Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Is It Break Yet?

As it will soon become apparent, I can’t focus or write very coherently this week. I admit that no one wants to hear any teaching ideas two days before break, during exam week. So, in lieu of any actual, helpful words, please accept my words of craziness, words of frazzled-ness, words of attention-span difficulties, words of a person who is counting down hours until vacation…..
Image result for netflix 
The Twelve Days of Winter Break...

On the twelfth day of Winter Break, the teaching gods gave to me...
a 12 hour Netflix marathon
11 trips to Target
10 paid vacation days!!!
9 grown-up beverages (not all at once)
8 cookies to eat
7 nights a week to stay up late
6 books I *might* read
NOOOO.... scales... to wriiiiiite!!! J
Bump into...
4 students at the mall
Eat 3 actual meals a day
Get 2 hours of extra sleep
And a whole hour to eat my lunch!

What to Say When You Get a REALLY Bad Gift
  • Now THAT’s a gift.
  • Wow! You SURE surprised me.
  • I never would have guessed.
  • If I hadn't gained all that weight this would have fit.
  • If the dog buries it, I'll be furious!
  • I love it--but I fear the jealousy it will inspire.
  • Unfortunately, tomorrow I enter the Federal Witness Protection Program.
  • I really don't deserve this.
  • And to think I got this the first year I vowed to give all my gifts to charity.
  • I hope this never catches fire. There have been a lot of unexplained fires around here.
  • I couldn't bear to have anything happen to this so I am going to pack it away safely in the basement

Twas the Week Before Break

Twas the week before break, when all through the school
Not a person was focused, all acting like fools
The midterms were laid on the desks with care
In hopes that vacation soon would be there

The children were nestled all snug in their desks
While visions of study guides danced in their heads
My neighbor in her jacket and I in my vest
Had just settled down to proctor a test

When out in the hall there arose such a clatter
I sprang from my desk to see what was the matter
Away to the door I flew like a flash
Tore open the handle and kicked past some trash

The glare of the lights on the now-dusty floor
Gave a cluster of headaches to those by the door
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
but a pile of grades and the end of the year ...

.......enter writer’s block..... and a holiday-impaired attention span.....

With this staff developer hoping writing goes quick
I knew as I wrote, that this poem would not “click”
More rapid her words (but not good) they came
And she whistled and cursed and wrote pretty lame

Now Dangit! WORD is crashing! Now hope it’ll fix-in!
Oh darn it, oh stupid, Oh I need some new tricks -and
To the top of the page! Don’t start to bawl
Now trash the page, trash the page, trash away all!

...shuffle, snuffle, sniffle... just skip to the end of the poem.....

She sprang to her laptop, her clock approached dismissal
And away her fingers flew on the keyboard.... like a missile? (just go with it...)
But I heard her exclaim as she sat down to write
Happy vacation to all and I hope it’s alright!!!

May you have a restful, joyful holiday break – and may you come back to work with a new peace and a renewed spirit – and maybe some improved sanity, too!


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Holiday To-Do List

It’s a crazy time of year. I have a lot to do. Check it out...

Here is my To-Do list for the week
  1. Pick up a christmas present at a Toys R Us on the other side of the county (my Toys R Us is out)
  2. Decorate the outside of my house for the holidays
  3. Figure out how to keep my toddler from knocking over the Xmas tree
  4. Help my daughter finish her Santa letter and mail out.
  5. Buy holiday gifts for the kids’ teachers. Preferably pun-type gifts, like soap with a “you’re hands-down the best!” message
  6. Plan my son’s birthday party and get invitations out.
  7. Get my toddler out of the Xmas tree. Again.
  8. Wrap gifts for the friends we will do holidays with over this weekend.
  9. Plan road trip out of state over winter break.
  10. Put ornaments back on tree when toddler knocks them off.
  11. Bake something? Just because... isn’t that a holiday requirement?
  12. Ask a friend if I can store my husband’s holiday gift at her house until Christmas.
  13. Buy husband’s holiday gift and take to friend’s house.
  14. Clean house.
  15. Put baby gates around Xmas tree.
  16. Help my daughter make holiday cards/crafts for friends and family.
  17. Organize my cat’s kennel stay while we travel.
  18. Get baby sitter for New Year’s Eve.
  19. Buy all-plastic ornaments so it doesn’t matter when my toddler knocks them off.

So.... It’s a busy time of year for me. I bet it is for many of you, too.

And that’s just the HOME to-do list. Don’t get me started on my work to-do list -- test reviews, midterms, planning for January, prepping DWT. It makes my brain hurt.

It’s hard, in this season of holidays and midterms and waiting for vacation time, to relax. It’s almost impossible for me, anyway.

But despite all the holidays and testing and cold-and-flu season -- please take a few minutes to step outside your own personal to-do list to relax -- and reflect.

Even if it’s just in the car on your way home after work, or after your TV show, or whenever -- think about your semester.
  • What worked?
  • What hasn’t worked so well?
  • What would you like to change for next semester?
  • What do you need to make sure to maintain?
  • What can you improve?
  • What new thing do you want to try this semester?

Don’t wait until mid-January to  reflect. By then, first semester will be long gone and too distant a memory.

Take ten minutes now to think about your semester and jot down a couple of notes for yourself to look at when you get back in January.

Part of what makes teaching hard is the isolation from other adults. Please know that your colleagues have your back and your social studies department has your back. Share with each other to make your lives easier. It sometimes helps to reflect with a colleague -- or just by yourself.

How crazy is your holiday to-do list? How crazy is your last-8-days-before-vacation-work to-do list? But more importantly, what have you learned as you reflected on your fall semester? What revelations have you come up with? As always, I’d love to hear!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Sorting Hat

I love the “Sorting Hat” from Harry Potter. Not only is it kind of charming and cute, but it determines your “house” at Hogwarts, which is sort of like your ... um... coed fraternity? 

But unlike the Sorting Hat scenes in Harry Potter, it’s hard (and a little dangerous) to sort people into one category. People are complicated. We never want to label people with one label (“overachiever”, “struggling student”, “athlete”, “future criminal”, ). 

Some kids could apply all four of the above labels to themselves.

People are complicated. While I might be sorted into a “teacher” category, I might also be sorted into a “Floridian” category, a “coach” category, a “mom” category, a “Lightning Fan” category. A “USF Alum” category. A “hip-hop music fan” category. A “karaoke queen” category. A “those district people” category. 

I think our students could benefit from some serious sorting-hat-type thinking. Maybe instead of sorting people, they can sort words and ideas. 

One of my favorite strategies is “Word Sort” -- also sometimes called “List-Group-Label”

Why would I use this strategy? It’s kind of a Swiss-Army Knife of strategies. It can do a LOT with one tool.

  • It has kids deepen their understanding of vocabulary terms
  • It has kids assess their own understanding.
  • It has kids make multiple connections between terms, (instead of learning them in isolation). It’s like learning vocab in in 3D instead of 2D
  • It helps kids create schema in their brains by connecting one idea to another. Schema = longer lasting knowledge.
  • It can take 10 minutes or 50. It’s pretty adaptable
  • It can be used for 6 terms or 40. Or any number in between.
  • It can be used as a pre-reading activity, a mid-reading checkpoint, or a review activity.
  • You can use it with one lesson or multiple lessons (or over multiple units) combined.
  • It’s active learning (not passive)
  • It’s student-centered learning (not teacher-directed)
  • It’s collaborative learning

Here’s how you do it.
  1. Choose around 10-20 (more or less) different terms or vocabulary words. You can print them in a formatted table or write them on sticky notes or notecards, but they need to have one-term-per-card/sticky note.
  2. Put your students in small groups. I find groups of three are best for this activity, but pairs would work, too.
  3. As a preview, a metacognition activity, and a formative assessment,  you MAY choose to have your students sort the word-cards or word-stickies into categories of “We know it well”, “We kind-of know it” and “We don't’ know it”.  
  4. Have your kids find the meaning of the terms they didn’t know and brush up on the terms they “Kind-of” know.
  5. Then, have your students sort the words into new categories. You can give them the categories, but it’s more powerful when the kids come up with their own categories. They might sort them into:
    1. people, places, events, things
    2. inventions, inventors, ideas
    3. Chapter 13, Ch 15, Ch 16
    4. Religion, Geography, Culture, History
    5. Causes of the Revolution, Events of the Revolution, Effects of the Revolution
    6. 1700s, 1800s, 1900s
    7. Legislative, Executive Judicial
    8. Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, Bill of Rights
6. Have them label each category and explain why each term goes in each category (this is how you check for understanding and make sure they’re not just putting words in categories randomly just to get the task done.) Have them defend where they put their terms!
7. THEN -- and this is the powerful part -- have the kids use the SAME terms but with another set of categories. If earlier they sorted the words by chapter, now maybe they need to sort the terms chronologically. If they earlier sorted the words by causes, events, effects -- maybe now they choose to sort the terms into “Colonists’ Actions” and “British Actions”. 

Let’s try it with a real set of Civics terms from Benchmark 3.3 (Yes, those are ALL the terms in one benchmark)

appellate jurisdiction
declaration of war
naturalization laws
armed forces
elastic clause
necessary and proper clause
U.S. Congress
enumerated or delegated powers
implied powers
original jurisdiction
U.S. House of Representatives
coining money
executive branch
judicial branch
presidential appointments
U.S. Senate
concurrent powers
foreign relations
legislative branch
U.S. Supreme Court

What categories could you sort those terms into?
  • Executive, judicial, legislative
  • powers, checks/balances, parts of government
  • Concurrent powers, implied powers, enumerated powers

What else? Can you come up with another set of labels for groups of those words?

I love the Word Sorts. I find it really effectively addresses multiple needs in the classroom, all with one activity. One activity that’s on the fun side. 

Like the Sorting Hat, it’s helpful to look at people -- and words -- from multiple angles. It’s powerful for kids to learn to connect ideas and words. It’s even better when they can do it actively and collaboratively. 

PS -- don’t forget to use your expectations for collaboration! Mine are the Oh Groupwork rules!
  1. On task
  2. On topic
  3. On (in) your seat
  4. Only your group members
  5. One -level volume

Try it mid-lesson or as a review. And let me know how it goes!  What other categories did you come up with for the list above? As always, I love to hear from you!