Let’s Make The School Year More Like Summer

 

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Happy summer!  When I see parents, teachers, and kids over the summer they have a certain happy glow about them.  The weather is warmer, the days are longer, the summer is about having fun and enjoying some rest and relaxation.  Why can’t we maintain that positive attitude all year?  There is no need to sink into a depression at the end of August! Here are some ways to keep the school year feeling more like summer, even when the weather changes.

 

1. Summer is fun, school can be fun too!

Don’t smile until Christmas is so old school and doesn’t actually work. Teachers can make learning fun and exciting for kids by taking some tips from our favorite summer activities. Keep things active, don’t be afraid to be silly, don’t be afraid to get messy.  As an adult learner, I know that my favorite professional development activities have been ones where I’m laughing and feeling good about my practice. Take a tip from Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like A Pirate. His book is full of “hooks” and other activities to mix it up and make sure to always keep the kids on their toes.

2. Summer is about exploration and wonder.  Hmmmmm.

In the summer kids get to choose, follow as they wonder, and explore things that actually interest them.  When I talk to my own kids about their day at camp, they talk about the new things they tried that they have never done before. They aren’t afraid to take risks when they are out of the classroom. They are more likely to go for it without worrying about how it will look to others. As teachers, we should be working hard to create that kind of attitude in our classrooms. Let’s celebrate when kids put themselves out there, regardless of the outcome, because those experiences lead to the kind of learning that will last.

3. Parents are not on their kids’ case in the summer.

That’s not really fair.  They aren’t on their kids’ case because there is no tedious homework to do. We can change that by making sure homework is actually meaningful and has value. Not just a never ending stream worksheets for “practice”.  With all of the technology that we have at our disposal, it’s easy for teachers to flip lessons and offer blended learning opportunities. Instead of lecturing to our students, how about having them get that information by watching a video for homework? Then, they can apply, connect, and check for understanding through active learning opportunities in the classroom.

4. Don’t stress and De-stress.

There’s plenty of activity going on over the summer. Some of the activities the kids participate in are even dangerous (bike riding, skate boarding, climbing, boating, etc.) and yet the kids are not stressed.  Let’s make our classrooms areas of high risk activity (learning), without the stress. The kids will take their cues from the adults around them. I am definitely guilty of this. “Summer mom” is definitely more laid back than “School year mom”! This fall I’m going to try to let my students and my own children know that it’s important to keep our stress in check. Stretching, yoga, and breathing exercises are good for everyone and it can be a wonderful habit to begin with your students. Love the sound of the waves? Why not listen to wave sounds all year round? Sometimes we just need to laugh, get creative, run around, or get some fresh air to let off some steam.

5. Eat outside.

Ok, I live near Chicago so that’s not really going to work.  The point is, change your venue once in a while.  When my family eats outside in the summer it is such a wonderful treat. Find ways to get out of your classroom and let’s get the kids learning in many different environments.  If you are fortunate enough to have nice weather for many months, take advantage of the outdoor spaces that you have.  If the weather makes it challenging to be outside, find other areas of the building where you can have your students creating and collaborating. The connections in their brains will thank you.
photo credit: Escape via photopin (license)

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Appreciation, Celebration, and Gratitude

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week here in the US and for educators it is often a time  to reflect on those who helped us become the teachers we are today.

 

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I know so many teachers who say that they knew when they were very young that they wanted to become teachers.  How many first graders are going home and playing school?  You have to figure that at least a few of them will actually continue on to become educators.  So many of my educator friends  can pinpoint a specific teacher who so inspired them that they wanted to grow up be just like them.

That was not me.  I wanted to own a restaurant, or be involved in owning some sort of business.  Even after graduating from college, I did not really have teaching on my radar.  I liked school just fine but it was not my passion.  I came to teaching in a more roundabout way but now I could not imagine doing anything else.

When I think about the teachers that I had, there is one teacher who does come to mind as someone who played an instrumental role in shaping who I am today in the classroom.  Mr. Sprague taught social studies at my high school.  I took one of his classes as a freshman.  It was called “Man In His Changing Society”, can you imagine??  I liked Mr. Sprague. I did not love social studies and I did not have a burning interest at that time for learning about cultures.  What I liked about him was that he was so engaging.  So many of my teachers stayed behind the safety of their lectern at the front of the classroom. Mr. Sprague was all over the place.  He would get so close to you, and ask you questions. He would put you on the spot but in a friendly, non-threatening way.  I took another one of his classes as a senior.  A political science class.  Again, not my passion, but I enjoyed being in Mr. Sprague’s class.  He once spent an entire class period talking to us about the importance of driving safely in the winter conditions.   He shared a story about dropping his glove in his car and realizing that in order to reach it he would have to take his eyes off the road.  He let us know that he let his glove sit on the floor of his car until he got to school.  He cared about us that much.  Even today, teachers often fret about not having enough time to get through all of their curriculum.  That certainly was true back when I was in school and it is still true to this day but Mr. Sprague thought that it would be best use of our time on that day to talk to us about being safe.  He cared.  For that I am grateful to Mr. Sprague.  It reminds me to keep things in perspective.  Remember, we are teaching students and not subjects.

I’m also reflecting this week on the great fortune that I have  to work with  incredibly talented and unselfish colleagues.  There has been a trending hashtag on Twitter called #CelebrateMonday and I am so happy to say that I enjoy walking into school every Monday.  I happen to work with people who can make me laugh until tears roll down my face.  That is certainly something to celebrate.  Monday is always full of possibilities.  I haven’t had the chance to completely mess up the week (yet) and I’m ready to try all of the new things that I came up with over the weekend.  I work with a collaborative group of professionals who give me valuable feedback and keep me on my toes.

I am also so appreciative for my online P2LN (personal/professional learning network). Since I have been working to become a more connected educator I have grown exponentially.  I am gaining amazing resources, engaging in powerful conversations, and using what I am learning in my own classroom.

I’m hoping that you will join me in appreciation, celebration and gratitude.  Happy Teacher Appreciation/#CelebrateMonday everyone!

 

 

&nbspBy asenat29 [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Power Of Visuals: Tips for the inclusive classroom and beyond.

As far as teachers go, we like to talk, a lot.  Walk into any classroom and chances are you will see a teacher standing at the front of the room talking to his/her class.  We are story tellers, we are communicators, we are people who want to get our point across.

There are times when we just need to stop talking and let visuals communicate for us.

For teachers of students on the autism spectrum and other special needs, the power of visuals is invaluable.  Something amazing happens when I stop talking and put an image, or a written word in front of a student. It’s as if we speak a secret language. Many students do not process verbal information in a way that is effective for them to learn. Using pictures, videos, and even sticky notes can make a huge difference in the classroom.  These visuals can be replicated and used in a variety of settings.  I am encouraging the use of visuals with my students who have supported jobs, in their homes, and even in social situations. Especially with the increased availability of mobile devices, these visual tools can be utilized anywhere.

Here are some visual tools to try:

Start with low tech sticky notes:

Sticky notes are small.  You can’t fit a lot of words on them.  This is a good thing because it forces you to just write the most important pieces of information that the student needs.  I will often write the numbers 1,2,3 on a sticky note and next to each number I will write the directions to follow. Often a little drawing helps my students focus.  I could be talking all day but suddenly with the sticky note in front of them, my students are able to participate along with everyone else.

 

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Google Images:

Google images has become the search engine of choice for my students.  They need to see images in order to make meaning of what they are learning. Also, the process of filtering the images serves as formative assessment for me.  If they aren’t able to filter out the images that  do not go with the topic, they don’t understand it and I need to re-teach.

Did you know you can even use images to search?  No need to put words into the search bar.  Simply drag an image to the search bar and you are using the “search by image’ feature!  Here, I am dragging one of the images of a tiger into the search bar:

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Create a Video:

With amazing sites like Pow Toon on the internet, it is easy to create animated videos and presentations for your students.   Here is a short video that I made to show simple steps for writing a thesis statement. Click the image below to open the video.

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Other favorite sites for creating videos:  GoAnimate, Animoto, WeVideo

Make An Infographic:

Piktochart claims you can make a beautiful infographic in 10 minutes.  Sticking with the thesis writing theme, here’s what I created in about 7.

 

Untitled InfographicThere are many other tools that you can use to create interesting visuals for students.  Let’s try to do less talking.  Sit back, and watch the learning happen.

 

What are your favorite visual tools to use in the classroom? 

“You’re Late” : 5 Foolish Things We Say To Our Students

One of my students came to school about an hour and a half late the other day.  She walked into class without a care in the world.  I turned to her and said “you’re late”.  As soon as it came out of my mouth I realized how ridiculous that was.  She absolutely knows that she is late.  What good could possibly come from me interrupting class to announce this to her?  Was I thinking that my stern tone of voice was sending her the message that punctuality is important? Ha! Not likely. Here are five other questionable (in my opinion) things we sometimes say to our students.  Don’t feel bad! I’m guilty of it too.  I’m hoping that with a little self-reflection, we might be able to eliminate some of these from our classrooms.

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“If it’s not done on time I won’t accept it.”

Why oh why do we say this to our students?  Basically we’re telling them that the assigned work actually has no value because there is no real reason to do it once the due date has passed.  What was the lesson that was to be learned from this activity?  Was it purely a lesson in punctuality?  To really teach our kids about time management, the best solution would be to have the students complete the late work, while also managing their current work.  That experience will hopefully allow students to understand that keeping up with their work is actually the better option.  If you want more helpful information on this topic, see Rick Wormeli’s work on late work.  Continue reading

Why I Teach

The Hidden Picture

Have you ever looked at one of those optical illusions with a hidden picture in it?  You need to totally relax your eyes and try not to focus too hard on one particular part of the picture.  If you can put your eyes out of focus just enough, a picture kind of jumps out at you.  Suddenly, you can focus very clearly on the picture hidden within.  It’s an amazing thing when you can see that picture and when it clicks you want everyone around you to see it too because it’s just so exciting.

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This is why I teach.

Each one of my students is a complicated, seemingly unfocused picture with a very clear and much more interesting picture hidden inside.  Sometimes it takes a long time and I need to look from many different angles but once their picture comes clear I want the world to see it.  Each picture is completely different but there is something familiar, a common thread, that makes them that much more spectacular when they share the same wall space. Continue reading

The Passion Trifecta

I am a teacher.

I’m also a runner.

I’m also a baker.

These are my passions.

As I look through the many teacher profiles on Twitter, I quickly realize that I am not alone.  There are so many teachers who also run and many teachers who also bake, and plenty who do both!  These are truly passions of mine.   Realizing that so many other teachers share these passions made me want to delve deeper into how these  interests are interrelated.   What draws so many of us to these seemingly unrelated activities?

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In Defense of Year-Round Schools (aka there’s too much left to do before summer)

Spring is in the air! The weather is slowly starting to warm up, little green buds are sprouting on the trees, and my allergies are starting to kick in. Also, this week we began 4th quarter. It’s also known as “the light at the end of the tunnel” for both students and teachers.  The nice thing about 4th quarter is that everyone gets a little extra boost of energy. It’s like when you are running a race and you can see the finish line and you suddenly notice that you actually do have more energy than you thought because you are able to sprint to the end. There is one major flaw with 4th quarter… I feel like we’re just getting started. We’re on a roll, in a groove, and everyone is making nice progress. This would be the perfect time to get involved in some amazing projects, except the end of the school year is fast approaching.  What to do?   Year-round school is sounding more and more inviting!

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photo credit: The Start and Finish Line of the “Inishowen 100” Scenic Drive via photopin (license)

Here is the list of things I’d still like to accomplish this year (and why it would be so much easier if we were in school all year).

1. Connect with a class from another school. 

I think my students could really benefit from using technology to connect with students from a different school.  This would be a wonderful way to practice our digital citizenship skills, get feedback in a new way, and learn about a different place. There are so many options available from mystery skype to edublogs and google plus communities and more and more teachers seem to be jumping on board with inter-class connections.  This project requires long-term commitment to really establish a relationship. Summer is definitely getting in the way!

 

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