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Classroom Management

Last Day of School Activities for Middle School Students That Don’t Suck

last-day-of-school-activities-outside

There’s nothing quite like the last day of school. Teachers are over it. Grades are in and kids are wild. Every year it feels like a disaster waiting to happen. It’s my least favorite day of school. Yet every year, I survive. The secret to my success is keeping a well rounded library of last day of school activities in my back pocket. No matter the year or group of kids, I always have a plan going into the last day of school. 

Today, I’m sharing some of my favorites. 

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Classroom Cleanup

You can actually put this in the category of the last couple days of school if you want. There’s no reason you have to do all the end of year cleaning yourself. Each class can be responsible for something different – wipe down counters and clear our sinks, wipe off desks, pick up 15 pieces of trash, clean whiteboards… whatever you need to straighten up for the end of the year. The teeniest, tinyist piece of garbage counts!

Pictionary Relay

last-day-of-school-activities-pictionary

This is one of my favorite last day of school activities! Write a list of about 12-15 words your students can draw for Pictionary. Throw in a few words that are kinda tricky. Break your students up into groups of 4-6. Each group should have a white board and marker or scratch paper and pencil. With you standing somewhere in the center of all the groups, whisper the first word to one person from each group.

They have to go back to their group and draw the word. Once someone guesses, a new person runs to you, and whispers the word they just guessed. Give them the next word on the list. Then the whole process repeats again! The first group through the whole list wins!

I love this game because it is so engaging and kills so much time. I play 2-3 rounds, depending on how much time I have. Have a few lists – even take mine from the picture! That way early classes won’t spill the beans for your later classes.

I always enforce the rule that if they’re running, they have a 30 second penalty. The game stays more tame this way.

Go Outside

If you have space to go outside, do it!  Play kickball against another class or let kids have free time to talk and play. I taught at a campus for a long time where the last day of school ALWAYS consisted of at least an hour of free play outside on the field and donuts. If our kids were content, we’d stretch that outside time out as long as possible. Be sure to give kids boundaries though. This is the last day of school, and there are still rules. 

take kids outside on the last day of school.

Play Uno

I’d like to say play board games, but when it comes to last day of school activities, Uno is the best option. Everyone knows how to play and you can put kids in bigger groups. Big groups means you need fewer decks of cards. Uno is engaging, easy, and competitive making it perfect for the last day of school. I keep about four decks in my classroom at all times.

Trust me – stick with Uno. I even tried Yahtzee one year and while it was okay… it wasn’t great. It just wasn’t fast paced or competitive enough. Other board games might take a long time to set up, clean up, or figure out how to play. Uno is best. 

Have a Fancy Day

Full disclaimer – I haven’t tried this atypical last day of school activity personally, but it was suggested by a trusted mentor teacher who did it for years. Plan a school wide dress fancy day. Ask students to dress to the nines. When students show up dressed fancy, they carry themselves well and take pride in their actions. Your students are less likely to have major behavior incidents.

Watch a High Interest Movie

If you can pull it off, watch a movie! Pick a movie that is high interest and has a great ending. Think about movies they might not have seen yet like Jurassic Park, Apollo 13, or The Day After Tomorrow. Watch the movie for a few days before (hellooo time to wrap up your last minute list) so that it ends 5-10 minutes before the bell on the last day. (Then, have them each pick up 10 tiny pieces of trash!) Your students will be so interested in the movie, they won’t be disasters in your classroom. 

Make a Brochure For Next Year’s Classes 

On the last day of school, have students write a brochure to next years students and parents.

If you are required to plan academic activities all the way to the last day of school, consider having students make a brochure for next year’s students. Get them thinking. Create a quick questionnaire that helps them think of all the things a new student walking into your classroom on the first day of school would need to know. Then, ask them to make a tri-fold brochure [here’s a link for a free starter template!] you can show students and parents at your open house next year! This is probably best as a 2 day project, depending on how long your day is.

If you’re the teacher who likes to have a plan for the beginning of next year, check out this blog post!

Don’t let the last day of school be your least favorite. With a variety of engaging last day of school activities in your toolbox, some coffee, and a few deep breaths… you’ll be on your way to summer break!

Classroom Management, Middle School, Uncategorized

To the teacher feeling unsupported & struggling with bad student behavior

no-support-from-school-administration

My third year of teaching was like watching an episode of The Bachelor. It was more often than not so terrible that you just couldn’t look away because you had to keep watching and see what happened next.

In my hypothetical classroom Bachelor episode, you might see a scene where two students are giggling across the room to each other. When the camera zooms in, you see that one of them is trying to breaking markers, trying to get the ink stick out. In the chaos, the teacher finally sees the teal puddle on the floor, starts yelling, and sends the student to the office. Right before the commercial, the preview shows the student laughing with the principal in his office and skipping back to class. All you say is, “No way! There is no support from school administration!”

Spoiler alert: that was me and my classroom. I felt completely unsupported by my administration.

Every other teacher on my team was excellent, out-teaching me by at least 10 years. By their own admission, this group of students was one of the most challenging behaviorally that they had ever taught. So picture with me a third year teacher in a class of already unruly 7th graders. Throw in a new student mid-year who has blue hair, talks to everyone in a high, nasally voice (yes, on purpose to annoy everyone), yells, “I’m a blueberry!” at random times, and quickly befriends the two students whose behavior is already not being addressed the way I’d like it to be by my administration. 

What does a teacher do in this situation? I felt like I had no support from school administration when it came to behavior issues. Overwhelmed and ready to leave teaching, I knew something needed to change. However, after living through that year, I realized I had learned how to implement five practical steps to help me curb classroom behavior issues while feeling unsupported by my school administration. 

Before I really dive in, I think most school administrators are great people.

I also think a lot of administrators have the best intentions but have their hands tied in areas where teachers want them to step in, including classroom discipline. Ready for the honest truth? It’s your job as a teacher to teach, correct, and train student behavior in your classroom. It is not your campus administrator’s job. You have to do the leg work so when you do need an administrator to step in, they can see you’ve tried all your tools and need help. 

I think it is wise to have some type of positive classroom management system. For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to be focusing on what you can do to help shape student behavior into what you want instead or just rewarding good behavior. So, how do you manage your classroom when you feel like you don’t have support from school administration? 

1. Stop sending students to the office. 

Stop sending students to the office when you feel unsupported by school administration. It undermines your authority.
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If you feel like you have no support from school administration, the best thing I can tell you is to learn how to handle everything possible in your classroom. You should address and work to solve any behavior you possibly can, excluding major incidences of course. 

I remember sending kids to the office when they were “unmanageable” and feeling like they got sent back with a hug and a Starburst! Like it was a REWARD! Or I’d send a student up with their phone and get a sticky note from the office assistant back saying, “I let them keep their phone. Come see me when you have a minute and I’ll explain.” I felt so helpless and angry. Do you know the feeling? 

Enough is enough. Sending students to the office is a temporary solution. The truth is the office can only do so much. Oftentimes, you undermine your own authority when you send students out. They know you can’t, or maybe won’t, do anything about their behavior and continue to act out.

Dig in. Find your grit. Handle your classroom. Stop sending kids to the office! How can I do that? Keep reading, teacher friend! 

2. Set expectations all day everyday.

When you feel like you have no support from school administration, set expectations as often as you can.

I could talk about expectations all day long. It’s the bread and butter of my classroom management style. NEVER stop setting expectations! When you feel like you have no support from school administration, telling kids what you expect from them gives them the opportunity to act appropriately. 

During transitions, I used to say something like, “Get into your groups. Are we good? Go.” When I realized I was setting expectations rather than giving directions, my monolog sounded something like this. “Hold up your pencil. Hold up your notebook. You need to bring both of those with you to your lab table. When you move to your groups, push in your chair and make sure your stuff is off of the floor so we have clear walkways. I expect you are walking to your groups, keeping your hands, feet, and pencils to yourself.” 

Do you see how I set expectations for the entire transition? This is what my students nee to hear in September, January, and May. I never stop. Take it a step further if you know you have a student who you know struggles with walking and briefly say, “Jordan, you’re gonna walk right?” To keep them from feeling targeted, you can ask a few more questions to other students. 

3. Follow Through and Grace

If you don’t feel like you have support from your school administration, it’s probably because your administrators don’t follow through with what you expect them to do! When you’re learning how to handle your classroom, follow through is your most important tool! You can set expectations with students all you want but if you don’t follow through when those expectations are not met, they’re worthless! 

Hear me out. Follow through does not equal discipline. Every little thing students do wrong should not be met with an iron fist. Your students will do things incorrectly. If you try to control everything, you will lose your mind. When students do something wrong, give them a little bit of grace – resist the urge to yell and scream! Build natural consequences into your expectations. 

Phones are hard to manage right now. Like really hard. In fact, the most angry I’ve ever been with a student was over a phone. Like, steam coming out of my ears angry. Anyway, I digress. When you set expectations with phones, build the “consequence” into your expectation and follow through! 

In my classroom, students listening to headphones should have their volume set so no one else can hear their music, and they should be able to hear me talking in a normal voice. This is what I might say to build my consequence into my expectation. “If I or anyone else can hear your music through your headphones, you will have to put your phone and headphones away for the rest of class.” Then, my students know what I want and what happens if they decide not to follow the expectation. 

If one of your students runs to their lab table, ask them to come back and walk. Maybe you have to ask them to push in their chair.

What happens when students don’t want to follow expectations I gave them?

But Kelly, what happens when they don’t put away their headphones? Or they don’t come back and walk to their group? Or what if…? I hear you. It’s never that easy, is it?

This takes some practice, but I promise it is gold. Screenshot the next couple paragraphs. Print it out. Tape it to your desk, because students will always push your boundaries. 

FOLLOW THROUGH is your biggest and best tool when you feel like you have no support from your school administration.

Do not send students to the office when they begin to push boundaries.Your job of correcting and managing behavior is not done the moment they push back. You are strong and capable! 

Let’s keep going with the phone example.  

If you can hear a student’s headphones across the room, get their attention without disrupting the rest of your class. Ask them if they remember the expectation. If they say no, remind them what it was. Yes, even if you know they know, and you want to roll your eyes – your goal here is to build trust and not get them in trouble. 

Next, ask them to put their headphones in their backpack because they didn’t meet the expectation. If they say no, take a deep breath. Collect your thoughts. Stay calm. Get on their level – squat next to them, pull up a chair, or maybe even ask them to come see you in a corner or to step outside, if you haven’t already. 

Then you should say something like, “I told you what would happen if I could hear your music. At this point, you have two choices. Let this be your second chance, put away your headphones in your backpack, and get back to work. Making a good decision lets us continue with both of our jobs. If you choose not to put them in your backpack, I’ll have to call home after school to talk about how we can be sure expectations are followed.” 97% of the time, kids don’t want to be in trouble at home. Giving them the option prompts them to make a good decision. 

Talking to students and following thorough with consequences helps students know what their behavior should look like.

In those cases where a quick conversation doesn’t work, I take it a step farther.

If they still say they’re not giving up their headphones, keep in mind what your school discipline plan is. I’d respond with something like, “Okay, if you’re choosing to not put your headphones in your backpack. I can’t make you. After school and before I call your parents, I’m going to go talk with the vice principal to make a plan so you can manage your phone appropriately. If you want to use your phone, you have to follow the expectations. If you decide you don’t like that, you can go back to your seat and take about a minute to decide.” 

Students want to make a good choice.

Honestly, if you can give them an out without involving their parents or admin, they will likely take it. You’ve spoken to them respectfully and they feel you’re not out to get them in trouble. 

Finally, I’d bet money that students who still don’t make a good choice after all that is a student you struggle with a lot. With that said, I can only suggest what you might do from there. Each student and situation is different. You can ignore it until the end of the day where you’ll follow through with parents and admin, or invoke your campus discipline policy to remove them from your classroom. If you’ve talked to them, give them several options, and they still refuse, you can go to your admin the steps you took (and they need you to take) before they can take action on their end. 

4. Always have a plan.

I know you’ve heard the saying that says something like if you don’t have a plan, your students will have one for you. It’s true. 

When you are pulling out lab equipment or trying to find the other half stack of copies you set down somewhere last hour, students have a lot more time to get into trouble. If you are planned and organized for the day, your students are much less likely to have time to goof off. Furthermore, if you know what your transitions are, write out expectations for each one – because let’s be real… it’s hard to remember everything you want to say – and communicate those to your students, it will shift the whole dynamic of your classroom. Hello structure, goodbye chaotic mess. 

5. Loop parents in

When you feel like you have no support from your school administration, keeping in contact with parents is a must. Requirement. Non-negotiable. In my experience, most parents I talk to assume that if they are not hearing from their student’s teacher, their student’s behavior is fine. We as teachers know we don’t always reach out because we have a lot on our plates, but we need to recognize and do something about the fact that parents still believe if they haven’t heard from us, everything is peachy. But administration needs us to take the small steps of communicating with parents before

no-support-from-school-administration
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Little problems like talking too much or going to the bathroom for seven minutes every class period turn into big problems later. If you’ve tried to work it out with the student by chatting with them or having natural classroom consequences and you’re still not seeing a change, it’s time to call or email parents. Get them involved. Almost every single parent I’ve talked to (and trust me, it’s a lot) have been supportive and helpful. At least they try their best to be, and that’s really all you can ask.

I might have a hard truth for you right now. Not a single administrator I’ve taught for would try to help me solve a problem with a student if I haven’t at minimum attempted to reach their parents. After you’ve tried to solve your behavior problems in your classroom and communicated with parents, your administrator is much more likely to help. Quite honestly, they have more ability to help. Doing your part unties their hands when you need them to act. 

BONUS: Start a countdown and take a deep breath.

This might be the worst advice ever because it sucks. You will not have this group of students forever. Tell yourself whatever you need to get through the day. I have taught some bad classes and through some tough years. When I have a class with students that gives me grief, I look at the clock and think 17 more minutes today, or there are only 7 more Mondays. Seven Mondays sounds easier than 36 days, am I right?

The hard truth is that even when you’ve done all the things, sometimes your principal still can’t or won’t be able to help. 

This too shall pass. Like I told you in the beginning of this post – my third year teaching was atrocious. I was looking to leave the profession. With no way out and my 17th student coming back from the office with a Starburst, I decided that I was not going to let these kids get the better of me, and I was not going to rely on the office. That year royally sucked.  

Want to know what still blows my mind? The next year was my best year. I didn’t realize at the time, but I was growing so much in learning how to handle behavior in my classroom the year before. By the time I was in my 4th year of teaching, I knew how to squash behaviors before they started and how to manage them when they showed up. Mostly. There are still days. There always will be. 

Have a plan. Set expectations. Follow through when they’re not met. Talk to parents. Control what you can. You’d be surprised at how much these small changes together can really transform your classroom and help you feel like you can do it, even without support from your administration. 

Classroom Management, Middle School

Six Of The Most Common Questions About Google Classroom

iPhone with Google Classroom sections on screen

I was alone at a friends house a few months ago when one of their breakers got tripped and shut off my very important TV show. I proceeded to flip it back but when I did, the soundbar wasn’t working! It took me FOREVER to figure out how to reconnect it correctly, and I was so frustrated! Of course when I told them about it, they were like, “Oh yea… you click this and that and push this and you’re good to go!” 

Sometimes I feel like Google Classroom is this way – frustrating to figure out until we finally get it. 

Not a day goes by where I don’t read a frustrated post by a teacher in a Facebook group about something they can’t figure out in Google Classroom. Now don’t get me wrong… Google Classroom is a fabulous tool for what it does. But a few things consistently trip us up and frustrate us. 

If you had the answers, wouldn’t life be easier? Good news, my friend! These are the top six questions I see online, and the answers to all of them. You’re welcome. 

1. Why can I sometimes “make a copy for all students” and sometimes I can’t?

Great question! The very first time you create an assignment  and push it out, you can make a copy for all students. However, if you post the assignment and then try to edit it, you cannot make copy for all students.  You would have to create a whole new post for the assignment if you’ve already posted it and are trying to edit the settings.

2. Why do I not have the option to include a due date?

 This is the difference between an assignment post and a material post.  creating an assignment allows you to set a due date and points. You can also  make a copy of documents for all students when you create an assignment. Creating materials are for student reference only.  This might be something like an announcement,  a link to your website, or something else students consistently use that they will not turn in. 

3. I get so many alerts in my email… how do I manage them all?

First, turn them off! On your main menu with all of your classes, click the three horizontal lines to open up the side menu. At the very bottom, click the settings gear and scroll to see the notifications section. You can select or deselect all or any notifications on the list to get emails for! You can even select specific classrooms. (Also, check out my digital missing work form. It’s a LIFESAVER!)

4. I want to make posts or parts of my directions stand out. Can I bold or italicize my fonts? 

You would think, right?! Unfortunately this is a feature Google Classroom does not have! I use emojis to emphasize my posts. Read about it here

5. My stream is so disorganized. How do I clean it up? 

Turn that bad boy off! I rely solely on the Classwork tab unless I’m posting an announcement (usually that I’m not there for the day and there will be no Google Meet). By keeping the Classwork tab organized, students can only go one place to look for assignments. Inside of each Classroom, you can click the settings gear in the top right corner and scroll down to General Settings. Under Classwork on the Stream, select Hide Notifications

6. I assign work to all students and they swear they completed it. But when I look at the post, there’s no assignment. What is happening? 

There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that your students are deleting the work and telling you it went missing. The good news is, once you assign it to them (whether they delete it or not), it’s shared with you and in the Classroom folder in your Drive. Simply open the Classroom folder, find the class, find the assignment and their name should be on it! When you open the file, you can see their edit history – showing whether they did it or not. 

It took me a while to figure out some of these tricks and tips. Now you can feel a little more confident navigating Google Classroom properly so that you can troubleshoot quickly and keep teaching!

Classroom Management, Digital Learning

Three Reasons You Should Use Emojis to Organize our Google Classroom

Screen with Google Classroom Feed

I’d be lying if I said Google Classroom was the best learning management system ever. The truth is it falls short in several ways. Many teachers use it because it’s easy and we have to. Don’t get me wrong, I am so thankful I have it – but I wish there were some features with a little more oomph!  So what can we do to make it more user friendly in the meantime? Here’s your answer: use emojis. 

Emoji Keyboard on iPhone

Yes. I said it. Use emojis.

Even if you’re not tech savvy. “What if I think emojis are over rated?” Use them anyway. “But my students are in high school.” My personal opinion… all teachers should use emojis to organize their Google Classroom stream.

Here are three reasons why. 

  1. It draws attention to the post. The Google Classroom stream is monotonous. Without being able to change font color or type, students get lost in a sea of words. Using emojis to draw attention to different topics is key. Whether you organize posts by week or by topic, students are much more likely to find the post you’re asking them to if you use emojis. 
Google Classroom stream with emojis to organize it.
  1. Students are so visual. Google Classroom is one long list of words students have to sort through every day, in every class.  Adding an emoji to topics or assignments helps students remember what they’re looking for when they see it.  For example, I used a wizard emoji for my posts about variables because I connect variables to wizards. I use a division symbol for cell division. It gives students one more cue to find the information easily! 
  1. Communication to parents & students. Parents are even more lost than normal with digital work. I include the emoji for the assignment on my Weekly Agenda. When I talk to a parent who is struggling to keep track of work, I tell them they can use the emoji on the agenda to find the post in Google Classroom. It helps so much! 

How to add emojis to Google Classroom

Pin an extension to the Google Chrome menu.

Install the Emoji Keyboard for Google Chrome. Pin the extension to the right of your URL bar by clicking the puzzle piece on Google Chrome (I added a picture here so you can see what to click on). When you open the keyboard and click on an emoji, it notifies you the emoji has been copied. Paste it into your post on Google Classroom and boom! You’re done! 

You won’t really think you made a big difference, and then you’ll hear one of your students say, “Where is the quiz?” Another student will answer, “It’s the post with the red exclamation point!” That’s why you need to use emojis to organize your Google Classroom.

Final tip: Get creative! No matter what topic you teach, there are only so many emojis that match what you’re learning. Think outside the box, or add a random emoji just for fun. As long as your students know what to look for, you’re good!

Classroom Management, Digital Learning, Uncategorized

7 Reasons You Need GoFormative In Your Digital Classroom

What a ride we were in for when schools suddenly shut down in March 2020. Teachers had to adapt to what everyone called “distance learning” and most created a digital classroom. I don’t know about you, but that was a fairly steep learning curve. None of us have ever experienced anything like it before. But we as teachers banded together on Facebook groups and Instagram to encourage and support each other. 

In the midst of the confusion, the question I saw over and over among teachers in these groups was, “What program lets students write directly onto a PDF?” 

GoFormative.com Changed My Teaching Career

GoFormative.com. Game changer. Life saver. So much so that I showed my admin and he loved it. He even asked me present it in a staff PD and we had enough interest that we got a CAMPUS WIDE SUBSCRIPTION. When was the last time that many teachers were all on board with the same idea?!

It’s literally the best thing I’ve found in my 7 years of teaching. I used it in my classroom before the COVID shutdown. It’s one tool on a list of many, but GoFormative.com is truly exceptional tool for a digital classroom and you need to know it’s out there! This is part one of a two part post and I’ll show you some of the way to use and create assignments.

Before I move on, I should tell you – I’m not getting any kickback from this post! I just love it so much that I need to share. Let me give you the highlights, and trust me… writing on a PDF is the least cool thing about this program.

1. Upload PDFs and Docs, or Create Your Own Assignments

This is the least cool feature. Upload ANY PDF or Google Doc (actually, almost any kind of file) and have the kids answer in a designated box directly on the page. If you have pre-made curriculum, this is an awesome feature because you can scan it in. Add questions directly on top of the document. If you want to create new material or lesson, you can add photos, podcasts, youtube videos, and then choose from so many response options. Create a whole lesson on one GoFormative page for students to work through, or use it as a quick check in. You can also create questions just like you would in Google Forms. It’s a very flexible program.

Add questions directly to a PDF using GoFormative.com

2. AUTOGRADING!

Include answers to questions so your assignments autograde.

This is wayyy easier than Google Forms. Of course you can give credit for multiple choice. Asking students to match or categorize? Autograded. Be sure to select the partial credit option and it gives them partial credit automatically. Open response? YES! Add keywords to the correct answer (be sure to check partial credit) and it will score them for you and color codes the answers! They’re not always perfect, but it gives you a place to start.

3. Student Responses

You can see all student responses for the same question on one page! That means no waiting to open every student’s Google Doc. That’s annoying. Look at the answer to question five at the same time for EVERY student. Because you can look at one answer at a time, you can grade that specific answer all at the same time.

Look at all the answers for one question on one page. You can see All the classes at once.
All of the answers to this question populated on one page.

4. So Many Answer Options!

Do you want them to write? Done? Matching? YEP! Students can respond with audio, a write an essay, categorize, respond with an image, or use the math keyboard. There’s also a super cool “show your work” response where kids have tools that allows them to draw shapes and type!I love using this for quick assessments if students need to show me something in a less restrictive format than typing (diagram or drawing). Using the show your work feature is a very cool option for a digital classroom. Physical notebooks or paper are easy to draw diagrams on, but there are very few easy tools that let kids draw like this digitally. This is also a great option for math!

Diagrams of covalent bonds using the show your work tool.
This is the show your work feature! Students used drawing tools to create a diagram of a carbon dioxide compound.

5. Batch Grading and Feedback

Say you used the answer key feature to autograde an open ended response and you see a group kids making the same mistake. Select all the answers with that mistake, give them the same score (at the same time) and send the same feedback to each student! 

Select several answers from students to give the same grade and feedback.
Notice how the right side says 5 students selected and they were all assigned 10/15 points and are receiving the same feedback. The answers with the blue outline on the left show the selected answers.

6. Keep Track of Student’s Pace

You can see what students are working on live-time – including what they’re typing at that moment! This probably isn’t as helpful if you’re in the middle of distance learning, but in a regular classroom setting, I can see if a student is on question 3 or question 12. Click TOTALS on the View Responses tab. You’ll see a little marker that shows which questions they’ve reached. 

GoFormative shows student progress.
If you have the totals board open while student are working, you can see the progress they are making. This shows which questions they have and haven’t answered.

7. Getting a Little Fancy

You can embed content into your GoFormative. Consider adding a Google Form or a Flipgrid. What about adding an interactive website? NewsELA? As long as you have an embed code, you can add it into your document. Check out iFrame to convert any URL to an embed code!

BONUS: GoFormative.com integrates with Google Classroom!

Try Out GoFormative.com For Yourself

Guys, I’m telling you this because it’s an incredible tool that will SAVE YOU TIME! I don’t even know how I would have taught remotely without it. I just told you about the cool features, but I didn’t tell you about so many more!

GoFormative.com is a MUST HAVE in your digital classroom. I promise it will save you time and give you flexibility you’ve been craving with your digital assignments! Sign up for a 30-day free trial here (although, I think you’re gonna want to skip the trial and just sign up)! 

If you me to walk through some of it for you, check out the GoFormative highlights on my Instagram!

If you’ve gotten this far, check out 5 More Reasons You Need GoFormative! I’ll let you in on a secret… the power is in the settings!

Computer with GoFormative screens

Classroom Management, Digital Learning

Five Tips for Talking to Parents

“I’m going to call your mom after school today and let her know about this conversation we’re having.” These words may have been terrifying as a student, but I never imagined how terrifying they would be as a teacher! If you’re anything like me, I hated picking up the phone and talking to parents when students messed up in the classroom. It was THE WORST. 

In a very long story short, I began calling parents when I taught a group of about 15 boys who were all REALLY good friends. I’m talking… play on the same club baseball team, go to school together since kindergarten, and take multi-family vacations together. 

They could have all been brothers, and the fact that they were at school did not phase how they treated each other. Sometimes their enthusiasm for life and each other spilled over into the classroom, filling the room with, shall we say, excess energy. I knew I had to enlist the help of parents if anything was going to change.

Here’s what I learned. Parents are AWESOME!

Each parent I talked to was so kind. So gracious. So helpful. Not one of them was frustrated with me or angry. I learned a little bit about them and their students. Now I had an open connection moving forward. It didn’t solve the problem, but it sure did help. 

Oh the phone with a parent. We had to make long distance calls from our work room.

Here’s the truth: We need to see parents as teammates, not opponents. 

I don’t know where we got the idea that we shouldn’t reach out to parents. We need to change our mindset. Talking to parents is not something that we should avoid.

Most parents simply want to know what’s going on – to be informed. Their most important possession spends the day with us! And so often, parents never hear a word. They want to help their students do well in school, but they also want to help you do your job! 

Talking to parents has not always been my strong suit. I have made a lot of progress and learned how important this aspect of teaching is.

I want to make it less scary for you!

I’ve compiled a list of five tips for contacting parents, and I’m giving you SEVEN FREE email templates for different scenarios you’ll face with your students! Grab those here!

1. Be Gracious

If you don’t hear anything else I say, hear this. Your frustration may be valid. You may be at the end of your rope. You may have tried everything you can possibly think of to do.

It’s okay. They’re raising and taking care of their child the best way they see fit. For THEIR child. You will get much more accomplished and have a great relationship by being gracious and understanding. Offer to let them turn in late work or make up a quiz. Open your classroom early one day. Offer test corrections or a retake. 

Your goal is to be on the same team! Being harsh and frustrated will not achieve that. 

2. Contact Early and Often  

Teachers don’t always know what to contact parents about, so they don’t. I’m not about that. Start making calls and sending emails early. 

The key here is to keep the early contact as positive as possible. That does not mean shy away from a negative call if you need to make one.

If You Teach Middle School

I’ll admit one of my biggest struggles: I can’t talk to every single parent (this year I have 180 kids!). Where do I start? Especially at the beginning of the year as I’m learning about who the students are?

If they have a 504 or an IEP, reach out to the parents and ask for insight. You will have students who are very social. Call and praise the student’s ability to participate in a classroom discussion. That really is something to be praised! Ask the teachers who taught your students last year if any parents contacted them a lot. Be proactive and start that relationship! Pick anything positive and share it! 

3. Ask for Help

Which email sounds better? 

Email 1:  “Hannah is missing assignments and they are bringing her grade down to an F. She needs to turn them in by Friday, or she can’t get any credit.”

Email 2: “These are the assignments Hannah is missing. Can you help me by checking with her to see if they’re in her backpack? If you find any of them, have her finish them and turn them in. I have to close grades on Friday, so she can’t turn them in after that point. Thanks for your help!”

These emails say the SAME THING! But the second email will be received so much better by a parent. They want to help, so tell them how! 

4. Copy and Paste is Your Best Friend

I sent eight copy and pasted emails in about 20 minutes a few weeks ago. Write a generic “your student is awesome” email. 

Then, and this is important – add something personal! Be specific about something you saw. Do they always turn their work in on time? Do they get right to work when they come in? Were they helpful today (even if they’re distracting 99% of the time they’re trying to help)? Parents want to hear about how you know their student, so tell them! 

5. Pick Up the Phone!

This is the most unpopular opinion! DO IT ANYWAY!!

I told you almost every parent I’ve talked to has been so kind and understanding, even thankful that I called. You lose so much of what you are actually trying to say over email. There is value in having a two way conversation. 

I never send an email if a student is truly in trouble with a consequence. I hate the call, but I’d much rather talk, explain the situation, and let parents ask questions. Hopefully by this time, I’ve contacted them at least once already. 

For the 1% 

Most of the parents you encounter will be reasonable. There will be a handful who aren’t. Still be gracious. Be more than kind and more than accommodating. Ask your administration and team for help. The 1% that seems unreasonable still wants what’s best for their student! 

Make talking to parents your goal this week! If you didn’t get a chance to snag those seven FREE EMAIL TEMPLATES, you can right here!

Classroom Management, Professionalism, Uncategorized

Three Steps To Writing Perfect Sub Plan

The best middle school teachers have a plan.

My first week of teaching was rough. Let me tell you. And it got a little rougher when my principal came in to check on me Thursday afternoon. I was wearing my winter coat and a hat … inside.

“You feeling okay?” Nope. I was not feeling okay. I felt like I was teaching in Antarctica. She told me not to come in the next day. I needed to stay home and rest. 

Cue panic.

I had never in my life written a sub plan. I felt absolutely terrible. And I had taught these kids for exactly four days. I didn’t even know what I was doing!! Much less what someone else should do! 

Since that day six years ago, there have few days where I’ve had to call out last minute. I learned pretty quickly writing a sub plan is not quick or easy. Turns out there are a lot of facets a substitute teacher needs to know about your campus and classroom.

Great news… I’m giving you my sub plan template and sharing my super low prep, go-to sub plan!

I will say this. Teaching the same thing five times in one day does make writing sub plans easier. This sub plan is definitely geared toward middle school teachers, but can be used to science or social studied in upper elementary as well.

The Three Parts Of A Perfect Sub Plan

The bell schedule should be on the first page of your sub plan.
\A middle school teacher’s sub plan should include campus logistics, classroom logistics, and daily plans!

Step 1: Campus Logistics

So, here are the three components to a great sub plan you should print and keep NOW for those days you are unexpectedly gone. Plus, I’m sharing my sub plan template with you – including some verbiage and ideas for policies and procedures a sub may need to know! I’ve broken this down into three sections for you. 

As a middle school teacher, you know how complicated your campus can be! Your classroom is not a stand alone entity. It is one small piece in maze of other teachers, classrooms, and staff. Include information like: 

  • The bell schedule
  • Your duty location
  • Phone numbers to the office staff & other teachers on your team/grade level
  • The nurse’s extension (for emergencies)
  • Where the AED is – I can write this at a later time, but it’s important! 

Step 2: Classroom Policies

What is important to know about your classroom? Add that information here. It’s hard to remember what to include when you wake up in the middle of the night puking. 

A sub plan organized by campus info, class policies, and daily plans.
This plan includes all the necessary information for a sub!
  • Rosters!!
  • Seating Charts (preferably with name and picture if you can.) Highlight two students in each class you trust to answer questions truthfully.
  • A list of kids who have medical alerts that they should know (heart condition, allergy… use judgement here and ask admin what is appropriate). 
  • Your prep hour
  • Bathroom policy
  • Cell phone & headphones policy
  • Device (classroom Chromebook/iPad) policy
  • Group work policy
  • How and when to distribute supplies
  • Anything else that you think is important for your sub to know. Do you do something special with backpacks? If you need them to use the computer/projector/DVD player, how does it all work? 

Step 3: Daily Plans

This is what you think of when you think of writing sub plans. What are the kids going to do?

Here’s my secret recipe.

Step one

I start with an article from either Tangstar Science or  Newsela every time. Did you hear me? EVERY TIME! 

Tangstar Science is a TPT store with engaging, relevant science articles for middle and high school students. Each article includes comprehension questions – short answer and critical thinking. One of my favorites is The Chemistry of Fireworks. Kids think it is so cool. This tends to be written at a little bit of a higher level, so sometimes I will ask the sub to read it to them and go over the answers to the questions. Her store is such an awesome resource for middle school teachers!

Newsela is a database of nonfiction articles. You can find just about any topic under the sun. I love Newsela because you can adjust the lexile level for students who need accommodations. (Fun fact: did you know you’re legally responsible to accomodate for students even if you are not there?!) 

This screenshot of Newsela shows a variety of text selections about volcanoes.
This shows four articles come up in a search for volcanoes on Newsela. Several more were included in the search and each article has several lexile levels.

Step two

Students use this article to make a comic strip. I have hundreds of these copies in my emergency sub folder because they are so easy. They use the information to summarize what happened at six different points in the article and then they draw and color it. Keep in mind, you’ll probably need to do this with them and model it before you leave it as a sub plan. 

Download the comic template I use here for free!

Step three

This is a coordinate grid graphing activity of a volcano.
Keeps early finishers busy with this coordinate grid!

Leave something for kids who finish early. My worst fear is always that kids will rush through it and then cause chaos. but leaving something like this Volcano Coordinate Plane Mystery Picture gives them a task to complete. 

Copy everything and keep it in a tub or a file box in your classroom with your emergency sub plan info. This is will save you someday!

Let me make a suggestion.

Knock out at least the first two components of your lesson plan this week! You’ll thank yourself later. If you can get at least one day of lessons and copies done and set aside, even better! 

If you include these three components while you write your sub plan, your sub will love you. And so will your admin! 

Classroom Management, Middle School

Start on the right track with the best first day of school science activities

First day of school teacher outfit
First day of school on morning duty.

I don’t know about you, but I get anxious about the first day of school. I don’t get anxious about what I’m going to wear or what will happen if my alarm clock doesn’t go off (because I set three), but I always wonder what am I going to do with 32 strange kids for almost an hour?! Do you feel me? Put your mind at ease. With the right first day of school science activities, you’ll set yourself up for success!

Students don’t know you. You don’t know them. They need to know rules, procedures, expectations… but you don’t want to bore them to death. Yet, you’re also not ready to jump right into teaching that first day. So, what do you do?

No longer do I worry about what to do the first day of school in science! Here’s my secret sauce that I very much want you to replicate!

PART 1 – ABOUT YOU AND EXPECTATIONS

I sometimes hear teachers say that we need to be engaging on the first day of school. “Don’t not go over the syllabus or expectations the first day of school.” I agree… to a point. Which is why this is part one. As in… part one of two.

Your classroom is your kingdom. You are the queen (or king). The boss. You set the rules. Period. So let your students know. (I say this meaning – let them know gently. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT walk around announcing this the first day of school… or maybe ever.)

Setting the tone for your classroom in the first 15 minutes is one of the most important first day of school science activities you can incorporate. It allows students to know what is acceptable and what isn’t. New students in your room know nothing about you or your classroom. Addressing a few important procedures lets students relax a little bit.

I’ll highlight a few things, but there’s a picture of the list I go over on the first day below. Feel free to send me a DM on Instagram or email me if you have questions about any of the things on the list!

SEATING CHART

Before those kids walk in, have a seating chart ready. Let them sit where they want for a minute. Introduce yourself with your name and then switch their seats. Immediately. This sets the tone that they’re not in charge. And while classroom management is different than controlling everything, you should not let them sit where they want (and with who they want) at first.

INTRODUCE YOURSELF

As soon as they are settled, tell them a little bit about you! Maybe you have a (brief) powerpoint with some photos or share something you did this summer. They want to know who you are. This is a good time to briefly tell them what topics they’ll cover over the year.

Procedures to tell students how to
This is the list I quickly go over the first day of school. It’s just enough to give them initial boundaries.

EXPECTATIONS

Next, you’ll want to touch on classroom expectations. This is not on the exciting list of first day of school science activities, but it might just be the most important. This is where most of teachers tune out and say that this doesn’t belong on the first day. “We should be engaging and talk about expectations later!” Let me persuade you otherwise.

Do students sharpen a pencil on the first day? Do students have to throw things away?

Answer: probably!

Again – this is your kingdom and your classroom. They will spend the next nine months with you. Below you’ll find list of things I tell students on every first day of school. This list is limited to what they need to know in general. I wait to introduce specific procedures and expectations as we use them but on the first day, they need to know:

  • Where the pencil sharpener is.
  • How and when to sharpen their pencil.
  • What they can and cannot touch without permission.
  • Where to keep their backpacks (and their phones)
  • How to throw away trash (yes… they need that reminder!)
  • Where to find daily information and bell ringer.

There are a few more, but for those of you needing an idea – there you go! This part should take no longer than 10 minutes, leaving you about 30 to get them working (and packed up properly)!

Procedures and paperwork shouldn’t exactly count as first day of school science activities, but

PART 2 – GRAPHING

Get to know you activities make the best first day of school science activities.

Yes. I said it. Graphing. Some (most) students have a hard time making graphs. This activity doubles as an ice breaker and a formative assessment!

You can snag this worksheet here for free! Students spend a few minutes introducing themselves to each other and asking each other all three of the following questions:

  1. Which animal would make a better pet?
  2. Which sounds cooler to explore?
  3. Which type of ice cream is better?

Students collect data by gathering tallies for their peers answers. Give them a time limit to do this.

I use grouping cards (click here to read about them and here to just buy them – I live and breathe by these!). Students visit a group with their same number, color, and letter (for a total of three different groups for about 2 minutes each) before I send them back to their seats. They get to talk to 12 different people in the class and have some structured freedom to move, while not giving them complete freedom.

Students choose one question to make a graph using their data.

Graphing is one of the best first day of school science activities.

Use The Graphs as Assessments

This is my favorite first day of school science activity because you are formatively assessing students. Look for a bar graph, intervals that are equal and on the lines, labels, and a title. These simple graphs pretty quickly give you an idea as to how capable they are of creating their own accurate graphs later.

I usually find that students need some remediation. Based on what I see, my next several weeks of bell ringers target skills they are missing.

This first day of school gives you the balance of structure while allowing students to start building relationships and friendships immediately. Whether you’re in need of an idea or just a refresh, this fool proof first day of school will set the standards and engage your students, build relationships, and balance jumping into content with setting expectations.

Classroom Management, Middle School

Using Grouping Cards in Your Classroom

If you’ve been a middle school teacher for more than a hot second, you know that those kids are social! They want to talk and work with friends! Every time I’m done giving directions, at least one student in every class asks, “Are we going to work in groups?” Ultimately, I have to orchestrate group work and it can be either really easy or really difficult.  Using student grouping cards is a life saver in my classroom. 

Don’t make student groups this way

Option 1: Easy. Kids make their own groups. This is too lenient for how I run my classroom and leads to goofy behaviors or students feeling left out of peer groups. Occasionally, it’s totally fine.

Option 2: Complicated. I go through each class and put groups of kids together. This is so time-consuming because I’m thinking I know for sure these two kids can’t work together… and this kid and this kid are best friends…. and this kid is always working when he’s next to this kid but not next to this kid.

So this becomes a huge a jumbled puzzle that takes me some time to figure out. Or I can create an account on some website and type (ugh) in all the kids names for all my classes. The problem occurs when kids are absent or their schedule changes and they’re not in first hour anymore – and really, who has time to remember to move the kid’s name on the grouping website… what was my login to that anyway?!

student grouping cards in the classroom

Use Student Grouping Cards Instead!

Enter student grouping cards.

I LOVE THESE. I will never teach a day without them again. Here’s how it works. Each student gets one card. The card has one letter, one color, and one number. (I also have each of my lab tables labeled with each color, letter, and number so they know where to go once they are placed in groups.) They can be put into one of three different groups: 

easily put students in groups by using grouping cards

1. Their number.

When I tell the students to go into groups with their number, all the ones go to table one all the twos go to table to all the threes go to table 3 and so on.

2. Their color.

If I tell them to go to their colors, the pinks will go to the pink table, the oranges go to the orange table… and so on. 

3. Their letter. 

I feel like you get it by now.

Stop wasting time making student groups

The number of students in a class does not matter even one bit. If three kids are absent or one gets their schedule changed, it won’t impact how I use the student grouping cards. Take out a set of colors or numbers, and add WILD cards if you need to – I’ll get to those in a second! 

put students with the same color card in one groupAfter I pass out the cards, I’ll call out which group I want them to go to. Of course, this is the last thing I say because after that, they won’t hear a word – they’re so anxious to get going!

This is where the magic happens. Let’s say I told them to go to their letters. Against all odds, that group of four boys that cannot stop giggling ended up together. I can quickly say, “Never mind! Go to your color!” and I know all four of those boys will be separated, because none of the cards have the same color, letter or number. If they do end up in the same group, I know they’re cheating!

I LOVE this strategy because it’s easy to do on the fly and it is so flexible. Because sometimes you don’t plan for things and groups just suddenly need to happen. Or I don’t want to spend my night making groups.

Why I love the wild card

group students using the same number

The WILD Card was born from a year when I had a class of 38 seventh graders! I only had 8 lab tables, which meant I always had to make a few groups of five. The WILD Card says, “Choose a group, as long as you make the fifth member!” Because they are shuffled into the deck, different kids got them every time and were so excited to get to choose. When I didn’t need them, I took them out. Easy as that.

While I mostly use these for group work, sometimes I need to get the kids to get out of their normal rut. Occasionally I will let them work with their numbers for eight minutes, with their colors for eight minutes and then with their letters for eight minutes. So over the course of the class, they get to work with 11 other people on the same assignment but they didn’t work with friends the whole time.

I will say it again. This is the best classroom management tool I have ever used. The structure moves kids efficiently, but the flexibility to change things up is perfect for a classroom. Grouping cards are a LIFESAVER for any teacher!

Quick disclaimer, especially for new teachers. While these card will help your classroom management, introducing these cards will require you to model like crazy. Kids need to know that there is a specific procedure for how to use these. When you pass them out the first time, explain how to use them. Have all the twos raise their hand and then have everyone point to where the twos go. Repeat this with all the blues or all the As. Randomly call out a few groups before you decide on letters, numbers, or colors. Students will start to get the idea.

 

Classroom Management, Labs, Middle School