Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fun Ideas for Spatial Reasoning

The last few weeks have been so busy as I know they are for everyone. Grad school, being a teacher, and Christmas makes for the most crazy month of the year.

All teachers know that in the week or two before winter break the kids are so full of energy and excitement, it can make for chaos.  I try to do some fun, hands on things and creative projects in December to harness some of that energy and excitement into something productive.

One of the skills in Math I really want to work on this year is spatial reasoning.  It is a skill that is easy to overlook, but one that many kids today I think lack.  I am finding many students even in middle school still struggle with underdeveloped fine motor skills and spatial reasoning.

Well, I found this project on TeachersPayTeachers that looked like a lot of fun.

The project is for the kids to design a model of the North Pole and build a 3D model of their design.  The packet also comes with Language Arts extensions to do some writing assignments and a presentation. We used it for math, so we just did the design and the model.  It also had a great alternate assignment to use the South Pole for the kids who do not celebrate Christmas.

They came out really cute though, and they had a lot of fun with it.  It was a great hands on project that required logic, creativity, and spatial reasoning.  They have this whole big list of requirements to meet that really challenge them.

My next goal in the Spring is to some type of project with Architecture.  I am hoping to incorporate some real world examples and maybe some photography and end with building something.  How do you incorporate spatial reasoning in your classroom?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Resources for Flipped Learning

Did you read my last post that summarized what blended learning was?  If not, you should check it out.  Well, one of the more common forms of blended learning is flipped learning.  Many schools and districts are experimenting with flipping some of their lessons.  The idea behind flipped learning is having your kids watch videos of lessons or lectures at home or on their own time, and then you can use class time to do projects, discussion, and practice.

Getting started with flipped learning can seem overwhelming. The idea of having to create a ton of your own videos and then find a way to easily share them with your students seems daunting.  I thought I would share a couple easy suggestions to help you get started.

Resources for Videos Already Made

These are suggestions of websites that already have a lot of videos and you can search them for ones that might apply to a lesson you want to teach.

WatchKnowLearn - WatchKnowLearn is pretty easy to search.  They have a pretty big selection of videos by lots of different subjects and domains.

LearnZillion - LearnZillion focuses on Common Core resources so the videos are for Math and Language Arts.  Most of them are short, engaging, and pretty easy to understand.

KhanAcademy - This one is obvious.

StudyJams - I really like Study Jams for Math and Science.  The videos are short and animated,  They are a little cheesy, but they are good for summarizing information and making it easy to understand.

Resources for Creating Your Own Videos

Creating Animated Videos 

Below are resources for creating short, animated or photo-based videos.  These seem like they would be fun and engaging.




Creating Videos with White Boards in the Background

The iPad has a lot of great apps for this, but for web-based options here is one:


Storing Videos

A lot of websites have file size limits, so some of them can be tricky to use.

Youtube - This is probably the most obvious and easiest option.

Schooltube and Teachertube - These will have more protected backgrounds than Youtube, but I found they had file size limits that did not work with what I needed.

Edpuzzle - This is my favorite solution that I found.  We use Edmodo and this ties into our Edmodo account.  I can upload videos without a limit.  I then assign the videos to the kids on the day that I want them to watch them, and it gives me a progress update on how many people have watched them.

What are your favorite resources for creating and storing videos?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

What is blended learning?

Since I work in a blended learning environment, I thought it might be good to share some information on theories and models of blended learning.

What is blended learning?

Blended learning is essentially a blend of a traditional school and online learning.  Usually, online learning courses are used at a physical school location and blended with face-to-face instruction and small-group student interaction to personalize learning for students. HERE is a post from Blackboard with some overviews of different definitions.

What does blended learning look like?

Blended learning is considered by many to be the future direction of education. As technology leads to an ever-increasing globalized world, we want students to be prepared for the 21st century.  One of my first introductions to the ideas behind blended learning was Sir Ken Robinson's ted talk on "Changing Education Paradigms."

Now to better understand blended learning, it is good to understand some of the different approaches to this new form of educating students.   You can find a good article to summarize them here HERE.

Clayton Christensen in his book Disrupting Class explains the need for disrupting innovation.

Sustaining innovations are meant to improve existing models of doing things, where disruptive innovations offer something new or a completely new way of doing things.  You can read HERE for more information about Christensen's ideas on these two types of innovation.  It is not that one type of innovation is necessarily better than the other.  Many times in industries both are needed for different purposes and in different situations.

In the world of blended learning, some models are considered sustaining innovation and some are disruptive innovations.

Sustaining Innovation Models of Blended Learning

The Rotation Model

  • Station Rotation
    • This model works really well in a workshop (reading, writing, or math) approach to teaching.  Students rotate through different dedicated stations, with online-learning being one of those stations in the classroom. 
    • Other stations would be small-group instruction, games, projects, centers for practice, etc. Stations are usually all completed within the self-contained classroom.
    • Stations require a lot of modeling, scaffolding, organization, and routine. 
  • Lab Rotation
    • Students rotate through stations, but one of the stations is a computer lab for the online learning. 
    • In the lab, students work at a more individualized pace through usually reading or math content/practice. 
    • Labs are supervised by an assistant, not necessarily a certified teacher. 
    • This frees up the teacher to spend time doing small-group instruction without having to focus as much energy on classroom management because not all students are in the room at the same time. 
  • Flipped Learning
    • This approach is one of the most common "buzz words" in teaching right now.  
    • Many schools and districts are transitioning to flipped learning.In this model, usually students watch videos of a a teacher lecture at home and then come to class to practice and apply the concepts from the lecture.  Thus, the normal process of lecture in class and homework done at home is "flipped."  The "homework" is done in class.
    • Be careful not to over-use this approach because watching too many videos at home for too many subjects could quickly get to boring.
    • Difficult in schools where students have limited access to internet at home.
  • Individual Rotation
    • In this approach to rotations or stations, not all students may have the same rotations or online courses.  
    • Teacher can assign and use as needed.

Disruptive Innovation Models of Blended Learning

The Flex Model

The private school I work at would be considered a flex model.  We use online-learning content created by vendors to deliver the instruction in some courses.  We pair this with small-group projects, some face-to-face teaching, and a lot of individual tutoring. Students in the same classroom may work at different paces and levels, providing a lot of opportunity for acceleration.  We also have other courses where more of the instruction may be directly from the teacher, and we use technology for enrichment, practice, application, student engagement and choice, and demonstration of learning.

The A-La-Carte Model

In this model, students may take just certain courses completely online to supplement other face-to-face classes they take at a physical school.  This can be a good option when a school does not provide the particular course that a student wants or needs in person.

The Enriched Virtual Model

This version of blended learning is used in often in graduate school programs (like Executive MBA programs) for their online courses.  Much of the content is taught and discussed online, but the class will have required face-to-face classes periodically to enrich the online content and provide opportunity for face-to-face discussion or a project. At the collegiate level, this option provides flexibility for individuals who are pursuing further higher-education while working.

Have you used any version of blended learning in your classroom?  How do you use technology to help differentiate in your classroom?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Getting Started with Socratic Circles

I am always looking for ways to build critical thinking in my classroom.  One of the teaching strategies I wanted to try this year was socratic seminars or the socratic circle. I have used literature circles and other small group discussions and a lot of whole group discussion over the years, but I have never used socratic circles.

My first introduction to some form of the socratic seminar was in graduate school.  I studied Business at  Texas A&M for my undergrad so there was very little discussion.  Most of my classes were hundreds of students, so the classes were primarily lecture. For my Masters, I studied Humanities with a focus in Literary Studies.  In most of my classes, we had a book or section of a book to read every week.  Then, when we came to class, the professors expected us to lead most of the discussion.  They would pose questions, but everyone was expected to participate and offer critique.  Participation was usually a chunk of our grade for accountability. I thoroughly enjoyed most of my classes.  Because it was Humanities, often our classes included people of various ages and backgrounds with different interests and specialties.  It always made for interesting discussion.

I started preparing to use Socratic Seminars by reading Socratic Circles by Matt Copeland.

There are different ways to approach Socratic Circles.  One of the more common approaches is also sometimes called Fishbowl discussions.  You divide the class in half.  Half the class sits in an inner circle in the center of the room, and the other half sits in an outer circle. The inner circle discusses a text and the outer circle observes. The outer circle gives the inner circle feedback on the discussion afterward.  There seem to be a couple different approaches.  You can have the outer circle give the questions to the inner circle to discuss.  You can have one person in the outer circle observe one person in the inner circle.  You also can just have the outer circle generally give feedback to the inner circle.

You usually have everyone read the same text.  It often is a short piece of text, so they are forced to analyze very closely.  You can use for History, Science, Math, Poetry, Nonfiction, Fiction, etc. You could use the discussion more as a debate or to work on persuasion.

My classes are small.  So I still divided my class in half.  Half sits in a circle to discuss while the other half sit in their normal tables.  I had each group have a discussion leader.   The discussion leader came up with questions and helped keep the discussion moving.  Discussions were usually 10-30 minutes.  The group observing had to take notes on the discussion and give feedback afterward. My 8th graders discussed short stories during class, and my 7th graders discussed sections of Walk Two Moons. As Walk Two Moons has two different plot lines, I had each group focus on a different plot line for the discussions.

After each discussion, we discuss what went well and what could have gone better.  What I am enjoying about socratic seminars is that the learning and even most of the guiding of the learning is placed in the student's hands. I only jump in with questions when I feel they have not gone deep enough or elaborated enough.  However, I have found I really do not have to jump in very often at all. Each discussion has gotten a little better than the last because they have learned from the feedback they have received from one another. In a very short time, they have gotten so much better at giving feedback and receiving feedback.  Usually students are either rude or afraid to give constructive criticism.  My 7th graders this next weeks are finishing their final essays on Walk Two Moons, so I am excited to see if the ability to give good feedback translates to giving good peer feedback on writing.  They also are getting better at thinking on their feet and speaking up with confidence.

Variations I Still Want to Use This Year with the Socratic Seminar:

1. Use a smaller text like nonfiction articles, poetry, or small excerpts of a text.  Great practice for close reading!
2. Break into smaller groups and then come back as a larger group to discuss. 
3. Have the outer group create the questions for the inner circle.
4.  Discuss creating higher-order thinking questions as a class. 
5. Have students help create a rubric for the discussions.
6. Have an outer circle student observe an inner circle student very closely, and then they switch.
7. Try Socratic Seminars in another subject.

Things I will do Different Next Year To Get Started:

1. Do a lesson on Socrates first.
2. Set up the norms for the discussions a little better.
3. Discuss creating higher-order thinking questions before starting the discussions.

For more ideas on Socratic Circles, check out my Pinterest Board on the Socratic Seminar.   Have you used socratic circles in your classroom?

Monday, October 27, 2014

October Spelling and Vocabulary Menu - Freebie

When I loved up to 7th and 8th grade this year, I decided we would work through some SAT vocabulary words for our vocabulary this year.  I found a book with SAT vocabulary words and divided the words into 12 lists.  They have around 35-40 words per list.  I am giving them about 3 weeks to work on each list.

I am most interested in their ability to understand the worlds in context and apply the words. For this month, I decided I wanted to give them some creative options for using their words in writing assignments.  (There are less opportunities for thematic, seasonal assignments in middle school).  I created a vocabulary menu to be made with any vocabulary or spelling list.  I love choice menus! They turn in their assignments today, so I am excited to see what they came up with.  Click HERE to get a copy.

What do you use to give your students choice in applying their spelling or vocabulary words?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Dallas Blogger Meetup

Yesterday, I went to went to a blogger meetup here in Dallas.  It was fun to meet some other bloggers in person.  The blogging world and Teachers Pay Teachers (and probably Pinterest) have changed the reality of education for so many teachers.  You can find exactly what you need almost instantly.  You can find so many great teaching ideas, lessons, and freebies.  We now have an almost endless supply of great resources and inspiration.

When I started selling on Teachers Pay Teachers two years ago, my goal was just to make enough to cover what I spent on my classroom.  The first few years I taught I was always spending way too much of my meager paycheck trying to supply my classroom.  I rarely do things half way and teaching was no exception.  Teachers Pay Teachers has been a wonderful source of extra income toward expenses for graduate school and my classroom, as well as an outlet for creativity.

Anyway,  I had so much fun meeting other teacher bloggers yesterday and being reminded how much I appreciate TpT and this community of educators. 

We went to Bucca di Beppo, which always has yummy Italian food. They had cute mason jars waiting for us with a Texas sticker, wash tape, and a list of everyone's instagram names. 

It was so much fun to get to know some other bloggers.  It is so much work to put something like that together.  For His Glory did a wonderful job.

There were so many prizes.  I won some pens and a super-cute Vera Bradley tote bag.  Who can't use another tote bag?

How was your weekend?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Making Writing an Authentic Habit in the Classroom

As an educator, I believe it is important to strive for authenticity in the classroom.  Learning should have meaning and reflect what happens in the real world.  Finding ways to apply skills to the real world can be difficult.  Approaches to teaching like project-based learning are a wonderful way to incorporate real-world application.  Now, I wish I could tell you my classroom was a masterpiece of project-based learning, but I am striving for authenticity, right? I truly do want to incorporate more PBL this year, but that is another story.

Learning should be authentic. 

What I want to share with you today is about writing. By now, you may know I am working on my PhD in Educational Psychology with a focus in Gifted Education.  One of the things my advisors have been encouraging us to do lately is to set aside time every day to write.  This is nothing new.  I have heard this in creative writing classes and from other graduate professors before. However, that does not mean I have actually implemented this habit in my life.  The hardest part about writing every day is figuring out the time that works best.  My schedule is crazy hectic between work and school. I just started this week and have decided to set aside 20-30 minutes every morning to write.  For me that means, I will probably write most mornings between 5:30 and 6:00am.

To become a better writer, you have to practice.

To produce writing, you have to set aside time every day to write. 

Choose a time.  Be consistent.  Just write. 

It got me thinking.  I want to be a better writer.  I want to actually produce writing.  I want my students to be better writers.  We need to make time for writing...writing without pressure...writing without due dates.  Now, don't get me wrong.  We will have assignments.  We will have due dates, but writing needs to be a regular and authentic habit in my classroom.  Writing needs to be a time to allow for creativity, risk, flow of ideas, and authenticity. 

In the past with my elementary students, I have usually done 5-10 minutes of journal writing.  I find this is a great way to help kids get used to putting ideas down and get over the perfectionism of every sentence having to be perfect. I usually did this almost every day.  This year with my middle school students, we have a block schedule.  Thus, we only have Language Arts twice a week.  So we will only be able to set aside a dedicated space for writing twice a week.  Now, I don't want you to think we haven't been writing.  We have been doing more formal writing assignments, but not necessarily every class. 

I started thinking about how I wanted to collect my own writing every day.  I would rather type it.  I know I do not need 10,000 Word documents.  I thought about storing my journal entries in Evernote, which would work well. Then, I remembered a website I had looked at a couple years ago, but I never ended up using in my classroom.  Penzu.  Penzu is an online writing journal.  Now, if I was writing something super personal, I may not store it online. But for writing for grad school or even writing drafts of blog posts, I think it is a fabulous place to store entries.  With Penzu, you can customize fonts and backgrounds.  They even make the page look like notebook paper, so it feels like a journal.

I decided I wanted to try Penzu with my students this year as well.  I signed up for Penzu Classroom for a teacher account.  This way, I can view their journals and even send them assignments.  I can even comment on their assignments within Penzu, so I am excited to try it out.  Yesterday, I got everyone signed up for accounts. Most likely, I will still have them publish final drafts in Word.  We will use Penzu more for pre-writing, brainstorming, short journal entries, and free-writing. If students do not lock their journals, they can even view one another's journals.  I am thinking this could work well for peer feedback.  We will have to see how it goes. I'll let you know. I also gave my students the option of using Penzu or having a paper journal.  Almost half of my students chose a paper journal, and the other have chose to use Penzu.

You can view a video on Penzu Classroom below.

How do you make writing authentic in your classroom?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Pumpkin Freebies for Grades 1-2

I teach at a very small school, which means we all pitch in when needed.  Our first and second grade teacher had to go out of town suddenly for a death in the family, so I got to sub today for first and second grade.  I am planning some fall related activities for them next week and found some cute pumpkin freebies on TpT.

A Cute PowerPoint on the Pumpkin Life Cycle

An Interactive notebook page on the life cycle of a pumpkin

A Pumpkin Observation Activity Sheet

A Pumpkin Seed Recipe and Experiment Activity - Super cute!

A Pumpkin mini-unit - My favorite resource I found!

Reading Passages for Fall - This wasn't a freebie, but it was too good a resource to pass up.  There are passages for every Fall topic you can imagine. These are awesome for extra reading and fluency practice or to introduce/reinforce different topics.

I have to say I enjoyed the little ones today.  They are so sweet and so full of joy. I have so much respect for primary teachers, though. I don't know how you do it... It was fun for a short time, but I enjoy the older ones.

Friday, October 3, 2014

News Sites for Kids and Teens

With the introduction of Common Core, many teachers are trying to find ways to incorporate more nonfiction in their classroom. There are great classroom magazines like Time for Kids and many of the Scholastic magazines. However, it is nice to have something you can easily access online. I was looking for some good articles for my students about events going on around the world, and I found the following news sites for kids and teens.

Like any good teacher blogger, I thought I would share:

Anyone else remember the Channel One broadcasts from middle school?  What are your favorite sites and resources for covering current events with your students?

I also found some freebies on TpT for analyzing articles:

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Resources for Discussing Ebola with Your Students

My students just finished watching the movie, Guns, Germs, and Steel, based on the book by Jared Diamond.  As a follow up to watching episode 3 of the movie, they are currently researching germs and disease. I checked out a ton of books at the library to aid in their research (whose titles will probably become another post at a later date).

I was searching for some articles to use for our weekly "current events" type class.  I saw some of the articles on the Ebola outbreak.  Being that we also are in Dallas, it seemed a very relevant topic to discuss considering it also relates to what we have been discussing in Social Studies with Guns, Germs, and Steel.  The third episode of the movie also primarily focuses on the history of diseases in Africa with the Africans and the Europeans, so it makes the Ebola discussion even more relevant.

Here are some of the links and articles I found.  I know some of the latest issues of the Scholastic magazines also include articles on Ebola.

PBS also even has lesson plans with activities to help you discuss this topic with your students:

HERE is a link to some suggested answers to questions you may get from your students, put out by PBS.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Read Alouds in Middle School

As I was getting ready to move up from grades 4-5 to grades 7-8, I had to make some plans to adjust some of my teaching approaches to older students.  One aspect that I love about teaching Language Arts is reading aloud to kids.  Reading great books aloud to kids does so many wonderful things.  You get to model fluency, and it gives you room to discuss all of the elements of literature and reading strategies.

With elementary students, I usually used a mix of novels and picture books for read alouds.  As I was planning for middle school, I remembered a presenter from a workshop I went to years ago.  It was a workshop on balanced literacy.  The presenter was a middle school teacher who said she read the first part of a different novel to her students every week.  If they wanted to know what happened next, they had to pick up the book and read.

After thinking about it, I decided to try this for this year with my 7th and 8th graders.  Every week I will read the first couple chapters of a different book to them.  Occasionally, we may choose to read an entire novel all together.  Reading a couple chapters gives enough plot to discuss characters, plot, literary elements, good introductions to writing, etc.  It also is a fabulous way to introduce kids to different genres and hopefully get them excited about reading. I will have my students record different concepts in their language arts notebook as we read.  We will use some foldables and some just drawing different graphic organizers.

What we have read so far this year:

1. Wonder

The first week of school, we read Wonder by RJ Palacio.  We discussed what makes all of us unique an also how we want to be perceived by others.  I had them write their first essay of the year on how they wanted others to perceive them.

2. If I Stay

Then, we read the first couple chapters of If I Stay.  I won't always choose books that are movies, but I know a lot of times the kids are interested in the books that are movies.  For If I Stay, we discussed the differences between external and internal conflict.

3. The Maze Runner

When we started reading The Maze Runner, this is when I really saw my plan come to life.  The kids were so intrigued with the story from the first two chapters, they voted unanimously to have us read the entire book. I happened to have the audiobook on my iPad, so we are listening to the audio version of the book for about 30 minutes per day.  Of course, some of them went out and saw the movie.  I had a few rush out and buy the book and read it right away.  Some have started the second book.  Ultimately, it got many of them excited about reading.

During the first two chapters, I had my students write down descriptions of the setting and also listen for new words and guess their meanings using context clues.  The boys in the glade have a very interesting set of slang words, but it is a great demonstration of using context clues to determine meanings of words. As we are listening to the audio book, I will have them do some tasks in their notebooks, but most of the time we will listen just for pleasure. We will also probably do some writing assignments using the novel.

How do you use read alouds in middle school?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Having Your Students Take Ownership of their Learning

I am always trying to find ways to have my students take ownership of their learning.  One of the things I love about blended learning is that it allows students to work at different paces and at different levels.  The challenge though is that it means that not everyone is always doing the same thing at the same time.  As a teacher, it means there is more to monitor.  It also means your students have to take more of the responsibility for their learning.

One of the things I have learned the most in the last six years is that there is not a perfect student planner.  I feel like I have tried every student planner known to man.  I have also created every type of form you can imagine: forms with lists, checkboxes, etc. You can even read old posts where I have shared some of the versions I have tried over the years.

Source: Pinterest

The truth is as adults we don't all keep up with our schedules the same way.  Why would we assume our students would, too?  I created a Goal tracker form we used the first couple weeks of school.  I broke our day down into the time increments and they had to write down what they needed to get done in that block of time and then answer if they met their goal and why.  Some students really liked the form and kept up with it.

Source: Pinterest

After that, I gave them the option of using Edmodo as their planner.  Many of our students used Edmodo as their planner last year and really like it. You can read about the Edmodo planner here. This week we discussed they could now choose how they wanted to organize their week.  Some want to use the goal tracker form, some want to use a paper planner, some are going to use Edmodo, and some are using other calendars from their devices.

The part I think is most important for my students to learn is not just finding a planner that they like, but taking time to self-reflect at the end of the week to check in and ask themselves if they met their goals and why.  Do they need to make adjustments the following week?  I am having them write a paragraph on Friday afternoons as part of this self-reflection process. I am having them do this because I want to encourage that ownership process. They were submitting it to me; however, some complained that they felt the process lacked any real meaning.  So now I am having them write the paragraph as an email to their parents and they have to copy me. By including their parents, it gave the process more meaning.

I know the organization process is something I am still struggling with.  I love my Erin Condren Life planner.  I can't imagine not having it.  It is the figuring out how best to allocate my time during the week to have time for work, lesson planning, grading, blogging, working out, cooking, cleaning, and studying for graduate school.  I am still trying to figure out if I prefer studying in the morning or afternoon right after work.  I have tried later in the evening, but I am always too tired.  Maybe my students can figure out the process before I do.

How do you encourage your students to take ownership?  Do you have a favorite student planner?  Do you find ways to encourage self-reflection in your students?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Yoga Poses for Kids

I have been practicing yoga for years.  I have wanted to incorporate yoga in my classroom for a couple years now.  I just never got around to it.  I actually would like to try yoga with my middle schoolers, but I decided to try it first with one of our younger classes.  On Friday mornings, I am going to try doing 15-20 minutes of yoga with our grades 3-4 class.  I practice yoga, but I wasn't quite sure where to start with planning sequences for kids.  I was googling ideas and came across a great website.  I found a website called Kids Yoga Stories.  They have sequences that center on different themes.  I thought this was such a fun idea!  I am excited to try it out. A lot of their themed sequences even play off of a picture book.

Here are links to some of their Fall related themes:

Labor Day Poses

Autumn Poses

GoNoodle also has some yoga videos you could use for brain breaks.

Have you ever tried yoga in your classroom?  What were some of your favorite poses and sequences?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Creating a Thinking Classroom

I began this post on Sunday, but I am finally posting it after a couple days at camp with my students.  You can read more about what I learned about myself at camp at my personal blog

Some teachers have those big READ decorative letters hanging in their classroom library.  A previous coworker told me I needed to have giant letters in my classroom for THINK.  On almost any personality test I have done, I am first and foremost analytical. I think about everything.  My mind is busy and scattered.  This is why I learned to make lists and write things down.  This is why I have to organize my physical space because it allows me to begin to organize my mental space. 

After two weeks in middle school, I am so excited about the potential of the rest of the school year.  Seventh and eighth graders are independent enough that we can now really pursue my passion – thinking. My primary goals for my students this year are to become better thinkers and to be able to articulate their ideas. As teachers and students alike, we have to take time to stop doing to allow time for thinking.

I have a co-worker who uses the ideas of Dr. Sandra Kaplan in her teaching.  In discussing the traits of a scholar this  past week with her students, she introduced the idea to them of keeping an idea notebook. She bought them mini-composition notebooks from Staples and they used tabs to create sections.  The students will write down their questions and ideas in each section. 
I am absolutely in love with this idea! I played around with having an ideas section in our binder last year, but it did not really work.  There is something more special about having a separate place just to keep ideas. 

One of the very first things my advisor recommended to us last year when I began my doctoral program was to keep an idea notebook.  It is a place to record ideas and even notes from discussions during research meetings.  I had already been keeping a notebook, so I was to get some validation for my habit.  My past notebook was giant conglomeration of ideas related to work, school, home, and every aspect of my life.  It could be difficult to go back and find things.  Thus, last year I decided to try a sectioned notebook to see how I liked it.  I bought the Arc notebook by Staples.  You can see below how I created sections for ideas for for work, school, research, blog, and home. 

I also could have just made tabs like my co-worker did with her students. I am finding I am using it some, but I am also recording a lot of ideas in Evernote on my iPad.  For me, I am finding it easier sometimes to record ideas on there in different notebooks than even in my paper notebook. I like Evernote because I also have the app on my Mac.  So I can use it from a variety of places.

 I really want to encourage my students this year to ask questions, generate ideas, and pursue their interests.  I work at a blended learning school, so all of my students have Macs.  Like all good teachers, I am going to “steal” my co-worker’s idea of using idea notebooks.  With my 7th and 8th graders, I am thinking about giving them the option of using Evernote or using a physical idea notebook.  Like myself, some may even use a mixture of the two.  I want my students to apply what we learn to the real world.  I like Evernote because you could also save web links and pictures.  When we get ready to start doing research papers later in the year, I am thinking Evernote could be a great resource to record resources and thoughts about those resources – an updated version of the index card.

Have you ever tried idea notebooks? How did they work for you?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

First Week in Middle School

Where does the time go?  Somehow I will manage to get in a routine of blogging, work, and school.  I just finished up my first week in middle school.  I taught primarily grades 4, 5, and 6 for the last six years.  This year I am teaching 7th and 8th grade.  Can I just say, "my mind is blown?"  They are older, so I knew they would be more independent and we could really explore higher levels of reading, writing, and thinking.  However, knowing and experiencing are completely different.  They are so independent!

I am still trying to wrap my head around it.  It is amazing what a difference a couple years makes.  This quote felt appropriate.  Even with older elementary students, it seems like they have such large reactions to small problems instead of just stopping long enough to work through it.  My 7th and 8th graders seem so much calmer and able to work through problem solving so calmly and rationally.

Source: Pinterest

As a teacher, I am excited to move more toward the role of facilitator since they can problem solve and find answers so much more independently.  Now, I can focus on scaffolding asking higher level questions and really analyzing with so much more depth.  I really want my students to really be able to think, articulate their ideas, and have intellectual conversations on their own.

I really want to try implementing the socratic seminar.  I am familiar with the approach, but I have never completely used it in my classroom.  I bought this book last night for my Kindle.  

Any other suggested resources for implementing socratic circles?  There is another book coming out in November that I wishlisted. I found a couple small resources on TpT as well. I look forward to more adventures in middle school. 

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