Saturday, November 3, 2018

Keeping Students Engaged Before the Holidays

Digital Holiday Escape Room
Every teacher knows that feeling when you have only a couple weeks left before the long-awaited holiday break.  We would like to be out of school just as much as our students.  Not only are we ready for family time (and a big glass of wine) but the thought of trying to create lesson plans for those last few days is almost too much!  I even think to myself..."Why bother?  There is no way students are going to actually buy into any activity we do at this time of year."  After years of experiencing this dreadful feeling, I discovered escape rooms!  

Using digital escape rooms in my classroom has been a total game changer.  They have been my answer to making test prep/end of the year and back to school so much more enticing.  Since I've started using these, not only do I not dread this time of year, I look forward to it!  

If you aren't familiar with escape rooms, they are a series of games/puzzles/etc., where contestants (students) use critical thinking and often teamwork to “breakout” of a room.  Personally, I prefer digital escape rooms over the traditional kind because you don't have to purchase the locks and other props that are necessary for this type of breakout.  With the digital version, students have the opportunity to explore a multitude of interactive websites where they can complete online jigsaw puzzles, decipher codes and secret messages...endless options, and they're all FREE!!!

For my Holiday Digital Escape Room,  I used familiar Christmas songs, video clips from a holiday movie favorite, and Christmas stories to have students complete interactive activities with moveable pieces that cover the following: context clues, figurative language, reading comprehension questions, and parts of the plot.  Directions and links to these activities are hosted on a Google Form.

Holiday Escape Room Google Form

For the "room" #1, students will read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas' where they will see several words in bold print throughout the story. They will use context clues to identify the meaning of the words in bold and will match the word with the correct definition.  Each vocabulary word has a number, and students will use the decoding tool to determine the code necessary to move on to the next room.  

Twas the Night Before Christmas Story- Context Clues

For room #2, students will watch a video clip of "A Christmas Story" and will answer comprehension questions about the clip.  They then are sent to a jigsaw puzzle which must be put together in order to determine the code necessary to move on to room #3.
A Christmas Story Movie Clip Comprehension Questions

For room #3, students will identify the type of figurative language being used from various holiday stories and songs.  They will then use a decoder to determine which letter goes with each number.  After determining the code, they must enter it in on the Google Form.

Escape Room 3- Figurative Language

For the final room- #4- students will click on the link to the Scope Magazine version of "A Christmas Story," where they will read it.  Then students will fill out the plot pyramid, identifying all of the main parts of the plot.  I have them show me their answers to the plot before proceeding back to the Google Form.

Plot Pyramid

After they complete the plot pyramid, they are directed to go back to the Google Form, which will take them to an image that has the final code.  Once they enter this code, they will see, "Congratulations!  You escaped!!"

What are your go-to activities around the holidays?  I'd love to get some ideas to use in my classroom.  Tell me about it in the comments below.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

8 Reasons is a MUST for ALL Subject Areas

8 Reasons to use CommonLit
As a teacher and a daily integrator of technology, I'm always on the lookout for ways to enhance my classroom's access to texts.  When I discovered CommonLit, I felt I had truly hit the jackpot!  If you're not familiar with this amazing, FREE tool, it's a digital library of leveled texts.  You can find anything from news articles, texts about specific people, poems, short stories, and historical documents.... the options are endless!

In addition to being completely FREE, here are 8 reasons why CommonLit is a must have in the classroom:

1.  Great Search Filters- Commonlit pretty much takes the cake in the way of offering practically every filter option you would want!  When looking through their library, you can filter your search by Lexile Level, grade, genre, theme, literary device, standards, and even languages! 

Common Lit Search Features

2.  Easily Differentiate- I'm ALWAYS on the lookout for ways to differentiate, particularly with technology.  Any time I find a tool that allows for differentiation, I do my best to share it with everyone I know.  Commonlit makes differentiation EXTREMELY EASY!  Teachers can use the guided reading format, which breaks the texts into chunks.  Guided questions are ungraded questions that students are required to answer if the guided reading mode is being used. The student can't move forward with reading the text until they get the question right.  Students also have the option to have the text read aloud to them.  Even better, the teacher doesn't have to assign the guided reading mode to the whole class.  You can choose specific students who would benefit from this, such as struggling readers or English Language Learners.

3Easily Annotate the Text- Using the highlight feature, you can have students highlight the main idea, words they don't know, textual evidence... whatever is beneficial for your students.  If they make a mistake, they can easily fix it with the eraser tool.

4Paired Text & Related Media- The majority of the texts come with paired texts and related media options.  The paired text includes a brief explanation of how the article/story relates to the one you originally chose, as well as suggestions for use.  I'm a little obsessed with the related media option because this saves me from having to find additional ways to encourage critical thinking.  The videos come from Ted Talks, Youtube, and more.

Paired Text & Related Media
5.  View Analytics on Assignment Report-  Each text typically includes several types of questions: guided, assessment, discussion, and short response.  The teacher can choose which type they would like students to answer.  If you assign the assessment questions, the multiple choice is automatically graded for you.  The scores will appear on the assignment report.

track student progress
6.  Easily Implement Writing with Short Responses- The last discussion question is usually the short response.  This is a great way to have students use evidence from the text to support their answer.  Short responses are the only part teachers have to grade on their own.  CommonLit has an awesome 4 point rubric you can use to do this.  

short response rubric
7.  Assign Text to Specific Student or Group- CommonLit has a special feature that allows you to assign a text to specific students, rather than assigning it to the whole class.  If you have students who need extra help or are out sick for several days, you can assign texts just to that individual.  You can also assign certain texts to specific groups.  For example, let's say you're doing a unit based around the theme Family and Friendship, and you have assigned each group to a certain topic related to this theme.  You can then assign each group to a text that would apply to their given topic.  It's a great way to differentiate learning!

Assign Text to Specific Student or Group

8.  Flip Your Classroom- I often assign a text from CommonLit for students to read at home.  That way we can get right to our discussion questions or short response when they come into class.  If students don't have access to the internet, you can always print a copy.  All texts come with an option to print the article/story as well as the questions.

If you use CommonLit, I would love to hear how you do so.  Tell me about it in the comments below.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

11 Back to School Teacher Must Haves

Teacher Must HavesThis post may contain affiliate marketing links.  I may receive a small commission if you purchase through these links.  You may read my full disclosure policy here.

It's that time again.... back to school!  If you're like me, you've already started; however, I know many don't go back until the end of August or beginning of September.  Either's coming!

That being said, I thought I would share 10 of my absolute MUST HAVES for the classroom... I genuinely cannot begin my year without them!

1. Pilot Precise V5 Retractable Roller Ball Pens
Since I've discovered these a few years ago, there has been no other pen that I can use to grade papers, fill out forms... even sign checks!  I now buy them in bulk through Amazon, and they last forever!  The ones I ordered at the beginning of last year are still working great!  I typically buy the combo pack so that I can have a variety of colors.

Pilot V5 Retractable Pen

I continuously heard about teachers in all subject areas and grade levels using green screens in their classroom.  I finally bit the bullet and purchased this one.  If you aren't familiar with green screens, they can be used to superimpose different backgrounds while using pictures and/or videos.  My students will be using it to re-do story endings, complete verbal responses to Articles of the Week, film recreations of autobiographical texts, make comic strip pages.... you name it!  The opportunities to incorporate technology using green screens are endless!  You can hang the backdrop up, or you can purchase a stand to use.

3.  Bean Bag Chair w/ Storage Pockets
I've begun gradually moving towards more flexible seating in my classroom.  I started with 4-5 bean bags which students could sit on during reading time.  Then I discovered that there was also an actual bean bag pillow chair with pockets on the side!!!  It also has a hook on the back that so that it can be hung up using a 3M hook when not being used.  Students love it, and I LOVE using this as an incentive for good behavior, for the student that wins our weekly warm-up review game, etc.

flexible seating
4.  StikkiWorks Grid Ceiling Hangers
I don't know about everyone else's schools, but teachers at my school are required to hang certain posters, graphic organizers, etc. up on our walls.  By the time I've posted all of the required "wallpaper," there isn't any room to put up my students' work or other items that I would like to display.  That's where the ceiling hangers come in!  Now I can easily hang my students' work, and I also hang a poster with numbers above each table.  This makes life MUCH easier when I put students into groups.  Now I can say, "Group 1 go to table 1, group 2-table 2," without kids repeatedly asking where I said for group 2 to go a hundred times.

ceiling hangers

5.  Magnetic Curtain Rod
I can't tell you how many years I fought with velcro, command hooks, you name it just trying to keep kids from knocking my curtain that covers my classroom door down.  Not to mention it's perfect for doors with windows, particularly when you're having a lockdown (hopefully just a drill).  I found this one after looking through them to determine which had a high rating, as well as one that wasn't expensive.

Magnetic Curtain Rod
6.  Post-It Sticky Chart Paper
Every teacher has to have the poster-size sticky chart paper!  I use this almost daily for anchor charts, to post classroom expectations, for word many opportunities for use.  Most recently we used this when students were doing gallery walks to respond to various questions about the book we're currently reading.

Post it Chart Paper

7.  X-Acto Electric Pencil Sharpener
There are 2 brands of pencil sharpeners that have been my go-to for years.  The electric sharpener that I can't do without is the X-ACTO.  It quite possibly is close to 10 years old and is still going strong!  It has clearly been more than durable and has a plastic bottom that suctions to the table.  This keeps it from wobbling when kids are sharpening their pencils. What I like best is that it sharpens pencils in a matter of seconds and isn't loud like other electric sharpeners.  Students can sharpen their pencils quickly with minimal disruption.

X-ACTO Electric Sharpener

8.  Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener
The non-electric sharpener that I now have in hot pink and purple (one I had to keep for home for my own kids to use) is the Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener.  A few of my favorite things about it are:  it's extremely quiet, has an auto-stop, AND it's portable!  That means you can take it with you any time you're moved to another classroom or school, take it home over summer break, and students can even pass it around to those that need to use it!!!  It does come with mounting hardware, but I prefer to be able to transfer it as needed.  Even more exciting, you don't hear the annoying, stop you in the middle of teaching pencil sharpening that is bound to take place at the worst possible time... just when you get to the most important part of the lesson that everyone needs to hear!  I loved it so much that I did a whole blog post on it here.

Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener

9.  White Card Stock Paper
For years, I would always ask parents to send in multi-colored card stock paper.  Then one day it hit me... every time I use the colored printer to print posters to put on the wall with anything other than white, it doesn't look good.  With white, all the words and images that are usually in various colors are crisper and easier to read.

White card stock

10.  A Pair of Clarks Shoes
I was a little late to the party of discovering Clarks' Brand Shoes, but once I did, that's the only shoes I wear to school!  They are the most comfortable, and for someone who can't walk in heels, I'm even able to wear them with Clarks.  I have the pair below in black and brown!

Clarks Shoes

11.  Epson Wireless All-in-One Printer/Copier/Scanner
Last, but definitely NOT least, the best printer we've ever owned!!  This printer is fast and prints the clearest pictures EVER!  It also comes with 2 years of ink!!!  Since our printers at school only print in black and white, I've gotten into the (bad) habit of doing a lot of my printing at home because I love how great it looks.

Epson Printer

What is your back to school must haves?  Tell me all about it in the comments below!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Back to School Tips for New Teachers

Check out these new teacher tips from today’s guest blogger Kristy from 2 Peas and a Dog. Kristy has been a middle school classroom teacher for 11 years in Canada. When she is not teaching she shares her teaching ideas on her blog and in her TPT store.

Dear New Teachers,

I remember being a new teacher as if it were yesterday. (Why can’t it be yesterday? Now I feel old!) Those first five years were tough. I am forever grateful to the principal that hired me, but I was hired into a role with no resources and no support. Stick with this profession! It is hard, but the reward when you see the growth in your students from the start to the end of the year is worth all those tears (ok maybe not all those tears).

Here are my five top pieces of honest advice for new teachers.

1.   It is ok to cry. You are going to cry - just don’t cry in front of your students. Cry in the car, in the bathroom or at home. You can do it, but it will be tough!

2.   Find places to get help. If you don’t have someone to help you at your school start looking around at other schools - ask other new teachers where they access support. Attend all of the new teacher professional development you are sent to. I made some great friends that I still have from those workshops. The internet has blossomed as a fantastic resource for teachers. Check out hashtags on Instagram #newteacher or #dearnewteacher  You can also search for teaching related Facebook Groups.

3.   Do not make your entire life about teaching. The summer I graduated from teacher’s college, I went garage sailing and thrift store shopping like it was my job. I was so excited to have a classroom that I forgot real life existed beyond those four walls. Remember your friends and family are the ones who supported you in your journey.

4.   Your classroom will not be Instagram perfect - that’s ok! It is really hard to compare yourself to a teacher who has made a career out of classroom design. An organized and clean classroom is more effective than having a professional classroom design. It will come - focus on your teaching skills and curriculum knowledge first.

5.   Enjoy your students. Find something special about each of your students - their taste in baseball teams, their reading habits, pets, hobbies etc and ask them about these regularly. Students want to know their teachers care about them.

Looking for more new teacher tips? Check out this section on my website.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

How Edpuzzle Can Change Your Teacher Life

Edpuzzle CoachI am super excited to be a presenter for the Teach with Tech Virtual Mini Conference that takes place starting July 23rd-July 26th for FREE!  I will be presenting on Edpuzzle.  My presentation will be on Thursday, July 26th from 1:15-1:45.

When I discovered Edpuzzle back in 2015, I couldn't contain my excitement!  Not only was I thrilled, but my students couldn't get enough of this tool!  If you haven't heard of Edpuzzle, it's an amazing website that allows you to choose from tons of videos (including Youtube, your own instructional videos, etc.), and then you're able to customize it by clipping, recording audio, and adding questions.  I blogged about this in detail here.  Due to my excitement, I decided to become an Edpuzzle Coach, so that I could share what I've learned with other educators.

Below you will see why videos are such great resources for students to use.  They're also a wonderful way to differentiate for all learning levels.  This is what makes Edpuzzle so great!

Why Videos Help Students

See a detailed description of Edpuzzle below:

By using videos from Youtube, TedTalks, Vimeo, National Geographic and more, teachers are then able to crop the video, add oral notes, as well as questions for students to answer while watching.


In the images below, you will see how to add classes, create video content, and then assign the videos to students in Edpuzzle:

Edpuzzle Instructions

Edpuzzle Instructions
Edpuzzle Instructions
Edpuzzle Instructions
Edpuzzle Instructions
Edpuzzle Instructions
For those that have used Edpuzzle, what videos have you found that your students enjoyed?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener

Classroom Friendly Sharpener
This post contains affiliate marketing links.  I may receive a small commission if you purchase through these links.  You may read my full disclosure policy here.

I am super excited to be doing a blog review for the Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener from Classroom Friendly Supplies!  The owner of these amazing products is also a teacher, so he can truly identify with what we need in the classroom!

A couple years ago, my electric pencil sharpener got broken for the millionth time by one of my "it's not my fault" students.  So over the summer, I started researching...yes, I said researching (only teachers would actually research pencil sharpeners), pencil sharpeners to use with students.  I also asked around in my teacher Facebook groups, and everybody seemed to suggest the same one-- the Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener.

Once I saw it in action, I have to say... I was AMAZED!  A few of my favorite things about it are:  it's extremely quiet, has an auto-stop, AND it's portable!  That means you can take it with you any time you're moved to another classroom or school, take it home over summer break, and students can even pass it around to those that need to use it!!!  It does come with mounting hardware, but I prefer to be able to transfer it as needed.  Even more exciting, you don't hear the annoying, stop you in the middle of teaching pencil sharpening that is bound to take place at the worst possible time... just when you get to the most important part of the lesson that everyone needs to hear!

My students and I both agree that this is the best non-electrical pencil sharpener there is!  You can also choose from a variety of colors!  I now have a hot pink and purple sharpener.

I must say, if you're looking for an electric sharpener, I've had great luck with the X-ACTO.  It has also been extremely durable and has a plastic bottom that suctions to the table.  This keeps it stable on the table when kids are sharpening their pencils.

Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener

Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener

To see how it works, check out this video.

See description below from the company's website:
  • A "must have" for every teacher.
  • A unique and practical teacher gift.
  • Old-school retro look.
  • Quiet sharpening eliminates classroom interruptions. 
  • Automatic stopping once the perfect point is formed. This prevents over-sharpening.
  • Works on standard sized pencils.
  • Clear plastic disposal tray for easy cleaning.
  • Easy to use (as young as 5 years of age.)
  • Sturdy metal frame (approximately 3"x 3"x 5")
  • Portable or mounts to a surface. Clamp included.
  • Did I already mention that it was quiet?
  • Sorry, we ship to the USA only.
To check these pencil sharpeners out, visit Classroom Friendly Supplies!  You won't be disappointed!