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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Using Music to Prompt Writing

A few years ago I was lucky enough to attend a symposium with a wide variety of teaching ideas being shared. While I learned a great deal in my few days there, my favorite part was definitely the writing portion that centered around using music.

I was a Kindergarten teacher at the time, and I walked into this session where I was told this was based off a college course. Several people walked out since they didn't teach at that level, but I thought there had to be something I could take away from this session. Boy am I glad I stayed!

We were then given five minutes to create our own "Top Ten List" of songs. It didn't matter what we put on the list - but we needed our top ten. Want to play along? Go ahead - make your top ten. I can wait...


Just as an example, here are a few of the songs that were on my "top ten" list... "How Much is that Doggy in the Window", "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers, and "Black Betty" by Ram Jam. (Yea, random...I know!) Obviously everyone had their own lists that were VERY personal to them specifically.

From there we were told to pick one song we felt we could write about. We were asked to just start writing. So, if you're still playing along, go ahead and take ten minutes to write a story about one of your lists. We can wait...


I decided to write about "The Gambler" because it was a song that reminded me of sitting around the campfire singing with my grandpa and extended family. As I continued writing, that reminded me of the many good camping memories we had. Then, my feelings changed. My family no longer goes camping together due to some family feuds that have taken place. 

This is the portion of the session where I realized just how valuable using music to write was, as I started to cry. I sat there silently crying, but writing furiously. I was embarrassed, but kept my head down and continued to write. 

After the ten minutes of writing, volunteers were asked to share their stories. No one volunteered. I slowly lifted my head up to see what was going on. All around the room, about twenty adults were sitting their with strong emotions written all over their faces! Many - like myself - were obviously crying, some looked mad enough to spit tacks, and some were beaming - but clearly daydreaming about something in their own minds. Everyone had gotten so into their own writing that they had trouble even being ready to share with others.

Several people finally shared their stories. One lady cried the entire time, a gentleman beamed as he recounted a song that reminded him of a fishing trip, and one person spoke out in anger toward a song that reminded them of an ex. It was incredible to see such strong emotions from such a simple activity.

The group then had a discussion about how music could be used in the classroom to facilitate such writing activities. All of the middle school and high school teachers felt they could adapt the activity in much the same way we had just experienced it. Elementary teachers felt we could ask students to create a shorter list of their own and then proceed, and we also felt the lesson would be better presented over a couple days instead of a quick hour. As a Kindergarten teacher, I said we could use a song we had shared in class to do a shared writing. And then the students could do another class song as an individual writing, particularly later in the year when they were more confident writers. (And I did implement this with students in Kindergarten, fourth, fifth, and sixth grades since doing it myself. All were successful!)

Overall, everyone in the room agreed that we needed to be aware of the strong emotions this activity could bring out. We were all surprised by our own feelings, and even more surprised to realize that we weren't alone in these emotions. It was incredible how such a simple thing as a "top ten list" could stir up such emotions. But we also all agreed that an activity such as this one could show students that writing can be extremely powerful. If writing can move the author in such a way, the power it has for those reading it has the potential to be just as strong.

How could you adapt this activity to work in your classroom?
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Thursday, June 25, 2015

End of Year Ideas to Showcase Student Work

Many schools seem to do some type of year end wrap up. Nearly every elementary school I've been at has done this in some fashion or another. One school ran an Academic Fair, another called it a Project Fair, and some simply call it an Open House. Regardless, there are some neat things that teachers are doing for these events!

In my most recent school, the Academic Fair was held for students in third through eighth grade. Third graders created a poster board based on a book they read. They stood by their board - sometimes in costume - and told people about it as they walked by.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth graders set up a wax museum. We based their characters on the social studies standards that aligned to their grade - 4th grade had South Dakota historical figures, 5th grade covered US history characters, and 6th grade portrayed Ancient Civilization people (which proved to be the hardest).

In addition to the wax museum, the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students all showed off some of the science projects they worked on this year. The third through six grade teachers also brought down some of the math posters the students had created throughout the year. We tried to incorporate as many subjects as possible. Some may have called it a "dog and pony" show, but it really was about taking things that happen in the classroom on a regular basis and showcasing them for parents! A little bit of organization and advertising helped make it all worthwhile. =)

The seventh and eighth graders showed off their science fair projects. Actually it was the day their projects were judged by the panel and prizes awarded. 

At another school, the students and teachers hosted a Project Fair. For this one, the teachers and students set it up - but the students didn't actually explain their projects. There was a room open for parents to walk through during one day, which they came to at any time that worked for them. Students continued learning, but parents still got to see what was going on in the school. (This one might feel like less of a "show" to some.)

Here's what was included -

Poetry books:

Science fair boards:

Biography Book Report Posters:

US History ABC Books:

Favorite Book Cover Makeover:

You can see even more pictures of the Project Fair here.

How do you showcase student work for parents and families to see? Or do you not like the good ol' "dog and pony show"? Share your thoughts below!
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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Using Online Textbooks

I am pretty excited about today's guest speaker - my husband Andrew! He teaches junior high and high school Social Studies at the same school district I work for. We've been here three full years now, and he LOVES that they have fully embraced technology by going with 1:1 ipads at his end of the building. (Yes, you read that correctly - our entire K-12 is in one building...well, most of them. We have two elementary schools.) Anyway, he's going to share why to use online textbooks with you. Without further ado, here's my hubby's take on one-to-one ipads and online textbooks!

My name is Andrew and I am a high school social studies teacher.  I have taught world geography, world history, American government, and United States history over the past three years.  During these three years I have taught at a one-to-one iPad school for students in the ninth through twelfth grade.  An advantage with my current school is that they started implementing iPads the first year I came into the school district.  As a new teacher to the district, I felt that I was on a fair playing ground with the other teachers since we all had the same experience with the iPad.  Since I have this luxury, I have implemented the use of online textbooks for all my high school social studies classes.  Advantages to using textbooks on the iPad include engaging students, improving curriculum, and decreasing the weight of high school backpacks. 

As I stated before, I teach high school social studies and one of my major obstacles is to make history interesting to all students.  One of the ways that I have increased interest in history is by implementing technology in my class.  Since I work at a one-to-one iPad high school, I have implemented social studies textbooks to engage my students in the classroom. 

 I arrived at my current school three years ago, and most of the textbooks and curriculum material were outdated.  The high school was currently on a department rotation for new textbooks and social studies must have been skipped in the previous rotation.  To update my textbooks and curriculum I decided to get textbooks on the iPad with teacher’s curriculum.  After doing some research, I found out those textbooks on the iPad for social studies classes ranged from $15 to $25.  This price was dramatically less than the $80 and up for hard cover textbooks located on textbook company websites.  Along with the inexpensive prices, I could get a new textbook every year and possibly get an updated edition if one would be available.   

Along with the inexpensive price of the new textbooks, the textbooks would be Common Core aligned.  The textbooks had a free trial version that you could download and experiment with to see if you enjoyed the textbooks on the iPad.  I enjoyed the primary resources embedded into the textbook, videos about the current topic, and interactive quizzes after each section.   Lastly, the textbooks had functions such as highlighting text and adding notes to your highlighted text.  This function helps make my textbooks more interactive and remind myself of reading and highlighting text in college since I bought the books myself.  The reading, highlighting, and notes in the margins have replaced traditional note-taking in my class - which the students enjoy.  

Another advantage to the textbooks on the iPad is that they are easy to carry for the students.  Most history textbooks have to cover a large range of material making the textbooks heavy.  Instead of students carrying a ten pound textbook, the students carried around their iPad with the textbook on them.  The textbook on the iPad forced them to be responsible and bring their iPads to class (which they did not always do for the others teachers, even though they were supposed to).  Another problem was eliminated with students not being prepared for class and having their textbooks in their locker.  All the students enjoyed carrying around their Ipads which meant that I didn’t have the headache of delaying class for students to get their textbooks. 

Once I got the approval from administration to get textbooks on the iPad, I gradually improved my textbooks and curriculum for my high school social studies class.  I did not receive any new material my first year because I was busy learning the curriculum and textbooks for five preps of social studies classes.  The second year I received a new World History textbook with teacher’s edition.  The next year I received new world geography and American government textbooks with teacher’s edition.  The third year I received new United States history textbooks with teacher’s edition.  Every time I would get a new textbook and curriculum, I would get two hard cover textbooks in case a student lost or broke their iPad. 

During the past three years, my administration has supported me in putting textbooks on the iPad.  One reason would be the decreased price of the electronic copy of the textbooks.  Another reason would be it forces the students to use the iPads (which was the point to begin with!).  If the school spent the money on the iPads, the administration wanted to see the student use the devices. 

The only problem that I have experienced with the textbooks on the iPad would be that they take up space.  If you are the only teacher with a textbook on the device, your students can survive with a 16 gigabyte iPad.  If you have many teachers purchasing textbooks, I recommend that you upgrade to a 32 gigabyte Ipad. 

Overall, I have enjoyed using the textbooks on the iPad.  The textbooks engage students in learning and have many interactive features.  I enjoy implementing primary resources into every class and the textbooks on the iPad help me with primary resources embedded into each lesson.  Finally, students enjoy carrying around a light iPad in their backpacks instead of heavy social studies textbooks. 

Questions or comments for my hubby? Ask below and I'll make sure he answers them for you! ~HoJo~
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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

What Being an Administrator Meant to Me

As many of you are aware, I was an elementary principal for a year. It was a fabulous year, and one that I am very grateful to have experienced! However, life has a way of throwing us curve balls. I found myself expecting my first child and knew in my heart that I needed to stay home to raise my little one. (More on that here.)

During my first year as a public school administrator, I learned many things about myself. Here are a few of them:
  • I am a counselor. Yes, every teacher and educator has taken on this role with their students at one point or another. But this role had a much bigger meaning as an administrator. In one day's time I could talk to people about their father's cancer, son's passing, what to do about bickering students, and how to handle the parent who is consistently saying they aren't doing enough. Plus I handled student issues much the same as a classroom teacher. I just wasn't aware of all the adult situations I would be helping to handle. I'm not trying to complain, but I was more of a listening and advice giver than I anticipated.
  • I am a coach. Teachers - for the most part - want to do better at their jobs. We want to push ourselves to be the best we can be for our students. One of the hardest, yet most rewarding parts of my job was coaching teachers to do better in their classrooms. Sometimes what needed to be said was hard to hear, but I hope I helped make each teacher I came in contact with better. I can honestly say that spending so much time in my teachers' rooms throughout the year made me a better educator!
  • I am a secretary. I had no idea how many phone calls and e-mails I would relay to teachers and students throughout the year! As teachers, we are often able to shut our doors and teach. (Not always, but many of the schools I've been at try to keep distracting phone calls during the day to a minimum.) As a principal, I often took these phone calls and would pass the message on later in the day. No big deal - but it took up more of my time than I expected it to.
  • I am a nurse. My year as a principal had me fixing "boo-boo's" even more than I did as a classroom teacher. Whether it was putting on a simple band-aid, helping with the blood gushing down a kids arm, or getting one of our coaches to determine if a child may have a concussion - I used more first aid skills in this one year than I did in the previous seven as a teacher!
  • I am decisive. This was probably one of the harder parts of my job. Sometimes decisions just have to be made. I tried to get staff input as often as possible, but there comes a time when a decision has to be made. Whether everyone would like what I decided or not, I tried to do what was in the best interest of the majority of the students and staff. I'm quite sure I wasn't always successful, but someone has to make those decisions. 
  • I am strong. I'll keep this one short and to the point. When a parent tells you to F@*# off multiple times in one phone call, it takes a bigger person to keep calm and end the phone call professionally. Somehow I managed that without breaking down or going off on them.
  • I am committed. Teachers often work long days. I get it. Been there, done that. While it's true that not grading and lesson planning saved me time, I had to commit a LOT of time for extra activities. From supervising ball games to attending meetings at many odd hours, I gave a lot of "off duty" hours to the school.
  • I am a substitute teacher. Yes, I stepped into the classroom to cover on a regular basis. At least a couple times a month I would cover for someone so they could quickly run to the bathroom. But on more occasions than I could count, I would substitute teach for up to half the day. Our district was short on subs, so I did what I needed to so our school could best serve our students. Honestly, it was nice! I was able to spend time with the students and keep that classroom "connection". Although, being four months pregnant and subbing for a classroom full of 6th graders during the sexual reproduction unit of science was not that ideal...
  • I am secretive. This was probably the hardest part about my job as a principal. I knew things going on that I couldn't tell anyone else about. I know I sometimes made teachers and parents upset, but I couldn't tell them all of the information that I knew. There were various reasons for this, but I did not like having to be secretive. It was definitely one of the hardest aspects of the position, and the one I enjoyed the least!
  • I am calm. When a student has a complete blow up in the hallway, classroom, or office - there's no point to get upset with them. I kept my cool and helped get them calmed down as well. We can discuss their actions later (and possibly deal with the consequences). 
  • I am organized. As a classroom teacher, we have to be organized to get through the various parts of our day. As a principal of two elementary schools and a K-12 special education coordinator, I had to be even more on my game! I kept a calendar with me at all times, didn't travel too far from my computer or cell phone, and kept my iPad with me when going room to room.
  • I am prepared. When I was in the classroom, I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen that day. (Not always of course, but I knew what lessons I was teaching and my students pretty well.) As an administrator, I never really knew what my day might bring. Typically meetings and general things I needed to get done for the day were easy to prepare for. However, I might have numerous office referrals, deal with upset parents, or get a phone call I wasn't ready for. As much as I could, I was prepared for whatever may come my way. I know I didn't do this 100% all the time, but I did my best whenever I could. I was on my toes!
  • I am an informant. One of my jobs was to keep everyone on the same page. When you're in charge of 30+ people, that can be easier said than done! Each Friday I sent out an e-mail with important information and reminders, as well as a calendar of upcoming events. As a teacher, I was never a big fan of weekly staff meetings. I felt like they were repetitious and boring. I promised my staff I wouldn't hold unnecessary meetings if they followed through with what was included in the e-mails. It worked great! I actually saw many staff members that printed these e-mails out each week and wrote them on their own calendars. (I tried to keep any other e-mails throughout the week to a minimum. Teachers are busy, and I didn't want them to have to sift through numerous e-mails from me after a busy day of teaching!)
It truly was a great year! The memories I have of the year will go with me for the rest of my life. I'm not sure if going back into public education is in my future or not. Right now I'm too busy enjoying my little guy and keeping busy with online work. =)

What's the best quality your administrator possesses?
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Monday, June 1, 2015

Using Students Names for Classroom Management Mid-Lesson

For some, classroom management comes easily. For others, it is a daily struggle. I'm one of the fortunate ones, but it has taken me awhile to get comfortable with it. 

Side Story - During my first teaching position, I taught grades 3 and 4 at a Hutterite colony. My discipline plan was "they'll behave". That lasted all of a day! Then I had to figure something out! HA! What a rookie! =)

Fast forward a few years. I taught a group of 5th graders who were known as "that" class. They were one of the largest classes in the district, there were lots of boys, and they knew what their reputation was.

If I told you I wasn't a little stressed about teaching them, I'd be lying. However, I knew that with consistency and fairness, they would be fine - just like all the other classes I'd taught. 

The fist day came, and we addressed the language expectations I had. We also went through the classroom rules they would be expected to follow. I reinforced these relentlessly in those first few days.

When we got to the point of "real" lessons, I knew I was going to have to be even more rigid about my expectations. The lesson started, and I noticed a student go off task. Without missing a beat, I said that student's name mid-sentence and kept teaching. However - unlike classes I'd had in the past - everyone in the room swung their head around to look at the student whose name I just said. "Odd," I thought, and the lesson continued.

A few minutes later, a student was seen whispering to a classmate. I again called out his name mid-sentence and proceeded with the lesson. And once again, twenty-plus other heads spun quickly around to look in his direction.

It took me about two days to figure this out. At one point mid-lesson, I had this "aha!" moment. Every other class I'd taught would not act like this. If I said someone's name mid-sentence, they basically ignored it. This class fed off of getting in trouble! They knew that meant the teacher would spend a lot of time disciplining and not teaching. I swear they took turns trying to do this!

I said the following to the class. "When I call out Jimmy's name (20+ heads spun around to look at Jimmy), it's because I want him to focus on the important parts of the lesson, Roger (20+ heads looked at Roger). That doesn't mean anyone is in trouble, Sally (20+ heads went in Sally's direction)." 

I continued saying student names for the majority of my 90 minute block with these students. By the end of that time frame, their heads were done whirling around! (probably because they were dizzy, but also because they realized no one was in trouble!) I'm not going to say they were perfect, but they realized that they weren't in trouble and they weren't doing themselves any good by whipping their head around to look at their classmates.

Why does this strategy work? By saying a student's name, you are helping gently remind them to stay on task. I wasn't reprimanding them for something, but rather just bringing them back to the lesson. There were times where I did need to correct student behavior, but I consider this strategy to be my first line of defense. It's just a way of saying, "I see you, and I know you're not totally with me. Come back please."

This strategy works well even if everyone IS paying attention. At those times, I like to call on the "good" kids. This way everyone realizes that I call out names of ALL students in the classroom.

What strategies do you use regularly in your classroom?

Need more classroom management strategies? Try this blog post entitled Stopping Behaviors BEFORE They Start!
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Friday, May 22, 2015

Summer Learning Ideas

If you are a teacher looking for some activities for your students to do this summer, OR if you are a parent who wants to keep your child from the dreaded "summer slide" - this post is for you! 

  • Find out if there is a local reading program. Or maybe your state has one. Do some checking and see what you can find!
  • Set aside a little bit of time each day to read! Even as little as 15-20 minutes will do wonders to keep your child from regressing over the summer!
  • Your child does NOT have to read books! Find them magazines, newspapers, or even informational websites to read. The students absolutely ate up the magazines in my classroom this year! (Even the cartoon section of the newspaper counts!) 
  • For every book your child finishes, agree to do a "fun" activity with them at the end of the book. I will never forget getting to carve a duck out of a bar of soap in 3rd grade after reading a book about a boy who carved ducks into wood. Pinterest has a TON of ideas or a simple Google idea would work as well. (Many of these are inexpensive or FREE ideas!) 
  • If possible, read the book with your child. Discuss the story with them at the end of each chapter. Ask them basic questions about who, what, where, and when. How and why questions are even better!

  • Have a ride in the car? Ask your kiddos their basic multiplication and division facts. My brother knew his multiplication facts before he even got to third grade because my mom drilled them with my sister and I so many times in the car! :)
  • This website has a daily math story problem - Check it out on a daily basis if you can - they update daily! (No worries - the answers are there as well!)
  • Play some board games or card games with your child. Many of these games require critical thinking skills, but oftentimes they use some math or language skills too! :)
  • Let your child be part of your everyday math routine. Have them estimate what the groceries are going to cost as you put them in the shopping cart. Have them calculate the gas mileage the next time you fill up.
  • Let your child throw a "summer bash"! The catch - give them a budget and they HAVE to stick to it! It will teach them some great bargain shopping skills (along with some sneaky math along the way). 

  • See if your child can find a penpal. Maybe your child has a cousin in another state? Or perhaps there's another parent in the community or the next community who wants their child to write also. 
  • Keep a journal of your summer activities. Let your child take pictures too and they can turn it into a scrapbook! 
  • Write to your child! Ask your child to write you a basic note each day or several times a week. It can be as short as 2-3 sentences. And if you respond you're showing your child that writing is important! (Or have them help write the grocery list, shopping list, camping list, etc.)
  • Have your child help you write the grocery list!
  • Ask your child to write a letter to their elderly relatives or people in a local nursing home. (Bonus points if you are able to hand deliver these!) 

Please work with your child over the summer. Numerous studies have shown children regress, or lose, about two months of their skills each summer. You can help prevent this!

Here are some websites that might be beneficial to your child! 

Match the antonyms -

Reading Ring (put comic strips in the correct order - comprehension practice) -

If you are looking for further math activities, go here -

Have a WONDERUL summer!!

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Friday, May 15, 2015

FREE Printable to Show Your Coworkers How Much You Care!

I work with some amazing people! Showing them how much I appreciate them has been something I've tried to do throughout the year. {Can educators ever be shown too much appreciation?!} I made these Subway Art photo frames for Christmas, did a "chip" activity earlier in the year, and thanked them for their "Extra" help when school started. I thought it was only fitting to end the year with something else. :)

Simply click here or either picture to download your free copy. 

Affix a lottery ticket, or "scratchie", and give away!

Maybe your colleagues will get lucky and win! =)

Enjoy the end of the year everyone!

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