High/Low Linky Party

Thursday, March 28, 2013 2 comments
I am tired and ready to go to bed but its 6:56.  Maybe I'll convince the boy that we should cuddle in bed and watch TV.... and maybe Mommy will close her eyes..... and snore just a little bit.  Here is my High/Low contribution for the month.  Click on the picture to link on up!

Fine.... I'll Make My Own Professional Development!

Saturday, March 23, 2013 No comments
Being in education as long as I have I know that one of the biggest complaints is professional development opportunities. As a social studies teacher I have had to sit through hours of district wide professional development and none of it was geared for the social studies specifically. Don't get me wrong, I have learned invaluable tools from workshops on behavior management, dealing with difficult parents and writing across the curriculum but sometimes I would love to listen to someone talk about teaching social studies. We do have state social studies conferences but with shrinking budgets we can't afford to send nine social studies teachers and provided them with substitutes. I have started sending my people in pairs and rotating by grade but this means that a whopping two people get to see best practices in action.

 Next year, I think I'm going to present at our local conference just so I can get free admission. It is never below me to sell my wares for a free seat. This dilemma has always sent me outside of my district walls to become better at my profession. I do believe that although it is the job of my district to train me in the things it wants me to focus on and implement, ultimately I am the one who chose this profession and I should be willing to do the work to remain at the top of my game. Luckily, we are living in an age where professional development is at our finger tips and creating a professional learning network goes beyond your town, your state and your region. Although I focused on social studies here, most of this list can easily be tailored to every subject.

 So.... How have I created my own professional development opportunities?

 1. Twitter.....

 I know a lot of you already use Twitter for professional development but I am writing this post for the newbie. Twitter isn't just all about reading about what people ate for lunch (you can actually really learn more about people's lunch choices on Instagram:) ). I am on Twitter solely for education (except for following my boys from Supernatural.... Sorry, guilty pleasures). First, there are some amazing people to follow on Twitter like Richard Byrne (@rmbyrne) and Tony Baldasaro (@baldy7) Just reading their Tweets can offer you PD for a week. Once you get deeper into Twitter, you use the hashtags (#) to follow conversations. I am a big fan of #sschat and #edchat. As a social studies teacher, if you go to Twitter on Monday nights at 7pm and follow #sschat you will take part in a conversation that usually revolves around topics like getting rid of textbooks or how to use primary sources in your classroom. Checking in on your Twitter feed can easily stretch to an hour. Cybraryman, an amazing education resource on the web, offers this immense list of education hashtags to follow so other subjects rejoice!!!

 2. The Teaching Channel

 OMG!!! If you have visited my blog before you might have seen the professional development videos I curated for my department and if you looked at them at all you would have seen 95% of the videos came from the Teaching Channel. They are just amazing. It is more than just a bunch of "experts" telling me how to do something. These videos are of real teachers implementing real best practices into their classrooms. I can't even tell you the amount of ideas I have gotten from this website and I looooove their focus on the Common Core. It is still such a vague idea, especially for my subject, I love being able to see teachers succeeding at implementing in their classrooms. I really love how they offer something for everyone.

 3. Teacher Cast

 I have never really understood the point of podcasting until I found the wealth of educational podcasts. My favorite has to be Teacher Cast. They host podcasts just under an hour that focus on current topics in education and they recently just did an awesome chat on primary sources in the classroom. The best thing about the podcasts is the versatility of listening. You can find these podcasts in iTunes so I downloaded them to my phone and listen to them in the car. Even if you don't have a smartphone, though, you can listen straight from your computer. I listened to the primary source on while I was setting up my classroom in the morning and then finished it while I wrote a teacher observation.

Some other podcasts I follow are:
 Bam! Radio - I love these because they last less than fifteen minutes and are packed with information.

 Teacher's Aid

 4. ITunes U

 Now, if you don't have and iPhone or iPad you can't do this one.... Sorry to be a techno snob. On ITunesU you can download "courses". That are published by universities and websites. Once you download them they get stored in your library.

 My absolute favorite course is for Edutopia. They have organized all their amazing videos by topic.

 Most of the videos are less than 15 minutes so I love watching one before I go to bed at night.

 I'm not sure how your district allows you to track and submit PD but here in NH we are totally about local control. We have our immediate supervisor sign off on our portfolios and then the district gives the nod to the state. I have begun to write up all the time I spend on these activities to document them for PD hours. I use Google Drive to document the pod casts, links and dates. I can then submit this to my superior for PD hours.

I won't lie, I have done a lot of work to organize all this. It is my passion so I enjoy doing it but my digital scrap booking and cleaning my house has taken a hit for this passion. The best thing, though, is after I hear a wonderful podcast or find some amazing resource on Twitter, it puts a little spring back in my step and for a fleeting moment I gain back that feeling I had my first year teaching, I become optimistic and hopeful again, and to be honest, that feeling is addicting. I don't mind working hard to feel that over and over.

 Lastly ... I'm really excited because others feel the professional development void and created EdCamp and in three weeks I am going to one in New Hampshire. Yeah for teachers being resourceful!

Shameless Pitch :)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013 No comments

So...... I really hate when people start to fill their perfectly fabulous blogs with what amounts to daily advertisements for their Teachers Pay Teachers Store. I promise I will never do that..... But.......

I've been really delving into the topic of claim and counterclaim as I build a new AndrewJackson unit that is so Common Core Aligned the Common Core better step back... I mean it!

To help my kiddos build a strong argument I created, what I think, is a pretty good interactive notebook foldable for claim and counterclaim.

Pretty cover, eh? So... Mosey on over to my TPT store and check it out. It might be a wonderful gift for Easter baskets or at least as part of your egg hunt. I heard the kids are really loving the Common Core these days.... You may want to pick this up early for Christmas :)


Leveling Up! My Hand At Gameification

Tuesday, March 19, 2013 10 comments

Ha!!!! i was writing a new blog post about small group instruction (i know, the excitement!!!!!) and I went to link to this post and realized i had never moved it over from my old blog on Weebly. Enjoy!!!!

Although our Constituional Convention simulation was successful, my kiddos lost interest about three quarters of the way through. Some days I really wish we had a block schedule because these simulations really benefit from not being split into multiple parts. I tend to lose the kiddos' interest after two periods.

I left school after the third day knowing that I had to plow through the 3/5 Compromise, choosing an executive, the Bill of Rights and Federalists and AntiFederalists. I really didn't think the kiddos were up for whole group instruction but I had some pretty good resources from History Alive that focused on HOT questions. I promised myself that I was going to get my daughter and drive home with the cell phone and radio off until I could come up with a game plan. How could I have my kiddos works through some reading comprehension and get to conference with them in small groups or individually to help them understand the material? I have had a real interest in gaming in the classroom and decided why didn't I treat the lesson like a video game. The midgets love to earn kudos and rewards! To cash in on this I created Level Up. The reading and questions were broken into seven sections so I created seven levels of this video game. I created a learning target for each section and changed it into a mastery questions, (i.e. I have mastered and understanding of the 3/5 Compromise.). For each mastery concept, I created a title, (i.e. Magnificient Negotiator, Population Analayst, etc.) and I created a nifty badge that I printed out on a color printer.



I set up the classroom in groups but in the center I had set up six desks with a teacher chair in the middle. I roped it off and labeled it with a sign that said, "Do Not Sit Here! Leveling Up Station". That sign got my gamers' attention. They were just buzzing at the possibility of what this lesson might entail.

Students would work in small groups or individually to answer the questions for each section. After they had finished the questions for one or two sections( I did my best to stagger them so I wasn't inundated) the kiddos would come up to the Leveling Station. Here I was able to accomplish the middle school teacher's dream of working with children in very small groups. If students had difficulty with the section I was able to give them redirection and send them back for corrections. If they got the answers correct they got their badge and were able to Level Up. Each badge was pasted onto a sheet and the completion of that sheet was confirmation of their grade which was 70/70.


O to the M to the G .... The kids loooooved it! At first they pretended the badges didn't matter but then they really started to get jazzed by them. The two favorites were "College Graduate" and "I finished the Constitutional Convention and all I got was this lousy badge." Badge. Some of my ASD kiddos were literally buzzing with excitement at this. "Mrs. Wilkins, I can't believe you made these badges. They are so cool!"

In the end I got everything I wanted. I didn't have to do any whole group instruction and kids worked at their own pace. If a kid came up to me twice with wrong answers I was able to do some one on one guided reading with those individuals and sometimes was able to simply explain the concept to them but in a much more casual and useful conversation than a whole group lecture. I had a two really interesting byproducts that I hadn't planned for. As the students moved through the leveling, students that were taking longer and were struggling, felt comfortable asking if they could just stay at the Leveling Up Station and get more intense help from me. Because I was working with children in a staggered fashion, this was totally able to happen. I had other students whose groups were not good influences for them (cheating, too much talking, etc.) and they also felt comfortable asking if they could work at the station. I never could have predicted the station would be an oasis.

I will probably do this activity about once a unit. The kiddos have begged to do it again but I know that they will get sick of it if it is the norm. My proudest badge that I wear was earned because even though 95% of the kiddos really loved it, I saw excitement and pride from that group of boys that a haven't yet decided to be achievers and usually get lost in the larger group. After their friends left the classroom a couple hung back to let me know how much they liked learning this way. One of my quiet tough nuts came a little closer to me and quietly said, "I wish we could do this all the time."

I also know it was a good idea because my husband, the math teacher used it in his class the very next day and another math teacher implemented it in his classroom before I even finished my lesson. Sometimes you come up with the winner!


Making A Large Group Small

Yup! Another snow day.

I decided to give you a different view than the last snow day post so you didn't think I was just running out of material :)

And as you can see, it's not just a little snow. I absolutely love snow days, but even I'm not happy about this one. We build five days into our schedule and we've hit that mark. At this point it is going to be a looooong June. I've used the day off to the best of my ability. I have chicken masala in the crockpot and ground turkey enchiladas made for tomorrow night. The hub and I are watching the last two episodes of House of Cards. If you haven't seen it you MUST. Now, as you can tell, I am a big political nerd so this is right up my alley. Netflix recently dropped all 156 episodes of West Wing and I've been watching them again. Again.......political nerd.

In my last post, I told you about my big foreign affairs unit, which I will probably delve into over multiple posts. At the launch, the History Alive! materials have you begin with a map activity where the kids get to see and understand that although America had its "freedom" we were completely surrounded by European colonies and they didn't like us all that much. I have gotten to the point, in my career, where I am really getting tired of whole group instruction. This generation is not built for this type of teaching. They are used to individualized consumption of information and when I get up in front of them with blanket statements it is becoming harder for them to interact. I have been experimenting with different forms of small group instruction, like my Leveling Up activity the kids adored. After my mad snow day on The Learning Channel, I watched this video.

I know... It's the same teacher from the Text Talk video. Either she is really great teacher or they just caught her on a great day! After watching this, though, I really started to wonder, why CAN'T I teach small groups? What is really stopping me? Obviously, logistics are stopping me. I do have a paraprofessional in every class but they are assigned to individual students. I love my ladies, but I can't always rely that they can be with me since they are servicing one particular student. I decided I needed to push past the logistics and just give it a try.

I had a day where the kiddos had to take a vocabulary quiz, take a binder check and then I wanted to finish discussing the European claims map. Boring, but the stuff that just needs to get done sometimes. After lunch I have a class that tends to struggle with both academics and attention and I was dreading trying to get all this done with those kiddos. The video popped into my head and instead of eating lunch (which my colleague totally picked on me for) I decided to break my room into two areas of small group instruction. I called one area the Assessment Station. Here they were to independently take the vocabulary quiz and the binder check and then correct them by themselves.

Obviously I used the good construction paper:)
In each plastic cover was a answer key and a marker for grading.

I got the ideas for the answer keys from this blog post I saw on Pinterest. It really allows students to finish their assessments without feeling rushed and allows other kids to continue ahead without wasting time.

The other side of the class I called the Learning Station.

As the sign reads, students could work collaboratively to finish up the questions and then I was able to work with them on understanding the major point of the entire activity. In each case, almost every student got involved in the discussion.

I really enjoyed this experiment and will try it again soon. Most of the kids didn't know what to make of it! It was so different than what they had experienced (except my kids in Read 180.... They got it.). I could tell that some of my kids really missed the anonymity of whole group instruction and resented the fact that they were being called to task..... Good!!! I had many kids, though, tell me they loved it and couldn't wait to try it again. They really enjoyed the more focused approach and the conversation they were able to have as opposed to the lecture they had to listen to. Sometimes, sprinting through lunch and taking a risk pays off......

Do any of you out there have any other suggestions on how to make middle school classes seem smaller and more intimate?


Text Talk and Nonfiction Summary

Monday, March 18, 2013 4 comments
For those of you keeping count, I'm on the eve of yet another snow day. The Weather Channel is predicting 8 to 12 inches and the number keeps climbing. Don't forget..... spring is on Wednesday!!!!
Last week I had one of those weeks where I'm just so happy I am a teacher. I launched one of my favorite units on the foreign affairs of America under the first five presidents and again, the kids loved it. To better align myself to state standards, last year I started organizing my curriculum thematically as opposed to chronologically and it has really freed me up to accomplish the things kids really need to be successful. To help me organize myself, I first started to to use the History Alive! Series from TCI. I had the old resources from a teachers pack ( they actually don't offer the plans I use in the newest textbook and resources) and they do a great job of organizing these problems by giving students the information and then asking what they would do if the were the president. The unit focuses on Adams and the XYZ Affair, Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates, Madison and the War of 1812 and Monroe and the Monroe Doctrine. The activites have the kiddos working in groups to negotiate to make a decision much like the presidents. I would totally share the unit with everyone but I use the History Alive! Reading so that would probably be not so legal. This is my second year doing this unit and I have totally gutted it and reworked it to really make it my own. One of the things I need to do, to make the unit run smoothly, is to have students do the background reading at home. I assign the reading daily and have them do a "quick text map" (i.e. circle the names, highlight the vocabulary and box places). I was really trying to think of the best way to have kids come in the next class and summarize what they have read. If you have taught middle school for any length of time, you know that means that one great and ambitious kids summarizes while twenty five kids space out. My last snow day journeys on the Teaching Channel led me to this.

I loooooved the idea of "Text Talk" and knew that I had to modify it for my age group and as a first time activity at an age where they already feel self conscious. I would have loved for them to sit on the floor because I really do think that the desks sometimes create a wall, but my floors are dirty and my kiddos are too cool for school.
I came up with the "Non Negotiables". I went through the text and found the keywords.
I explained the idea of a "Non Negotiable" with the kids and I explained that in order to summarize the sections they had been working on, the HAD to use these words or the summary was incomplete. These were the Non Negotiables. I would show them the words and then put one minute on the timer. Each group was to discuss the summary with the non negotiables. I then took volunteers to give an oral summary. The volunteer received bonus tickets (the currency I use in my class to bribe children) And their groups also received bonus because they were integral to the process.
This was a success! I heard amazing conversations from my kids on how to find the connections between these lists of singular words. I saw a lot of kids use various annotation techniques to mark up their reading for these words. I will definitely add this as part of my repertoire and I am really excited because it is the perfect lead in to an activity called "Keep It or Junk It".

I had planned on using this activity in my class as soon as it made sense and unwittingly I had created the perfect tie in with the non negotiables. My next step will be to have them create the non negotiables and use the Keep It or Junk It activity to come up with the best list of words.
Do you have any great reading techniques for middle schoolers?

Edcanvas, PD and the Common Core

Saturday, March 9, 2013 No comments
First off, I need to send a shout out to the snow gods because I got my snow day.  It was a day later than expected, but I got it and it was major.  We got about a foot of snow.
 It was actually pretty productive as well.  I played with the kiddos, corrected some projects, did some planning, made pizza with the midgets and then in kicked the ADD, but it was a good kick.
Myself and a team of my colleagues attended a Common Core workshop the other day that was supposed to help the non math and ELA teacher navigate how and when to incorporate the CCSS in their classrooms. The workshop was .........eeeehhhhh.  I've been really studying the CCSS for a couple years now and she really didn't teach me anything I didn't know.  I'm not saying that from a place of I know a lot, either.  Everyone at the table felt the same way.  On top of teaching three fabulous 8th grade social studies classes, I am also the department chair for social studies at the middle school and I'm really try to bring the CCSS to my department with ease to initiate understanding.  It is not easy because there doesn't seem to be any real answers out there. In my internet travels, I'm finding that social studies teachers are struggling on what their new role really is.  I don't have any amazing and fabulous answers for my department, yet, but I decided to give them more resources.  I got my weekly email from the fabulous people at the Teaching Channel and my mind started to spin.  Our district is looking for people to propose ideas for outside of school hours professional development.  I decided I wanted to make a PD video list that lasted about one hour and focused solely on the Common Core State Standards and social studies.  I was going to do it on Google Drive but decided to use a new tool I had signed up for instead.  In walks Edcanvas!  Edcanvas allows you to curate connected content, videos, images, websites, Google Documents, etc.and place them onto one page for easy access.  One of the best things about Edcanvas is you can create a class and monitor who is logging in to work and how long they are spending on each activity.  I decided to give it a roll:

I organized everything and added minutes onto the lengths of videos so people could plan and spread out their viewing.  I emailed this to my Assistant Superintendent and she gave me a thumbs up and told me she can't wait to watch the videos.  For the teachers to get their PD hours, I'm creating a learning log on Google Drive and I have set up a class called Professional Development so they can chart their activity.
This is what it looks like for the teacher:
So far, I'm loving Edcanvas!!!  Here is what mine looks like:

 And here is access (you can embed it in a website):

Click here to access the canvas if you are having difficulty viewing it above.

If you are a social studies teacher, or simply a middle school teacher, feel free to browse my canvas above.  I found some great videos on activities and ideas that are pretty amazing. I'm already making a new canvas.....Professional Development Part II: Return of the Common Core!   If you have any great resources, share as well.

Text Mapping Again and Still Loving It!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013 8 comments
So, I am throwing caution to the wind and blogging even though I really have tons of other things to do. I'm in a mood because I get to go to a workshop tomorrow on Common Core for the "other" subjects. I'm really excited to see what they offer in the way of suggestions on how us non core subjects can help support the standards. Also, there is a possibility for a big snow storm here in New England so I have snow brain.
I know I have already been working hard to integrate the CCSS and one of my favorite new things is Text Mapping! (Click to see some great resources that some fabulous Pinners have gathered) I recently implemented it for my second and third time and the honeymoon is not over. The kids still love it and I have found different ways to change it up to keep it fresh.

The above is the work of my amazing paraprofessional. Look how great she is at textmapping!!!!
The above is the work of my amazing paraprofessional. Look how great she is at text mapping!!!!
I did this activity with a section of my textbook, which I don't use. After I have the students do all the work of mapping for nonfiction elements, I finish it with a multiple choice or matching worksheet. Students answer the worksheet as normal, but they have to go back to the reading and highlight where they found the answer and number it, using the number of the question from the worksheet. Every time I have done this, I have seen increased understanding of the text and it makes the kids really slow down and dissect the information.
My next step was integrating this activity into articles to help with text complexity. I found a great article on the Battle of Fallen Timbers and created a guiding activity to help them break down the article on their own.
On the above sheet, when it says box over and over, my kiddos know to use a different color marker for the boxes and then they make a key right on this sheet.

Again.... Very successful! It's one of those activities where the kids know they're doing work but they actually enjoy it. Feel free to hustle on over here and download a copy of my nonfiction worksheet. You can download it as a PDF, a Word Document or straight to Google Drive so you can tailor it to meet your needs, age group and subject.    Click here if you would just like a PDF copy:)I have borrowed from sources all over the web to make it so let's keep the sharing going people! If you do download it, leave me a comment below and let me know what you think. Pray for snow my friends...... Pray for snow:)

Currently March

Monday, March 4, 2013 3 comments
Vacation was fabulous and I certainly didn't do half of the stuff that I needs to be completed.  Life is good though, because progress reports got moved up a week and that gives me even more time to procrastinate.  I have two blog posts I want to do on Text Mapping and notebook foldables but those are going to have to week till this weekend.  For now, I was able to sneak in five minutes to do my March Currently.  If you want  to know more about it, mosey on over to Oh' Boy Fourth Grade and see what the fabulous Farley is doing?