning, amazing things can happen.

2. Parents who want to see their children learn, be challenged, and grow (not just get an A and call it a day)

I cannot express how much I love parents who understand the role of education.  At times, I feel the strong need to put out a PSA explaining to parents that education is not just a stepping stone to the rest of their life – it is a journey that should be embraced and enjoyed. Sometimes it is challenging and kids won’t always get it right, and that’s ok.  Students come in to sixth grade language arts asking my least favorite question: “How many sentences should this be?”, and my heart breaks a little.  My hope is that by the time they leave me, they are asking not how many sentences or paragraphs or pages they need, but “Do you think this piece is effective?”.  When more parents value the ups and downs of education, students will too.

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How Tablets Can Transform Your Classroom

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With a recent emphasis being placed on teaching methodologies such as gamification and flipped classrooms, the foreseeable future of education is obviously heading in a more technology-driven direction.  Some schools are even delving into the beginning years of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD).  Teachers are expected to know more and do more with technology. One very useful (and fun!) tool that can easily be implemented into the classroom is the tablet, whether it is made by Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Google, or any other company.  The tablet has opened the gate to a world of paperless and effortless classroom management, as well as a ton of engaging learning tools and activities for students. Whether you have only one tablet for yourself, a few tablets to use with groups, or a class set (luck you!), there are apps and uses for each setting.

Setting Up Rosters, Policies, and Procedures

No matter which way you are able to use your tablets, one thing is for sure – there is a bit of set-up required before you can frolic through the fields of technological glory.  If you are setting up your own tablet for management purposes, you need to enter your class rosters at the beginning of the year for a variety of apps, which can take some time. Some apps also allow you to insert any notes or parent information for quick and easy communication.  If you are setting up tablets for classroom use, you need to make sure you have a strong wireless connection, load any apps you will be using onto all of the tablets, and define tablet policies and procedures.  Some of my classroom policies and procedures (for sixth graders) included how to hold the tablet while walking to your seat (two hands, against your chest, like a snuggly teddybear), closing down all apps after use, locking the screen when a teacher is instructing, and staying focused on the instructed app (rather than playing games). If a rule was broken, the student would get one warning, if there was a second offense, the student was suspended from using the tablet for the rest of the period and would receive a lunch detention with the teacher.  Once you get through the initial stages of setting up policies and procedures and instructing students how to navigate the tablet, the real fun and learning can begin! Below are some of my favorite apps that I use on the iPad (though many of them are compatible with Google Play and Android).

synonymsSynonyms (Apple) Free! – A simple game in which students receive a word and it’s definition. The object of the game is to figure out the synonym using the set of letters provided. Students practice and learn synonyms, definitions, and spelling.

hookedonwordsHooked on Words (Apple, GooglePlay) Free! – A time-crunched free-for-all word search puzzle. Students practice spelling.

 

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4 Pics 1 Word (Apple, GooglePlay)Free! – Students receive four pictures that have a common thread or theme. With the letters that are provided, students have unlimited time to guess the word. There is also a “cheat” button that helps narrow down the answer. Students practice problem-solving, higher order thinking skills, and spelling.

nearpodNearPod (Apple)Free! – An interactive slideshow platform. Upload your pre-made powerpoint presentations and add interactive slides that receive real-time feedback from your students such as quizzes, polls, short-answer questions, and even drawings. After the lesson is over, you will receive a detailed data report of your students’ responses.

socrativeSocrative  (Apple, GooglePlay) – Free! – Basically, a student clicker system. You create the quiz ahead of time, or ask questions verbally, and students input their answers on their tablets (short answer or multiple choice). After the assessment is over, you will receive a detailed data report of your students’ responses and their final scores. Yay for no grading (unless you have short answer questions, which you must grade yourself)!

pickmePick Me Buzzer (Apple – BigRedBuzzer on GooglePlay) – Free! – Perfect for playing a trivia review game or jeopardy style game with students. Each student or group uses their tablet to press the big red button. On your tablet, you will see which group buzzed first to give their answer.

 

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Edmodo  (Apple, GooglePlay) – Free! – Edmodo is excellent for creating a social network within and outside of your classroom. You can provide copies of worksheets, give quizzes, create discussion boards, and even post grades. The app is an easy way to stay connected.

boardcamBoardCam (Apple) – Free! – Turn your tablet into a document camera! Anything your tablet camera sees will be projected onto the screen!

 

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Show Me (Apple) – Free! – Turn your tablet into an interactive whiteboard! Not only can this be used on the projector screen, but it can also be helpful working one-on-one with a student.

 

goodnotesGoodNotes (Apple) – $5.99 – This is a great tool to use when annotating a picture, a page in a book, or a PDF.  You can highlight in various colors, circle, underline, and make notes.  Documents can then be exported, copied, or printed, in order to save or collaborate with others.

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Get Gamified

Photo courtesy of JD Hancock (Flickr Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of JD Hancock (Flickr Creative Commons)

Ask any middle school student what they do for fun outside of school and a vast majority of them will unsheathe their Excalibur-like thumbs and declare video games as their number one pastime. It is no wonder that many students – regardless of their skills and abilities – have suffered a loss of motivation, attention-span, and interest in the comparatively mundane, one-dimensional world of school.  So how can teachers compete with the programmed, interactive, instant-gratification of video games? Easy. Gamification.

Say what?  Gabe Zichermann of Gamification Corp defines buzzword gamification as ” the process of engaging people and changing behavior with game design, loyalty, and behavioral economics”. Gamification is a motivational system that many schools and businesses have been experimenting with.  To put it simply in terms of education, it is a way to motivate your students through game-like features such as tutorial and modeling, badges and trophies, leveling up, and teams.  It sounds easy enough, but if you are unfamiliar with the world of video games, this is a daunting challenge to take on.  Don’t worry – you can simply dip your toe into gamification next year to try it out, or you can go full force – the point is, there are varying levels of intensity in which you can “gamify” your classroom. Whatever level of gamification you might be implementing next year, you must always remember that the ultimate goal is that your students are making meaningful learning experiences. If it isn’t working out for you or your students – that’s fine. You should never support a method that you know does not work for your students or the desired learning outcome.

Here are some basic steps you can follow to play around with gamification in your classroom this coming school year:

Step 1. Identify what learning goals your students will achieve.

This can either be skills specific to your content area or even social and behavioral skills. Make sure that your goal is specific and measurable.

Example: In the middle school language arts classroom, a goal could be that students will be able to successfully identify three personality (character) traits of a given character.

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