Wednesday, December 14, 2016


So, last week my new computer started acting up. It kept getting stuck and not saving my stuff.

So I rebooted. I started it over and -- voila! -- it restarted as good as new.

Sometimes, you just need to start over.

I’ll keep this super short today.

I’d like to recommend that (when you get a chance), you think  about January as a reboot. A new year, a new semester, a new chance for a do-over.

As you leave for vacation, you will “turn off” your class. (And maybe your brain. Hey, I don’t judge). And when you come back in January, you will “turn back on” your classroom.

How can you make the reboot improve your areas of concern or frustration?

Just ponder these questions as you daydream about vacation (two days left!!!!)

  • What will you change?  
  • What will you keep the same?
  • What things will you tighten up?
  • Where will you release more to the students?
  • In what area(s) do you want to be more intentional?
  • What do you need to do more of?
  • What do you need to do less of?
  • What do your students need to be successful?
  • What can you do to solve a particular problem?

Then, leave on Friday and take a wonderful, well-deserved break. Turn off your teacher-brain and just be.

I hope you and your friends and family have a joyful, restful holiday break! And happy new year! I look forward to seeing you all in 2017!!


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

BOGO Review Games! Now With More Review Flavor!

Midterm test question for teachers!
1. What do most classrooms look like this week, the week before
  1. Students completing review packet independently
  2. Students completing review packet with friends
  3. Teacher desperately speed-teaching to cover content and catch up in pacing
  4. Lower-level review games (a la Jeopardy)

The answer is e. All of the above!

Hahaha! We don’t ACTUALLY use the phrase “all of the above” (or “none of the above”) as an answer choice on state or district assessments anymore. But here, it’s true!

There’s nothing wrong with any of those activities. But you all know how I feel about higher order thinking. Our midterms involve a lot of higher order thinking. And those activities are tough to make higher order.

And let’s face it. We teachers count down to Winter Break as much as kids do. Except our “to-do” lists are holiday related AND grading related.  

In light of my recent holiday deal-shopping, I’d like to offer a BOGO (Buy One, Get One) review game deal so you can
  1. Use more higher-order thinking
  2. Stop making kids do big review packets
  3. Channel their pre-vacation energy into learning

Buy One Higher Order Review Game #1: Human Timeline
1.   Create note cards or sticky notes with vocabulary terms on them
2.   Make sure each student has ONE vocab term card or sticky note.
3.   This activity works best when the terms or events are not entirely linear in time, when there is some debate or discussion or “grey area” about the terms -- but when they are in the same unit or general time period
4.   Students should KNOW and understand their term before they start. Depending on your kids/schedule, you may need to let them review or look up their term to refresh their memories.
5.   Ask your students to “be” their terms and put them into chronological order (a timeline)
6.   Have them discuss with each other which term should be before another and why. Debate and conversation is more than okay -- it’s THE POINT!
7.   Have the students line up with the “earliest” term on one end and the “latest” (or most recent term) on the other end by talking with each other and placing themselves in line.
8.   Give students a time limit if that helps keep them focused
9.   Have each student explain to the class WHY his or her term was before or after his or her neighbors.
Benefits of Human Timeline:
  • Student collaboration & discussion
  • Students making connections between terms
  • Students examining terms in context (usually historical context)
  • Students are active, out of seats.
  • Students may examine cause and effect related to terms
Watch Out For:
  • The confusion that occurs with “in the meantime” or simultaneous events. This is a great teachable moment!
  • Looking at concepts as “events”. This works better for some content than others.
  • Need to differentiate. Maybe struggling kids will be more successful with more “concrete” events (the kinds with dates) and advanced kids may enjoy the challenge of trying to put a more nebulous “event” (like a long-term event or an idea) into the timeline
Get 1 Free! Higher Order Review Game #2: Card Sort (Haha! They’re actually both free!)
1.   EITHER create note cards with vocabulary terms on them OR use your vocab cards from the “Human Timeline” activity.
2.   Make sure each student has ONE vocab term card or sticky note.
3.   Depending on your students, have them try this in group

4.   Have students work together to put their terms in categories that make sense to them!
5.   Ask them to put the terms in at least THREE different categories.
6.   You may give them a time limit to keep them focused.
7.   They might consider categories such as (but they can definitely make their own categories)
  1. 17th Century, 18th Century, 19th Century
  2. People, places, things, events
  3. National level, state level, local level
  4. Colonist Side, British Side, both sides, neither side
8.   Ask the students to explain how each term fits into the student–determined categories.
9.   Next, ask the students to use the SAME terms but put them in a NEW, SECOND SET of categories.
10.  You may want to impose a time limit again.
11.  Ask the students to explain how each term fits into the category
12.  Have the students use the same terms to put into a THIRD set of categories.
13.  Again, impose a time limit if that will help your students.
14.  Ask the students to explain (or defend) their explanations.
Benefits of Card Sort:
  • Student collaboration and discussion.
  • Students are active, out of seats
  • Students have to find similarities and differences between terms
  • Students have to categorize and group (and label) terms and concepts.
  • Students have to distinguish unique characteristics of terms/concepts

Watch Out For:
  • One or two kids doing all the work in the group. Instead, give each student a job, like “card mover”, “category labeler”, “timekeeper”, “presenter”, or “facilitator”.
  • Kids struggling to create more categories as time goes on. Maybe a hint will get them moving?
  • Differentiation. Allow the faster-moving group to work on a fourth set of categories, while the slower-moving group can stop at two sets.

As always, I love to hear how it goes! Let me know how one or both of these Review Games go!

Have a great week!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

6 Reasons and 1 Way to Use Higher-Order Review Games

Six Awesome Reasons to Use Higher-Order Review Games

6. Your midterm (and EOCs) are made up of mostly higher order thinking. Remember, these vassessments are 20-60-20 (20% are Level 1 Questions; 60% are Level Two Questions; 20% are Level Three Questions). So, if kids review with higher-levels of thinking, they will better learn and test at higher order levels of thinking. If they review at recall-levels, they will learn recall-levels.  

5. The person doing the talking is doing the thinking. If YOU (the teacher) are talking about content, YOU are thinking about content. No word on what the students are thinking about while you are talking. Maybe they’re doing the mannequin challenge and just didn’t tell you.  If you want the KIDS to think about content, then the KIDS have to talk about the content.
4.  Engagement makes it stick We remember the stuff that is interesting. We remember the stuff that is fun or engages our brain. We don’t remember the stuff that bores us. So don’t give your kids a review packet or review sheet. They don’t get as much out of that. Engage their brains to make your content stick.

3. Categories help students organize information in their brains. The more students put information into categories, the better they understand it. This goes with schema theory. If an idea or a concept or a term fits into a category, it has a place in the student's world and in the student’s brain. Help them determine how the pieces of their learning fit or don’t fit together.

2. Connections matter. Students need help connecting one concept or chunk of information to another. The more connections made between and among terms and ideas, the stronger the “rooting” of the learning -- which means that the kid learned the concept better AND understands the subtleties of how that idea connects to another idea.

1.The real world is not about lower-level thinking. Think about your life. Whether it is your route to work in the morning or whether you can afford a certain item or who you vote for or how you relate to others -- most of life involves higher-order thinking. The answer to the real world questions is rarely at recall-level (unless you play a lot of trivia). SO, if you move past the testing-focus, it helps to think that these higher-order thinking skills are as useful (shhhh... probably more useful) in the real world.

SOOOooooooo..... ..  How about one strategy to start with?

Higher Order Review: Headbands
  1. Put one vocab term on each sticky note, note card, or paper slip. You will possibly need a different set of sticky notes/cards each period. Choose your terms thoughtfully. You might want to start them with terms from the same unit and maybe try to add more variety in the future.
  2. Sort the terms in a way that will enable you to differentiate for your students.
  3. Give every kid a sticky note or card with a term on it – but DON’T let them look at the term.
  1. Have each kid put his or her Vocab Sticky Note or note card on his or her forehead, with the vocab term facing out. (they may have to hold it up with their hands)
  2. Instruct the kids to keep their sticky notes on their foreheads and walk around the classroom, talking to several other students.
  3. Students will try to guess the terms on their own heads by asking each other ONLY questions that can be answered with a “yes” or a “no”.
  4. When students guess their own term correctly, they make take their word off their heads (but hang on to them). They may continue to answer the questions from other students.
  5. You may need to organize the students to help the last few if they get stuck and struggle to guess their terms.
  6. When most kids have guessed their term, they may help the students who have not yet guessed their words.
Benefits of Headbands:
  • Students are active, out of seats.
  • Student collaboration & discussion
  • Students have to make connections between terms
  • Students will discuss relationship between terms
  • Students will examine the multiple facets to the terms
Watch out for:
  • Cheating. It’s easy to cheat, but then the kids don’t learn anything. I give this as a pep talk before we play.
  • Giving up. Kids who get a particularly tough term may want to give up. Build in support by either differentiating (giving tougher terms to kids who are up for the challenge and more common terms to kids who struggle).
  • Kids getting off task. Circulate and “play” along to keep them on task
  • The game taking too long. It’s easy to let those last few kids keep guessing well after the other kids have lost interest. Have the class give them clues if they are the last few so they don’t feel “picked on” or so the game doesn’t drag on too long.
Try it this week or next week ... and let me know how it goes! As always, I love to hear! Happy Headbands-gaming!